Friday, October 21, 2005

The Life History of AC2 by Jan Hamber, 2005

Now that AC2 is free, I thought that you all might enjoy reading about AC2 and why this formerly free flying wild bird is so important to the recovery of the species.

First of all, there were only ten formerly free flying wild condors in captivity in 1987 of which AC2 was one.

AC2 and his mate AC3 were first seen on Jan. 9, 1976 by Dick Smith and Jan Hamber as they soared along the escarpment of West Big Pine in the Santa Barbara back country. (There is an assumption that AC2 is the same bird throughout this history. AC3 was identified by Noel Snyder as being the same female that nested at Indian Creek in 1972. He determined this by examining the egg shells that came from the various nestings in Santa Barbara county during the period 1972 - 1985.

The pair was found nesting on the escarpment, successfully fledging a chick in 1976. The fate of that chick is unknown.

In 1977, the pair nested in the same cave. Again, the chick successfully fledged that year. Again the fate of the chick is unknown. The only clue we have is that AC4 and UN1 were identified as possibly being the offspring of the Santa Barbara pair through genetic study. The stud book lists UN1’s possible birthday as 1976 and AC4’s about 1980. This last date is too late as all nestings were monitored from 1980 on through 1985 so we know the fate of each egg.

In 1978 and 1979, the Museum funded only enough time and dollars for a one day per month trip into the back country. The pair was always seen but the nesting sites, if any, were not found during those 2 years. With the founding of the Condor Research Center in 1980,more resources were available for locating nest sites and monitoring them every day once they were found. Many days were spent in the field by a combination of cooperating agencies, volunteers and a few paid biologists.

The following is a catalog of the nestings of AC2 and AC3 from 1980 through 1985:

1980 - AC2/AC3 nested in Big Pine Canyon on the north side of the escarpment. The egg hatched but the chick died of stress during a measuring and weighing trip on June 30, 1980. This death put a stop to a newly given permit to trap condors for radio telemetry. The permit was not reinstated until 2 years later.

1981 - AC2/AC3 again nested on the West Big Pine escarpment in the same cave used in 1976 & 1977. This nest was watched every day. When the normal hatching date was well past, the CRC team climbed up to the nest and determined that the egg had failed and the chick died, either at or during, hatching.

1982 - AC2/AC3 nested in Don Victor Valley. more than 8 miles away from what we thought was their core area at West Big Pine. Again a constant nest watch was instituted from Mid-April, when the nest site was finally discovered, until the end of Oct. This chick fledged successfully and survived until Thanksgiving time, Nov. 1983. The chick, known as Bosley, was killed by cyanide found in an M-44 “coyote getter”. The event changed the way the predator control arm of the USFWS placed out M-44s 0R in condor country. They now were ordered to place only one, not 2 M-44s, in a set.

1983 - An important nesting took place this year when AC2/AC3, with AC2 now carrying a radio and AC3 with distinctive notches in several feathers of her wing, nested back at the old 1972 Indian Creek nest site. This egg was taken for the captive breeding program, hatched and was a female named Almiyi. Because observers were out in the field constantly, we noted the pair driving Bosley away from the nest site. Bosley had fledged early Sept. and thus came from an egg laid early in the season. This proved once and for all that condors could, contrary to Koford’s thesis, lay eggs in successive years even though the chick from the previous year survived. So the reproductive rate of condors was increased by this new knowledge. Formerly (and still quoted call the time) is the statement that condors lay one egg every other year. Now we knew that it was possible for condors to lay 2 eggs in 3 years with a surviving fledgling. The 1983 egg was laid late in April.

1984 - 2 nestings by AC2/AC3 in 1984. The first egg was removed from Mono Narrows on Feb. 12, 1984 and taken to San Diego Zoo. The egg hatched and became a chick was named Ojai. The second nest was situated on Madulce Peak. The egg was taken on Mar. 18, 1984 to the Zoo. The egg hatched. The chick was named Yosemite but it died a few days later from a bacterial infection.

1985 - 3 nestings by AC2/AC3 in 1985. The first egg came Feb. 14, 1985 from a different cave on the Madulce cliffs. This egg hatched. The chick was named Kaweah, the only male produced by this pair. The second egg was laid back at the West Big Pine Nest site on Mar. 18, 1985. This egg failed to develop properly and thus no chick survived from this nesting. If you watch the Audubon film narrated by Robert Redford called “Condor” you will see the E-Team do an egg pickup. The last nesting of this pair occurred in Bluff Canyon on Big Pine Mt. on April 15. The egg was incubated by the pair until a concern for the egg’s safety (ravens were cruising too close to the nest and ravens were a known predator of condor eggs) brought about a nest climb where the fertile egg was taken to the zoo and replaced with a dummy egg to keep the pair close to the nest. On June 17, 1985 the dummy egg was taken, thus releasing the pair from incubating duties. This egg hatched and the female chick was named Malibu. In all, 9 eggs were laid and 4 chicks hatched for the captive breeding project from this pair.

1985/6 - In mid December 1985, biologists noted that AC3 was remaining at Bittercreek (then Hudson Ranch) while AC2 returned to the roost areas in Santa Barbara Co. A constant watch was set up to monitor the AC3’s behavior. It became evident that she was very ill. After several attempts, she was run down, captured and taken to San Diego Zoo where she was found to be suffering from severe lead poisoning. Despite a major effort by zoo personnel, AC3 died on Jan. 18, 1986. This was the end of the five original nesting pairs found by the biologists of the CRC. AC3’s death also ended the discussion about whether to trap all remaining condors for captive breeding or to leave a few wild birds out to be mentors to released captive bred condors.

AC3’s death also ended the discussion about whether to trap all remaining condors for captive breeding or to leave a few wild birds out to be mentors to released captive bred condors. The order went out to trap all remaining condors and any hope for a surviving wild population vanished. AC2 was captured in December 1986 on Hudson Ranch. By the time all the birds were taken into captivity, we had learned that the nesting area for AC2/AC3 covered about 64 square miles of the Sisquoc, Santa Cruz, Mono and Indian watersheds. Access to the area was either by the Big Pine Administrative Road or by way of the Pie Canyon Jeepway through Potrero Seco. Thus the pair could fly from a nest site on West Big Pine to Don Victor Valley in about 20 minutes and it would take a single observer about 6 to 7 hours to cover the same ground.