Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eathwatch Team Fab-Fortis: Day 1

And we have a team name! The team chose Fab-fortis, because, appropriately enough, they are the middle group of volunteers. Fortis is from Geospiza fortis, the Latin name for the medium ground finch. Thus, they are now Earthwatch team Fab-fortis!

Today was our first true field day with the team. 4.30 am wake-ups, even for morning people, are hard to cope with. After breakfast and coffee (at least for me!), we headed back into the field. It’s been about a week and a half since I’d been to EG, so it was nice to be back our catching birds and helping process. The practice session the afternoon before proved quite useful as the team was setting up nets with ease. One team even noticed an error in the net set-up that the researchers had overlooked and fixed it without our even knowing it! Done like true pros.

We set up in the Shire. For those who don’t know, the various areas of EG are named after areas found in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and include places such as the Shire, Amon Sul, Rohan, and Mordor. Each field site area is representative of the places as described in the books and visualized in the movies. For instance, the Shire is a flat area, with relatively few obstacles. It’s a comfortable place for people who are just getting started in studying Darwin’s finches. Mordor, on the other hand, has only one ‘gate’ to get through. The rest of the area is fenced in naturally by cacti, brambles, and rocks, and once inside, the terrain is incredibly rocky, uneven, and treacherous. Luckily, there are no orcs or Nazgul to contend with anywhere in our field site.

We had a great morning, catching over 20 birds total, and at least one of each of the finches normally caught there: small, medium, and large ground finches, cactus finch, and a small tree finch. One very interesting thing was we caught a large morph medium ground finch and a large ground finch. I thought the medium ground finch was a large ground finch because its beak was quite large, but the others were not convinced and thought it was a large morph, medium ground finch. What confirmed this was we caught a large ground finch right after the medium ground finch, and once compared side by side, you could see the difference between a large morph, medium ground finch (left), and the large ground finch (right).

The other team had a successful observation transect through town on the main drag, and spotted a few nests, as well as lots of birds and their behaviour. They even picked up some food for lunch, which was a delicious lentil soup made by one of the volunteers. In honour of our team, Harold and Susan had found an Oregonian wine called, appropriately enough, Evolution, and wanted to share it with the team, so we had a nice treat that afternoon with lunch!

That afternoon, we headed off to our site on the research station while the other team did data entry. We had less birds, but were still kept busy as the volunteers switched which tasks they were doing while processing the birds. Each volunteer quickly adapted to their new tasks and we soon had a steady work flow with the birds we caught.

Photo by Jeff Podos

Photo by Jeff Podos

Photo by Jeff Podos
 Don't forget! We're tweeting from the point of view of the finches, researchers, and volunteers @Pinzonteam

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Earthwatch Team 2: Training Day

Earthwatch Team 2: Training Day

Today, we spent the morning at Academy Bay, our site at the research station. There, we showed them how to set-up the nets, and some of the knots we use that secure the nets so they won’t fall down.

Jeff showed how he uses his recording parabola to record bird songs, and heard a large ground finch singing, so we set off to find him, and indeed, we did find him. Unfortunately, he was not banded, but hopefully, he’ll be banded soon!
Large ground finch singing so Jeff could get recordings

Even Papa Pinzón practiced his knots later that day!
Jeff practising some knot typing
 We then processed a few birds, showing how we measure their beaks, take blood samples, photograph them, and then give them a sweet treat of sugar water.
Earthwatch team observing the researchers collect data
That afternoon, Luis explained to them the adaptive radiation of the finches on the Galápagos, and the influence humans can have on the process of evolution. This team was very inquisitive, asking many questions, and making parallels about adaptation in animal systems that they knew from where they came from in the US.

That evening, as though we had planned it, there was a parade with colourful costumes and traditional music and dancing through the streets of Puerto Ayora. This parade was organized by a cultural group in Galapágos, but we have seen other parades that are just as colourful, but had a more political nature. This weekend is elections, where all Ecuadorians are required to vote. It will be interesting to see the results!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Earthwatch Team 2: Arrival

Today was spent doing the final preparations for Team 2 of the Earthwatch volunteers.

Land iguana anxiously waiting for Earthwatch Team 2 to arrive

The entire group arrived at the airport, which was quite convenient as both groups came to the station and settled in after a lunch of pesto potato salad. Today, we did a safety orientation, giving the volunteers an idea of what to expect for a daily schedule and what the field conditions are like. As usual, the finches visited us at lunch, which allowed us to point out some of the different species of finches that occur on this island.

Earthwatch Team 2 getting oriented in the Galapagos

I told them that I would be blogging, and that they would need to come up with a team name. We told them about Team MAGnificent, and they set out right away coming up with names, which they would decide upon tomorrow.

Carpenter bee munching on some pollen

Monday, January 27, 2014


Today was a day we spent getting ready for the next group of Earthwatch volunteers. However, we first did some sampling at our site on the research station. It was a nice, late start (6.30 instead of 4.30) and we got several birds, including this vegetarian finch which decided Luis head was a nice place to rest after getting its’ sugar water treat!

A vegetarian finch liked Luis' hair after being released

For a snack, we had some popcorn, and we turned our backs for just a few seconds to be greeted with a now common site in the city: finches munching on human food. Though a popcorn kernel is relatively large for these finches, they had no problem manipulating the large kernels to feed on it. I snapped a few photos before we headed them off to feed on proper food such as scutia (a spiny plant with fruit and seeds finches like) and opuntia (cactus) flowers

Popcorn munching finch

Sunday, January 26, 2014


The 23rd was a sad day indeed as we said goodbye to the Team MAGnificent. The day was spent catching up on boring business things and making sure all the excellent data collected were up-to-date and backed up. Diana and Luis’ wedding anniversary was just before the first team arrived, which meant they spent their anniversary assessing equipment and stocking up on supplies. This was not very romantic, so instead, they took this weekend for a trip to San Cristobal, an island they had not been to. While they were away, I worked on my thesis (no, really, I did!), and Jaime and Jeff came over the weekend.

Jaime does a lot of the genetic work our team is involved in, focusing on the role of hybridization in speciation. He also teaches at San Francisco University of Quito which has a campus on the Galápagos Islands.

The new arrivals with Luis

Jeff is the Papa Pinzón of the team, and first came to do research in the Galápagos 15 years ago. His work involves the role of song in adaptation and speciation, and came equipped with some nifty equipment that records the finches’ songs. I hadn’t paid much attention to the songs last year, so this is new challenge: recognizing finches by their song. Jeff found a tiny little gecko as a roommate!

Jeff's new roomate

Luis and Diana returned, slightly green from spending all of Sunday on rough water, and the rest of the weekend was spent trading stories from the field over the years.