Friday, February 20, 2015

Adios, Galápagos 3.0

All good things must come to an end, and it was time to head back to the land of snow, -20C temperatures, and this mysterious season called winter. It has been a truly memorable season with the wonderful teams of Earthwatch volunteers, friends, and colleagues. Hopefully I will be returning next year!

For all my photos, click here!

Photo courtesy of Marc Johnson

Photo courtesy of Marc Johnson

From the flight into Quito

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Part of our work took us to Isabela Island for an overnight stay, and where we were treated to beautiful lagoons full of flamingos, piles of what we think are fish bones, and beaches.

Isabela has one of the largest marine iguana nesting areas on the islands, and there is a roped off area where we got to watch female marine iguanas digging their nests and fighting over the best territories.

As we were waiting for our ferry to go back to Santa Cruz, we were treated to some lovely surprises including a huge flock of boobies diving for fish, sea lions jumping onto boats, and a Galapagos Penguin fishing in the water.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tribulus sampling

One of the reasons I've stayed in the Galápagos for so long was to overlap with my labmate and friend, Sofia, who is working on a different perspective of the Darwin Finches: how the finches exert selection on plants. Namely, tribulus. If you are a finch, you have to have a certain size beak to be able to crack open a tribulus mericarp to get at the tasty seeds inside, and depending on how big your beak is, how you get at the tasty seeds depends on how big your beak is.

But what about the tribulus? If finches are happily munching on precious seeds the tribulus need to reproduce, how might tribulus be adapting and evolving to this selective pressure? Well, the cool thing is that's what we're about to explore! This year, collaborators, along with Sofia, arrived in the Galapagos to ask exactly this question.

Marc Johnson from U of Toronto arrived and we took him to El Garrapatero, where we knew that there (1) were tribulus and (2) finches were feeding on tribulus. It was a perfect field sampling day where we sampled many tribulus seeds and observed finches eating tribulus.

We even squeezed in a little bit of time at the beach to enjoy the wonders of Galápagos at the beach!

Perhaps most importantly, Ollie and Dolphin (don't know the name) made friends with my cat, and they seemed to be having a lovely time on the beach while helping my cat with a little bit of research.

Once back from a lovely time in the field, it was back to work. Several hundred tribulus seeds needed to be laid out, measured, and documented for an experiment, and this took the rest of the afternoon (and the part of the next day). Thankfully, all you need is time and beer to accomplish these kinds of tasks.
The start of organizing tribulus seeds
Done sorting! Sofia poses with the tribulus seeds she will soon start measuring.

Sofia well into measuring tribulus seeds.

Sofia prepping her tribulus samples
In fact, check out this video to get a real time perspective of what's going on!

Friday, February 13, 2015

North Seymour

If today was a representation of what Friday the 13th is suppose to be, I will be looking forward to Friday the 13th from now on! My friend and I managed to book the last two spots on a lovely day trip to the area around North Seymour, and island on the north side of Baltra and Santa Cruz. Earthwatch volunteers had been on this, and every group that went had a wonderful time. We figured we should see what everyone was talking about!

First, the boat ride was quite lovely compared to the ride to Floreana. Floreana was an oversize speedboat, so it had large, noisy outboard motors, and made for a bouncy ride. The boat to North Seymour was more of a motor yacht: quite, smooth, and spacious. On our way to around Baltra, we were greeted with views of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor.

Daphne Major in the background of sea lions sleeping

Our first stop was a lovely sand bar where there were sea lion colonies, marine iguanas, and a compete whale skeleton.

On North Seymour, I could have spent hours there taking photos and videos of the nesting birds there. What a spectacular sight!

I understand why the Earthwatch volunteers who went to North Seymour have always come back saying what an amazing expedition it was! I hope to go again one day!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015


The thing with field work in the Galápagos is you never know if you will have the opportunity to return. Funding, time, permits, and the many other components that go into making a field season happen might fall through at any time. I've been lucky enough to be in the midst of my third season here, but I haven't had that many chances to visit other islands. Fortunately, I have the time for day trips, so today, we did a day trip to Floreana.

Floreana has the smallest town of the four inhabited islands. Population = 120. However, it has some of the most interesting stories. For those unfamiliar, I've heard good things about The Galapagos Affair. If you watch it, let me know how it is because I want to see it!

Immediately upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was how much colour the marine iguanas had! Truly spectacular!

Snorkling on Playa Negra or Black Beach was a nice treat. I'd never seen black sand before, and the snorkling was enjoyable spottingsome rays, turtles, and a scorpion fish.

After snorkling and a delicious lunch of arroz y pescado, we headed into the highlands. The Floreana tortoise is extinct, due to overzealous humans deciding Galapagos tortoises made for tasting meat on the long sea voyages. However, there is now an enclosure in the highlands on Floreana which has a mix of tortoises from different islands. They seemed to spend a lot of time intimidating each other....

 There are pirate caves here!

And perhaps, most interesting, we saw a medium tree finch.It was bathing in a pool of water in the highlands where we were looking at the tortoises. I had spotted it, and based on the beak shape, I said "Check out that parv!" Parv is our nickname of the small tree finch, which can be found on Santa Cruz. My friend quickly corrected me because the bird was too large to be a small tree finch, but I had forgotten there were medium tree finches on Floreana! So, we had a chance to see a critically endangered species on Floreana!