Bird-watching Trips with Tomás de Berlanga Students
Friday morning, at 9:30, my 10th-12th graders and I took two taxis down to Puerto Ayora to look for birds. We started at the intersection between the two main streets of the town: Baltra Rd, which is the same road all the way from the other side of the island at the canal separating Santa Cruz and Baltra, and Charles Darwin Ave, which is the southernmost street in the area and is lined with tourist shops and the ocean.
We walked down Charles Darwin Ave and easily pished some Yellow Warblers from bushes and overhanging trees on the sidewalks. A little space that cut towards the water and was surrounded by artisans’ booths (closed until the afternoon and evening) had a couple cacti with nests in them, and indeed we saw a pair of Cactus Finches fly away as we approached. Looking out over the water, we could see some frigatebirds circling around the Muelle de Pescadores—Fishermen’s Pier—and Brown Pelicans flapping towards it. We returned to the sidewalk and reached a zigzagging plank pathway that wound between red mangroves and led to stairs descending towards small boats moored next to the pier, and from there we could watch the action at the pier and the surrounding water from a good vantage point. Brown Pelicans, both adults in breeding plumage and the greyer juveniles, sat in the water and trees nearby, and waddled among the feet of the fishermen cleaning their fish. A couple of Lava Gulls were also underfoot, as well as a young sea lion!
The same scene awaited us on Monday afternoon, at 12:30PM, when I went back to the Puerto with nineteen 7th-9th graders and a fellow teacher, Andrew. In addition, however, we were able to more closely observe the frigatebirds, of which there were more: for certain we could only identify a Magnificent Frigatebird juvenile and a Magnificent Frigatebird female based on their head and neck color. Males are tough to call, since the Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds males are practically identical apart from the colors of their feet (black/brown for M, red/reddish-brown for G) and the sheen on their back feathers (purplish for M, green for G). Two other differences at the Fishermen’s Wharf between the groups were a Lava Heron sighting among the rocks and mangrove roots for the older kids and what we think was a juvenile Nazca Booby standing near the fishermen for the younger students.
On Friday, with the older group, we walked east, all the way to the Darwin Research Station. We saw plenty of Small and Medium Ground Finches, several Galápagos Mockingbirds, and a few of us were even able to see a Galápagos, or Large-billed, Flycatcher (I’ll have video soon). I forgot to mention last week that some of these same students and I saw what I believe to have been a Large-billed Flycatcher dust-bathing near the school, so we felt very lucky about the two sightings, since most birds spotted in trees are Tree Finches, Yellow Warblers, or Galápagos Mockingbirds.
On Monday, with the younger kids, who were carrying their (often quite heavy) backpacks since we did the trip during the last period of school, we took a shorter western route to the other end of Charles Darwin Ave, where we saw Small Ground Finches, a Whimbrel (a regular migrant), a diving Blue-footed Booby, and what was either a juvenile Striated or juvenile Lava Heron. All these birds were seen within the kilometer-long strip of sidewalk traveled during the time of between 30 and 45 minutes.
I think both groups enjoyed the bird-walk, since they were able to travel their hometown with a new eye and a guidebook, trying to figure out what everything was and how you could tell. Some of the students, especially the younger kids who hadn’t eaten lunch or had heavy backpacks were noticeably inattentive or uninterested (we did stop briefly for snacks and Andrew and I rotated carrying different people’s backpacks, but sometimes that isn’t enough), but overall I was quite satisfied with the groups’ participation. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of students who shared the fact that they had never seen a certain bird or hadn’t known the differences between juveniles and adults in the birds where such distinctions are clear.
A week and a half from now when I am no longer covering for English classes I hope to have a group of students who are willing to meet at least once a week to walk around Puerto Ayora, the school, or other easily-reachable areas on the island to bird-watch, as well as try some art projects celebrating Galápagos’ avifauna!
Added June 16th: video of Galápagos Flycatchers and Yellow Warblers below!