Thursday, June 30, 2016

Galapagos: Last Days - Tick Eaters and Earth Quakes

Galapagos: Last Days.

The next day was another transit day. We caught our same speedboat early in the morning and did the two hour jaunt back to Santa Cruz island. This time we knew all of the birds we saw on the way (that big rock sticking up out of the ocean over there is the main place you find Red Footed Boobies).

We passed two or three half-volcano cone islands. I guess that kind of formation is pretty common in the archipelago. These things rise up out of the water as a crescent moon. Steep and rocky. I bet they are a blast to swim around in. This was our third long speedboat ride so we were all old hands. We were also blessed with another day of calm seas and sunshine, so no sea sickness.

She is just squatting behind the tortoise. For Scale.

Back at Santa Cruz we went off to another place to view tortoises. I think I have seen enough tortoises now. And would rather be someplace cool. This place was a natural viewing area up in the highlands. It was pretty much a copy of that place we visited on our first day. A large covered area that served as a restaurant where we ate lunch, and a nice trail around the farm to see the tortoises in  a natural habitat. All of these islands are volcanic and one of the things you find around volcanos are lava tubes. This farm boasted it's own tube with a couple of collapsed overheads that served as entries. We got to walk through one from the fields back to the farm. The inside was lit with a string of lights and it was nice and cool down there in the tubes.

Looks a lot like Oregon Lava Tubes, No?

We also stopped by at a farm where they do Sugar Cane and Coffee production. We got to be the donkey for the machine that presses the cane into sugar water. You push this big stick around the circular path, that acts as a crank to turn the mashing gears. The local guy feeds pieces of sugar cane into one side and out the other side comes sugar cane sap.

The sap goes into a big tank where it ferments. The fermented fluid flows down a hose into a little moonshine still that the farmer was using to turn that sugar water mash into alcohol. His still was making quite a bit of moonshine there. Not sure if the stuff he was making was for real use or just for show to us. He did give out samples all around but not directly from the still, rather from a labeled bottle of clear liquid. Pretty much tasted like the everclear you would get at a liquor store anywhere. Would make great hiking stove fuel.


Now we headed back down to the beach. We were going to Tick Eater Beach (El Garrapatero). This beach was way down on the south side of the island. We parked in a big lot and then had a quarter mile walk down a very nice concrete walkway through a large set of mangroves and poison apple plants to get to the Ocean. The poison apple plants were not called that (I need to look it up) but we were warned very pointedly about the plant and told that it was very dangerous. (Ok, it IS called Poison Apple, or Manzanilla del Muerto. The scientific name is manchineel. Not only is the fruit pretty poisonous, but the sap itself can cause skin rash and burning and this can effect you if you walk under the trees during a rain storm. They grow near the show in Mangrove patches).

See the Turtle Tracks on the Beach?


TickEater Beach
The beach itself  was large and sunny with perhaps 20 people playing in the waves. We got in some more kayaks there and paddled over to a protected beach where we were not allowed to land. This area is reserved for Green Sea Turtle nesting. It was a beautiful little area, flat lava flow and black rock pack on top with lots of white sand. Out in the water were large outcroppings of Mangrove and the entrance to the beaches was protected with shallow water reefs.  From our perch just off shore we could see tracks where the momma sea turtle had crawled up the white sand to lay her eggs and then later crawled back down. The tide had come up the tracks stopped suddenly.

Our trip is winding down now. Just a trip back to our hotel for the night. Perhaps walk through town for some shopping.

We spent the night in a nice hotel on Darwin street right down near the harbor. A little walk in the slightly cooler night air showed us the small array of shops and such. What do you bring back as a souvenir from the Galapagos? The actual animals, plants, or minerals are verboten. You can get an array of Blue Footed Boobie t-shirts and such. Who doesn’t like a good boobie joke? We also found a little jewelry store with earrings with local animals and designs. Made in China? Who knows. I guess you bring back the memories and the pictures. Those are the best souvenirs.

We went as a group to a nice restaurant in town. This was our goodbye dinner for many of our group. That is when Fernando got busy with text messages and things got quiet in the restaurant. There has been a huge earthquake in mainland Ecuador. The epicenter is North of Guayaquil but we don't know where. There's some damage to Guayaquil, though, with the main road from the airport closed due a bridge collapse. That doesn’t sound good. Fernando has a relative who lives up near the epicenter (up north).  Luckily she was not at home and instead somewhere farther from the damage.  But lots of people are missing or dead. Lots of people.  We are wondering if we'll get out on time tomorrow, if the airport will be functioning, and feeling guilty for worrying about our travel plans when our guides are worrying about the safety of their friends and families.

Our Hotel

The next morning we learn that everything in Guayaquil is a go for our travel plans.  Sticking to the schedule, we go to the tortoise breeding center just up the road. We walk there in the gathering morning heat. There are more tortoises and a few giant land Iguana. The place looks a bit run down, however. I think they had been building up a big place for lonesome George, the last of the pinta volcano tortoises. He had been living in the San Diego Zoo for fifty years and had just come home to the Galapagos. They put up a nice place for him to live, the sign is up and everything. Then he died. There are a lot of arguments around among the locals as to whether they should try to re-populate the islands where the local tortoises have gone extinct. You know, bring in the closest match they can find. On some islands, they believe they have found remnant cross-bred populations of once believed extinct species. Should they bring those in and try to breed back to the true lineage and repopulate? I say, Damn Straight. We killed them off, we can put them back. Arrogance is our species main strength.

Tortoise eats tree
What is that strange thing on his chest. He looks like a
creature from Avatar


Enough of this. Time to go see how Guayaquil fared in the earthquake. There were rumors that the airport over there had been closed but those proved to be false as our plane left the islands right on schedule and landed without a hitch. As we got off the plane, however, we began to see signs of the quake damage. Most were actual signs, as in the big information and advertisement signs that are on the walls of the air course. Some of these were off the wall and sitting a bit bent up on the floor. Once we got our bags and got on our bus, we were told that would have to go around the city from the river side and come into the hotel from a back way because of the closed highway. We were staying in the same hotel as when we arrived, the Oro Verde.

Marble from the exterior of our hotel

The boys are art work. Does look like they are fixing the wall. This is the lobby.
I thought I had a before and after of this, but I guess not.

See the fire hose tied to hold some marble in place

Some of the cleaned up mess out back.
The hotel had taken something of a beating. Many of the big sheets of marble that cover the walls as the standard venire in a swank establishment had broken and fallen down. 40 foot high curtains covered the walls and pillars in the main lobby. All that big rock was coming down the lobby must have made for a pretty scary place for a while there during the quake. The more we looked around the more damage we saw. Big cracks ran along all of the walls, especially near the stairwell. Two of the elevators were down. One or two entire floors were closed to customers, seemingly due to a water pipe leak. Fernando’s son took us for a little drive around downtown (we were hoping for some last minute shopping). The shopping was all closed by government decree, and we saw a lot of closed walkways (the buildings above were dropping rocks down) and some big cross-road art that had pulled its wires out from the buildings and come crashing down. And this was a town hundreds of miles away from the center of the quake. We were now hearing news broadcasts saying thousands are dead. But we were fine in our nice, if marked up, hotel. We still had water and lights and AC and a nice breakfast in the morning. Fernando took us back to the airport and saw us through customs. We were on our plane and bound for Miami. I think I will save you the nonsense of the long ride back. Well - perhaps this: After all of that heat in Ecuador, it was great to have good AC on the flight. Well, it would have been except the air was out on the 5 rows around where we were sitting for the last leg to Portland. 4 hours at 86 degrees. Thank you United Airlines.

A summing up is probably in order.

This was a land based adventure week that was focused mainly on educational topics. It was not a boat based scuba and snorkeling adventure. My take is that a boat based week would be very different. Would it be cooler? No idea. It certainly wouldn't be punctuated during the week with the nice Hotels and Restaurants. I need to do more research before I can tell if I might like to go and do the boat based thing. The bit of snorkeling I did was not world class waters.

As for the land based adventure. Incredibly beautiful and extremely interesting. The heat and lack of a good way to cool off put a certain level of uncomfortableness to the trip that still hangs in my brain. I needed more chances to jump into the ocean.

Jon's Top Ten list of things to bring to the Galapagos:

(In no particular Order)
  1. Change. America Dollars. Dollar COINS.
    1. Think about it. They use the American Dollar as the Ecuadorian currency. So they can't print more. The money wears out. Coins don't wear out so fast. Bringing coins to them is a boon.
    2. So bring a roll of dollars.
  2. Sun Shirts
    1. You should experiment with this a bit in the states. Perhaps in a Sauna. You want something that is loose and white and easy to clean. At least easy to rinse out. Needs to be strong enough that you can wring it mostly dry or it will never be dry.
  3. Water Proof Camera.
    1. Don't get the 3 Meter safe one unless you really don't know how to Snorkel. You know you are going to want to try a deep dive. Get the 15 meter safe one. (really hard to free dive down 45 feet if you are intending to come back up)
  4. Sea Sickness Patches.
    1. Yeah. Probably. Why risk it? Remember, we had 'Great' weather.
  5. Petroleum Jelly
    1. Hot, sweaty, walking a lot. Are you prone to rashes? Lot of other uses, you know.
  6. Snack Food
    1. Many people need little snacks throughout the day, especially while adventuring. The tour doesn't really provide these and such things are extremely hard to find on Floreana. Bring some energy bars or fruit and nut mix (processed!) or other things you might bring on a back packing trip.
  7. Non Water Beverage:
    1. If you don't drink beer and don't like Coke, you will find it hard to find ANYTHING except water on Floreana. Perhaps bring a bottle or 2 of your favorite non alcoholic beverage and then get Claudio to put it into the fridge for you. Well, I guess he could also score you some fruit juice if you asked him in advance.  (our editor was very unhappy the tenth time we were offered beer or wine as an alternate to water, but there was only one non alcoholic drink available, presumably on the entire island, which was a bottle of Coke. Bring some lemonade if you don't drink beer)
  8. Clothes Line
    1. A number of people told me, "Hey, clothes line, what a great idea!". I just thought of it as having some rope along. That is the boy scout in me. But still... need that clothes Line. (although we left our clothes hanging outside on Floreanna for three days and it never got dry)
  9. Extra Zip Lock Bags.
    1. The Big Ones. You are going to have wet clothes that need to travel with you. You are going to need to put some ice in a bag and ice that damn Knee after hiking the Volcano. Stuff like that.
  10. Pocket Natural Reference
    1. Sure wish I had had a little book of Animals and Plants. Something I could write in. 

Ok. Adventure Done. Readers Informed. Now...... Get Out There !!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cape Arago Oregon

Down on the Southern (well, mid-southern) coast of Oregon is the little community of Coos Bay. This bay is formed where some small rivers and a bunch of built up sand dunes have created a little bay.

Sticking out into the Pacific just west of Coos Bay is Cape Arago. This is a beautiful geographic feature and a very nice state park. I spent an afternoon walking around and taking pictures of the rocks and animals and trying to figure some things out. I was lucky enough to spend part of the time with a marine biologist, so I even have some critter stuff here.

First, the rocks. You know how you can find sedimentary rocks and layers if you go to the ocean or perhaps the mountains (or the Grand Canyon)? You can see the horizontal stripes in the rocks and know each of these stripes represents some geological era. You can sort of count backward in time as you go lower and lower into the ravine? Well, Cape Arago is nothing like that.

At Cape Arago, all of those horizontal lines run vertical.

Here is the story as far as I can piece it together. I read a few papers by a geologist but their science words are different from my science words and I may have gotten some of this wrong. Forgive me. You can take a shot at the paper yourself.


Millions of years ago, the Northwest coast was much flatter and more gradual that it is today. The coastal range didn't exist and a gradual flat silty, sandy, coast stretched much farther inland to the foot of the current day cascades. This was a shallow water ocean and according to what what going on in the word, different strata would form on the bottom and get compressed into rock. Sand would form for a few feet and turn into yellow sandstone. Silt would form a few feet and turn into grey siltstone. A little volcano action would happen and some lava would run through and get deposited. A particularly heavy biological era would occur and the resultant organics would get pressed into coal. And so these layers continued to build up. A few miles thick of lots and lots of different layers. Now we have some drifting plate action occurring. The middle of this area sinks down a bit (forming the south slough) and the land on either side gets pressed up until the horizontal layers become vertical layers sticking up into the ocean. Now we have these big cliffs sticking up and wave action comes into play on them. Over the centuries, the soft materials (like sandstone and coal) get worn away while the harder materials (like siltstone) stay in place and form the cliffs and islands.

There are also various small faults in the area that create breaks in the hard layers. In one place, such a break lets the sea in through a small gap. The waves crash in and wear away the soft layer on the other side of the gap to form the beautiful round sunset bay. Right beside sunset bay, the obstinately hard rock sticks out into the ocean forming Lighthouse Island.

Lighthouse beach is the strip of sand just North East of Lighthouse Island. The day that I was visiting, unusual wave action had stripped the beach of its usual layer of sand and I had a chance to wander through a lot of normally covered striated rock and take some pictures.  I walked around trying to figure out what runs of rock went where. You could see how it would travel up the beach and then up the cliffs and back into the headland. Fascinating.

And then there were the sea creatures.

A micro Mass Stranding

On this particular sunny and wonderful spring day, the waterline was covered with a flotilla of swimmers called Velella, or By the Wind Sailors. These little guys are a deep blue in color and look like an upside down limpid with a little translucent sail on top. They are actually a colony of Velalla all living tougher on the same little raft. Each colony is either all male or all female. Which seems a little crazy to me. They move through the water by the thrust of the wind on their sail and they have little tentacles that drag beneath them to catch prey. Though they aren't very dangerous to humans, you can end up itching if you handle them and then touch sensitive skin (like your face). Because of their reliance on the wind for locomotion, large groups of them frequently end up beached on west coast beaches.  My biologist friend says there are really two types of these guys, left hand sailers and right handed sailers. The handed of the sail determine which direction they tend to float, so only one hand ends up on the beaches in any given event.  Cool.

On one rock that is just about always underwater (we were at a very negative low tide) we found a kind of sea anemone that is also a colony creature. These guys breed asexually and spread all over the rock. In some places you can see lines in the arrangement that is indicative of a different colony of the same species spreading against the other colony.

The lines define the different colonies

Underneath that rock were a bunch of large Anemone. They and their small colony cousins were all closed up for the time being. They were waiting for the ocean to come back to them.

The other fascinating thing were the shells that had bored into the rock in many places. These animals have a very rough back end which they run against the rock as they grow. Back and forth, back and forth and they cut a very smooth round hole for them to live in which they enlarge as they grow.

Old rock with no critters left alive

Before leaving the area, my partner and I and our sister took a little walk around the local state camp ground. We are marking the sites that we like for some tent camping later in the summer. We are going to come back here for a family vacation and to chill for a while. One thing you can usually do on the Oregon Coast is chill. I am hoping that with my new found semi-knowledge about the rock formations I can try to get some better pictures that show the unique geography of this beautiful coastal area.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Willamette River Killdeer

Willamette River Killdeer

We did a little kayak paddle down the Willamette from The Wheatland Ferry to San Salvador landing. My partner and I like to do this paddle for camping and rock hunting. Today is just a day trip looking for agates, but I thought I would do a little post on the wildlife that we saw during the paddle, especially a noisy little guy called the killdeer.

Killdeer are mockingbird sized shore birds that are named onomatopoetically from their call, which evidently some deaf poet thinks sounds like "kill deer!! kill deer!". The real reason is, of course, much more grizzly than that. These cute little guys lay their eggs this time of year in sparse nets out in the rocks on gravel bars along the Willamette (and other rivers, presumably). When you come up on their beech, they will start yelling at you and flying around (kill deer, kill deer, they cry). This is how you know that they have a nest in the area and you should be careful where you step. You see, the killdeer are very good at hiding their nests in the rocks and their eggs are brown and speckled and tiny and just really hard to see down there amongst all those rocks.

And when I say 'nest' I am taking some poetic license. They may move a few stones around. They may drop a feather or two. But they really don't do much else. So the little indentation where the 3 or 4 eggs lay is just another place in the rocks where there are not agates. I have accidentally stepped on a nest once and it didn't make me happy, so today we are keeping our eyes out and trying very hard not to upset some poor mommy killdeer. I was looking at the nests closer in the these pictures below and what appears to be happening is that the adults have laid their eggs in an area of egg-sized rocks. They have moved the egg size rocks in the "nest" away and put the speckled rock looking eggs in the place. So now the area looks ..... untouched and has a normal rock size distribution pattern.

This was the first nest I found. I marked it with the bucket whilst I went off to get my camera.
Do you see the nest? I know where it is and I can't find it.

What about Now?
There it is.  note that some of the larger stones have been moved such that when the Eggs are
put there, they replace the larger stones and leave that sense of sameness.

The killdeer has this behavior that they manifest when you get a little too close to the nest. They land nearby and make their little killdeer call at you. When you look at them, they turn away from you and fall to the ground like they have a broken leg. They splay their rear end like the have a broken wing and they make a piteous crying sound and desperately try to crawl away from you. Look in the direction they are crawling, the nest is probably the other way. As soon as you look away from the birds, they jump up and start making loud cries again to attract you. If you have walked a little past the nest, they fly around the other side and try to lure you, once again, away from the nest. Damn, I must have missed it. I turn back around. And there it is. Man, it is hard to see even when you are concentrating and looking for it. Here are some pictures and a video of the Mommy (perhaps the Daddy too?) doing the broken wing thing.

Just before the Dance

Oh OH, I am so injured and Helpless. Won't someone come eat me?

Here is the nest, when we finally found it.

Nest in Foreground, momma is out there in the background doing her dance

We saw a few other birds on the river worth mentioning. There are many osprey nests set up by the farmers and such along the river. And the ospreys and the Eagles are always messing with each other, trying to steal each other's fish and such. We ran into a pair of Bald Eagles. One immature and one mature. The adult just couldn't get rid of the pesky teenager. He did fly over and land near where I was going to hunt agates, so I took his picture.

The day was very hot. Record breaking upper 90s hot. The river was very cold. Great to cool off, hard to swim.

On one of the big rock bar islands that we like to stop on, we were trying to explore back into the interior of the island when we heard this big loud noise. A clump. A very large animal smashing through the underbrush just on the other side a little pond ahead of us. I thought it must be something like a wild boar. I picked up a couple of big rocks to throw. The sound went away, however, without incident. My partner thought it was probably a deer trying to get away from us. But I knew that it couldn't be a deer. Not on an island infested with Killdeer. They would have immediately swarmed the poor animal and used their little pointy peaks to stab it to death. All of the time singing their victory song "Kill Deer!! Kill Deer !!"