Welcome to the Wild
This weekend three new California Condors left the realm of coddled captivity and soared into a new life with the wild population in Arizona. This brings the Arizona-Utah condor population up to 73 members, roughly one third of all the wild California Condors in the world. Yep, that's not many. The three captive-bred birds were released atop the Vermilion Cliffs.
The Vermilion Cliffs - condor country.
I was super-honored to be asked to photograph the release from a blind atop the cliff near the release pen. Also in the blind was condor biologist Erin Bramnon, who graciously answered my condor questions and taught me a lot about the birds' habits and personalities, and the many tasks of a condor biologist.
Let's meet the new birds. At 11 AM the doors to the release pen were opened. Initially the birds seemed content to stay in the pen, but at 11:29, Condor 618 ventured out the bottom door, ran down the rock slab below and took flight.
Condor 618 is first out of the gate
618 is a four-year old female. An adolescent, her neck is just starting to turn pink.
First flight for 618
618 cruised out over the rim, then flew out of view. We wouldn't see her again for a couple hours, but Erin kept tabs on her transmitter signal and could tell she hadn't strayed far. Meanwhile Condors 731 and 735 ventured to the bar at the entrance of the top door.
731 (tag P1) and 735 (tag P5) stare down into House Rock Valley and the hundreds of condor fans waiting for a glimpse of them. 731: "Look at all those people down there." 735: "That huge guy in the ball cap looks like he might die of answering all those questions." 731: "Yeah, that could feed us for weeks."
Neither seemed inclined to follow 618's lead and just fly off and explore. Instead they worked their way to the top of the pen and hung out there.
The pen was far enough from us that heat shimmers were driving the photographer in me crazy. Long telephoto lenses don't do well at midday. But what to do other than enjoy watching these young ones enter a whole new life?
731 and 715 are both one year old and for the moment were content to watch the adults wing around.
Condor 389 (tag 89), a feisty ten-year old female, wings past.
After a bit, Condor 162 decided 735 was occupying a perch that would be better suited for an adult.
It's common for more dominant condors to shoulder submissive condors off their perches and that's just what happened.
Knocked from his perch, 735 takes off on his first flight.
735 takes a peek over the rim and decides to quickly circle back. The first time flying outside a flight pen is tricky with the updrafts. 731 doesn't seem too sure about his raven escort either.
Tail end of 735's first wild flight.
Lastly 731 gets coerced by the adults to fly.
And after her short first flight, 731 comes in for a landing.
First wild flights out of the way, the newbies took to getting to know their new tribe. Condors have a well-defined social hierarchy.
Elders get to eat first.
618 gets shooed away until the adults finish.
520 (tag J2) tells 735 it's time to leave the bath. Adding insult, a raven yanks 735's tail feather. The newcomers will soon learn that ravens can be real irritating.
Drying out after his bath.
At last the newbs get to help themselves to the leftovers.
731 lies down to digest while 618 decides to fly off.
Into the sunset after a busy day one.
All contents, text and photos are copyright John Sherman. Absolutely no reproduction without prior written permission from John Sherman. That especially means you Scrubby.
WooHoo! Thanks for letting us share the day, Verm!
What a beautiful, tender, sweet and light tribute to the beauty and grace of this experience.
Feeling deep gratitude for being witness to the experience, and for the gift you've presented, allowing us to see this up close and personal.
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