Caterpillar control

I really like these Galapagos Mockingbirds. They’re everywhere here and they provide endless entertainment. They defend their little patches of territory against all intruders, dangerous or benign. I saw one have a tete a tete with an ani bird (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ani_(bird)) this morning. This one below has hit the jackpot with a juicy caterpillar and seems to be taking its frustrations out on the caterpillar by whacking it to death. We never said nature was nice… beware the overly sentimental statements people make about animals…

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Maybe long necks can be adaptive for something other than foraging?

Everyone can probably look up the origin of the word Galapagos, which was given to these islands based on the tortoises found here. The giant tortoises (not all of them, mind you) have saddle shaped shells, from which the term galapagos comes from. On top of that is the variance in shell morphology seen in turtles from island to island. Apparently, although they differ tremendously from island to island, the consensus is that there are ~11 (sub)species of the giant tortoise. I am still trying to wrap my head around which is which, but we see them every day here at the research station. Breeding (or attempts at breeding!) are common. Tortoise grunting can be heard from the bushes all around us, along with the ‘fingernails on chalkboard’ sounds of claws on shells.
I never thought a tortoise could grin, but here is a pretty cheeky male:

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Same male demonstrating some rather intimate face-to-face contact with his less than impressed mate. It does show that a long neck can be useful for something other than that hard to reach plant.

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Pishing gets you the birds…not to be mistaken with Phishing.

I’ve known for years that birders ‘pish’ to get songbirds to come out of bushes or even to fly toward you, but it has rarely worked for me in Canada. All it does is make you look silly for making pishing sounds. However, in trying to obtain thermal images of various finches here, we invariably have to find a way to call them in. A fine catch with this beautiful yellow warbler: P1090027

Destroyers of Galapagos Fauna!

In the ongoing saga of finchdom (yep…that’s what I’m calling the Galapagos now). Finchdom. The land of the finches. Finchtastic. Well, you get the point. So, in the previous instalment you did not see any bill action. The juvenile finches seem a little perplexed at what they are supposed to do. They follow ma and pa finch around picking up random bits of stuff on the ground and try it out. Here, however, is the monster of all finches. Destroying the plant life!
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This is a large ground finch (male) with a soft seed pod in toe, pit by pit destroying this plant.

And here is the aftermath. Looks a little like a destroyed halloween pumpkin:
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Witness the carnage all around it.

Name that finch!

Whether it be truth or myth, there is an expression in many Galapagos field guides: “It is only a very wise man or a fool who thinks that he is able to identify all the finches which he sees.” (From: http://people.rit.edu/rhrsbi/GalapagosPages/DarwinFinch.html) – actual source is Michael Harris’ field guide. This is so very true. The small and medium ground finches can usually be discerned easily in some field sites, but in others…boy there can be overlapping distributions. Same can be said for the medium compared to the large ground finch. Here is a little visitor to our porch, looking to me like a juvenile medium ground finch (hopefully the finch mafia isn’t following my blog in case I’ve mis-identified this one!):
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Beach? What Beach?

Hard at work, scorching myself in the sun. Rumours that I have melted in the heat in Galapagos are close to being true. Still, I have plenty of sun block and am off to sit under my tarpoline blind and hope the little finches come to my camera. Meanwhile, here is the sign that we pass every day on our walk into town. There is a public beach right at the research station:
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Lava gulls want in on the action

Apparently there are only about 400 pairs of breeding lava gulls on the islands. We seem to be near the most persistently bothersome ones, as this individual here has decided he would rather be in the limelight. Note how he has nicely placed himself squarely where we are trying to obtain thermal images of Darwin’s finches. Maybe he fancies himself a finch? I have a nice thermal image of his hot little legs somewhere on one of my electronic devices… P1080619

Pirates….oh, no never mind…just tourist boats.

A view from our cabin (which is almost on the ocean, except for the invasive plant species ruining our view!!) at the Charles Darwin Research station reveals a constant stream of boats coming in. Being on what is effectively a desert island, I initially thought this was a pirate ship. Then I remembered that I watched Pirates of the Caribbean on the flight down here, so perhaps my imagination got the better of me. P1080502

Galapagos Intern

So, we’ve decided to hire the local mockingbird. Well, hire is a lose term. Like many student interns and volunteers, he is paid nothing. Science is, after all, a passion, and not a means to get rich. But we cannot exactly feed him peanuts either. Anyhow, here he is setting up our equipment in the field: P1080498
And inspecting the cables to make sure they are connected to the computer:
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Looks like he even knows how to add an extension cable: P1080500
If I had had an opportunity to volunteer as a student, I’d have jumped at the chance! I wonder if he knows about IP agreements and has assumptions of co-authorship…please don’t tell research services or HR that we have an unpaid intern who has not had his health and safety training.

To kill a mockingbird? How could you!? Perhaps simply to film a mockingbird?

We have been making great strides in our ‘field thermography’ project here. Finches are in great abundance and even allow us to get close enough for imagery. There are, of course, numerous other animals interesting enough to take thermographs of, and some are even keen to help out!! The Galapagos Mockingbird here has been frequenting our field site and is very curious of our technology. So much so that here it is sat perched on my thermal camera while I stopped to take some weather readings:
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It is really quite adorable, although he likes to bully the other birds and chases the finches away from the camera. Not a very helpful field assistant.
Oh…some good news. I’ve just been invited to film some of the giant tortoises up close. I might actually get to do some tortoise Science!!