Tag Archives: Ecuador

Galapagos Island Animals

Back in 2010, I lucked into the trip of a lifetime when I went to the Galapagos Islands as a research volunteer.  For 10 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 islands 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.  They have such personality, and are adorable when they are playing with their offspring…

snuggley sea lions

I can’t be for sure, but I’ll calling these two mom and baby…

 

sleep sea lion
Sea lions like to make a lot of noise.  Sometimes they ‘bark’ just to hear themselves talk I think.

sea lions

This one has so much personality… “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous…” or ‘I can’t even…with all these others…’

underwater starfish
It’s not all snuggly sweet sea lions. There was some snorkeling 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 perceived 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 newly born baby…

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.

In September 2010, I was working/volunteering 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

Edit note:  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. Scientists 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 tortoises 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 tortoise 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 tortoises 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.

Lalo Loor Dry Forest

My volunteer experience at Lalo Loor dry forest 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. It’s a new, unique concept where large landowners allow the Ecuadorian government to use their land for conservation, but technically still own in.  Lalo Loor was one of the first of these public-private partnerships and probably one of the more successful ones.   Lalo Loor’s owner has branded the area as a ‘research’ area, and to be fair, the dry forest, is a pretty unique ecosystem 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, not 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 Perdenales 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.

Little Bastard

 

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

Festival of Tabuga

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.  Roughly 75 families call the area home.  It is 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.  It has no laundry, no internet, or no bus terminal. There are 3 [unpaved] roads. 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.

In order for me to get to Tabuga, I have to walk.  It’s 2km from my thatched hut to the front of the reserve and another 1.5km from the front of the reserve to ‘town’. 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.

Ah yes, back to the festival…I got off in reporter mode…

There is a version of soccer that I’ve never heard of until I came to these tiny towns in Ecuador.  It’s called Indur… sounds kind of like indoor, but is most definitely not played inside.  Ironically it is played on a concrete basketball court.  There are six players per side and in theory, moves a lot faster than regular soccer.  Or at least that’s the premise.  When the players are not good, well it looks a lot like a kid’s soccer match.  And since I never turn down a sporting event, especially while living in the woods with no electricity, I found myself at the local Tabuga Indur court where the girls over in Pendernales [you know, the Northerners from the other side of the Equator] braved the journey and scored the victory over the girls of Tabuga.  It was a blow-out 8-0 although I’m not sure what a normal indur score might be.

In a community [a very tiny community] where women are rarely seen  [not at the store, the library, or the nature center which is where I spend all my time], I am just impressed that they even have sports for girls.  Or that there are enough girls to make up a team.  After the official indur match, the unofficial ones began, and at the unofficial match, I played my very first game of indur as goalkeeper defended my goal valiantly as some cocky boy found out when he got my knee in his side for trying to get to fancy, and he did not even score. My team won 5-2, and I have respect on the indur floor as I was asked to play again tomorrow.  There is nothing more satisfying for me that taking it to a bunch of boys who 1) think girls can’t play sports [and in this scenario, I am a girl] 2) think anyone over 20 should never leave the house.

It’s not my goal to enact social change in the short time I am here, but if I can inspire one girl to play sports or one girl to come to the library and read more, or one girl to stand up to the gangs of boys that rule these tiny coastal towns, then I consider this stop a success.  If playing soccer or reading books can keep one girl from getting pregnant before 16, then it’s a good day. In a community with no official school, how can people combat ignorance and poverty.  Without exposure to other ideas, how can a girl decide that 16 just might not be the perfect age to have a baby.

Ooops… I slipped in social warrior justice mode for a minute…

After the girls’ played, it was time for the boys. 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 the winners

Second up, was open mike singing. Some were good, some were 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.

Movie night.
After indur, open-mike singing, and cock fighting [yes, cock fighting], it was time for the movie at the festival of Tabuga.  The director  of the library [a former Peace Corp Volunteer who has essentially moved to the area] and I organized movie night for part of the festival.  The movie was to supposed to start at  8p, as per usual in these off the grid places I find myself, despite having obtained special permission to use electricity after the sun went down, the movie did not start until almost 10p–which was disappointing.  The movie was the Jungle Book meant for the kids which due to the late start time, most of the kids either left or fell asleep by 11:00p.

How does one have a movie night for the town in a town that has limited electricity and requires special permits to use said electricity after certain hours? A white bed sheet pulls double duty as a movie screen.  Indur posts serve as attachment supports and an old ibook turns into a movie projector.

tabuga movie night

tabuga movie night 2

 

 

 

Ecuador and Orchids

After traveling around Colombia for a month, I am now in Ecuador.  Ecuador is known for its natural diversity – and all the fun that accompanies it. It is the second-smallest country in  South America, but its range of offerings is no less than astounding. In one day’s drive you can journey from the Amazon Basin across glaciated Andean volcanoes, down through tropical cloud forest and into the sunset for a dinner of ceviche on the balmy Pacific coast. For nature lovers Ecuador has exotic orchids and birds, bizarre jungle plants, strange insects, windswept páramo (Andean grasslands), dripping tropical forests and the fearless animals that hop, wobble and swim around the unique, unforgettable  Galápagos Islands.   And this is why I am here.  For the next month I will volunteering with Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. Ceiba has operations in the jungle, the Oriente, the coast, the Galapagos Islands, and the cloud forests.

I had orientation today and got my suggested items list and spent the day shopping.  I had a lot of the items like a headlamp, water bottle, wool socks, long-sleeved shirts, hiking shoes and pants, but I needed rubber boots, tall socks, and work gloves.  I also bought a few souvenirs and shipped them back home.  The cloud forest is only about 1 hour north of  Quito, and I’ll be living at the Mindo Orchid Reserve.  I am not sure exactly what I will be doing there, but it involves photography.  Then its off to the Ecuadorian Amazon.  From there it is a quick flight over the mountains off to the coast to do some work in the dry forest.  I know that I will be working in the EcoCenter for a couple of hours a day, but I am not sure what else I’ll be doing there.

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.  But as a person who like to be thorough in my writing I did a little bit of research on the beautiful orchid.

Among the biggest misconception about orchids is that they are parasites. Most people will conclude this because in the wild most orchids are found to grow in the branches of trees and some even cling on bushes. Many species of orchids are epiphytes. This literally means “on top of plant”. They are called this because they usually attach themselves to the branches of trees. They are also referred to as air plants because they absorb moisture and nutrients from the air that surrounds them. This is also why most orchids require proper ventilation to thrive.

 

The orchids that hang from tree branches and birches get the nutrients not from the tree itself but the surroundings. They live “up there” because this is where they can get the best of the best nutrients from its surroundings, such as from dead leaves and bird droppings. That is why to classify them as parasitic because of their chosen location is completely untrue.

Some orchid species cannot create their own food through photosynthesis. So what they do is they rely on the fungi on their roots to create the food for them. These are the more appropriately called “parasitic orchids”.

In reality parasitic plants, like mistletoe, are considered parasites because they cause damage to their host plants. Orchids that cling and hang from trees are actually somewhat beneficial. Their host trees are considered more of a stage for them to thrive rather than a host to steal nutrients from.

Enough of the science lesson…

Whilst in Ecuador I went to not only the Orchidarium in Cuenca, but also did volunteer work at the Mindo Cloud forest about an hour north of Quito where I photographed and catalogued all the orchids on site. 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.