A wandering condor?

Thursday, April 23, 2015 7:26 PM
This California condor was spotted April 16 near Summit Ridge, south of Dolores, by Franz Carver, a seasonal ranger at Mesa Verde National Park. The condor was feared dead by officials at the Grand Canyon National Park.

A rare California condor from near Grand Canyon National Park that was “missing and feared dead” was photographed Thursday south of Dolores by seasonal park ranger Franz Carver.

Carver, who drives around looking for birds on his days off, spotted the California condor on Thursday, April 16, in the Summit Ridge area.

At first, he thought it was a common buzzard.

“I saw this bird and thought it was a turkey vulture, but thought that it was too big,” Carver said.

So Carver, who describes himself as an amateur photographer who loves birds, stopped to take some photographs.

“I probably took 15 to 20 shots,” he said. “I thanked the bird for being so cooperative.”

It wasn’t until he downloaded the photographs that he saw a tag that read “N8” on the bird’s wing.

“Then I knew it was a condor,” he said.

Carver quickly did some research and found a list of birds on the Grand Canyon National Park’s website.

It turns out that N8, also known as bird 680, is a 2-year-old male. The park listed him as “missing and feared dead” in February.

Carver informed Grand Canyon National Park and Janice Stroud-Settles, a park biologist.

“It was pretty exciting to hear he made it over to Colorado,” Stroud-Settles said. “We’ve heard reports of our birds in Colorado before, but we have never had photographic proof.”

Carver lives near Reno when he isn’t working at the Mesa Verde National Park Visitors Center.

“This is the most exciting bird I have seen,” he said.

The California condor is the largest North American land bird, with a wing-span of 9.8 feet. They went extinct in the wild in 1987 and were reintroduced in northern Arizona and southern Utah after being bred in captivity. They are the rarest bird species, numbering about 425 today.

When Carver downloaded the pictures, he said he was shaking and couldn’t believe it.

Stroud-Settles said the lifespan of a California condor is 60 to 70 years, but the park has never had any live that long. They are the longest-living bird in the world. Their population declined because of poaching, poisoning and habitat destruction.

The Grand Canyon population was first introduced in 1996. There are currently 71 birds in the park, Stroud-Settles said.

“They come and go between Arizona and Utah, and now Colorado,” Stroud-Settles said. “Occasionally we do hear of sightings (in Colorado). We rarely get the pictures to go with it, so we are sure.”

N8 was released in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument near the Grand Canyon in June. He was raised in the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Stroud-Settles said few of their birds have GPS transmitters, but N8 has one and apparently went out of contact.

“Some say there has been reports of them all the way up to Wyoming,” she said.

Chris Parish, condor field project supervisor with the Peregrine Fund, monitors the condors by GPS and was happy to learn of N8’s spotting.

“Obviously that is great news,” he said on a phone.

Parish said the birds have been spotted as far north as the Flaming Gorge in Wyoming. Juveniles may wander, he said.

“We’ve had them in your neck of the woods before, but it’s not common,” he said.

Parish said that because the bird flew out of the Grand Canyon area, it was feared missing, but after he downloaded the bird’s activity from a GPS device, N8’s itnerary became clear.

“He traveled 642 miles total in nine days,” he said.

Then, the condor took off again and spent the night near the New Mexico border, Parish said.

It’s not uncommon to lose contact of birds, Parish said, especially in the spring when fronts blow through, allowing birds to take extended trips.

“This is a lot farther east than we had ever recorded that bird going,” Parish said.

The day before N8 was spotted south of Dolores, Parish said, data showed that the bird was north of Monticello, Utah.

On April 14, Parish said N8 traveled 160 miles in one day.

“We’ve seen them fly as much as 200 miles plus in a single day. It all depends on the wind,” Parish said.