For the past two weeks I’ve been planning my bird-related extracurricular activity at Tomás de Berlanga, the school where I’m on my fourth full week of volunteering English substitute teaching for grades 1, 2, and 7-12 (1st and 2nd graders are taught English as a class, and the older students are classified based on skill level—I taught Intermediate for a week and Advanced for two weeks).
I decided on a weekly 2-hour (4-6PM) meeting of what we’d call the “Club de Aves,” the Bird Club, and I sent a small paper invitation and permission sheet home with students of 2nd grade and up. About 50 students brought back responses allowing them to participate, and a dozen or so slips denying permission because the student was otherwise engaged after school (Santa Cruz has a great cycling team that is quite competitive on a national level). Given this unexpectedly high number, I had to supplement my planned Thursday and Friday groups with a Wednesday one: about twenty 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders for Wednesday; thirteen 5th and 6th graders for Thursday; and eighteen 7th-12th graders for Friday.
Last week was the first meeting for all three groups, and I was fairly pleased with the results. Eleven, seventeen, and eight students arrived on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, respectively, which were not only very good attendance rates for Santa Cruz activities (I’m told) but also more manageable group sizes than full potential (with the exception of the 5th and 6th graders, who were often out of control due to a core group of young boys). We did the same route through Puerto Ayora for each day, starting out on a similar path as I did with some of my English class students several weeks ago. We start at the main pier, in San Francisco Park, and walk down Charles Darwin Ave. next door to the Navy, where there is a clump of cactus with a nest and many Small Ground Finches and Cactus Finches hopping around. From there, we keep walking down to the Artisans’ Wharf, where there is a more concentrated group of cacti with three nests in interesting orientations on the prickly pear structures (pictures to be included later). Next is the plank walkway that provides a great view of the Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as the Brown Pelicans and Lava Herons that rest or live in the mangroves surrounding the walkway. I took the two videos embedded in this post in the free half hour I have before the Bird Club meeting, because I enjoy scouting out what we should be able to see and prefer not to have my camera out while with the students. In the first video, I attempt to follow several Frigatebirds as they swoop around, and the second also includes a couple Lava Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Blue-footed Boobies (with a sea lion cameo).
When we get to this part of the walk, which was always the most fruitful for the three groups (on Friday we even saw an Elliot’s Storm-petrel trying to find good water to pitter-patter on right in front of the plank walkway*), I ask the students to help identify the Frigates as male or female and adult or juvenile—as well as the species where possible. The Brown Pelicans can also be aged easily (based on the coloration of their heads and necks: white crown and brown, velvety neck means adulthood, while gray signifies immaturity), as well as the pair of Blue-footed Boobies in the second video.
After the Fisherman’s Wharf, we cut through the town towards the entrance to Tortuga Bay, which is right at the western border with the National Park. Quite a few Galápagos Mockingbirds, Small Ground and Tree Finches, and Yellow Warblers are commonly seen there; I’ve experienced a surprising ease of Galápagos (or Large-billed) Flycatcher sightings as well. The only Galápagos Dove I’ve witnessed so far was right around there, but not with the students. The advantage of ending at the entrance to Tortuga Bay is that it is significantly uphill from the town, and there is a balcony above the guardhouse/snack-shop building that provides a perfect view of all of Puerto Ayora. Although 5:30 to 5:50PM is a bit early for the full potential of Cattle Egret flocks, we can still see a few small groups flying home for the night (I’m not sure where they go, but they fly from upland north to the shore at the south and then cut west, I think). If one were to wait till 6:30, the sunset would be running down and flocks of 20-30 Cattle Egrets could be seen over the town—I have a video that I’ll post later that shows a brief sample of this beauty as seen from below.
* Here’s some good photos I found by chance on Google of a storm-petrel doing its thing.