Sunday, February 9, 2014

Adios 2.0

I hope to return again next year, but who knows where I'll be. I'm suppose to be working on this funny thing called a thesis, and it seems as though my supervisor wants me to finish said mysterious thesis thing. In the meantime, he has posted a blog about his time in the Galapagos.

Some favourites from this year! Adios, and hope to see you again next year!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Chasing bird songs

Today, Andrew went diving, Sofia remembered her boots, Luis worked on exclosures, and Jeff and I chased birds. Jeff was after singing birds, preferably banded, so I tagged along with my camera to double check band colours.

 I think that hardest part was trying to not ruin the bird songs with shutter noises from my camera. The best times for photos seemed to be right after they sang, so the birds would sing, and then I'd attempt some photos. All in all, the strategy seemed to work as Jeff got songs from several banded birds. I did manage to get some birds singing, however, so I suppose that meant not so great recordings

The season had been quite dry, as we arrived right at the start of the traditional wet season. In just the past few days, the islands received a decent amount of rain, and it appears to have been enough to trigger the breeding season at EG. Last year, I saw lots of paired finches building nests, nestlings, and fledglings. This year, I caught the beginnings of the mating season, which also involve nest building, but also territorial and courtship displays. Typically, I didn't get any good photos of the these displays, but managed to find get some nice nest material gathering photos.

The only bee on the island, the carpenter bee, reproduces by making burrows in wood (thus it's name). There were old holes by the dorms, but I'd never seen a bee actually fit into one of these holes. While we were waiting for some banded birds to start singing, I spotted this bee tucking into it's burrow. Unfortunately, all you see is its bum
Since I wasn't recording songs, I got distracted by the tree finch and the nest that was being put together, so Jeff went off in pursuit of songs on his own and kindly let me stay and photograph the tree finches.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Flip-flop field-work faux pas

Today we had a regular field day, albeit with a much smaller team since we said farewell to Team Fab-fortis last night. It was a typical day, and we even managed to catch some finches that demonstrate the different beak size morphs within G. fortis, the medium ground finch.
Large, intermediate, and small morphed medium ground finches (L-R)

Large and small beak morphs of medium ground finches
Luis was working on an exclosure experiment, so Jeff did the measurements on the finches, with Andrew and Sofia helping with the other jobs. Obviously, I did the very important job of taking photos of them.

However, the most amusing thing happened today. Today, we were five heading into the field, and it was raining. We bundled Andrew up under a tarp and stuck him in the back of the truck (no photos, sorry!), so the rest of us piled in the main cab and dozed off on the drive to EG. Just before we got to the turn off, Sofia inhales sharply, and then says 'oh noooooooo' very quietly. Confused, I looked at her and asked if everything was ok. "I forgot my boots!" She was waiting until the last minute to change her shoes, and instead, completely forgot to change her shoes.

Of course, this provided endless amusement for everyone. Sofia was quite relieved that nobody was mad, and instead, were concerned about her not getting cactus spines in her toes. Sofia explained (well, we helped with this huevelation) that because the previous two days the team had gone to EG beach, she thought that we would be going straight to the beach, and thus, flip-flops were all that were needed!

Since this was her first year as a graduate student and her first field season, Jeff and Andrew could not resist a documentation of the event.
Supervisor not happy with student wearing flip-flops in the field

Student hiding identity in embarrassment

Student annoyed at supervisor who didn't even bother to wear flip-flops

Supervisor ashamed he doesn't have any shoes at all.
As it happens, flip-flops turn out to be great Tribulus seed collectors! And so, Sofia will now go down in Team Pinzon history as the person who forgot their boots and managed a field day in EG with flip flops!

Some behind the scene shots of the photo shoot:

Jeff shielding his eyes from the blinding brightness of Andrew's feet

Jeff reports that the reflection from Andrew's feet fried his camera's light meter and automatic white-balance circuitry

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Adios, Team Fab-fortis!

Thanks to the Earthwatch Team Fab-fortis! They collected over 130 birds, and we will miss their hard work and enthusiasm!

Team Fab-fortis!

Earthwatch Team Fab-fortis: Day 6

Today I headed into town for observations again for the morning field work. One of the best parts of field work is even though you do the same thing every day, you can see very different things every day.

Keeping clean for observations
Today, we saw a large rat happily munching on some coconut. It is likely the invasive ship rat, and these are detrimental to the finches and other native animals and plants on the island because they are predators and can also be disease vectors.

To take our mind of these invasive species, we took an iced coffee break near Laguna de las Nymfas.

Our transect through the Laguna brought us up close and personal with a lava heron that looked to be on the verge of catching some tasty fish. However, despite several minutes of patiently waiting, we had to give up and continue on with our data collection.

Betty-Anne was on a mission to see a blue-footed booby, and we knew that some of the other team members had seen one near the fisherman’s market and near the pier. The fisherman’s market had frigates, pelicans, and of course, a sea lion, but no blue footed boobies.

At the very end of the morning, we decided to try the pier. We headed down and saw some sea birds, but no blue-footed boobies. Disappointed, we were about to head back to the station when Betsy spotted one flying into the area. To Betty-Ann’s delight, the booby stayed for several minutes, gliding and circling above us, diving into the water to catch fish, and then taking off to repeat the process. Its distinctive blue feet could be seen, and we all finished the morning quite happy with our bird watching (and data collecting)!

We gave the volunteers the afternoon off to relax, swap stories, and do any last minute souvenir shopping in town. However, data never waits for anyone, so Jeff and Andrew sat down for some data entry.

Tonight, we headed to town for a celebratory dinner, and of course, I forgot my SD card in my computer, so I have no photos to show. Luis showed the volunteers some graphs from the data they had produced, and the volunteers quite enjoyed seeing the fruits of their labour. Tomorrow, we head back into the field, so we said our goodbye’s tonight. As it was last time, we are sad to see the team head off, but hope they enjoyed their experience with us!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Earthwatch Team Fab-fortis: Day 5

Yesterday saw the team enjoy a day off, with the volunteers doing different things. Some went to the beautiful Tortuga Beach, where they got to snorkel among marine iguanas, and others went to the highlands to see the giant tortoises roaming around.

The team returned to work today, energized, refreshed, and ready to catch some more finches. I helped head the observation team today, and the transect took us past the Municipal Market. I’d never been there, and since today was Tuesday, it was only about half of what it is on its main day, Saturday. However, there were lots of finches roaming around the market, happily eating the little human scraps that were on the floor.

Sandia (watermelon) at the municipal market
Our transect on the walk back to the station revealed a vegetarian finch happily munching away on some seeds. This was the first year I’d done observations, and while we often saw finches eating human food, I was pleasantly surprised to see the finches were also eating their ‘normal’ food.

Vegetarian finch
The afternoon was pleasant, with it raining lightly during the afternoon. An ani came to visit us at the dorms during the afternoon break.

For reasons we cannot definitively say, the finches near the research station have begun reproducing, as we saw with the small ground finch nest with nestlings we found in town a few weeks ago. We think this might be due to resources such as water and food being more readily available near town. The start of the mating season doesn’t seem to have started yet in EG. Part of the mating process is nest building, and this finch at the research station seemed quite happy with his nest making material.

Another finch was quite adept at wiping parts of its beak off. The finches like the fruits of plant called Cordia leutia which has large yellow flowers that the finches also like to eat. The fruits have a very sticky flesh so it can build up on the beaks and then the finches have to scrape it off. These finches are quite flexible!

Tomorrow will be our last time in the field with Team Fab-fortis, a sad prospect indeed. It’s amazing how fast the time has flown by!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Earthwatch Team 2: Fab-fortis Day 4

Today was the last field work day before the volunteers take a well deserved day off to explore Santa Cruz. The day was a field day, with the field team heading to EG and Academy Bay, and the observation crew doing feeding and behaviour observations and entering data in the afternoon.

Today also saw the arrival of more of the researchers to the station to join the team. Andrew and Sofia came from Guayaquil today, and both are very excited to be here. Sofia’s these willfocus on the interaction between Darwin’s finches and plants, and this is her first time to the Galápagos. She lost no time in learning the different species of finches and plants, and also held her first Darwin finch.

Andrew was Luis’ PhD supervisor, and it was quite apparent that Andrew missed Luis, and was quite happy to see him.

It has been quite a while since members of Team Pinzón were in one place at the same time, so the evening finished with amusing banter among the researches, with some real science discussed, but also full of huevelations (amusing banter or bull****ting, if you will)
Huevelation situation revelation
A mockingbird not amused by huevelations