Saturday, July 30, 2011


We returned back to the US on Monday, and since then it has been a bit of a whirlwind for me preparing for my next adventure...Siberia! I won't go into the details here but it's a conservation project for the argali sheep (largest sheep in the world, I only work with the largest) and will involve hiking through mountain wilderness for 3 weeks. I leave on Monday. Become a conservation biologist and see the world, kids.

My shift back into normal US life was much easier this time than last, but maybe that's because I knew another wild place was right on the horizon.

I meant to post some Pinta pictures (courtesy of the crew) before I left, but in all the hecticness of packing, my computer with photos is now inaccessible. Will post when I return.

Do svidanya! (Or something like that...)

Thursday, July 21, 2011


We arrived back to Santa Cruz last night! All the noise and sights and people are overwhelming, but I think I adequately prepared myself for it this time. The strangest thing is speaking Spanish to someone other than Daniel - I have learned a lot from him, but it doesnt translate as well with other people!

Just a few days here on Santa Cruz putting things away and preparing samples for departure and then we return to the US.

I think we are all tired, but I woke up last night with my legs aching from lack of use. They needed a break, but only a couple of days apparently!

Monday, July 18, 2011


Waiting for the boat is somewhat agonizing, unsure of when to say goodbye. It is wrenching to leave this time, not knowing if ill ever come back. I hope so!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Goodbye Pinta!

Last day of fieldwork today, teared up saying goodbye to all my favorite places. Tomorrow de-seed clean and pack then wait for the boat which could come 18-20.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


We are taking radios off all the tortoises we can. Soon the airwaves above pinta will be silent, the tortoises roaming hidden in the landscape.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


We only have a week left on pinta! I can't believe how quickly the time went. my legs and feet want to leave but the rest wants to stay. maybe that can be arranged

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Change in the Weather

The rain and wetness has abated the last couple of mornings, giving our feet a break. Boots are nearing their ragged ends, though.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A memorable day

Hiked to the western cliffs today - spectacular. Pinta's raw and unbounded beauty never ceases to astound. I hope those cliffs are burned into my memory.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


We have seen a couple of interactions between tortoises - males mounting other males. The females will have no part of it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


One of the harder days ive had on pinta today. J & I went to the far northwest corner to map cactus and it was very thick, mean vegetation. Sleep well tonight.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Halfway Day

We are halfway done now and im feeling pretty good about data collection. Mapping lots of cacti and our observations of torts will be very useful for modeling.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some Relaxing

A good day off: washing clothes, entering data, and helping john to build a sweet solar power station that will protect it from the coming rain.


The boat comes next week to resupply our water, plenty of food this time. It's a relief not to have to worry and to go to bed with a full belly each night!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

tortoises impacts 2011

Just to follow up on Elizabeth's comments about tortoises having large impacts in the small areas into which they settle ... here is an example. We spotted this site on the way up the volcano on the first day in the field on a trip up to scan the airwaves for tortoises. Clearly tortoises impact the vegetation in significant ways. Obviously an island-wide effect will require more tortoises but so far so good. - James

Monday, June 13, 2011


Wilman continues to hang around. We leave him cactus offerings in the hopes that he wont destroy our camp with his wanderings. So far he is appeased.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Vegetation changes

From the tortoises we have so far been able to find, it seems that they are settling into home ranges with substantial impact to vegetation in small areas.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The satellite texter seems to be working well, except that many of our parents have not responded to our messages. Moms and dads, check your spam folders for a message from GeoPro!


There are hundreds of dolphins right off our beach! Must be a big school of fish as they have been here a couple of hours, jumping and splashing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Wilman has spent the past couple of days next to the water containers. Can he smell the water? He finally moved off this evening, disappointed maybe.

Lava lizards

Our lava lizard camp friends are still here! Lizzy still likes to eat the flies we swat and the one with the crooked tail is still being harassed by the females.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


We found a few anis by the western cliffs today. Anis are invasive in the galapagos but I had never seen them on pinta. Always more invasives to worry about.


We found Wilman! he was at a cactus right next to my tent! I must admit he is my favorite and i am so happy to to see him and get his logger. A good day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


On Pinta! We have an awesome camp and we have already seen a few healthy tortoises!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


We're leaving for Pinta tomorrow night! Everything is all set to go and we've just been waiting the last couple of days - not unpleasantly, mostly by spending time in the water. Food purchasing went well, and it seemed like a great deal more than last year, which is good.

I'm feeling somewhat antsy and would just like to be on Pinta now! I'm curious to know what it's like there... I've been hearing that it's been extremely wet here - rivers on the driest islands and such - and I want to know whether Pinta is just a big mud pit too. I must admit that I hope it isn't. All will be revealed by Monday morning!

Monday, May 16, 2011


The team is complete with our safe arrival on Santa Cruz and meeting of Daniel! The trip went extremely smoothly and all of my worries have been put to rest, which is a wonderful feeling. We´re actually going to leave on Sunday now, so we have 2 days to get everything together before we go into quarantine on Thursday. I think that we can do that without too much difficulty.

It is warm and lovely here, and I can´t wait until it gets dark tonight and I can see the stars. We are all tired from our long journey, and now must eat and rest before the work begins.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And we're off!

In a couple of hours, 4 of us - James, Caity, John, and I - will be leaving Syracuse in a rental car to drive to JFK airport where we will meet Claire. The 5 of us will then fly to Guayaquil over night, have a couple hour layover and then fly to Santa Cruz where we will meet up with Daniel and the team will be complete! I'm very excited, but very anxious, too. At this moment, here are the top 4 scenarios that I'm worried will happen:
1. All of our baggage won't fit into the rental car. It's a large SUV, but it doesn't have a roof rack (as the one I reserved did!) which was the plan for overflow. It may be a tight and uncomfortable 5 hour car ride.
2. The airline won't accept the large and heavy metal cases of equipment we have. I have an email from customer service saying that they would, but you never know...
3. I'll arrive on Santa Cruz, and despite weeks and weeks of diligently (diligently) watching telenovelas, I actually don't know any Spanish. I'm a bit more confident that this one won't happen, but I am anxious about my Spanish.
4. The equipment that I stored on Santa Cruz will have vanished. These are fairly necessary items like tents and the solar panels. I really hope this one doesn't happen. It's a pretty irrational worry, but at this point I can't help but have irrational worries!

Well, we've managed to avert the few little crises so far, let's hope our luck continues.

It's a dreary, rainy day in Syracuse, which makes it easier to leave. Farewell, and I'll write again from Santa Cruz!

Monday, May 9, 2011


I realized that I hadn't checked on the satellite tortoises in a while, and I found out that Javier's transmitter has stopped transmitting. It stopped right after the last time I updated on their movements in March. I hope we're still able to find him - he's been hanging around in an area where many of the other tortoises were hanging out (at least they were last summer) so maybe we'll run into him. It makes me a bit worried about the other devices, though...I hope we don't have any more dead batteries! We'll soon find out...

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Only 10 days until we leave the US! Everything is coming together much more smoothly than this time last year, but there are still plenty of bumps in the road. For instance, the satellite texter that we bought (and I will be making blog posts from!) has arrived, but I am unable to get the software installed needed to make it work (the tech guys with the company say it will take some time to figure out the problem...sigh.). Another thing that arrived recently was a package of about 200 Clif bars - no drinking pasta water this time!

As I alluded to before, we will have a new 5th member of the team! Daniel Lara, a Galapagos native, will be joining us to help us with our work in addition to working on his thesis for his bachelor's degree.

The boat to Pinta will be leaving May 23rd - I can't wait to be outside again and see the tortoises!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Team Pinta 2011!

We have a team for this summer! I've been meaning to announce this for quite some time, but as always, things can change quickly with this project! Even though things aren't quite finalized, I'll go ahead and introduce the new members. It took me about 2 months of searching through lots of applications to find everyone, and I'm very excited about how the team is shaping up. Claire Phillips is an experienced field biologist, who has spent the last few years working with USGS on desert tortoise ecology and conservation. John Mulligan is senior at SUNY-ESF who has extensive hiking and camping experience, and done fieldwork in Wisconsin and Montana. Caity Homan is a junior at SUNY-ESF who has also spent lots of time backpacking and hiking and done fieldwork in New York and New Zealand.

Francisco was originally going to join us again this summer, but unfortunately (for us) he has some grad school opportunities that he can't pass up. Due to his departure, we may be adding to the group an undergraduate student from the Galapagos, which would be a great opportunity for all parties. More updates as we find out more.

Now that it is April, it has dawned on me that the date for our departure is quite close! We will most likely leave the US on May 16th. Lots to do before then...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Update on Mario, Javier, and Freddy

It's been a few months since I've updated on our satellite tortoises: Mario, Javier, and Freddy. They have been doing pretty much the same thing as before, but in a way, that's interesting. Here are the latest movement paths (October 4 - January 26), you can compare to the old ones if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. (Mario is in yellow, Javier in pink, Freddy in blue; the black point is the introduction point, and the black lines are 40 meter elevation lines.)

They seem to be maintaining the same relative positions (with Freddy to the north, Mario to the east, and Javier to the southwest), but making these big looping movements. Pretty interesting. It's good to know they're doing okay.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Figuring out

I looked at my journal that I kept on Pinta a little bit tonight for the first time in a while (when I first got back, I read parts of it every day). It's funny when you're there and it's so intense, you think: I'm never going to forget that I felt like this. But you do, and quickly. I didn't forget that we were hungry all the time, but I had kind of forgotten that a major part of my stress was that I had to come up with a new plan for what we were going to do just about every day. At least I won't have that problem any more - there's still some figuring out to do, but I have a good idea of what will work and what won't, which is a great feeling. And the food, I've got that figured out good.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Non sequitur

Tonight some friends and I watched the state of the union address, and I was transported with feeling like I was with the campaign Obama; the speech brought tears to my eyes. The idea that there is something more than ourselves is so pleasurable, so inspiring, that it makes one want to just go out and do something, to serve. Such power in his voice and his words - if only that was all it took.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I've been meaning to update for some time now, but after a bit of a hiatus, it's hard to get back into it again. Yesterday I presented some of the Pinta work at the Cornell Department of Natural Resources grad student symposium. It was the first time that I had presented my work to a non-ESF scientific audience, and I was quite nervous, but it was good practice for me. Now maybe I can begin thinking about taking things to a larger audience. Everyone seemed quite excited about it, but how could you not be? There's everything in this project: charismatic megafauna, cutting edge conservation science in action, and interesting results. A little bit about those interesting results... It's difficult to tell from that animation I posted a while back because there are no contour elevation lines, but many of the dome tortoises move straight up the elevation gradient while the saddlebacks stay in the mid and lower elevations. You can see the pattern better in this picture (domes are purple and saddles are yellow):

This is pretty much what we would expect - domes typically inhabit higher elevations on other islands, and saddlebacks are in the mid to lower elevations. But, I've been doing some habitat selection analysis in the area around the introduction point where we mapped all the cactus, and it seems that the domes and saddles are both selecting for the same habitat features (low slope and high cactus density areas) when they are forced to be in that mid-elevation area (because we put them there!). The plot will likely thicken even more when we get the next 9 months of movement data from the tortoises this summer. I can't wait to see those data!

I'm starting to ramp up for the upcoming field season - making plans for what data we're going to collect and searching for new field assistants. I put out a posting on a popular job board for people who do this kind of work, and I've had quite the response. It will be difficult to choose between a lot of very qualified and enthusiastic people.