Friday, March 17, 2017

Finca Guadelupe, San Cristobal

Today, Jaime had organized a day trip to the highlands and we were invited to tag along. A bus trip brought us to the Finca Guadelupe in the highlands. 
Harvesting papayas
View from the finca
Everyone loved the puppies. There was a bassett hound type dog that had some kind of hybrid puppies that were quite adorable. 

The owner has been doing a lot of conservation, and the Park has agreed to lend him some giant tortoises if he creates a tortoise pen that the park approves of. This means removing a lot of invasive plant species. So, for the morning, we were handed shovels, pick axes, and machetes, and we went to work removing these invasive plant species. We focused on this one type that has these massive root balls and very long runner like roots, so it takes an extraordinary amount of physical work to remove the whole plant. It's an ornamental plant of some type - the flowers are quite colourful. We also spent the time working on cutting down some invasive vines to allow the native trees and plants to thrive.

We then pressed sugar cane - it is grown on the farm, so we harvested a bunch as well as some lemons. 

Cleaning the sugar cane so it can be pressed

There is an old fashioned sugar cane press with a long handle that grinds two gears and you feed the sugar cane in. In pairs, teams on either side of the long handle pushing it around in a circle so the gears would work. 
Piece of peeled sugar cane with a pretty awesome view

The juice is then strained, and given that it is basically sugar, fresh squeezed lime is added to it. After the hard work in the sun pulling up invasive plants and then pressing the sugar cane, it was a welcome refreshment!

We then went to see the waterfalls. San Cristobal is the only island that has fresh water year round and on a permanent basis. he farm has focused on conservation because this land could have been used for farms, which could have been a serious problem because they might not have conserved what was on the island. 

It was really interesting to experience everything at the finca, and special thanks to Jaime for arranging the excursion! Just in case you thought the sugar cane press was all work and nobody had any fun.....

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Adventures on San Cristobal

Jaime teaches at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito's satellite campus on San Cristobal. He graciously invited the crew out to visit San Cristobal Island for a week of mistnetting, behaviour, and fun!

On the ferry to San Cristobal
One of the most interesting things, as Darwin himself noted, is the among island variation about species. For example, we noticed that the lava lizards on San Cristobal seemed to have more patches and more saturation in their red patches.

Field sampling was similar to Santa Cruz, though we were able to spot some other lovely creatures such as this Galápagos blue butterfly.

Mammals, of course.
Field work on San Cristobal
And some other cool invertebrates!

And of course, what we had come to study - some Darwin's Finches!

Jaime gave a seminar to the Erasmus Mundus Masters students, which was quite interesting to see the wide range of research that Jaime and his collaborators (such as us!) are working on.

And Angela and I gave a talk to Jaime's student's about the work we have been doing as well. Angela came last year with colleagues from the University of Utah studying the finches and mockingbirds and how an invasive parasite, Philornis downsi has been affecting them.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Getting creative and being opportunistic

Field work is one of the most enjoyable and fun aspects of science, yet it can also be incredibly difficult and wrought with challenges and unforeseen complications.We're only human, and we sometimes make mistakes, such as forgetting pieces of equipment that could be useful. For example, when we mistnet at the Barranco near the research station, we often bring a tarp because the sun rises in the east and the platform where we work is completely exposed. This is bad for us, but especially bad for the birds that are awaiting processing as the heat is not good for them. We always keep the birds in the shade. So, what do we do when we accidentally forget the tarp for shade? We move to a place that has shade. In our case, it happened to be the bathroom.
As with all field set-ups, you work with what you have. We're luck that our site at El Garrapatero has areas where we can setup a shade tarp and have a little station where we can measure the birds.
Of course, when working with wild animals, it's unpredictable how busy you will be. Given that we are up at 4:30am and on the road at 5:00am, we often take opportunities to relax a bit if we're not too busy. In some cases, we might read.
And in other cases, we just outright sleep. For some odd reason, Jaime and Isabela, the marine iguana, were dreaming about Andrew Hendry's book....

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Galápagos Rails, Media Luna, and Cerro Crocker

Yesterday, we welcomed Marco to the field who joined us from Montreal where he is working on his masters on adaptive landscapes and Darwin's finches. Today, Jaime thought we could go to Media Luna because the storm petrals would be returning to their nest. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to check when the Storm Petral breeding season was. (hint: it's not the end of February). That being said, we spent the morning wandering Media Luna looking for the elusive Galápags Rail, a ground nesting bird that is very quick to run along the ground.
Attempting to find the Galápagos Rail

The microclimate in the highlands is extremely different from the semi-arid area of El Garrapatero where we do our regular mistnetting. We hiked from Media Luna up to Cerro Crocker, which is the highest point on Santa Cruz.

The fog and clouds kept rolling in and out, creating at times a mystical, foggy atmosphere, and then clearing to provide spectacular views of Santa Cruz.

In our attempt to find the Galápagos Rail, we did get a beautiful Warbler Finch

One thing we did manage to get (not the Rails) was a recording of the Galápagos Rail.
Marco recording the Rail
The fog also created a wonderful opportunity for some macro photographs.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Galapagos 5.0

Here we go Galapagos 5.0! Special thanks to Newnham College who awarded me a Gibbs Travelling Fellowship so I could have this field season. Thank you to Clare Hall and Christ's College as well for providing financial assistance for this season!

This year will be a mix of mistnetting to continue our long term data set on Darwin's Finches, as well as my continuing to study behavioural adaptations in Darwin's Finches. This year, we got started right away as Jaime had brought our equipment over from San Cristobal. Carlos, Angela, and I had arrived and were excited to stay in some new apartments that Jaime had kindly found for us. We headed to El Garrapatero for our first day of mistnetting this season.

The EG parking lot

We had a good first day, getting some mockingbirds that Angela had studied the previous year, and getting a nice assortment of finches as well.

For several years, we've always warned volunteers and assistants the perils of opuntia cactus. For the first time (at least it took five years), I managed to get my first major opuntia encounter. I tripped on a rock, mildly sprained my ankle, and managed to fall/sit on the only opuntia in a 10m radius. Thankfully, Angela (a) knew me from the previous year, (b) had experience pulling out opuntia spines, and (c) had some tweezers. So, our first day in the field, and Angela and I bonded over opuntia cactus needles being pulled out of my bum. #overlyhonestmethods #fieldworkfail.