Monday, April 1, 2013

Still Alive

Surprise!  I'm still alive.  Lately, I've been spending more time socializing with people in real life than with my internet friends and family.  It's kind of odd for me, but I'm starting to enjoy real people!  I'm also reluctant to upload photos because of the low bandwidth available here.

Last week I had Spring Break.  It was refreshing to get to visit some of the other islands and see different scenery.  There was also a much-appreciated change of food.  I got to visit Isabela for the first time, and it was way different than I expected.  All of the islands have a different feel, and Isabela seems the most like a tropical, Caribbean paradise.  The waters around the pier were shallow and sandy, and the beach had the most wonderful sand I've encountered.  I also got to go back to Bartolome, and it was wonderful.  I only saw a wisp of a penguin swim underneath me, but it was worth it.

Now I'm taking Marine Ecosystems Based Management.  EMB is a conservation strategy that recognizes people are interacting with the ecosystem, and tries to implement conservation in a way that is sustainable for the environment and the people living there.  It's complicated because you have to involve so many different groups of people, but the results are generally better than single-species management practices.

At this point, I'm not really sure what else to write about, other than that I'm still alive.  I hope all of my non-Ecuadorian friends and family are getting some sun and fun up North  :]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Galapagos Update

Blogging is still harder than I thought it was. There's photos to edit, sentences to create, internet to have, etc, to be able to write a blog post. It's challenging in the Galapagos!

Last week I was able to wake up before dawn and go birding. I was super eager and excited to see the diversity of birds present in the early morning. I took way too many photos that will take forever for me to sort through and edit, but eventually I'll upload them and share the magic of birding during a GalapagueƱan sunrise with you.

I saw blue-footed boobies plunge diving and it was super exciting, but very difficult to actually photograph. They start up decently high in the sky and then accelerate really quickly towards the ocean. With more time observing, I bet I can figure out when they're starting the dive to get better photos. I went into a lighthouse and a frigate bird landed right above my head! I was able to get a few shots of it, but its curved bill was intimidating and it was almost time for breakfast. I also saw a beautiful yellow warbler signing from a tree branch before I left to go eat. It was a really fun and beautiful morning; I'll definitely wake up early and go out again.

In class, I decided to work on a phylogeny of flycatchers. Initially, I wanted to find a species or two that are distributed across both North and South America and compare diversity and origins. Due to time constraints, that wasn't possible. I instead chose to examine the genus Myiarchus, which includes two species in North America and the Galapagos Flycatcher.

Whenever a researcher uses DNA sequences in a paper, they must be added to the free, public, online database called GenBank. I got samples of mitochondrial genes from 100 different myiarchines. My initial results show that some of the species are paraphyletic, meaning that they do not share a common ancestor and should be reevaluated as separate species. Additional results indicate that my computer is kind of old and needs more processing power and RAM to run phylogenetic analyses.

After I finish my final analyses and write a paper about my research, I get to go on an island hopping tour! It's only a week long, but the vacation will be really nice. I'm thrilled that I get to go to Bartolome again! That was one of my favorite islands the last time I was in the Galapagos, and I can't wait to be back there with the penguins and beautiful scenery. We also get to go to Santa Cruz and Isabela, but nowhere else. Hopefully they pack a lot of fun adventures (with birds) into the vacation; then again, I'm on the Galapagos, so I don't really see how they won't. Sadly, though, me going island hopping means that I probably won't update my blog for at least a week and that I'll be even more behind in photos. But I appreciate the patience of all of my readers :].

Amazon Part 8: More Birds

January 24 2013

I forgot to mention some of the non-bird things I saw on the way to the salt lick.  There was a capybara that scurried up the bank of the river before anyone could photograph it.  We also saw a few river dolphins, but they were underwater most of the time, so there are no photos of them either.  When we first "parked" the boat, there was a super deadly snake swimming in the water near us.  Fun times in the  Amazon!

After we were done at the salt lick, we floated down the river.  Out of the boat.  In swimsuits.  And lifejackets.  And really not much else.  The water was heavily sedimented and reminded me a lot of the rivers and lakes in Georgia.  Swimming here, however, was much more frightening because it's the Amazon.  And yes, the parasitic catfish that swims up your urethra was in the water.  How exciting!

Birding Part 2:
After lunch, we had free time.  To some of the students, free time meant playing soccer with our professors and some of the staff; to others it meant relaxing in a hammock or swimming.  However, when I am given free time in the Amazon (in the daylight of course), the only reasonable thing to do is go birding.  Equipped with bug spray, sunscreen, a notebook, my camera, binoculars, and a bird book, I headed back to the tower trail and spent my afternoon 50+ m in the Amazonian canopy.

It was quite hot outside, but I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to go birding in the Amazon by myself.  How many other people get such an amazing opportunity!?  It was absolutely serene in the treetops.  Because I was no longer in the NW US, I was quite unfamiliar with all of the species I saw and had to look them up.  When I had to learn the 30+ orders of birds for Ornithology last Spring semester, I never thought that knowledge would be so valuable so soon.

It was quite hot outside, so the birds weren't as active as they could have been.  There were other species to keep me photographically entertained when there weren't any birds--flies, ants, butterflies, lizards, and the skyline were almost as beautiful as the Amazonian avifauna.

hiding behind the leaves

Add caption

some sort of grosbeak/finch bird?  I don't have my ID book anymore, so this one is questionable until i have access to a quality field guide.

paradise tanager!

two of the birds that wanted to hang out with me the most: paradise tanager and white-necked puffbird

looking at me :]

we were bffs

lizard-like (gecko?) guy in the treetops

common piping guan

i also saw this fly through the treetops--super large and chicken-like

the vegetation was really dense so there was a lot of bokeh in my photos

Monday, March 11, 2013

Amazon Part 7: BIRDS

January 24 2013

This was one of the best, most wonderful, most exciting days of my life.  So many birds in such a wonderful place.  If you don't like birds, you should probably skip this post (ahem, Stacey) because it will be filled with many many photos of my favorite class of animals: Aves.

Birding Part 1:
Because of the rain, the salt licks were very active.  We left early in the morning on the boat to do some wildlife viewing at a salt lick downstream from the station.  I was "worried" that it would just be a bunch of mammals, but I was so wonderfully wrong.  A variety of animals come to salt licks to eat the clay there; it supposedly lines their digestive tracts so they can eat the semi-toxic plants.

We were tied up near the salt lick for about an hour and a half.  I can already feel you judging me, but I'd like to admit that I took almost 400 photos.  It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch all of the parrots gather at the salt lick.  These photos might look the same, but you should be able to see different individuals in each photo.  Additionally, look at the flight feathers and wing structure in the individuals that are in air.  Those are the little things about these photos that I appreciate the most.

From what I can tell, the species here are the Scaly-Naped Amazon Parrot, Yellow-Crowned Amazon Parrot, and Blue-Headed parrot.  Let me know if you think I've missed something--I'm quite unfamiliar with species of parrots.  There was also the ever-present song of the Cinnamon Attila.

cutie in a tree

a pair at the same point in their flight stroke

from tree to tree

not sure what this is, but it reminds me of a space ship :]

nonbirds: monkeys!

more nonbirds: two frogs

aaaaand the start of the salt-lick photos

notice their plumage patterns

the group is growing

lots of them are on the bank.  i caught one flying up there.

beautiful red patch

stretching the primaries for a smooth landing


this is when they decided to leave

flying towards us... so cool!

the first non-parrot i'd seen in a while

Photos from the rest of this wonderful day will be uploaded later.  Sorry for the delay, but I hope you enjoy!