Tag Archives: Galapagos Islands

Galapagos 7 (Saturday) – Gad it’s hot! Must be the heat.

7th April 2018

For various reasons involving the untimely departure of one family on board (in order to get back to Blighty for the start of school term!), our first activity of the day, a walk around an islet called South Plaza, didn’t start until 0930. The consequence was that we ended up walking around a small fragment of volcanic rock in the blistering heat, which ended up being a little too much for everyone, but especially me; by the end of our time on the island, I was more interested in finding a small patch of shade than doing any photography. That said, it had some interesting features, the main one being land iguanas, which we hadn’t seen thus far in the Galapagos. The first thing we saw, though, was a plethora of Swallow-Tailed Gulls

including a chick, which was being fed by its mother.

These gulls are unusual in that they feed at night – the red ring round their eyes indicates that they can see infra red light, which aids their hunt for food.

Then we realised that there were quite a lot of (surprisingly well camouflaged) land iguanas around.

These have many different characteristics that mark them out from the marine iguanas which make the Galapagos famous, not least of which is the mouth. The land iguanas were described by our naturalist/guide Natasha as having a “Mona Lisa smile”. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I guess I can see what she means.

There were also some ancient cactus trees, which made for an interesting landscape

and also harboured Cactus Finches

which feed on the flowers when they can find them. In fact, we even saw a finch’s nest among the spiny bits.

and also the bud of a new cactus growth.

Moving around the island through a remarkable patchwork landscape

we got to a point where we might have seen Sheerwaters, or Noddy Terns, but all we got was this Frigate bird

and by this point everyone was so overheated that we were all glad to get back on the panga to go back to the Origin.

A welcome rest from the scorching heat came in the shape of the next activity, which was a snorkelling expedition. Natasha hoped that we might see hammerhead sharks, and many of the group actually did. Also, flying overhead we saw a couple of red-billed tropicbirds, which Jane had wanted to see. No photograph, I’m afraid – my underwater camera is no good for fast-flying birds! No photograph of the hammerheads either – I was not in the lucky group to see these bizarre creatures, though I did get one or two sharp photos, including some of the white-tipped shark and others of some of the colourful and abundant sealife to be seen.

Frankly, I found the snorkelling to be less than entirely satisfactory, as there was a big conflict between my desire to get nice photographs or video footage and my also being able to stay with the group from our panga. It takes time and multiple attempts to get photos that are of acceptable quality, and I found I couldn’t give the photography the attention it deserves without getting separated from the others. Hence, I missed seeing hammerhead sharks, but Jane did see them. I will include photo/video content from one of the other snorkellers when I can get my hands on it.

The final expedition of the day was another excursion into the scorching heat, on to North Seymour Island, though calling it an island somewhat bigs it up. The principal wildlife interest for this expedition was to see Frigate birds. Again, Jane had a specific interest to see the males with their distinctive red chest pouch inflated.

The island’s landscape is pretty desolate, with dry-looking trees poking through a rocky terrain

But Frigate Birds have a colony there

(note the land iguana creeping out at the bottom – they were on this island as well). You could see females and young

(white breast = female, white head = young). But it was the males that Jane specifically wanted to see, as they attract females by inflating a remarkable red pouch on their breast.

And then it was time for the farewell cocktail as the following day would see us having to depart for Quito.

Our week in the Galapagos was an intense experience – early starts in the morning, few opportunities to rest and relax without missing out on parts of the programme, huge amounts of information to absorb and try to remember. But the opportunities it presented – a superb way to see unique wildlife at close quarters, brilliant photographic scenarios and, best of all, a chance to meet and share the experience with a bunch of really nice people – made our week on M/V Origin a truly extraordinary passage in the already remarkable trip we’re having in South America.

Galapagos 5 (Thursday): What they tortoise

5th April 2018

One of the things that the Galapagos is known for throughout the world is its giant tortoises, and they would be the climax of today’s excursion, on the island of Santa Cruz. This is one of the few populated islands in the archipelago and its principal town, a pretty place with a population of 24,000 called Puerto Ayora, is where we found ourselves in the morning – our first sight of “civilisation” (and the first mobile signal) since we set sail on Sunday.

So off we went to the town, boarding a bus for a 35-minute drive, with the highland part of the island our main objective. En route, we stopped off at a couple of locations of interest, such as a pair of sinkholes in the centre of the island. These may look like volcanic craters, but they’re not; they’re simply the result of the collapsed roof over a bubble that formed in the magma of some eruption in the island’s history.

The first one is at the start of a walk through a forest which features many of the various varieties of Darwin Finch, although I could never see them to photograph them. I did catch (but not kill) a mocking bird

but that was the extent of my ornithological photography.

The first hint of the tortoises on the island had actually come within a few minutes of setting out on our bus journey – one was simply beside one of the roads (and there were “beware tortoise” road signs in some places, too). Another hint was in the organisation of fences between fields, which are “living fences” based upon willow or birch simply rooted into the ground, but note that the lowest wire is a good distance off the ground; this lets the tortoises roam freely, as no-one is actually allowed to own a tortoise on this island.

This was among many facts explained to us by our other naturalist guide, Malena, in her educational session about tortoises at an educational centre where many can be found.

This was also an opportunity for some of the kids in our ship’s party to play games with seeing what it was like to be a giant tortoise.

Eventually, we were let out into the grounds, where we saw several giant tortoises. Some were by a pond

and others were simply roaming around.

The rest of the day was taken up with excursions to the local beach or the town itself (which offered the opportunity of a long drink at the well of internet goodness).

Jane’s afternoon’s excitement revolved around the Charles Darwin Research Station on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, where the various island species of giant tortoise are reared as hatchlings and repatriated

and more mature individuals are kept for research.

it is also the last resting place of the famous Lonesome George who died, the lone representative of his species, at the not-so-ripe old age of 100. He was then well and truly stuffed and returned to a purpose built, humidity and light controlled exhibit where he stands as a reminder of the fragility of nature in the face of mankind’s thoughtlessness…

The walk back through town was remarkable for the number and variety of souvenir shops (mostly tasteful)

with wildlife visible at every turn

and the casual co-existence of said wildlife with the local humans

And so the day ended with the “giant tortoise” box well and truly ticked and it was, once again, Time For The Bar.

To see what happened on Day 6, click here.

Galapagos 2 (Monday): Booby Booby Do

2nd April 2018

I’ve mentioned before that we got chatting in one of our various check-in queues, to a nice Australian couple. Their Galapagos experience included one lady passenger who steadfastly refused to leave the boat to go to see the wildlife, or swim, or do anything. It’s possible that this might have been a reaction to the slave-driving that goes on on the Galapagos boats – up early, quick breakfast and then off on the day’s activities, which run steadily through the day until dinner. Any illusion that you’re on a holiday can quickly be lost. One chap on Origin declared it to be a “boot camp”, though I suppose “boat camp” might be better.

Actually, of course, one is on holiday, and so you can decide not to join in on things if you don’t want; and on the first full day I decided to pass on the snorkelling excursion that followed the morning hike (Jane had more courage than me, and decided to go for it).

But the morning hike itself, at Punta Pitt on the north side of San Cristobal Island, was an enjoyable excursion, albeit after a night of limited sleep. (If I have one complaint about the Origin it is that the cabins are very noisy, as they are on the level just above the engines, and this made sleeping difficult this first night.) The excursion was described as having a “wet” landing, which means jumping off the RIB near the shore and hoping like hell that the water’s not too deep – particularly if wearing a backpack with expensive camera gear in it. Actually, the Origin crew managed it well; no-one drowned, and, more importantly, my cameras survived the experience. After a few minutes on the beach of desanding feet and putting on walking boots, we were off, in search of the Red-Footed Booby – San Cristobal Island is one of only two open to tourists where these can be seen. There are three sorts of booby in the Galapagos – blue-footed, red-footed and nazca. Red-footed are actually the most numerous, but blue-footed are more commonly seen.

The hike started off with a bit of a scramble up a rocky path

and it soon became apparent that oportunities to photograph blue-footed boobies would be manifold. They were, frankly, everywhere, including in some cases, nesting on the track we were supposed to follow, so we had to detour around them.

This is how difficult it is to photograph blue-footed boobies:

That said, we were lucky because we were there in their mating season and so could see some of the characteristics of that. The males reserve a nest site by basically creating a circle of droppings, inside which they court females.

The courting ritual involves prancing and dancing

and, if a successful match is made, up to three eggs might be laid.

The male and female take turns to keep the eggs at just the right temperature – 39°C. If too hot, they stand and cool down, sometimes doing a particular panting action to cool themselves.

If all goes well, and food is plentiful, then the chicks hatch. This nest was unusual in that all three chicks have survived, indicating pentiful food.

And now the parents have a job to do to get enough food to feed a growing family.

We eventually reached the point of the island where there is a colony of red-footed boobies. These are more difficult to photograph, as they are the only booby species that is able to nest in trees.

but we saw a few, and also some chicks.

We weren’t limited to boobies, though. There was an immature yellow-crowned night heron

several lava lizards

and many, many Frigate birds, cruising around looking for food to steal.

It was a good introduction to the pattern of our excursions’ activities and the wildlife of the islands.

The relentless stream of activities continued for the rest of the day, with opportunities for further snorkelling, and also kayaking, an activity accompanied by a ride in the RIBs, by the cliffs of San Cristobal island at Cerro Brujo (“the witch’s hill”). So there was an opportunity for some nice photos of people kayaking

And a nice view of a rock formation that (from some angles) looks like a boot, so is called Kicker Rock.

I didn’t snorkel – these blogs don’t write themselves, y’know – but Jane did, and reported that the water visibility was better, dammit. After that, we had a chance for a walk on a beach, so took up on that, as it required nothing more complicated then water shoes. And I’m very glad we did, as it got us some more booby action.

Near the shore at Cerro Brujo, the boobies were fishing, which was a wonderful thing to watch. I’m going to create some kind of animation from photos I collected, so watch this space. For now here is a handful of stills to give you an idea.

A heron was quite obviously awestruck by their skill.

Even the sealions took a peek.

All in all, this was an agreeable way to end the day’s activities and it nicely set up the first G&T when back on board. The challenge of the next days is clearly going to be simply that of standing the pace.

Here’s how day 3 went.