Tag Archives: Wildlife

Humming another intermezzo

15th April 2018

After the toil of a day’s hiking up to Machu Picchu, the hotel we stayed at in the village (also called Aguas Calientes), the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, was blessed relief for sore feet, aching limbs and a brain filled to bursting with images of the site. It lies in its own very substantial gounds at the eastern end of the village, and is very much a US-style resort hotel, styling itself a “Luxury Ecotourism Andean Village”. Luxury it certainly offers, as well as a spa, an orchid garden and landscaped surroundings – trees, pools, bushes, plants, paths.

The surroundings attract quite a lot of bird life and the hotel capitalises on it with bird-watching tours of the site. I’m grateful to the management for this; while I didn’t go on one of these, I talked to a guest who had just been with a guide who’d pointed out a very colourful specimen, lurking up in a tree.

Andean cock-of-the-rock

This is an Andean cock-of-the-rock (male, of course, with the need to show off to attract a female), also called a tunki, and I was pleased to be able get the photo, as opportunities to see these are reportedly few and far between. Most websites tell that it is the national bird of Peru, but I was told that this is now suspect, as some were also discovered in Brazil.

[Disclaimer: the bird names I use in the following are guesswork and could well be completely wrong. Corrections welcomed via comments.]

The hotel puts out tempting offers for birds in various places around the site. So, near some bananas I saw this colourful chap, which I think is a Blue-Grey Tanager:

Blue-grey Tanager

Lurking near by was another colourful little bird, which could well be a female Hepatic Tanager.

and on a wire near the site was a Blue-Crowned Motmot (I’m sure about this one).

Blue-crowned Motmot

But the stars of the piece were the hummingbirds. You can also see them perched around in various places.

Chestnut-Breasted Coronet Hummingbird

Above, a Chestnut-Breasted Coronet and below is a different sort – please comment if you can identify it.

A Gould's Inca Hummingbird?

and the hotel puts out feeders to attract them. Below is quite possibly a Gould’s Inca.

Gould’s Inca Hummingbird

The feeders present a pleasant spectacle, and the birds seem happy to feed with people nearby.

A post shared by Steve Walker (@spwalker2016) on

At times, the action becomes quite frenetic

A post shared by Steve Walker (@spwalker2016) on

It was a pleasure to spend some time sitting quietly watching these colourful birds as they zipped around, feeding and arguing among themselves. And then, of course, it was Time For The Bar and to go and meet Jane, who had gone back up to the Machu Picchu site with Alex, our guide, while I recovered from the previous day’s exertions.

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 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.