Well, I feel SO lucky to have gotten to be at the “release” (not quite actually) of two juveniles . . .It was amazing and exciting and challenging . . . (I know all the Hopper folks were excited since it has been three years since the last release) I sent a few photos . . .Some are of Dan Tappe & the interns we met down there: Sean, Joe (Cal Poly) & Helen. Also, Wendy Thies & a cameraman were there to do a story for KSBY/NBC TV (to be aired in Oct or Nov) They will make a copy for Hopper of the piece when it’s all edited together . .. John was also doing interviews and will see if any newspaper or magazine wants his first person account of seeing the tagging & planned release . . .
I’ve enclosed a photo of their fly pen (it’s quite large and I think the Ventana one will bemodeled after it) Here’s how it went: Two biologists and two interns entered the fly pen - This of course, caused several of the birds to fly from one perch to another within the pen… They then determined which two male junveniles they wanted to capture. Meghan, Karinne & Kelly probably remember Sean (he was one of the interns at Hopper who had the scope for us to see the roosting condors when we arrived that evening) Anyway, he climbed up the side netting of the fly pen, literally pushed the juvenile off his perch and as he landed on the ground, Dan put a net over the bird. Then they secured the bird in a tight bundle and walked it over to another intern waiting to hold the body. Sean stayed on the head & beak, another intern held the feet . .They came outside of the pen and transferred the bird into a portable “kennel” (like a large dog-carrier) with towels draped over the open screen parts and placed it in the shade.
Then they repeated the capture of a 2nd male juvenile. This time they walked the 2nd bird straight over to a flat area behind a truck where they had a tarp laid down w/ their medical kits set up. Helen (who we also met from Hopper) sat in a chair & held the bird’s body. Sean (seen in pictures w/ pony tail) held the head/beak w/ another intern on the feet and Richard (Dan’s counterpart at Hopper) did the tagging (piercing was a little complicated as the punch didn’t go all the way through and the top & bottom holes can be hard to line up) After attaching the tags/transmitter, they drew blood and put into vacuum-sealed vials that went straight into a cooler . . .they’ll be sent to a lab for testing) Then the 2nd bird was done w/ Dan doing the blood draw and tagging and different interns helping. (one lucky intern was on her second day and this was her first live condor sighting! She was interviewed by Wendy)
One of the MOST thrilling parts for me this day . . .was that as it got to be around 9:30 or 10, as the thermals started, seven of the wild condors including AC-9 showed up and circled overhead, coming in low and landing on the top of the fly pen!!! They hung out there about 50 yards from where we all were: either handling condors or snapping photos watching, learning along w/ the interns learning how to do all the procedures in the briefest amount of time . . .I actually heard my first vocalization as one of the juveniles, complained hoarsely . . .
Then, when both birds were done, they carried them to a part of the pen that is separated from the rest of the pen. One intern (Joe) went into the blind and w/ all of us leaving the area and driving up to the ridge above. At that point all of the wild condors took off from the pen . ..later we could see them eating calf carcases at the feeding site across the canyon . . .When we were in position, via radio, Joe was told to open the “window” trap-door . . . . we watched from the ridge for about an hour (luckily I brought a huge bags of chips & salsa for the starving interns . . .ha,ha) but they just stayed in there on the ground. Later, the wild condors came back and landed back on top of the fly pen . . .
Finally, everyone needed to leave (the KSBY crew had to head back) and we all left. The plan was to leave the “door” open but close it at night. And perhaps put some food out for the next day & reopen the trap again today (Wed.) - I’ve asked Dan and Helen to let me know how it went. . . I hope they find their way out or perhaps, they’ll have to capture them again and take them up to the feeding site to release them . . .
PS Good news was that the CDF has told the Hopper staff that they CAN go back into Hopper (at least during the day) . . .Last week, when they went in, the chick was still doing ok in its cave/nest.
That’s it for now!