Tag Archives: Galapagos

Galapagos 6 (Friday) – Shark therapy

6th April 2018

The day was spent parked at a couple of islets just off the island of Santiago (the island, not the Chilean capital city) – Sombrero Chino and Bartolome. The former has its name for a very good reason

As you can see, it’s shaped like a Chinese hat. The first activity of the day was a very early morning walk on it, where we were greeted by some friendly sealions. As you can see, it’s not difficult to get photos.

Our expectations had been set that it was a nice opportunity for some bird photography in the morning light.
The morning light was certainly nice

but in the event, the birds must have seen us coming, as there wasn’t a huge amount to see, beyond ancient cactuses on an adjoining island

some interesting flowers

and a rather grumpy-looking marine iguana.

some crabs

and an American Oyster Catcher

so I wasn’t quite sure it was worth the early start. However, the early start was necessary, as the day had a relentless flow of activities. Next up was a snorkelling expedition, which I approached with some trepidation, given the unsatisfactory attempts I’d had already. But I gave it a go and I was glad I did, as I was somewhat more successful with the underwater camera. I managed a photo of something that is recognisable as a shark!

as well as some fish, like this King Angel fish

and some video footage of the shark, too.

Generally, the whole thing worked well for us both – I was able to gain some confidence in the process of getting into the water, and Jane’s prescription goggles worked a treat and she saw a whole load of interesting things.
There was more snorkelling in the afternoon, which I missed (these blogs don’t write themselves, y’know) and Jane reported that it was not quite as good as the morning’s session, but still good, which is good.

The final activity of the day was a walk up Bartolome, which is a very young island, just some 500,000 years old, formed from recent volcanic activity, which gives it a landscape reminiscent of Mars.

and plants just beginning to establish themselves.

These are a white colour because they are covered in lichen, part of a defence mechanism against the harsh sun. Also note that they are spaced out as each plant establishes and defends its own territory in order to survive in these arid conditions – Bartolome, at around 100 metres, is not high enough to stimulate rainfall or condensation from the incoming, mainly south-easterly winds.

The island gives some pleasing opportunities for landscape photography.

Some animals have arrived – snakes, grasshoppers, lizards – by a variety of routes – on the wind, over a land bridge that once existed, attached to birds. But the star of the show was a juvenile Galapagos Hawk, who was waiting for us at the top, and who obligingly posed for photos (it wasn’t difficult to get close to him)

before he decided he’d had enough and took off.

Seeng the hawk was a remarkable thing, as was receiving a text message from an ex-neighbour whilst at the top of this otherwise isolated and desolate place – an unusual confluence of nature and civilisation. Truly the Galapagos gives unique experiences.

To see the final day’s instalment, click here.

Galapagos 4 (Wednesday): Rays your game before a Dolphin Shower

4th April 2018

So, here we are at the half way point of an intensely enjoyable week. What could Wednesday bring, we wondered? “A mixed bag” was the answer.

The morning was spent on Floreana Island, at Punta Cormorant, which seemed a bit of a misnomer, as not a single cormorant was on offer. There were flamingoes;

even including a juvenile (marked out by the lack of pink colouration);

Noddy terns;

a flycatcher;

some beautifully colourful crabs;

inevitably, some Frigate birds;

and, excitingly, Eagle Rays swimming near the beach.

But not a single cormorant was on show – although there were some blue-footed boobies doing their fishing thang, which is not dissimilar to the cormorant’s diving style.

We were lucky to see the flamingoes – Jane and I visited the same place later on in the morning for a beach visit (which included an abortive attempt at snorkelling on my part which basically has put me off the idea for the rest of my life), and by that stage almost all of the flamingoes we’d seen earlier had vanished.

Later on that day we took a ride in one of the pangas (Zodiacs, RIBs, whatever you like to call them), which enabled us to see that the marine iguanas on this island were bigger than those of Española (though much less colourful).

The bird you can see walking among them is an American Oyster Catcher.

On the panga ride we saw rays and sharks in the water, and also some turtles, which occasionally came up for air (although apparently they can stay submerged for up to four hours, slowing their heart beat to around one beat per minute, down from the usual frenetic pulse of seven or eight).

The most dramatic photo opportunity came as we headed back to the ship, as it became clear that there was a pod of dolphins in the area, and they wanted to play.

and, indeed, were in very exuberant mood!

In the final part of the day, we visited another part of the island, called Post Office Bay, for the good reason that there is a post office there – of sorts. To be precise, it’s exactly the same sort of post office that can be found in Patagonia, at Wulaia Bay; a barrel where you put your postcard after you’ve taken a look at the cards already there to see if any are addressed to someone living near you, or in an area you plan to visit. So, a reliable delivery mechanism it ain’t; an opportunity for serendipity it certainly is.

Here is Natasha, one of our guides, explaining the idea in front of the barrel

after which everyone had a go at finding a card to deliver (ours will be to Chalfont St. Giles).

This was a busy, eventful day with many memorable moments. But the time with the pod of playful dolphins is one which everybody on the Origin saw, some got great underwater footage of and which was a highlight for everyone who was there that day.

To see the highlights of the next day (Day 5), click here.

Galapagos 3 (Tuesday): Nazca raising and shark fishing

3rd April 2018

Boobies seem to form the majority of the land-based wildlife action of the first two days on this cruise. Today, the activity was based around the Galapagos island of Española, at the south-eastern corner of the archipelago. The morning excursion was basically a hike around the island to see what was on offer. Apart from the ubiquitous sealions

it became clear that there was going to be some serious marine iguana action, as there were plenty on the beach and surrounding rocks.

and after a while, it became equally clear that actually one had to watch one’s step, as, even though keeping carefully to a prescribed path, there was a serious danger of stepping on one. But it was great to see so many of them, in all of their various colours.

As well as the iguanas (marine iguanas exist only in the Galapagos, but there are 13 different varieties here), we also saw Sally Lightfoot crabs

and much bird life, including the Galapagos Dove

the Hood Mockingbird (largest of the various species of Mockingbirds found in the Galapagos)

the brown Pelican (the only sort found in the Galapagos)

a Yellow Warbler (called, very charmingly by our guide Natasha, a “Yellow Wobbler”)

and one (who knows which) of the thirteen species of Darwin’s Finch, the key to identification being the size and shape of the bill.

All this was within a few metres of the start of a 2-mile hike in increasingly hot conditions. But it got more and more interesting as we walked around.

We saw a site where many, many iguanas were setting up and guarding their burrows. This involved a certain amount of aggro as one female iguana tried to make sure that no other females came near her burrow.

A post shared by Steve Walker (@spwalker2016) on

And the other side of the track, there was a cliff down which iguanas could be seen climbing, and entering the sea to feed.

We also caught a glimpse of the other kind of sealion to be found in the Galapagos, the furred sealion.

But actually our attention was mainly taken up with a colony of Nazca Boobies, the largest of the three sorts to be found here.

There were lots and lots of them, from newly-hatched youngsters

many of which were demanding to be fed

through “adolescent” birds

to adults, many of whom were raising chicks.

And of course the whole area was shared with the island’s other wildlife.

Around this point, at the northern end of the island, some people swore they saw an albatross. If so, it would have been a very early arrival, as they arrive during April to mate and breed and this was April 3. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. I certainly didn’t.

A little further on we had a bit of geological entertainment in the form of a blow-hole, which was both dramatic and beatifully colourful

A post shared by Steve Walker (@spwalker2016) on

and we also spotted a Galapagos Hawk in the distance.

So it was a day of seeing some familiar and some new things. It was very hot by the time we finished, and so it was a blessed releief to get back to the ship and a nice cold drink. We were lazy the rest of the day (as I say, these blogs don’t write themselves) and with all of the photographic goodness from the morning to deal with, an afternoon of organising and writing and drinking beer beckoned, rather than the paddleboarding, snorkelling and beach (more bloody sealions!) offered. And so we had a relaxed afternoon, thinking we would save up energy for whatever the morrow had to offer. However, Mother Nature had one more surprise in store for us.

As yet another good dinner on the excellent M/V Origin drew towards a close, there was an excited announcement from the naturalist leader on the boat – sharks!

So we all congregated at the stern, where, in the ship’s lights, we could see shoals of fish swirling about. Two things made this unusual: firstly, the shoal was being hunted by maybe a dozen 2-metre long Galapagos sharks; and secondly, these were flying fish. There followed about half an hour of extraordinary scenes as sharks rushed in to attempt to take fish and the fish, in turn, took to the air to escape. It was an amazing scene, but very difficult to capture. Here’s the best attempt I made to capture the somewhat febrile atmosphere of the whole thing.

This was a remarkable, very unusual scene, and something we felt privileged to have seen. It’s been a lucky excursion – boobies with three eggs and indeed elsewhere with three chicks; leaping dolphins (you’ll have to read the next entry for that); fighting iguanas; juvenile flamingoes; we feel that we’ve got great value and insight out of our time here – and it’s not over, by any means.

Click here to see how day 4 went.