Science briefs: Condor cams catch rare birds in the wild

  • Updated: October 26, 2013 - 5:01 PM
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FILE--A California condor prepares to fly into the wild from Hopper Mountain, Calif., in this file photo, date unknown. Rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1980s, the California condor is again soaring freely in the West due to a captive-breeding campaign enlisting all of the species' surviving adults. But a new study warns that unsafe food sources and the captive condors' tame offspring could doom efforts to save the giant birds. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Scott Frier, File) ORG XMIT: LA801

condor cams catch rare birds in the wild

For years, it’s been a rare experience to see an endangered California condor in the wild. There are only 429 of North America’s largest bird alive today, and half of them live in zoos.

But on Monday, with some high-tech help, the bird-watching got a lot easier. The first camera to capture live streaming video of condors in the wild was turned on in the remote hills of Big Sur.

The solar-powered “condor cam” — www.ventanaws.org — allows the public to watch the huge, vulture-like birds feeding, grooming and flying in real time, and enables scientists to monitor them more efficiently.

It’s the latest example of how inexpensive video technology and high-speed Internet connections are changing how the public interacts with wildlife.

“We put the camera right on top of one of the main feeding areas so we could zoom down and get identification of each individual,” said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, a nonprofit that has worked to bring condors back from the brink of extinction.

“Over the weekend when we were testing it, we had 25 condors in front of the camera.”

Biologists from the group will zoom in on the birds at key times, such as in the morning when they are most active, Sorenson said. They also plan to ask the public to send notifications on the Ventana Wildlife Society’s Facebook and Twitter feeds when birds are doing something interesting.

It wasn’t easy setting up the camera. The area is so rural that there is no electricity or Internet connection. The system, which cost about $15,000, Sorenson said, was funded by a donation from FedEx and help from the Oakland Zoo. Crews installed a high-speed T1 Internet connection at a home 12 miles north of the site, then set up antennas to get the signal to the solar-powered camera.

NITRATEs pollute FOR decades

Nitrates from agricultural fertilizer could continue to leach into groundwater for at least 80 years after initial use, according to researchers who conducted a long-term study of nitrogen uptake.

Using isotope tracers, scientists followed the fate of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers applied to fields planted in France with wheat and sugar beets.

They found that 30 years after the 1982 application, 61 to 65 percent of the nitrates had been taken up by plants. Much of the rest continued to reside in soil matter (12 to 15 percent) or was migrating into groundwater (8 to 12 percent).

In a paper published Monday in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers estimated that nitrates would continue to seep into groundwater for at least another 50 years.

That is “much longer than previously thought,” wrote the authors, led by Mathieu Sebilo of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. Cleanup programs need to take that long-term release into account, they said.

WILD BLOWFISH RISK EXTINCTION

Tennen torafugu, a species of wild blowfish long prized as a delicacy by consumers, faces extinction in waters around Japan, with the number rapidly decreasing in recent years likely due to overfishing.

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