Friday, March 17, 2017

Finca Guadelupe, San Cristobal

Today, Jaime had organized a day trip to the highlands and we were invited to tag along. A bus trip brought us to the Finca Guadelupe in the highlands. 
Harvesting papayas
View from the finca
Everyone loved the puppies. There was a bassett hound type dog that had some kind of hybrid puppies that were quite adorable. 

The owner has been doing a lot of conservation, and the Park has agreed to lend him some giant tortoises if he creates a tortoise pen that the park approves of. This means removing a lot of invasive plant species. So, for the morning, we were handed shovels, pick axes, and machetes, and we went to work removing these invasive plant species. We focused on this one type that has these massive root balls and very long runner like roots, so it takes an extraordinary amount of physical work to remove the whole plant. It's an ornamental plant of some type - the flowers are quite colourful. We also spent the time working on cutting down some invasive vines to allow the native trees and plants to thrive.

We then pressed sugar cane - it is grown on the farm, so we harvested a bunch as well as some lemons. 

Cleaning the sugar cane so it can be pressed

There is an old fashioned sugar cane press with a long handle that grinds two gears and you feed the sugar cane in. In pairs, teams on either side of the long handle pushing it around in a circle so the gears would work. 
Piece of peeled sugar cane with a pretty awesome view

The juice is then strained, and given that it is basically sugar, fresh squeezed lime is added to it. After the hard work in the sun pulling up invasive plants and then pressing the sugar cane, it was a welcome refreshment!

We then went to see the waterfalls. San Cristobal is the only island that has fresh water year round and on a permanent basis. he farm has focused on conservation because this land could have been used for farms, which could have been a serious problem because they might not have conserved what was on the island. 

It was really interesting to experience everything at the finca, and special thanks to Jaime for arranging the excursion! Just in case you thought the sugar cane press was all work and nobody had any fun.....

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Adventures on San Cristobal

Jaime teaches at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito's satellite campus on San Cristobal. He graciously invited the crew out to visit San Cristobal Island for a week of mistnetting, behaviour, and fun!

On the ferry to San Cristobal
One of the most interesting things, as Darwin himself noted, is the among island variation about species. For example, we noticed that the lava lizards on San Cristobal seemed to have more patches and more saturation in their red patches.

Field sampling was similar to Santa Cruz, though we were able to spot some other lovely creatures such as this Galápagos blue butterfly.

Mammals, of course.
Field work on San Cristobal
And some other cool invertebrates!

And of course, what we had come to study - some Darwin's Finches!

Jaime gave a seminar to the Erasmus Mundus Masters students, which was quite interesting to see the wide range of research that Jaime and his collaborators (such as us!) are working on.

And Angela and I gave a talk to Jaime's student's about the work we have been doing as well. Angela came last year with colleagues from the University of Utah studying the finches and mockingbirds and how an invasive parasite, Philornis downsi has been affecting them.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Getting creative and being opportunistic

Field work is one of the most enjoyable and fun aspects of science, yet it can also be incredibly difficult and wrought with challenges and unforeseen complications.We're only human, and we sometimes make mistakes, such as forgetting pieces of equipment that could be useful. For example, when we mistnet at the Barranco near the research station, we often bring a tarp because the sun rises in the east and the platform where we work is completely exposed. This is bad for us, but especially bad for the birds that are awaiting processing as the heat is not good for them. We always keep the birds in the shade. So, what do we do when we accidentally forget the tarp for shade? We move to a place that has shade. In our case, it happened to be the bathroom.
As with all field set-ups, you work with what you have. We're luck that our site at El Garrapatero has areas where we can setup a shade tarp and have a little station where we can measure the birds.
Of course, when working with wild animals, it's unpredictable how busy you will be. Given that we are up at 4:30am and on the road at 5:00am, we often take opportunities to relax a bit if we're not too busy. In some cases, we might read.
And in other cases, we just outright sleep. For some odd reason, Jaime and Isabela, the marine iguana, were dreaming about Andrew Hendry's book....