Tag Archives: Ecuador

Galapagos Island Animals

Last week I flashed back to that time I went to the Galapagos Islands as a research volunteer.  For 14 days I lived on a research boat, visited the islands of the Galapagos, and tagged little baby giant tortoises.  The tortoises ere the stars, at least from my point of view, but anyone with a passing interest in animals, nature, genetics, evolution, or general science would love to visit the Galapagos.  While tagging turtles was my main job, I had plenty of time to wander the island and snap photos of some of the other inhabitants of the islands.

this is my good side
Sea lions are the most adorable things ever. And friendly too.

snuggley sea lions

sleep sea lion
sleepy sea lions

sea lions

underwater starfish
It’s not all snuggly sweet sea lions. There was some snorkling involved too

sally lightfoot crab
one of the more interesting creatures- Sally Lightfoot Crab

long leg crab

rtw2004.1128649860.dscf0025f-1
BLUE FEET

Red footed booby
RED FEET

rtw2004.1128649860.dscf0145h
My CHARGES

male frigate
Male frigates are such show-offs

flamingo
PINK FLAMINGOS are cool no matter where you find them

crabs win...octopus loses
Survival of the fittest

courting blue footed boobie
This photo cracks me up. I can imagine all kinds of things these birds are thinking/doing. They could be a couple and one giving the other hell for some preceived wrong doing. Or they could be courting. Or they could be siblings getting into a fight. The possibilities are endless… and even in person, they were going at each other like cats and dogs.

Galapagos-Blue-footed-Booby1
Boobies…just as entertaining as the sea lions

mom and baby
And just for good measure…another sea lion and a baby…

Orchids in Ecuador

A plant person, I am not, and I’m even less of a flower person. However, Ecuador is a bio-diversity hot spot, and I would be amiss if I didn’t at least check out some of Ecuador’s offering. I would also be de-friended by one of my best friends who not only has a master’s degree in plant pathology [I can’t even], but also grows orchids in one of his many home greenhouses.

Whilst in Ecuador I went to not only the Orchidarium in Cuenca, but also the Mindo Cloud forest about an hour north of Quito, and my favorite flower by far is the monkey faced orchid.  I’m sure it has a fancy  scientific name, but I like the monkey face name.

See that cute little monkey face. Talk about a flower with personality! And when it’s in full bloom, it smell like an orange.  How perfect! These orchids grow in the cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru at 1000 to 2000 meters above sea level. The monkey faced orchid (along with all tropical orchids) is an epiphyte so, like an air plant, it depends on other plants for support.

Below are some of my favorite orchids from both the cloud forest and the orchidarium.

 

Bosque Seco

The following is the text of a press release I created for La Ceiba foundation work in the dry forest of Ecuador.  I spent approximately one month in the wet forest, dry forest, and Galapagos Islands of Ecuador doing plant and animal research for La Ceiba.  In part to the research I collected, La Ceiba was able to convince the Ecuadorian government to add additional protected lands.

The Bosque Seco Lalo Loor [BSLL] protects over 250 hectares of transitional semi-deciduous lowland tropical forest.  The forest supports a large population of Mantled howler monkey.  The reserve is located in a dry area of Ecuador’s coast where it receives a little over 1000 mm of rain each year, nearly all of it falling between January and May.  For the rest of the year, the forest receives almost no rain at all.

The monkeys eat a diet of mostly leaves, but they will eat fruit if it is available..  Leaves are a good source of carbon, but they lack nitrogen; therefore the diet is not especially nutritious due to the high concentration of leaves.  As a result, the monkeys live a fairly sedentary lifestyle compared to other tropical monkeys.

La Ceiba Foundation is collecting data for demography, range, and feeding habits of the monkey population.  A group consists of 2 people.  Each group will have binoculars, watch, compass, trail map, and a data sheet.  Each group will work a separate area of the trail for four hours once in the morning and once at night.  Once a monkey is encountered the group will stop and a collect data for 30 minutes.

Other notable plants and animals in the forest include:

  • Jaguarundi
  • Howler Monkey
  • Ocelot
  • Tayra
  • White front capuchin monkey
  • chestnut mandibled toucan
  • choco toucan
  • Ecuadoran Trogan
  • Grey back hawk
  • Hook-billed kite
  • Palamandibled Aracari
  • Red Mask Parakeet
  • Boa Constrictor
  • Equis
  • Blue Morpho Butterfly
  • Helicopter Damselflies
  • and several species of orchids

 

That time I went to the Galapagos Islands

I don’t know if I ever mentioned that time I went to the Galapaos Islands.  I think going to the Galapagos Islands are one of those things that are on nearly everyone’s [ok maybe not everyone, but every traveler, animal lover, and science nerd I know] bucket list.  My own adventure to the islands involved a bit of serendipity and a lot of  meclizine.

Flashback to 2010:

It was September 2010, and I was working for an ecological research/preservation company.  The original plans were for me to split time between the Mindo Cloud Forest, the Lalo Loor Dry Forest, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest.  I did all that and more. But the highlight of my conservation internship was when I was asked to spend 10 days on a research boat on the Galapagos Islands tagging turtles.

galapagos islands turtles

These guys are huge and can live up to 175 years in captivity or 100 years in the wild

galapagos iguanas

and checking on these guys

galapagos island marine iguanas

don’t forget about these fellas

galapagos island sea lions 1

and revel in the cuteness of these lovable lions

My home for the 10 days was spent between living on a boat [not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as easy as I do while on a boat] and spending time at the Charles Darwin Research Center. There were not a whole lot of tourists on the islands. I don’t know if it was due to it being the low season [September] or the fact that back in 2010 there weren’t a whole of of tour groups coming to the island.

galapagos research station

Before he died in 2012, Lonesome George was the center’s most famous resident. He got his nickname because he was the last surviving member of his species. Scientiests tried mating George with several different ladies who were genetically close to George but nothing happened. He died without having reproduced and with his death, his species became extinct. I feel a little bad for him, living his last years in comfort but without the friendship of someone of his own kind.  George was also known for being a little bit of a recluse.  Each time I saw him, he was hiding behind something or behind the trees, but always munching on grass.

The giant tortises like George can weigh up to 800 pounds fully grown.

galapagos island baby turtles

Hard to believe that these little fellas will still be with us in 2180 and will be 800 pounds. I’d be lucky to survive to 2080.

One of the cool things about being a ‘researcher’ is getting to go where is usually off limits to tourists. And when you are in places not often frequented by human, you catch animals, or in this case turtles, having sex. I’ve never thought about tortoises having sex before, but I sure didn’t imagine them doing it ‘doggy-style’.

more turtle sex
Tortoise style

It must have been giant tortoise valentine’s day or something. I found another couple doing the same thing.

even turtles do it

All that tortise sex results in lots of babies, and it was because of the babies that I was there. See that yellow writing on the shells? That’s my handiwork…tagging baby land tortises for future scientific research.

baby land tortises

giant turtle
These guys have such personality. And they are only found on the Galapagos Islands. A lot of the creatures on the islands are like that. Being located over 600 miles from mainland Ecuador equals not a lot of genetic diversity. And that is a good thing especially from an evolutionary point-of-view.

Festival of Tabuga

For most of August and September, I am in Ecuador volunteering with an Ecological organization which has me going to a tropical rain forest, a cloud forest, and a dry forest.  I’m current in the dry forest area.

Tabuga is the village closest to the reserve. I use the term “village” loosely as it has–at last census–428 people in four different areas. It has no laundry, no internet, no bus terminal, one store, 3 (I think) streets (not paved). I have to walk to get there and it is about 1.5km from the front of the reserve. But Tabuga is the largest village between Pedernales (30.000) and Jama (7000). As such I guess that qualifies it for a 4 day festival and the festival began today. Since we took the AM off to do administrative things and buy food, we took the PM off to go to the festival.

It seemed like a regular, uneventful Friday when I was informed that there was a festival tomorrow. What in the world could a ‘town’ of 428 be celebrating?  Who knows, but any event to attend a festival seems like a good idea.

First up, boys indur. The teams were made of six boys from Tabuga on each side. They were probably 6-9 years old. Final score 1-0. The boys of the winning team each won 75 cents. They took up a collection prior to the game and came up with $4.50 for prizes.

Second up, was open mike singing. Some good, some truly awful, and I, as the only foreigner in town–special guest from South Carolina, got to be the judge. The prizes were 1st–a chicken 2nd–food from the vendors and 3rd beer or coke depending on the age of the winner. Two hours later, I awarded a chicken (live) to a teenager named Segundo, and he was beaming ear to ear as if he had won a million dollars.

And finally, movie night.  The Jungle Book shown on the big screen [aka white sheet held between goal posts and projected via laptop].

 

Lalo Loor and Tabuga

Tabuga is a small town with 75 families located on the northern coast of Ecuador, in the province Manabí. Manabí is the poorest and most illiterate province in Ecuador. There are no conventional phones; there is no cell phone signal nor television signal. There are two stores. They sell basic things like canned tuna, rice, sugar, soda, beer and Caña Manabita. Caña Manabita is a sugar cane alcohol that compares to ever-clear in the US and is sold for only $1.20 a bottle, a beer costs $1 and doesn’t get you to the point of falling over drunk sleeping in the dirt road. [A bottle of water is almost $2] Given the choice,  the men in Tabuga choose the cane alcohol and some don’t make it home until Sunday night… if they leave on Friday.  (Women do not usually drink alcohol.)

The majority of people live in traditional wood houses and many live in even more traditional flattened bamboo (called caña) homes. The majority of the income in Tabuga comes from machete work done for other large land owners. In addition, many families have small parcels of land where they grow bananas, passion fruits, java beans and yucca. The machete workers earn $5-7 per day.   The average number of kids per family is 6 and their diets are almost solely plantains and rice. Plantains are a  starchy, chewy, banana look-a-like that has almost no nutritional value.  I don’t understand why plantains are so popular when Ecuador is the banana capital of the world. The more well off families buy eggs and chickens.

My volunteer experience here is very different than my time at El Pahuma, the rain forest, or what it will be like in the Galapagos.  Lalo Loor Forest is located about 2 km from Tabagua, but since I am the only volunteer and they don’t want to completely isolate me, I will split my time working at the reserve and then helping out a former Peace Corps volunteer with various  community   projects.  I will still stay at the reserve as that is really the only place in town for visitors. (No hotel or guest houses in Tabuga).  The volunteer house is a bamboo and palm frond creation that can house up to 25 at a time.  It doesn’t have electricity or running water.  No heat.  No air.  No indoor plumbing, no hot water.  When there are more volunteers, there is a cook too.  When there is only 1–no cook, but I do get to go to Pendernales to shop for my breakfast and weekend food.  I get to eat lunch and dinner in town.  In the forest, I monitor animal behavior, go for hikes, search out birds, snakes, and insects.  I am also helping to construct a staircase on one of the closed trails.  I call it La Escalera de Michelle.

It gets dark about 5:30 pm…maybe a little earlier at the house due to its location in the forest.  From about 6p-9p, I read by candlelight.  [I found a Spanish language copy of  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It’s slow going, but I am making my way through it, and its improving my Spanish language skills.]  It also gets light about 5:30am.  I wake up a bit earlier than that due to the howler monkeys that start their screaming about 4.  Thank god for the siesta.

0 to 10000 feet and back to 0 in two days

It’s been a rough last three days.  Starting with the arrival back to Quito from the Amazon rain forest.  Funny thing about Ecuador.  You pretty much have to go through Quito to get to any other place in the country.  The middle of the country is all mountainous and not fun at all to travel.  So hot and humid meets cold and damp.  A quick check into to my hostel [in the sketchy part of town] to drop off my stuff and off to the mall to buy supplies for the next part of the journey [mainly rubber working boots]. At 9p, a quick bite of pizza, and a [very short] slumber, I am off again…

A bonanza of modes of transportation in one day, and me with my giant backpack, little backpack, and plastic shopping bag with my rubber boots.  Up at 3:30A to leave the Mindo cloud forest for the coast. Caught the early bus to Quito.  Arrive in Quito and transfer to the trole station so that I can get to the OTHER bus terminal where the bus to the coast leave from. At 5:45am I am on the electric trole that runs through downtown Quito stopping every 200 feet or so to pick up more people.

Three troles later, I arrive in Quitumbe terminal to wait for the bus to Pedernales.  The bus to Pedernales is a regular bus which is great beacause we are decsending through the Andes montains. Brakes are a good thing to have when you are decending from 10,000 ft all the way to sea level.  At Pedernales, I transfer to a local bus–much less comfortable and much more crowded–so crowded in fact that I can’t get off at my stop and it takes 1km before I can get the driver to stop so that I can get off.   Luckily for me a very nice girl offered to bring me back to my stop on her moto-bike. So its her doing the driving and me with my two backpacks and sack on the road. I’m sure it was a funny sight to see. Amazingly enough, we did not crash and I safely made it to the welcome center of the forest where I´ll be for the two weeks or so.

Bosque Seco = Dry Forest

Some of the highlights of my new lodgings:

  • What they call it:  Ecological toilet   What it actually is:  an out house–A very large hole in the ground with a toilet seat attached to a   built up concrete platform. [outhouses still freak me out due to a very close call I had in one as a child involving a snake and a very full bladder]
  • What they call it:  Environmental shower  What it actually is:  a hose hanging from the ‘ventilated’ building using  rain collected from the rainy season [Yes, it is cold]
  • What they call it:  Candlelit evenings  What it actually is:  citronella chic because the mosquitoes will eat you alive and take your bloody carcass to their lair [This province hasn’t had a single documented case of malaria in YEARS, but I still plan douse myself in 80% DEET when I am in the woods.  Wait, what am I talking about, I’ll be living in the woods]
  • What they call it:  no electricity  What it actually is:  no electricity– the house is constructed from bamboo so there are gaps in the walls, the roof is tin and palm thatches, also gaps in it, and birds and things can just fly through.  Glad to have the mosquito nets, and glad that the cabin is elevated off of the ground.

This is the meaning of roughing it?

But in exchange I get 3 meals a day, a bed with mosquito nets, and a chance to do conservation education in a place that is just starting its conservation efforts. And I found out today that there is the chance that I will be able to go to the Galapogas Islands for a week for next to nothing–which would be awesome because tours to the islands are around $1000, which is definitely not in the budget.