From the Chief Executive: A little bit of Galapagos R&R – Rails and Rats

On his first trip to Galapagos as CEO of Galapagos Conservation Trust, Ian Dunn will be writing regular entries on this blog. Ian will be sharing his experiences observing first-hand the challenges facing Galapagos, the successes of conservation efforts and the wildlife and wild places that make the archipelago so famous…

I spent today with Godfrey Merlen, a frequent contributor to the blog and to Galapagos Matters, our member magazine.

With the launch of our Songbirds appeal imminent, our objective today was to find the elusive Vermilion Flycatcher in the high Scalesia forests of Santa Cruz.

Leaving early we stopped first to view the ‘Red Mine’, a vast excavation of a volcanic cone to provide the building material for Puerta Ayora. Eating into remaining transition forest on the drier northern side of the Island, with superb views over to Baltra and Santiago Islands, it is a stark and ugly reminder of man’s impact.

Walking higher we soon entered the cloud base and the walk underfoot went from dry and cracked to wet and soggy in less than a hundred paces. The Scalesia trees, in fact not real trees but a member of the Daisy family, are festooned with ferns, mosses, lichens and orchids. Each tree is a unique ecosystem in its own right. With the cloud swirling around us, these ‘dressed’ branches assumed weird and wonderful shapes.

I was however horrified to see the extent of invasion by the locally known Mora or blackberry (in fact the berry is far more like raspberry). Thick, thorny growth strangles the undergrowth, preventing young Scalesia taking hold and it dominates the habitat. This is and will continue to be an increasingly impactful invasive species, a solution to which needs to be found.

Speaking of invasive species…on to the R & R. Stopping me in my traces on hearing a cackling call, Godfrey spotted a Galapagos Rail in the undergrowth, preening. Delicate, beautifully plumed birds, the Rail is heavily under threat from rats. As if the script were written, not a moment later a Norwegian rat also came into view, on the scent of the Rail. Both allowed me to capture them on film but I would have preferred to have the former only in its natural habitat. On a full day in the forests its was wonderful to see the hugely diverse finch population, sighting some seven of Darwin’s fourteen species. We also had superb sightings of the resplendent Vermilion Flycatcher.

It was disconcerting to see the impact of Mora and the number of rats. As Godfrey said to me on heading back down, the unique wildlife of these Islands will live or die based on our ability to control the species we introduced to them.

Concerned? Help Galapagos Conservation Trust to secure a future for the wildlife and habitats of Galapagos by becoming a member today. Alternatively, you can make a donation on our website.

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