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.

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered this today. Looking forward to getting caught up on the program and following your progress. After 3 visits to Galapagos, the hawks are among my fav species. Some of my hawk shots in case you're interested: Good luck!