Monday, January 31, 2011

Harley End of January

After a 1 month hiatus, Harley’s GPS started functioning again on Jan 25. The GPS data confirmed the readings taken by the satellite that Harley has not moved from his winter quarters between Parthenon and Jasper, Arkansas. He has been in this area since late October, roosting in trees along the creek in the evening and venturing not too far from this valley during the day. Hopefully the last 2 days of GPS data is the start of a period of normal functioning by the radio. The attached map shows the bird’s locations this month, the red hexagons are GPS locations and the blue teardrops are satellite calculated locations.

* For those not familiar with the way this transmitter works, Mark Martell kindly wrote a quick explanation: We are using a satellite linked radio with a GPS unit. The GPS unit is supposed to turn itself on hourly between 7am – 6pm (varies a bit with season) and calculates its position (within 150 m). That information is stored in the radio and then transmitted to an earth-orbiting satellite every 3 – 7 days (again depending on season). While the satellite is in communication with the radio, the satellite estimates the location of the radio. Both the GPS data and the satellite estimates are sent to me. Since the GPS data is more accurate, and we get more locations, I typically do not use the satellite estimate and rely exclusively on the GPS data.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Galapagos Journal Entry #14

Life in camp

Things are settling into a bit more of a routine these days. The hawks are eating well and the aviary adjustments have helped them quiet down. Each morning, we check the birds in their pens and do any necessary treatments, such as medications for parasite control. Whenever possible, we give medications in their food; we are trying to handle the hawks as little as possible to minimize stress. Cleaning is also done in the mornings – if we move very slowly, the hawks will sit quietly while we clean the pens. Quite amazing! It means we work at a very slow pace, but totally worthwhile as it is not possible to turn off the lights and work under the cover of darkness as we would back home. Before I came, I wondered if we would have to clean at night. It is very rewarding to be able to do it without panicking the birds during the day. Like so many other endemic animals in Galapagos, they exhibit more curiosity than fear.

Thought I might share some images of other visitors who have arrived in camp. We never know who is showing up on any given day. Have had sea lions, pelicans, short-eared owls and local Galapagos hawks show up frequently (field camp is not on an island undergoing rodent eradication). Note the picture where a large female hawk is perched in the middle of our “kitchen” area – hard to keep 10 meters away from the wildlife when it shows up in the kitchen! Ironically, one of our visitors was a rare endemic rice rat – a species thought to be extinct for over 100 years in Galapagos and found in the late 1990’s on Santiago. Very cute and not destructive like the black rats and ship rats driving the eradication program. As a critically endangered endemic species, the rice rat gets excellent protection.

The bait drops for the rodent eradication went extremely well – two drops a week apart. The helicopter pilot was almost surgical in his precision. With that part done, we watch and wait. Watch/monitor what is happening on the islands (for 2 years!) and wait to release the hawks (just a few more weeks!).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Galapagos Journal Entry #13

What an incredible few days! After our first day trapping, I headed to the field camp and the aviaries. Over the next few days, I had birds arriving on boats and even on a helicopter. The modifications allowing the transport boxes to be carried on our backs were quite helpful for hiking in many of the areas. Trapping was very successful – we managed to get all the birds we went for in 4 days. Twenty birds in total are now housed in the aviaries – the total population of birds holding breeding territories on the islands undergoing rodent eradication.

It took a few days to finish construction on the aviaries, so I had my hands full trying to keep the birds calm and settled. Knowing how important reducing visualization is in keeping the hawks quiet, I spent quite a bit of time modifying the aviaries to cut visual lines to the outside. The birds slowly settled down over several days and all of them began to eat well. A few hawks lost weight in the first few days, but with patience and a bit of training, we were able to give them some supplemental food without stressing everyone.

One of the first birds to start eating extremely well was our old friend, V2, from Rabida Island. Of the 20 hawks we have, this was the only bird previously banded. I first “met” him on Rabida last November – he was one of the birds that briefly tricked us into thinking we had more territories on Rabida than we thought. While our teams spent a couple of hours hiking to the north and south parts of the island to establish feeding areas for the hawks (pre-trapping), V2 and friend were quickly flying back and forth between the north and south coastal sites, resulting in two teams counting them. V2 was a good eater then and continues to be a good eater in captivity!

As I worked to get the hawks settled, the bait drop began on the islands. While not my area of expertise, I can tell you that the reports are that the bait drops went exceptionally well. No complications or unexpected problems. In the meantime, I also began running all my lab work to get baseline health data on the birds – blood counts, parasite checks, etc. The construction crew created a very nice lab/work area for me – a lovely shaded corner of the aviary with mesh walls complete with table and stool. Just don’t tell the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine how much I love my outdoor lab. He might solve one of the college’s space problems by moving me outdoors in Minnesota!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Galapagos Journal Entry #12

Day 1 trapping success!

After a few more delays and several last minute plan changes, we finally left for Rabida Island to begin trapping hawks. With implementation of the rodent eradication project due to start in 3 days, I must admit, my normal optimism was a bit weak – while we are only doing a few small islands in this pilot project, the thought of capturing all the hawks (15-20 estimated) on 3-4 islands in a few days was daunting. Our original seven days of trapping before the scheduled bait drop was down to three and, thanks to boat troubles, our first day started late. We decided it was too hot to attempt the three birds holding territory at the top of the hill as they would have to be carried down in transport boxes on our backs. I was very worried about the bird overheating and determined to do this group either very early in the morning or on a cooler, cloudy day.

Our team split up into 2 groups and headed for the other two planned trapping sites on Rabida Island. Franny, David, Javier and I headed up the hill behind camp and put out a 3 pound piece of beef ribcage, marking it with the red flag that we used in November. The sun was already high in the sky; the heat of the day was beginning and the only things moving in the skies were a few pelicans and frigate birds. Recognizing that field work is about patience, we settled into wait, although I had low expectations. An hour and a half later, David said, “hawk”. An adult Galapagos hawk flew into a tree near the meat that we had set out, as a way to target a safe place to trap the hawk, and then hopped down to eat. It continued to eat while we snuck closer. Using a tool designed by Graeme, one of our colleagues on November’s trip, Franny slipped a clasp with a one-way gate onto the bird’s leg. The bird calmly continued to eat as I snuck closer. As it tried to fly off, I held the string connected to the clasp and quickly grabbed its legs. Success! As we banded and took photographs of the hawk, the juvenile male V2 (previously banded) showed up. We quickly put the first hawk into a transport box and got back into position. Within a couple of minutes, we had V2 just as smoothly.

Meanwhile, down on the beach, the rest of our group was also having success. As we watched from our perch on the hill, they trapped the two birds known to be in the beach territory. This was especially thrilling to me as I expected these birds to be our hardest group on Rabida.

WhiIe I wish Graeme and his wife, Sue, were able to join us for this trip (they had to return to New Zealand after the November delay), I am very grateful to him for sharing his ingenuity. His design of the “Graeme hook”, the newest hawk trapping tool in our arsenal, was clever and very effective. In addition, he and Franny adapted several of the transport boxes so that they can be carried on our backs – quite helpful for getting hawks off high hills.

Having seen four birds and caught four birds on our first day, it was time for the boat to make the trip to Santiago Island and the aviaries. As our trapping team was smaller than expected and our time short, I headed to Santiago to settle in the newly captured birds while the others stayed on Rabida to get the final group early the next morning. The Guardeparques (National Park Guards) were still working on the aviaries, so camp was already set up there. The boat dropped me at the field camp around 4pm and I immediately headed to inspect the aviaries. The construction quality was amazing – better than many permanent aviaries! The only drawback – they weren’t finished. Four pens were ready except for minor modifications, so I had someplace to put the hawks. With the help of Roberto, a guardeparque, I did a quick exam and gave some subcutaneous fluids to each hawk, then settled them into their new homes. Undoubtedly, the day was a bit stressful for them, but hoping they will settle in quickly.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Harley January 2011 Update

Harley remains in his winter valley home in Arkansas between Parthenon and Jasper. The GPS is still not functioning due to low battery power but the radio is still turning on and transmitting to the satellites which mean we get locations every few day based on the satellite estimate of where the transmitter is. While these estimates are not as accurate, nor as frequent as the GPS data it does indicate the bird is doing OK. (No map is included with this post, as the satellite readings are not as accurate as the GPS.) We will keep posting his travels!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Galapagos Journal Entry #11

Back in Galapagos! Happy to be here and anxious to get started with the next phase of the project. One slight problem has been the failure of my duffel to arrive. It did not make the connection in Miami, so did not arrive in Guayaquil with me. The challenge is that one spends the night in Guayaquil, and then takes a domestic Ecuadorian airline to the islands the next day. I headed to Galapagos, trusting the two airlines to be able to figure out a way to get my bag to me. Hoping my bag will arrive before I have to leave for camp. I must admit that my current problem of wearing the same outfit everyday pales in comparison to the thought of heading out to camp for 2 weeks without anything in my duffel – hiking boots are not easily replaced here!

My first day here, I met with my colleagues, Karl, Mark and Franny, to go over the final plans. It was good to see them again – we sat overlooking Academy Bay, a beautiful site and caught up with each other. Karl, a New Zealander who works for Island Conservation in California, is project leader for the rodent eradication. Mark, who hails from Australia, works for the Charles Darwin Foundation – while his area of expertise is invasive plants, he is overseeing the pre- and post- eradication scientific surveys. His teams have been (and will be) collecting data on the animal populations (especially birds) on the islands undergoing rodent eradication. Franny, another New Zealander who works here at the research station, is my primary colleague on the hawk mitigation. She is an excellent field biologist and very creative at problem-solving. Her primary job is a translocation project for the highly endangered Mangrove Finch, one of the 13 species of Darwin’s finches found in the Galapagos Islands.

Plans for the project are progressing well. Although they still have some to finish next week, the bulk of the aviary construction was done last week. The construction was quite impressive in the images I saw – on our first day out to camp, we will stop by and inspect them prior to heading to the other islands to start trapping. You might remember that we are trapping the hawks on Rabida, Bainbridge 3 and Bartolome islands and bringing them to Santiago, where the temporary aviaries are. These hawks on these three islands are considered to be part of the Santiago subpopulation, although we will be taking samples for DNA analysis and confirmation after we capture the birds.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Laura Freeman and Gail Buhl (along with Max the Bald Eagle, Lois the Great Horned Owl and Taiga the Merlin) appeared on WCCO TV this week. Lois showed us how tasty a mouse can really be!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Galapagos Journal Entry #10

Happy New Year! Heading back to Galapagos!
After a busy holiday season, I am preparing to return to the islands. It will be good to see my colleagues again. Trying to do last minute planning amongst all the holiday festivities has been challenging, but I think things are on track. I hear the weather has changed – they have headed into their hot, wet season. The prediction this year, however, is for an extreme drought – so hot, but not expected to be wet.

While I was gone, Franny (one of my colleagues - pictured here) was able to make a trip to Bainbridge 3, one of the islands where we will be trapping hawks. There, she accustomed the birds to trap sites as we did on Rabida in November. We expected three birds on Bainbridge from earlier observations, but she reported four.

No matter how much planning we do, I know there will be surprises in the coming weeks. Looking forward to seeing what comes!