Day 13 and Day 14 — Time to Say Goodbye

Humboldt penguin nesting in a cave.

(From Ric:) Today (Saturday) I had the opportunity to work closely with the field biologists and get closer with the penguins.  Marco and I started out inside a mobile blind to recover a data logger in the penguin colony.  This 4 x 4 wooden box with windows and handles was based on some National Geographic blinds used to get closer to the animals.  The camouflaged box walking or inching along the desert and entering into the nesting colony was no disturbance to the penguins.

Simply amazing, I have seen this done before but never had a chance to experience it in a penguin colony.  We got within 20 feet of the group and listened to the vocalizations of the chicks and juveniles begging for food from approaching adults returning from the ocean.  There were also adults vocalizing at nests in order to establish their territories.  The Humboldt Penguins bray just like our African Penguins.

After we recovered the data loggers, we moved on to checking nests down near the beach.  The funny thing is that unlike the sites where we have been collecting data, these nests were in crevices and in a cave.  Yes, a cave. We got down and began to crawl up into a small opening and climb 45 degrees or better up into a cave.  It was dark and we needed our headlamps to get into an opening where there were a series of nests with adults brooding eggs and chicks.  There has always been the idea that nests are out in the open or near the beach.  Things are different around here and this area is one of the most productive nest sites for the penguins.

Alle and Ric get ready to say goodbye to the Peruvian Pacific coast.

(From Alle:) Today (Sunday) was a very bittersweet day in la guanera. It was our last day on the reserve, and people were exchanging email addresses, taking pictures and saying “see you later” (because goodbye is too harsh). We still performed our usual guano shifts in the morning and then all met together for another great meal of fried potatoes and a kind of beef stew with rice. It was extremely good, and clearly a meal saved for a final get-together. We are going to miss all of our friends, both new and old, and we will definitely be in contact with everyone!

This picture by our fellow volunteer Heather Neldner is a final group shot of staff members for the Punta San Juan Project. From left to right: Susana, Marco, Franco and Majo (with Conham the dog).

Regardless of the sad finality, something that was good to see today is that the Humboldt penguins seem to be getting more and more comfortable with the guano workers being so close. They finally seemed to realize that the workers are not going after them, and they are starting to transit more often between beaches and they are starting to act a bit more curious about the activities (rather than afraid). We were expecting them to adjust, but it is always a relief to see it.

Penguins crossing the landscape without fear of the nearby workers.

Ric and I were discussing with some of the other Biologists that we are going to really miss Punta San Juan. I cannot explain the personal connection that I personally have developed with this project and these animals that live here. This is such an amazing place with such an amazing goal for helping these animals, I highly recommend that any zoo or aquarium people out there who may be reading this blog contact us and ask us — or ask the Punta San Juan Project directly — how you can be involved.

This is a project that should not go unnoticed, and Ric and I are not going to let it slide under the radar. Once the Punta San Juan Project gets their new website up and running, we will post the link and keep everyone updated. We will have a couple more posts before we head back home to The States, so stay tuned. Hopefully I can get Ric to write a concluding paragraph within the next couple days (he says he will), and we can go from there.

Hector from Moody Gardens took this picture of Alle testing her strength by hoisting one of the filled guano bags.

Before we sign off for today, I’d like to have a shout out to my family (including Rachel), Caleb, his family (including Ashley), New Haven and everyone else back home! And hello to Ric’s daughter Teresa and his wife Ann, too. We are grateful for all the support and love you have sent our way for this project. We look forward to seeing you all in a few days!

Ric caught this image of Alle walking away from her field shift for the last time.

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