Saturday, March 30, 2013

Adios, Galápagos

And this brings the blog to a close. One month of 4.30am wakeups, amazing birds, some pretty cool science, and fabulous people. Hopefully, I'll get to resurrect this blog in the not to far future.... One can dream, right?

Once last finch

Waiting for the ride back home. Hopefully I can call this place home again.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

All grown up

Earlier, I had some shots of nestling mockingbirds and finches. Once the nestlings have developed their feathers to be able to fly, they become fledglings and can fly and leave the nest, but are still dependent on their parents for food. Finches build their nests at all heights, and this particular fledgling was quite curious before it took off from the nest.

Finch fledgling

Some juvenile ani's were grooming each other and generally behaving as siblings often do

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Isabela Island III

After another relaxing evening on the beach, we got up early to find some flamingos, which we did.

We also stopped by a tortoise sanctuary where, similar to the Charles Darwin Research Station, they are breeding many of the endangered, endemic tortoises as part of their conservation program.

Finally, before we headed back to Santa Cruz and 4.30 am wakeups, we went snorkling near the harbour where we swam with an enormous marble ray, sea lions, turtles, and some other beautiful fish

The view from above the water wasn't too bad, either.

It was a typical hot and sunny day, so we spotted this sea lion lounging on the pier.

However, we realized the sea lion was just imitating Joost.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Isabela Island II: Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico

After a relaxing evening on the beach, we hit the trail bright and early to hike up to the Sierra Negra volcanic crater. It is second in size to Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania. One of our sub-sites on Santa Cruz is called Mordor (to which I have not yet been), but we all agreed that this was Mordor II, and sampling finches here would be very difficult.

The diameter of Sierra Negra is 11 km across, and the next part of our hike took as along the rim to the Volcan Chico. The mist rolled in, which was a welcome relief to hiking in the bright sun.

Slowly, the terrain became more harsh, with lava and rocks becoming predominant in the landscape as opposed to grasses and the invasive guava.

Soon, we were walking on pure lava, and the landscape was truly as if you were on Mars or the moon.

We climbed the summit of Volcan Chico, were the mist had cleared and we had spectacular views of the ocean as well as the unusual landscape.

Much to Sarah's delight, a mockingbird came by our summit, where we speculated (1) how big it's range was given the harshness of the environment, (2) why it was much smaller than the Santa Cruz mockingbirds, and (3) where its nest might be.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Isabela Island I

The Galápagos Island archipelago consists of several islands, of which I have thus far been to two of them: Baltra and Santa Cruz. We had been working basically everyday since we arrived, and so the team, along with collaborators and friends decided to visit another island, Isabela.

The boat ride was about 2 hours, with great views of the other islands. The sea was nice and calm as well, so the ride was relatively benign. In other words, nobody needed the puke buckets which was nice as some of us ended up taking naps next to the (clean and empty) buckets.

We're on a boat. Photo courtesy of Jaime Chavez

Upon arrival, we did what all good researchers do which is make a beeline for the bar. Some folks had been to Isabela before, so they knew were to get some inexpensive rooms. The bar we headed to was right on the beach with hammocks hanging for Coll to take a nap in.

Of course, I ended up with the most bags because I lugged my camera stuff there. All worth it as I spotted a spotted sand piper (correct me if wrong) grabbing all sorts of delicious morsels including this long invertebrate.

The sunset was quite spectacular, and a walk after sunset took us past the local church which has glass images of various endemic Galapagos species, so the church was nicknames the 'Boobie Church' owing to the blue footed boobie on one of the windows.


Los Gemelos

One site the team goes to a few times per season is in the highlands where there are twin craters called Los Gemelos. The craters were formed when the chambers that held magma collapsed on themselves.The craters are quite large and beautiful, though they are overgrown with mora, or blackberry bushes, and invasive plant that produces delicious fruit.

Los Gemelos, or 'the twins' which are volcanic craters

The mora is so dominant an invasive species, we couldn't find the site the team normally samples at. Jaime and Joost literally bushwacked for quite a while before they gave up trying to access the original site, and we decided to sample at an accessible area near the original site.

Beside the lack of mosquitos because of the altitude (yah!), we caught two more species of finches native of the island - the woodpecker finch which can use tools to obtain food, and the warbler finch

Warbler finch

Woodpecker finch

We also caught a yellow warbler in our nets

The vegetation is also quite different from our other two sites


As always, we set up a base camp to measure the birds we caught.