Quito, the Galapagos and stuff

Well, I’m in Quito. Annoyingly, I can’t log into my webmail for some reason – some horrible bug in IE7 perhaps.

I spent the morning looking at pre-Hispanic stuff at the museum, which I enjoyed, and then took a token look at the glories of colonial Quito before deciding I needed to sit down for a bit.

I was thinking about how it’s slightly odd that the Galapaos have become a premier eco-tourism destination when it is in fact quite biologically impoverished. There are a total of 60 bird species you can see in the Galapagos, including some unremarkable passing American migrants like tattlers. Admittedly, 28 of those are unique to the islands, but by comparison, the record for a 24 hour birding session in mainland Ecuador is something like 470 species. Obviously the Galapagos has an iconic place in natural history because of the Darwin connection, and because it is literally the textbook example of natural selection, but actually there’s very little there – particularly by tropical standards.

Similarly, everyone gets taught about the Dawin finches and their different shaped beaks being adapted for different foods as though it was somehowa unique case. But of course it’s exactly what happened to finches all over the world. There must be about twenty species of finch in Europe, from the goldfinch with a little delicate beak for eating thistle seeds to the hawfinch with a huge beak that can crack cherry seeds. Not to mention the crossbill, with a beak that crosses over to allow it to get the seeds from pine cones. Again, the Galapagos makes a good teaching example not because it’s a particularly spectacular or unusual example, but because it’s such a simple and narrow one. The thirteen species of Galapagos finch are quite cool, especially the ones like the Woodpecker Finch which are least like classic finches in behaviour. But how much cooler and more remarkable are the 131 species of hummingbird in Ecuador. I mean really, how can there be 131 niches for nectar-eating birds in one country?

Though the Galapagos marine iguanas are pretty unique. And the daisies that have evolved into large trees.

Nature Other

FSotW: Tiny Animals On Fingers

This week’s Flickr set of the week is Tiny Animals On Fingers by specklet. Which is pretty self-explanatory, I think.

Me Nature

In the Galapagos

I´ve got a couple of hours in Puerto Ayora (on Santa Cruz, in the Galapagos), so I thought I´d post a quick note.

I can recommend the Galapagos. For a start, the landscape is more varied and more beautiful than I expected; somehow in my head it was all rocks, but from island to island the colour of the rocks and soil changes, the vegetation varies – I mean it´s mainly pretty arid, and so it´s lots of cactus and thornbushes, but one island will be an expanse of rippled black lava with a few small cacti, and another will be densely covered with bushes. This afternoon we´re going to the highlands for the first time, where it´s actually quite green.

We´ve seen most of the Galapagos specialties now – the two iguanas, the flightless cormorants, the finches (5 of the 13 species so far). Wild giant tortoises this afternoon. I´ve snorkelled with sea-lions and penguins and turtles, I was particularly thrilled wih the penguins.

Actually though, apart from the special Galapagos stuff, it´s been nice just being at sea. I hadn´t really thought about it before I came, but it´s great just being able to watch shearwaters and storm-petrels from the boat. And we´ve had dolphins riding the bow-wave of the boat. But almost my most exciting marine sighting was watching manta rays jump clear of the water and tumble back with a big splash.

The famous tameness of the animals is quite interesting; I expected it of the endemic species that have evolved in an environment without predators, but species like Great Blue Heron, which are wary of people in the rest of the Americas, have been letting us get within about 10 feet. We watched one grab a newly hatched turtle from below the sand.

So it´s all good.


And on to Galapagos

Posted in advance:

Don’t worry, there aren’t going to be a whole string of these posts telling you what I might be hypothetically doing. But having spent the night in Quito, I’m now on my way to the Galapagos. Or perhaps when this post appears I’ll already be there: I don’t have the itinerary to hand. And of course if something has really gone pear-shaped, I could still be stuck in Madrid airport.

Assuming that’s not the case, I’ll be on a boat for the next week. Hopefully seeing fabulous things like marine iguanas, surfing sea-lions, albatrosses and the world’s only equatorial penguins. And hopefully not puking over the side of the boat.

I think that’s probably enough advance postings. When I get back to Quito I’ll find an internet café and let you know how I’m getting on.

Culture Other

FSotW: USSR Posters

Flickr set of the week is USSR Posters, an absolutely staggering collection of 1,469 “Russian and/or Soviet propaganda & advert posters [1917-1991]” put on Flickr by bpx. I’ve only had a chance to dip into them, but here’s a few to give you a taste:

The same person has an even larger selection of WWII posters which might well be FSotW another time. It certainly deserves its own post.


Over the Ocean

If all goes according to plan, both with WordPress and my travel plans, this post should appear while I’m somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Ecuador. We’re flying London – Madrid – Quito, so it’s a long day, but well worth it, obviously.

I’ve decided not to take my telescope this time, so you won’t be made to see my out-of-focus digiscoped photos of Ecuadorian birds. I found it a surprisingly painful decision, because I know how telescopes can come into their own, and I really enjoyed playing with digiscoping when I was in Spain. But the telescope and particularly the tripod are heavy and bulky, so I think it was a good decision. I should get a lighter tripod, actually.

I have of course packed binoculars. I actually have occasional anxiety dreams about being on my way to the airport and realising I haven’t packed my binoculars, even if I’m just going to Provence or somewhere, so the idea of not having them in Ecuador doesn’t bear thinking about.