Magnificent Frigatebird displaying
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Saturday 10 August
….The breakfast bell was rung at 0700. We were anchored off Hood Island. The pangas were lowered to take us ashore. There was a small stone quay here. Galapagos Sea Lions were dozing on the walkway, and here and there Hood Mockingbirds, an island endemic, were walking brazenly between the sea lions and people.
….The beach had many sea lion pups noisily calling for attention. Twenty or more Warbler Finches were feeding on the rocks at the tideline accompanied by a fewer number of Small Ground Finches. These belong to ‘Darwin's Finches’, observed by Charles himself, and significant in The Origin of Species, his theory of evolution. We would be looking at more of these dull-coloured birds over the coming days and noting their bill sizes, food and habitat preferences.
….On Hood Island the Blue-footed Boobies were again in numbers and we saw a new one, the Nazca Booby. This bird has been recently split from Masked Booby based on the bill colour, nest selection and world distribution.
….Our first albatrosses flew by heading for the nesting sites on the island. The first bird we came across on land had a chick; it was large but was probably only a couple of weeks old. Further along the trail two of these impressive birds were ‘pair-bonding’ - an amazing display as they grunted, heads down, then sky-pointing, then bills clattered and opened wide, and then to start ‘fencing’ with their bills. We stayed with these two for some time as they were only five metres from us, and the display went on for twenty minutes and more. (click here to see photographs of the display)
….We returned to the quay, stopping for a Galapagos Hawk that had perched next to the trail. It too, took no notice of us as we walked by. This raptor has a world population of less than five hundred individuals though is not endangered. The Galapagos population being determined by the size of the archipelago and the density of five hundred that can be maintained.
….Back aboard, and it was time for lunch. Soon we were underway sailing to another part of the island where snorkelling was on offer. A few of the passengers, about half, went off in a panga, and the remainder stayed aboard relaxing and taking it easy.
….Late afternoon and a beach walk was offered. We strolled to the furthest end looking at the sea lions and being accompanied by mockingbirds, Yellow Warblers and ground finches. Two Black Turtles surfaced close to shore, the large heads and overall bulk of these 'ancient mariners' clearly visible in the deep blue calm water.
….The Beluga was underway and sailing towards the island of Floreana.
Nazca Booby
Sunday 10 August
….We awoke to find we were anchored close to Floreana. After breakfast we took the pangas across to a sandy beach, a 'wet landing' meant bare feet and into the surf, depth about two feet, to wade ashore.
….Our walk was to a shallow lagoon where flamingos were feeding, their heads and necks moving rhythmically from side to side to filter the silt. A few White-cheeked Pintails were up-ending and dabbled in the shallows. There were Black-necked Stilts and a single Whimbrel. The trail led to another small beach. We spent time studying the finches here but could positively identify only Small Tree, Small Ground, and Medium Ground Finch.
….We headed back to the boat. Those for snorkelling went to the Devil's Crown, a ring of exposed sharp rocks, actually a sunken caldera, where many colourful tropical fish were seen.
….Once back aboard we set sail towards Santa Cruz. This took three hours and it was the first time we had sailed during daylight. The weather was mixed - sunbathing to start with, but there was a chill in the sea breeze after an hour on deck. Birds at sea included Waved Albatross, Audubon's Shearwater, Common Noddy, Wedge-rumped and White-vented Storm-Petrel and a single Galapagos Petrel, though none of the hoped-for whales or dolphins
Monday 11 August
….After breakfast we took the dinghies across to the pier. A bus was waiting for us to take us through open countryside and into the central highlands of the island. We travelled through the dry zone and into the humid highland zone. Our destination was the Chato Tortoise Reserve.
….We drove into a hacienda, at the edge of the reserve. A further guide was waiting here and within minutes of getting from the bus we had found our first tortoise. A second was close by, a very large male that even impressed Juan, our naturalist guide.
….The trail led into a small wood. We spent time looking at yet more finches trying to identify another one but the star bird was to be a roosting Barn Owl which was quite different in colour to those of the UK; this bird was very dark overall.
….we met again for the visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Here tortoises are raised – the eggs collected, incubated and the young kept for three to five years (by which time they are about 20cm long, depending on the subspecies) before reintroduction can take place. We saw poor old ‘Lonesome George’, the last of his line, the subspecies from Pinta Island - when he dies, so does this form of tortoise.
….At the kiosk we stopped for ice creams and found many more finches, including a couple of Cactus Finches. This one was easy to identify, considering the difficulties within the Ground and Tree Finches. We walked back to the pier and soon were back aboard the Beluga. The boat set sail after we had eaten dinner.
Tuesday 12 August
….It was a glorious morning out on the deck. We were off the western side of the island of Isabela. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. Many birds were passing, including a comparison in size when an Audubon’s Shearwater overtook a Waved Albatross!
….The pangas were lowered into the water. We were to go ashore close to Punto Moreno. In the water was a Galapagos Cormorant. This bird is found only on the western side of Isabela and on the westernmost island, Fernandina. It is not seen on most cruises, as the boats tend not to travel in this direction. We found three more birds on the volcanic rocks as we were about to land.
Centre and right - White-vented Storm-Petrel (Elliot's Storm-Petrel)
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
(Galapagos Storm-Petrel)