Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Last post from the Galapagos :(

Hi all,
I can´t believe this wonderful adventure is almost over. Tomorrow morning we drive across Santa Cruz Island for a short ferry ride to Baltra to the airport. It seems like a long time ago that we stood at the airport and got our first look at the Islands, but I would be glad to stay longer.

Today we went to North Seymour Island and walked by Blue Footed Boobies with baby boobies! The chicks are fluffy white, and older ones are grey. We also saw male land iguanas and believe me they look muy macho! They are beautiful big animals in shades of yellows and orange and black. The females are much smaller, and not as colorful. There were also frigate birds nesting in small trees. The males puff out a large red pouch to impress the ladies. The chicks were also fluffy, but white and black. This is the dry season here, so the trees did not have leaves, giving the island a ghostly appearence.

After jumping back onto the panga off some rocks to get off the island, we were treated to a great lunch on the boat then went snorkeling to a beautiful white sandy beach from the boat. There were alot of sea cucumbers, Mexican hogfish, and another large school of yellow tailed surgeon fish on the snorkel from the boat to the beach. Right around the boat were big puffer fish. We went to the beach area instead of near Seymour Island because there were four Galapagos sharks swimming right around the boat when we returned from the island.

We just had our final dinner together as a group. This is the best class I have ever taken. For those of you who know Matt Covill, the professor for this class, Kevin Bonine, could be Matt´s brother. They look similar and have similar personalities, levels of energy and enthusiasm, and they are both into lizards. I know, I know, lizards you are asking? Why lizards? Well it takes all kinds in Biology, and I guess there is room in biology for lizard people as well as bird people. After all, I suspect the lizard people may just be bird people with feather envy. :)

Tomorrow we fly to the mainland and then have a very late flight out to Houston. The adventure is coming to an end for now.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Galapagos update

Hola Mi Amigos,
We are back in Santa Cruz, but spent one night on Floreana, and four nights in the paradise of Isabela. The hotel on Isabela was on the beach, and what a beach it was. The sand was the texture of baby powder. There was an amazing sandy bottomed tide pool on the beach with damsel fish, little puffer fish that came up and nibbled on my feet, and small schools of other fish I didn´t recognize.

I was able to do two night snorkels in a lagoon surrounded by mangroves. Huge sea cucumbers and brittle stars were out, along with many sea hares. Not many fish at night, but it was just fun being in the water at night with a full moon shining down.

Muy tranquilo!

At one spot during the day it was warm enough to snorkel without a wet suit and that was a great exerience. I was able to more easily dive down to see an incredible array of fish. Amazing fish! Rainbow parrot fishes, wrasses, hogfish. At one point we got chased away by a large male sea lion, but he just barked at us underwater, and did not chase us as we quickly swam away.

On the way to Santa Cruz we stopped to snorkel at an area called the four brothers. There was a large cave I swam into and at the mouth of the cave were thousands of fry- tiny tiny fish. I swam back until I couldn´t see anything and when I turned around to swim out was greated by the most beautiful blue green as the sun shone on the water at the mouth of the cave.The fan corals there were intense orange and yellow. I swam over at least a dozen porcupine puffer fish. I love the water here!

On Isabel I had the most spectacular experience I have had here, and one of the most intense experiences I have had in nature. At about 4:45 one afternoon I was talking with some fellow classmates on the beach when all of a sudden one of them yelled Boobies ! Hundreds of blue footed boobies flew into area started diving into the water very close to shore. I had my camera and rushed down to the beach where standing in knee deep water I was soon surrounded by an orgy of feeding. Boobies, Frigate birds flying over my head close enough to touch, brown noddies, dozens of pelicans, and sea lions were feeding on fish only a few feet from me. I could smell the boobies I was so close to them. Shortly the boobies stopped diving and were floating on the water and just dipping their beaks into the water to feed. It was a frenzy and I was in the middle of it. Tears came into my eyes as I stood tranfixed by the spectacle.

Paradise on Isabela!

Monday, July 23, 2007

mockingbirds remain rare

Hi Folks,
I finished my mockingbird survey this morning with a 6 Am to 7 AM hunt for the birds. I heard two, but never saw them. I walked uphill out of town for an hour hoping to see some in the neighborhoods. I saw six smooth billed anis, which are an introduced species of bird known to prey on the nestlings and eggs of mockingbirds. I have really enjoyed all the public art around th is town. There are murals at all the schools,and there are at least 4 schools. There are large mosaics and painted plaster statues of tortoises, flamingos,and one that looks like the hulk pulling a fish out of water.
Tomorrow we leave on a 5 hour boat ride on a small boat to Floreana island and it d oes not sound like there is internet there. The settlement there sounds like it is very small. We spend one night there, then onto Isabela. The people here say Isabela is muy bonita, very pretty. We were told to buy snacks for the trip, so I am off to buy more of that wo nderful chocolate bread!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beautiful water beautiful day!

Hello All,
I got up early today and found two mockingbirds on my survey. Also saw lots of Darwins finches, yellow warblers, and a couple of the Galapagos fly catchers. After I got back we went snorkeling in clear blue green water. Angela, one of the professors on the trip calls the color of the water Galapagos Blue. It is a different blue than I have ever seen. It is almost a turquoise blue. I saw alot of very colorful fish I couldn´t identify, although I know I saw a couple of parrot fish. There was also a sea turtle resting on the sandy bottom of the bay. The sea lions were not as playful, but it was a great time anyhow.

After lunch I called my dad. It is his birthday today. My mom and dad were surprised to hear from me. The call was only .25 a minute. Before lunch I stopped by the bakery and bought a piece of the most amazing chocolate bread. Yum. It was more like a chocolate roll. The cost? Twenty five cents. I should have gotten more :)

The weather continues to be warm during the day and it cools off at night. I haven´t had to use the air conditioner in the room. Tuesday we are off for other islands.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

planting in the rain

This morning we went up to the highlands with older students from the school to El Junco. El Junco is a collapsed caldera that is in need of revegetation with native plants. We planted Miconia plants and took out black berry which has invaded the area. It was very foggy, rainy and cold. Last week we went up to the same area and lucked out as it was clear. Not so today.

Unfortunately the kids were not a all interested in helping and the group I am here with did the vast majority of the work. I´m not sure if no one explained to the kids why this work is important, or they feel this kind of work is beneath them, or they are just lazy but they did nothing. I´ll take the CSP kids at Bolsa Chica over these kids anytime. As soon as they could they ran off into the fog and hid under plants were we couldn´t see them. The kids who were supposed to water the plants after we put them in dumped all their water on a few plants and then ran off with the water bottles so we couldn´t even refill them from the lake at the bottom of the caldera.

Most of the plants got planted with no water, so it was good that it was raining. The kids may have just been modeling their teacher´s behavior because at the end of the morning I noticed none of the teachers were the least bit dirty so it was obvious they had not done any planting or weeding either.
I ended up the morning just feeling bad that the kids and adults we were with were so disinterested in helping this endangered ecosystem on their own island.

At least we made a small difference, although I am not sure how many of the plants we put in will survive. The soil was very easy to dig and there were numerous earthworms in the soil, so if it keeps raining up there some of them might survive. I saw a grasshopper with the biggest jaws I have ever seen. It surprised two of my classmates by giving them a good bite when they picked it up.

Tomorrow is a free day, so I hope to get in some snorkeling. I am going out early in the morning for another mockingbird survey. I am hoping to see more early in the day. We leave San Cristobal on Tuesday for Isabela, Fernandina and Santa Cruz next week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Plant walk

Well I led the group on a plant walk today. This helped me learn alot about both the native and introduced plants on the islands. Did you know there are now more species of introduced plants on these islands than native plants? Some like guava and quinine have almost completely replaced the native plant communities on some of the inhabited islands.

I was doing a final walk through getting ready for the walk this afternoon, and while I was sitting and looking over my notes, I looked down and there were 6 to 8 ground finches right by my feet. They are every where and very tame. The other afternoon when I was in the internet cafe I looked down and there was a male yellow warbler right by my foot pecking at crumbs on the floor. He was just a couple inches from my foot.

Tomorrow we go to help remove black berry from the El Junco area in the highlands. Sunday is a free day, maybe more snorkeling with the sea lions?

Tuesday we leave San Cristobal for Isabela, Floriana, and Espanola.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

tide pools with kids

Whew! What grand madness! We took about 60 kids ages 8 to 10 or so to the tidepools today. These kids are in a Navy School, and if it was in the US you would expect some regimentation. Maybe the kids would line up and march to the tide pools at least? Nope. It was more like herding cats, 60 of them down a road next to a quarry and then to the beach. Were they excited! We found an octopus, brittle stars, sea slugs and sea hares, and very frightened fish. The sea lions however were unfazed by the frenzy of small mammals running and jumping over rocks and into the tidepools.
I think we got all the kids back to the school. We were going to count them as we started back, but one of the teachers just started walking so they followed...
I did notice that none of their teachers came out into the tidepools with us. Instead they sat on the beach and chatted.

As far as my mockingbird research goes, I haven´t seen any in the natural area where I have been looking. Tomorrow I am going out at 6 AM to see if I have better luck in the morning. The weather reamins pleasant, and the sunsets fantastic. I am glad I have the wetsuiit. When we did our water testing we discovered the water is no warmer than 63 degrees. Brrrr

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

geckos and w a ter quality

This morning was another water quality day and last night was gecko hunting. I had a group of four girls with me as we searched the walls and fences of houses near the ocean for geckos. There are at least two introduced species here and one native. We found one gecko, and had a friendly dog following us around for awhile.
This morning we were out in the bay again testing water. We had planned for two boats of kids, but yesterday were asked to make changes to handle three boat loads. I got o n the first skiff this morning,and that turned out to be the only boat that showed up to take students. So f rom three to one. We also got some plankton samples we will look at tomorrow in lab. I have not seen any Chatham mockingbirds. My project is to census the San Cristobal mockingbirds and I will start th atlater today.Since one of the the ohter students and i set up the whole water quality testing procedure we are getting a break f rom counting lava lizards today.

Monday, July 16, 2007

lizard hunting

Today was a day of water testing in the ocean on a little navy skiff and walking across town to count lava lizards. My team had a rather natural area so we found over 40 lizards. I think the students in the class I am in are much more interested in the project than the kids at the navy school however. Kids in my group ducked into shops to buy drinks as we walked around,and collapsed in "exhaustion" on the sidewalk at one point. I am hoping the nightime gecko hunts around the neighborhoods go better.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

School kids tomorrow

Hi All
Today we went and saw where the galapagos tortoises are being hatched and raised in a safe environment until they are old enough that they will not be preyed upon by the feral cats and rats on the island. We also walked to the top of a collapsed caldera called El Junco. Friget birds come and dip their heads in the fresh water lake that has collected in the caldera. This is the only fresh water on the island and is also the source of drinking water for the people on the island.

Tomorrow I start with the local kids. My team is taking on water quality testing in the harbor here. It turns out there is a sewer outfall of untreated sewage into the harbor not far from where we all went snorkeling the first day. Ewwww.

The weather continues to be great.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Snorkeling with the sharks !

This morning we went out to kicker rock off the coast of San Cristobal to snorkle. We swam through a narrow channel between two pieces of the rock and swarming below us were galapagos sharks! There were multitudes of beautiful fish and we also saw a turtle in the water. On the rock face were bright orange sponges along with anenomes and swarms of fish. Afterwards we went to a beautiful white sand beach to warm up as those of us without the natural insulation I have were cold even with their wetsuits. Next was Lobo Island. Lobo as in sea lions. They were jumping out of the water as we arrived and surrounded us once in the water. I hope I got some good pictures of them. I shot a whole roll of film in the water while playing with the pups and their mothers.

Yesterdays hike was quite challenging as it was over lava rocks, but worth the effort as we saw red billed tropic birds and blue footed boobies and swallow tailed gulls. The walking stick I brought was extreamly helpful as I hopped from rock to rock. On the way back I fell and heard a loud crack. My walking stick snapped in half, but at least it wasn´t my leg....

lTomorrow we head for the highlands on a hike. I am feeling great and was just thinking today this town would be a great place to live.

Friday, July 13, 2007

San Cristobal

Hello All,
Was it yesterday or the day before I went snorkeling with sea lions? A female came right up to my face mask and blew bubbles at me and then swam off into the green of the ocean. I also saw a sea turtle, and urchins,fish and more beautiful fish ! Tomorow we are going snorkeling again at Kicker Rock where we may be able to see sharks! Later today is a hike where we should be able to see swallow tailed gulls, tropic birds, and more blue footed boobies.

Sea lions sleep steps from our hostel (which does have hot water in the showers at 6 AM and then around 530 PM) Next week is working with school kids in the AM and our research projects in the afternoon. The Chatham mockingbird remains elusive, although there is one I am keeping my eye on.

It has been beautiful here the ocean is a rich blue or green with great visibility. I´m having a great time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Santa Cruz Island

What is it about 2 AM arrivals. First tanzania now Ecuador. No matter,I am here! We are in Santa Cruz and leaving this morning for San Cristobal. We have been to the darwin research station, and wandered around town, had great food, and seen amazing animals. So far the lava gull has been around the harbor, herons, pelicans, and two species of darwins finches! Marine iguanas, and beautiful sally light foot crabs on the rocks in the harbor! It was a beautiful morning today. We got up at 6 to walk and bird and photograph. The light was amazing. As we arrived via a short ferry ride to Santa Cruz we were greeted by hundreds of blue footed boobies diving for sardines in the bay. Hundreds at a time plunging into the water was a spectacular site!