Thursday, February 28, 2013

Training Day I

            Since we had to get our equipment ready, we were afforded the luxury of sleeping in until 6.45 am when Owen came by to bring us coffee. The morning was spent figuring out what was here (the banding kit!) and prepping all the equipment for an afternoon training session. Since we were working with finches, Joost had me practice taking photos of birds, and then try and identify the species. The first bird I took a photo of was not a finch, but a flycatcher. 

                                                  A flycatcher, not a finch

I quickly figured out the difference between the two, and also between a finch and a yellow warbler. 

                                               A yellow warbler, not a finch nor a flycatcher

Soon I has happily taking pictures of finches when I wasn’t cutting colour bands that are used to identify the birds.

                                                Finches!! (not guppies) 

            Because it is so hot during the afternoon, we only work at in the early morning and late afternoon to avoid over-stressing the birds. Joost taught us how to set up the mist nets, handle the birds when they are in the mist nets, and how to process them. I normally work with Trinidadian guppies, a small, freshwater fish. I kept joking how once the birds were caught, you just put them in a bucket with water and then they’d be happy. Fortunately, I did not mistake any birds for fish, and all the birds were handled properly.

            I was in charge of the photographs, which is the last step in processing, which meant I also got to give them sugar water to hydrate them and give them energy before they fly away. You can feel the birds swallowing the sugar water – they love that stuff! Especially the cactus finch since they feed on the sweet nectar of the flowers. It was hot, sweaty work, but lots of fun. We didn’t completely finish all the training, but got most of it done, and will complete the rest tomorrow.

                                            Taking photos of finches

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


          Late the previous evening, Team Pinzon found ourselves and all our luggage (intact) at the brand new Quito airport. While the airport had only been open less than a week, it did not have a shiny, new car smell to it, but it was bright, spacious, and clean. The drawback is it is quite far away from downtown Quito. We found out a colleague’s brother had booked us a hotel in a town in between Quito and the airport – it was only about 25 minutes away. The best news was that we had gotten our permit, so we were scheduled to fly to Galápagos the next day at 9.30am.

            Bright and early we showed up, and because the airport is brand new, nobody was quite sure where to go. After standing in line for a bit, we realized we had been waiting in the purchase ticket line. We headed over to the check-in line, but was told this was not for Galápagos, and directed another direction. We finally found the Galápagos check-in, but our luggage had not been screened, so then we had to find the luggage screening place. Once we got our luggage screened, the rest was a breeze, and so we waited for our flight. However, the gate number changed four times. Fortunately, after the first gate change, we didn’t have to move from our seats. We just had to watch the line form and re-form at different gates until they told everyone to sit down (and then changed the gate one last final time for boarding).

            Flights from Quito go through Guyaquil, so the flight was packed for the first leg, but spacious for the second flight. Everything was going swimmingly until we got to customs. Because we were coming as scientists and not tourists, we had obtained a ‘transuente’ permit, and could enter the park for a reduced fee. However, when we showed up, despite the transuente receipt, the officials needed a copy of the actual permit, which had disappeared when we were running around the airport in Quito trying to figure out where to go. However, technology saved the day when Owen was able to show the permits as virtual documents on his laptop, and not physical documents. Persuasion was necessary, but we eventually made it through and onto the bus.

            The airport is on the island of Baltra, so the bus takes you to the ferry which will cross to the island of Santa Cruz where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located. 

                                        Owen and Col on the bus to the ferry

                                           From the ferry going to Santa Cruz from Baltra

From the beginning, we were able to observe several of the iconic animals Galapágos is famous for including Galápagos sea lions, blue footed boobies, and marine iguanas. The drive takes up and over the volcanic mountain that makes up Santa Cruz island and deposited us at the Charles Darwin Station which is located near the coast. On the drive, we spotted several of Darwin’s finches, of which there are about nine of the thirteen species on this particular island (no vampire finches, unfortunately).
            The rest of the day was spent getting settled into the dorms at the research station and shopping for groceries in town. Nothing too exciting except ending up on the world famous Galápagos Islands. Our venture into town included witnessing first hand how the animals here have no fear of humans.

                                     The sea lions are not for sale, but the fresh fish is!