Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Pacific Southwest Region


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Field Notes 2004


Field Notes for July 2004

Wild Chicks Continue to Thrive

AC9 wild chick in 2004. Photo Credit Allan Mee US Fish and Wildlife Service
AC9s chick # 328 suns itself outside of the nest.

Nest watchers report good feather growth on the three wild chicks. The chicks spend their time flapping their growing wings and playing with discarded feathers. The chicks are three months old and not expected to leave the nest (fledge) until they are six months old. All involved hope that this year a chick will fledge.









Field Notes for June 2004

7 Condors transferred to Big Sur

Sevral people carring condors in dog kennels. Photo Credit Mike Stockton US Fish and Wildife Service
Biologists & Interns carrying condors to flight pen in Big Sur.

On the 29th of June, the young condor juveniles being held in the flight pen were transferred to Big Sur. Due to the increased fire danger it was felt the birds should be moved. Ventana Wilderness Society agreed to take the birds and release them at Big Sur in the Fall.








Fire Season

A number of agencies assisted Hopper Mt Refuge prepare for fire season, these included City Corps, Ventura County Fire Department and US Forest Service, clear brush from around the Refuge compound. US Forest Service firefighters taught a fire safety class to the field crew to prepare them for the possibility of being caught in a fire.




Condor Chick Passes Physical

Condor chick 333, 2 months old, held by nest entry personnel. Phot Credit Mike Stockton US Fish and Wildlife Service
Condor chick 333 shows good feather growth and weighs in at 12 pounds. He is 2 months old.

This year 111 & 125 again have a chick and a team consisting of Cynthia Springfield, LA Zoo Veterinarian, Mike Clark, LA Zoo condor keeper, Allan Mee nesting researcher and Mike Stockton, FWS Supervising Wildlife Biologist went into the nest to examine the chick on June 25. Both the nest and the chick were clean with no debris in either. The chick was measured, blood was drawn and West Nile Virus vaccine was administered. The team was reassured to find the chick in excellent health and at a good stage of development for a 2 month old chick. A team will go into the nest again when the chick is 4 months old to attach numbered tags and transmitters. This will enable the field crew to track it's movements when it fledges at about 6 months of age. 111 & 125's prior year chick died due to complications from ingesting debris fed to it by the parents.



Another Successful Trapping

Intern holds condors head during a West Nile Virus Shot. Photo Credit Denise Stockton US Fish and Wildlife Service

Twenty-two condors were trapped June 15 & 16. Tags and transmitters were changed for those that needed them, all lead levels were low on the field test kits and lab results. The birds received boosters for West Nile Virus. The field crew from the Ventana Wilderness Society came down to help along with Vets from the San Diego Zoo, the condor keepers from LA Zoo and keepers from Santa Barbara Zoo. With so many condors needing to be trapped, the extra help made quick work of a large project.






Field Notes for May 2004

Amazing Volunteers!

We have had some amazing volunteers helping with the program this month. Dave Anderberg spends many days a week observing condors in the San Gabriel Mountains. He is equipped with a radio and telemetry equipment and keeps the field crew informed on condor movements in that area. Dan Milius traveled from northern California to build a blind for a feeding site. He spent a week at the Refuge and produced an excellent structure for the biologists to observe the birds from. Long time volunteers Anthony Prieto and Jan Hamber assisted with field operations. A temporary decline in intern applications left the crews short handed and the efforts of these volunteers helped out when it was most needed.

Was It A Bear?

The nest watcher had been on duty all day, he was making an entry in his field notebook and looked up to see a dark shape near the nest cave, was it a bear? Had it been in the nest? Do we still have a chick? Two biologists set off the next morning just after dawn to check on the health of the chick. When they got there they found a healthy chick, hissing at them. Maybe there hadn't been a bear, but there is definitely a chick. This excitement occurred at 125 & 111's nest, the same pair that had a chick last year and had a confrontation with a bear. (See 2003 notes)

Field Notes for April 2004

Hopper at Santa Barbara Earth Day

Ivett Plascencia staffs an infomationl booth at the Santa Barbara Earth Day. Photo Credit Richard Posey US Fish and Wildlife Service
Invett Plascencia answers questions about condors at the Earth Day Event in Santa Barbara.

Jeff Bridges, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Jackson Browne, Kenny Logins and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex staff made an appearance at the annual Earth Day event in Santa Barbara.








Visitors to the Refuge

Visitors look into binoculars. Photo Credit Denise Stockton US Fish and Wildlife Service
A visitor from Bulgaria, a Fillmore City Councilwoman and an author watch condors on the refuge.

Sunday, April 18, the LA Audubon chapter visited the Refuge and were rewarded with a view of about 30 condors flying, perching and feeding. The next week an author, a Fillmore City councilwoman and a visitor from Bulgaria were taken up to the Refuge where they saw many condors soaring overhead and got a rare treat when AC9 and another adult condor flew close enough over to get a good look.




All Three Chicks Hatch

Two week old chick in nest cave. Photo Credit Richard Posey US Fish and Wildlife Service
Two week old chick appears healthy and a little annoyed at those who came to check on it.

The first of the chicks to emerge from its shell was reported by observers on Friday, April 9; the second chick on Easter Sunday, April 11; and the third chick on Thursday, April 22. The parents of the chicks have varied backgrounds. Two of the females were released in Big Sur, and while most of the Big Sur birds travel back and forth between southern and central California, these two have stayed for more than three years. One of the males is 24 year old, AC9 who was the last wild condor brought in from the wild in 1987 and after fifteen years in the captive breeding program he was released back into the wild 01 May 2002. AC9 was captured on Easter Sunday in 1987 and his first chick since being released, was hatched on Easter Sunday.

“To have an original wild condor reproducing again in the wild after 17 years is very gratifying, we have come full circle. When this same bird was captured in 1987, and no California condors soared free, we faced an uncertain future.” stated Steve Thompson, Manager of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Nevada Operations Office.

Sevral condors at a feeding site Photo Credit Ana Fuentes US Fish and Wildlife Service
Calcium supplements in the from of crushed bones and oyster shells are offered at feeding sites for the breeding birds.

Both the male and female condors will care for the chicks, only one parent will be in the nest at a time, oneparent looks for food while the other broods and feeds the chick. This will continue until the chick fledges (first flight), at about 6 months of age. The parents will stay with the chick for up eighteen months. Last year only one chick was produced in southern California and the chick died after 4 months. The first wild chick to survive past fledging was hatched last year in Arizona. That chick at 10 months is still with its parents and doing fine. Two condor pairs in Arizona are incubating eggs now; the chicks are due to hatch in mid to late May.




Field Notes for March 2004

Calling All Nest Watchers

With three nests to watch and a possible upcoming fourth, volunteers have come forward to lend a hand. Jan Hamber, condor biologist and manager of the Condor Information System at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, is one of several who volunteer to hike down into steep canyons, camp on the slope for several days peering into a scope hoping for the reward of a condor flying into a nest cave they cannot see into.

Breeding condor, 111, flys over the Hopper Mtn. NWR. Photo Credit Ana Fuentes US Fish and Wildlife Service
Breeding female condor, 111, soaring over the Hopper Mtn. National Wildlife Refuge.


The Eggs are Fertile!

Biologists hike into the nest caves and candle the eggs of AC9 & 192 and later 107 & 161. They are fertile and everything is on track for chicks this year. 125 and 111 had a fertile chick last year so that nest was not entered.

Two Juveniles Transferred to Pinnacles

Biologist attaching a wing tag to condor. Photo Credit Todd Stansbury US Fish and Wildlife Service
Ventana Wilderness Society, Pinnacles National Monument and Hopper Mtn. NW Refuge staff are all intent on attaching wing tags and transmitters on the birds to be released at the Pinnicles National Monument.

Staff from Ventana Wilderness Society and Pinnacles National Monument arrived at Hopper Mountain Refuge on March 3 to trap two of the eight juveniles being held in the Hopper flight pen. The two birds were transported to Pinnacles where they will be released in the Spring.








Field Notes for February 2004

Third Pair Lays Egg

Male condor 125 and female 111 have laid an egg for the second year in a row.
They were the only southern California condors to produce a chick last year. The chick died at four months of age. None of the pairs from 2002 laid eggs the following year. One pair lost a mate, another pair bond broke up and the third failed to lay.

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs

Dominate male 107 and female 161 have been trading off at a nest cave since wednesday, the 11th. The nest cave is the same one 107 and his previous mate 112 used in 2001. This site affords no visibility in order to verify the presence of an egg. Biologists base the evidence of an egg purely through the behavior of the pair. When an egg is laid the parents will trade off incubating it and when one of the pair is feeding the other will be missing.

Another pair, which includes the original wild bird AC9 (#21), and female 192 have been exhibiting the same nesting behavior as 107 & 161. Both females in these pairings are first time breeders and first time breeding often results in infertile eggs. On the plus side for success is that both males have previously bred. If successful, the chicks will hatch in about 58 days which would be the second week of April. Two more pairs are expected to lay this year.

Field Notes for January 2004

Five Condors Trapped

Biologist works on condor, AC9, while intern holds the bird. Photo Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service
Allusive AC9 was finally trapped, he received new transmitters and tested low for lead.

After almost two months of trying, the last of the flock has finally been trapped, tags and transmitters changed and lead blood levels evaluated. AC9, an original wild bird is notoriously hard to trap. He was trapped and his lead levels were low. Juvenile male condor 239 weighed in at a whopping 25.4 pounds. Condors in the wild generally weigh between 17 and 25 lbs. with an average of about 21.





Condors fly after capture. Photo Credit Ivett Plascencia US Fish and Wildlife Service
Released after being trapped, two condors soar off towards Hopper Mountain.


2004 Breeding Season Starts With a Breakup

Dominate male condor #107 has chosen a new mate. The established pairing of male 107 and female 112 has apparently ended. The two 10 year old birds had two unsuccessful nestings in 2001 and 2002. The two have not been seen together in months and 107 has been displaying to female 161. Seven year old female condor 161 is a Big Sur released condor that moved to southern California several years ago with another female, #192.

Condor in a cave. Photo Credit Mike Barth US Fish and Wildlife Service
Adult condor at a nest cave.


AC9 Has Found a Mate

AC9, an original wild bird released in 2002 has paired up with female 192. 192 was released in Big Sur and has been in the Sespe/Hopper area for 3 years. The two have been seen copulating and exploring possible nest caves. AC9 is 24 years old and 192 is six. There are two other pairs being closely watched the 2002 parents male 98 and female 155 are still together along with the 2003 pair male 125 and female 111. There is a very good possibility of having 4 nests in the wild this year.

Hopper Biologists Lend Expertise to Pinnacles National Monument Release Site

US Fish & Wildlife biologists traveled to central California to help with the new release site at Pinnacles National Monument. The release of condors at the park is a joint effort between the Park service and the Ventana Wilderness Society with technical assistance from Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex
. All six birds have been released and are doing well in the wild.


Last updated: August 17, 2009