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Dr. Ponder’s Journal #11: The other side of Pinzon

“Imp of Darkness” marine iguana sketch by Gail Buhl (from a previous Galapagos trip). The iguana was on the North Seymour Island in the chain.

Dr. Julia Ponder, executive director of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, is traveling to the Galápagos Islands to support efforts to restore an endangered Giant Tortoise population. In this series of journal entries originally posted on The Raptor Center’s blog, Dr. Ponder will share her experiences over the course of two months. For background on her trip, click here to read or here to watch a video, and be sure to check back in to Health Talk to follow the project!

Franny, one of my colleagues here, and I pushed through our morning chores early today so that we could hike up to a couple of territories to check on some free-flying males that we have never been able to catch. My first chance to get to the other side of the island, which was very different than “our side.”

When we arrived at the site we were headed to, we climbed up to the rock overlook to eat lunch and scout the situation. Interesting side note – we call this site “Avion” (plane) as there is a wreckage of a WWII plane there. We intended to hike down to see the wreckage, but one of our stray males showed up pretty quickly. Franny and others have tried in vain to capture this guy, so we had no expectations, but put out goat meat anyway. He came in within 30 minutes – just enough time for us to get set up, wolf down lunch and catch him. As he is one of the known breeding males on the island, he was a priority, so no question we were keeping him.

Getting him out, however, was a bit more difficult. And Pinzon (the island) exacted its revenge on me. Luckily, Francisco, the 22-year-old Ecuadorian who has been working with us, had headed to the Avion site ahead of us. As Franny was going to stay to keep monitoring, I hand-carried the hawk out with Francisco leading me down what they call a “trail” – in that end of the island, not much of a trail, though!

At one point, Pinzon did its favorite trick; it reached out and grabbed my trailing foot with a thorny vine or a strategically-placed rock. Without my hands to balance, down I went onto that darn lava rock. Didn’t lose the bird, didn’t do any more damage to myself than superficial scrapes and bruises and didn’t squish the bird when I fell forward. Pretty good, I would say. Only real damage was to my ego. Francisco, however, managed to maintain a worried look rather than laughing and was quite relieved when I assured him I was okay.

Early on, we had stored carry-boxes at a central point on the island, so only needed to hand-carry him to that point, at which time Francisco put the box with the hawk safely on his back and the rest of the trip back to our holding site was uneventful.

By my next post, Gail Buhl will have joined me. We will overlap in our time here for a few days, and her help and expertise will be most welcome. Once I leave, Gail will remain for the last part of the project. She has promised to send notes and/or pictures when she can, so all of our friends can continue to follow us.

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