Day 4, and counting

These two fledgling penguins came very close to us this morning when we were doing census on the south beaches. Usually the penguins don’t get too close at all, but these young guys were brave.

(Editor’s note: Until the guano harvest workers arrive in the next few days, the volunteer scientists at the Punta San Juan Reserve are focusing on updating the census of seabirds, seals and other aquatic animals on the ground. Measuring the populations is the most basic way to know whether conservation efforts are working.)

Well… I (this is Alle) won the prize for being the first person to get sick here on the reserve. Apparently, Susana (the lady who arranged the entire guano harvest) said that everyone will take turns getting sick while they are here, and I was the unlucky first person to get the bug.

I did make it out this morning for the 6 a.m. counts of the south shores, and it turns out that the penguins are actually out in the open a lot more first thing in the morning, and the numbers were a lot higher. Mike Macek, curator of birds at the St. Louis Zoo has been here many times for penguin conservation efforts, and he says that there seem to be a lot more penguins this year than in past years, which is great news! That means the conservation efforts here are succeeding.

Flocks of birds are silhouetted against the sunset.

So a lot of our coworkers at the Newport Aquarium, and at the WAVE Foundation were feeling like Ric and I were going  on vacation while we are here in Peru.  It is true that we are away from the office, but we would like to let you know about some of our day-to-day activities.

We wake up around 5:30 a.m. in complete darkness and with only our headlamps to light the way. We pile on the layers for the cold mornings of the Peruvian desert. Breakfast is not served until after we get back from our first 2-3 hours in the field. Peruvians only really eat one meal a day, and that meal is lunch. Breakfast is usually bread and butter, and dinner often doesn’t exist or consists of bread and butter or crackers or fruit. (Ric is actually in the process of writing a food segment for the blog, and we will be able to share some of the food that we are experiencing.)

After “breakfast” we usually have a small break, and we meet back up to head out into the field again for a few more hours. This is usually the weird time in the field because when we first go out it is really cold,  then the sun comes out and we all burn. The white guano on the ground reflects the sun, so any part of exposed skin will burn before lunch (and if the sun doesn’t get you, the wind burn will!). Plus, once it warms up, the ticks come out and start secretly climbing all over us. We have to have separate clothes that we wear in the field, and clothes that we wear in the house so we don’t bring ticks into our living area.

Here is the whole volunteer crew, with a map showing the outline of the reserve. We are wearing our new “2012 PSJ Guano Harvest” hats provided by the St. Louis Zoo and the Center for Resource Sustainability in Peru. Note Conham the dog in front of Alle.

After round 2 in the field, we head back to the house for lunch at 1:30 p.m.  when there is an absolutely delicious meal prepared for us. We all sit around talking, laughing and sharing stories in the warm sun. Then, around 3:30 p.m. it starts getting really cold again, almost colder than it was in the morning, and we head back out again into the guano fields for a few more hours to do more census work on the penguins.

The sun goes down around 5:30 p.m., and the wind from the ocean just freezes us to the bone. When we finally get back to the house, the generators get turned on (yay, electricity! This is the only time we get electricity during the day), and we have a meeting about what we observed throughout the day and the numbers of the animals we counted. After this meeting, half of the group gathers their shower materials and is allowed to have a ride to the “G house” which is where the warm shower and internet is. This is where Ric and I write every night, and where I am right now.

Then, we head back to the reserve and sit around the main table lit by candlelight, and we have a small snack while we talk and catch up about the day. Overall, these are field-intensive days; we come back covered in guano and shaking ticks off of us while we walk.

Collecting seawater to use to flush the toilets.

Something that is an added activity that we need to do every few days is the bucket brigade to the ocean so we can gather water to flush our toilets. We are not allowed to actually press the handle on the toilet, but instead we pour a bucket of water into the toilet to “flush” it. So we keep a large garbage can filled with ocean water in each bathroom on the reserve, and when the water supply gets low we have to form a huge line down to the ocean, and pass buckets back and forth until the cans are filled. This takes only about 15-30 minutes with the amount of people that we have with us, plus it gives a great work-out for our arms! Today, Ric and a girl named Heather Neldner (from the Milwaukee Zoo) almost got washed out to sea today when a wave came crashing in while they were collecting water. Luckily, they only got a bit wet, and their shoes will dry.


Here’s Cameron with a get-well poster from all his friends at Newport Aquarium and WAVE. How about that smile, huh? He’s famous for it, and we can’t wait to see it again in person.

Before we sign off for today, Ric and I both want to give a special shout out to Cameron Smith. Cameron is a volunteer at the Newport Aquarium who is fighting a battle with cancer. We know he loves the penguins, so we are sending him a big hello from Peru. The Humboldt penguins and all the people here with us at the reserve say “Hello/Hola, and get better soon!” We look forward to seeing you when we get back.

1 thought on “Day 4, and counting

  1. Pingback: On World Penguin Day—and Every Day – AZA-Accredited Aquariums and Zoos are Working to Save Species | Aquarium Works

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