Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
REGION 8: Condor Chick Thought Burned in Big Sur Fire Found by Recovery Partner and Service Biologists
California-Nevada Offices , September 3, 2008
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Condor flying to burned over nest tree. (photo: USFWS)
Condor flying to burned over nest tree. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

On September 3, 2008, condor biologists Joseph Brandt and Ivan Hartert, from Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge joined Ventana Wilderness Society (VWS) Senior Biologist Joseph Burnett to check on a nesting pair of condors at Big Sur, a sparsely populated region in California’s central coast.  The biologists used a helicopter to get to the remote nest which was located in a gigantic redwood tree that had been burned in the Big Sur Fire in June.  


According to a web posting from Burnett, the nest is so remote that the Ventana Wilderness Society biologists are unable to monitor it in the field and have relied on GPS data to interpret the status of the nesting condors. Although Burnet had confirmed the location of the nest from a helicopter prior to the fire, he had never actually seen a chick.  Biologists were suspicious, however, because GPS data from the parents (199 and 231) indicated that they were still spending time around the nest tree after the fire.


Brandt and Hartert served as climbing volunteers on the mission to determine the fate of the condor chick. A local pilot, Jim Cheetham, flew the group into the nest area early in the day.  Burnett noted that upon landing how intensely the fire had burned through the nest area and that their chances of finding a living chick were “pretty darn slim”.


When the three biologists arrived at the base of the nest tree they saw that the flames had crawled up 120-plus feet of the 200-foot tall redwood tree.  Luckily, the nest cavity was at the very top, so there was still a chance. Burnett wrote “Joseph and Ivan set the ropes and Joseph scrambled his way up the tree.  When he got to the cavity we heard the words we had been anxiously waiting for...the chick is alive!  Joseph dropped me a line and I climbed up”. 


According to Burnett, the biologists carefully radio-tagged and vaccinated the chick, which was almost full-grown (about 5 months old).  They learned that this chick is actually older than the other two chicks hatched in Big Sur this spring and that the recovery team will need to adjust the chick numbering for the studbook.


“The fact this chick survived is true miracle, I can't imagine what that chick witnessed from that nest cavity at the peak of the fire and how it survived the heat and smoke exposure...it truly blows me away,” Burnett said.


Condors on the Web:

Visit the Hopper Mountain NWR website to learn more about the Service's California condor recovery program.










Contact Info: Alex Pitts, , alexandra_pitts@fws.gov
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