Thursday, May 17, 2007
It’s been a big week for Joe Burnett, senior biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society. From a room in the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, where his wife Wendy is about to give birth to the couple’s first child, Burnett describes a recent mission into the Big Sur backcountry to check the status of a month-old condor chick nesting in a cliff cave. The chick is the first condor hatched in Big Sur in 100 years. VWS began its efforts to reintroduce the endangered bird to the region in 1987. (The Weekly reported the story behind the chick’s hatching in “The Littlest Condor,” April 19-25.) VWS had not been able to verify that the chick is alive and well until now.
Burnett says last Friday, May 11, a helicopter pilot dropped him off atop a 300-foot high rock formation, along with biologist Sayre Flannagan and volunteer Joseph Brandt. Burnett and Brandt rappelled about halfway down the cliff to a small opening. As the two hung above the cavern’s entrance, they could hear the young bird crying.
As the condor papa watched from a nearby ledge, the biologists sprang into gear. The duo reached into the cave and grabbed the chicken-sized bird covered in light grey, fuzzy down. In just five minutes, the scientists sampled the chick’s blood, testing for lead, vaccinated it against West Nile Virus and weighed it. (It weighs four and a quarter pounds.) Then they returned the bird and began the climb back up the rock face.
For Burnett, seeing the chick was a huge moment. “It was the ultimate reward for all the years doing the program,” he says.
The Burnetts named their son Griffin. The scientists at VWS, on the other hand, have decided to let the public help choose a name for the condor chick.
To suggest a name for the fuzz ball, visit ventanaws.org