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Bird-watching Trips with Tomás de Berlanga Students

2012 June 14
by Seth Inman

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 here!


First Few Days at Tomás de Berlanga: Part 2/3

2012 June 13
by Seth Inman

This post continues the description of my first week working at Unidad Educativa Tomás de Berlanga.

On Wednesday, I started playing soccer with the students during recess. School for these grades goes from 7:10AM to 2PM with a 25-minute break at 9:10AM and 12:15PM, and many of the boys play on the cement basketball court, which is fitted with soccer goals as well. There is actually a bigger court just a half-minute away, but it is essentially made of crushed lava-gravel (the red variety) and when I asked why they didn’t play there I was told the surface is too slippery to run on without falling relatively often. The guys normally play with teams of three or four and play to between one and three goals, rotating the losing team until recess is over.

As the youngest of the teachers here (and probably the least concerned about getting back to class all sweaty), I’m the only one to play soccer, and so far I’ve been on teams with mostly my own students. I think this helps them remember that I’m not just someone teaching them about birds in English, asking them to quiet down, or tell me what I just said, but a person they can have fun with both in and out of class.

On Wednesday I also started with the students on remembering local birds’ names in English and what they meant. For example, they could all remember that the Canario María, or Yellow Warbler, had the color in it, but often replaced ‘warbler’ with ‘bird.’ Teaching that “to warble” meant “to sing,” paired with the kids’ knowledge that the Canario is the most commonly singing bird on Santa Cruz, even in fairly high-populated areas but especially at school, helped them keep the complete species name within their grasp. ‘Vermilion,’ which is a fun word that isn’t too easily forgotten, once defined as a color of red, could be matched with ‘Flycatcher’ (“to catch flies” or “to catch by flying”) for the Pajaro Brujo, the only red bird in Galápagos that isn’t a vagrant. A vagrant, or vagabond, bird is one that has arrived on the islands mostly by accident. It is seldom recorded (my guidebooks include every vagrant recorded on the archipelago, and mostly each one has occurred once over thirty years ago). The final example, ‘Mockingbird,’ needed a definition of “to mock,” or “parody,” which again is linked with the birds’ behavior: mimicking other sounds.

Other ways I found birds and English to be easily paired for teaching on a whiteboard and asking the students questions was to draw a bird (most often a duck, as pictured here), and point to different parts of its body to first ask what body part it was (e.g. head, crest, chest, neck, bill, belly, feet, wings) and the various ways one could describe the appearance. For example, a bird can “have a red bill” or “be red-billed.” Coincidentally, in Spanish a bird can be described: “tiene un pico rojo” or “es depico rojo.” I italicize the ‘ed’ and ‘de’ because when thinking about translating a characteristic from one language to the other, it is important to remember the order of adjectives and nouns.* When carried out step by step verbally and with a whiteboard, it is clearer than it may seem here. Especially when there are so many bird names, in general and on Galápagos, that portray the rule: Blue-footed Booby (which every child knows by heart), Smooth-billed Ani (an introduced species), Red-billed Tropicbird, White-cheeked Pintail, etc. On Thursday, after going through this sort of exercise, the students chose local birds that they were likely to see and could learn about via guidebooks and the internet, so that on Friday the 10th-12th graders could go to Puerto Ayora to look for some of them and the 7th-9th graders could do the same on Monday.

My next post, and the final one covering last week, will describe my trips with the students to Puerto Ayora on Friday 8th and Monday 11th.


*For those of you who speak Spanish and are curious as to how I explained the section marked with an asterisk above: In Spanish, notice the ‘de,’ or “of,” is followed by the noun and then the adjective. In English, the adjective goes first, and in this case is joined by a dash with the noun, which includes the ‘ed’ to turn the whole thing into an adjective. By remembering that everything is backwards (even the ‘de’), kids can keep the rule straight not only for bird descriptions but for general English phrases as well.

Creating a Species List for CUBs-Galápagos

2012 June 12
by Seth Inman

I think Puerto Ayora will be a perfect place to celebrate “(sub)urban” birds, as it is the largest urban center in an archipelago that boasts almost thirty endemic bird species—including two flightless ones (the Galápagos Penguin and the Flightless Cormorant, both seen mostly on the island of Isabella). Santa Cruz in particular hosts quite a few of the Galápagos’ fifty eight resident bird species.

Looking through several bird guidebooks from Cornell University’s Mann Library, I created a list of around twenty birds that should be seen on Santa Cruz and its shores. Now that I arrived on the island, I have revised the list to include more likely-seen birds.

When creating a finalized list of birds to parallel the North American CUBs list, I’ll be trying to include species that will be frequently feasible for Santa Cruz’s youth to identify. Putting only the most common or most exciting birds in the list might lead to frustration or boredom, depending on how widely distributed certain species and the children that I have contact with are.

Once the list is ready and I have spent more time in the Galápagos, I will also be able to write about each species in a focused, individual post, sharing where participants and I have seen the birds so far on Santa Cruz, and what unique behavior they may have exhibited around us.

The list so far (it’s a bit long, and I haven’t seen several of the birds yet, nor have most of my students for some of the species):