Darwin Lake, Isabela Island
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
15 Days In The Galapagos Islands
As mentioned in our Day 2 post, it was an all-night trip to get to Genovesa Island, the fartherest island from the larger, central islands that we would visit. On the southern side of the island is the protected Great Darwin Bay which is a collapsed volcanic caldera, and where our ship anchored very early this morning.
We awoke to a lovely sunrise.
After breakfast we returned to our room and found this towel shark which was a clue to one of our later excursions today.
We got ready for our first excursion which would be a walk/hike at the visitor site known as Prince Philip's Steps.
Prince Philip's Steps (aka El Barranco)
On the first excursion of the day, we took the Zodiac to the cliff wall and climbed up Prince Philip’s Steps on the eastern side of the caldera.
The steps were named for Prince Philip, of course, who visited the islands twice - in 1965 and 1981.
After the steep climb, it was fairly flat on top and birds were everywhere. Before taking a bird inventory, I turned back for a photo of our ship.
As with Dragon Hill on Day 1, the landscape is still brown coming out of the dry season. As I mentioned before, our visit was in December which is a transition month, and after the first of the year, the vegetation will start to green up and change the look of the islands at the lower elevations.
Turning back inland, I started snapping photos of the various bird species starting with two endemic species - the Galapagos Dove and the Galapagos Mockingbird.
In the area at the top of the steps, Nazca Boobies were the most prominent.
The Nazca Boobies were once considered a sub-species of the Masked Booby, but they've recently been re-classified as their own species. They are the largest of the three booby species found in the Galapagos.
We saw the Blue-footed Booby up close on Day 2, and by walking just a bit farther on the trail, we found several Red-footed Boobies perched in the trees.
Interestingly, the boobies don’t compete for food as each species has a different hunting territory. They are all plunge-divers, but the Blue-footed Boobies feed close to shore, sometimes in very shallow water, while the Red-footed Boobies feed far out to sea, and the Nazca Boobies feed somewhere in between. Also, we saw several Red-footed and Nazca Boobies nesting in the same areas, however, the Red-footed Boobies were nesting in the trees while the Nazca Boobies were nesting on the ground.
As much as the Galapagos Islands are known for the booby species, none of them are endemic to the islands. Oh, by the way, the name "booby" is derived from the Spanish word "bobo" meaning dumb, silly, foolish, clownish, etc. The Spanish explorers dubbed the birds "bobo" due to their clumsiness on land. Certainly, the Nazca Booby walking on the trail in the video below made us laugh.
We continued on the trail, and the birds just didn't seem to care. Below is Linda with a booby napping in the middle of the trail and Linda with a juvenile frigatebird that just continued its preening.
Our next bird was another endemic - the Sharp-beaked Ground Finch (female).
The Sharp-beaked Ground Finch is also known as the Vampire Finch. Though it feeds mostly on insects and seeds, when food is scarce, they have been known to peck the Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies until they bleed, and then the finch drinks the blood as a supplement to its usual diet.
Linda & I had our binoculars and we scanned for owls. We had read, and Myra confirmed, that Short-eared Owls hunted during the day here by just hanging out at the entrance to petrel nests in the cliffs and crags.
Eventually, we saw a couple of owls in the distance.
We walked and scanned hoping to get a better look at the owls. Then we came upon an owl perched on a rock down in a sheltered area littered with bones and feathers. It was small and looked to be blind in one eye.
The group got several good photos and then it was time to head back. We were thankful for the closer look at an owl, but then we walked right by another one - a larger one, close to the trail and feeding on a petrel.
That moment epitomizes the Galapagos experience - having the opportunity to see animals up close and witnessing natural behaviors in the wild.
We re-traced our steps and saw a male Sharp-beaked Ground Finch, a Large Ground Finch, more frigatebirds and boobies and mockingbirds, and this pair of Red-billed Tropicbirds.
Eventually, we made it back to the steps and started our descent to the waiting Zodiac.
What an excellent start to our day.
Once on board the Zodiac, we took a short ride along the cliff walls. Not far from Prince Philip's steps we saw a couple of Galapagos Sea Lions and then several Galapagos Fur Seals. This is one of only two places in the islands where visitors can readily see the fur seals.
The Galapagos Fur Seal is another endemic species, but it isn’t a “seal” at all. Rather it is a species of sea lion that became commonly known as a fur seal due to its soft, thick coat.
The fur seals hunt in deeper water and usually hunt at night. They are smaller than the Galapagos Sea Lions, they have larger eyes, and shorter snouts, and they are much better climbers than their sea lion cousins. Because they hunt at night, they tend to be less active during the day and are often found snoozing.
The photo below isn't a great shot, but it sort of shows the shorter snout, bigger eyes, and thick fur of the Galapagos Fur Seals.
After checking out the sea lions, we went back to the yacht and got ready for our next excursion - snorkeling. We put on our swimsuits and wetsuits, grabbed our gear, and stepped back onto the Zodiac to be taken to our starting point.
The Zodiac dropped us off along the opposite wall from Prince Philip's Steps. Our captain had picked out the spot, and he actually led this trip. Our primary quest on this snorkel were hammerhead sharks. Apparently, the Scalloped Hammerheads around here are not dangerous - again, at least that's what they told us.
The water was deeper and it wasn't as clear as yesterday's snorkel, but we were looking for bigger fish. I was taking pictures of various parrotfish, King Angelfish, and this school of Yellow-tail Surgeonfish ....
when a hammerhead shark swam right under me. I was taken aback by its size compared to the White-tipped Reef Shark from yesterday, and I wasn't very quick with the camera. I got just a couple of seconds of video from which I carved this still photo.
Below is a little video compiled from a few clips of the snorkel including the two seconds of the hammerhead (around the 50-second mark).
Linda was videoing with the GoPro, and she captured three hammerheads although they are pretty hard to see in the video below.
Shortly after the thrill of seeing the hammerheads, we climbed into the waiting Zodiac and went back to the ship.
We were served hot chocolate once again, and then we got showers and had a little rest time before lunch. But not long after lunch was complete, it was time for our third excursion of the day.
While we were having lunch, the crew lowered the inflatable kayaks from the top deck. They tied them all together so the Zodiac could tow us to our starting spot near Prince Philip's Steps.
Soon, we were all in our kayaks and paddling along the inside eastern wall of the caldera.
We stopped and looked at the sea lions again, and then continued on paddling about half way around the caldera before making our way back to the Domenica. We got some good looks at Swallow-tailed Gulls, Red-billed Tropicbirds, frigatebirds, boobies, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a Lava Heron, and a Wandering Tattler.
Although we love to kayak, that was our least favorite of the excursions - the kayaks weren't as comfortable as the two inflatables we own, and the water was a little choppy. However, I did get a really nice photo of one of the beautiful Red-billed Tropicbirds.
Back on board, we didn't waste any time before getting ready for our fourth excursion of the day.
Darwin Beach Walk
Once again, we stepped on the Zodiac, and we were driven to Darwin Beach.
Myra took us on a short walk to see more birds and nesting colonies. We got an up close look at the lovely Swallow-tailed Gull and Linda had a moment with a young booby that was on the trail.
The area just beyond the beach was a prime nesting area for frigatebirds and Red-footed Boobies.
Both the Magnificent Frigatebird and the Great Frigatebird are found in the Galapagos, but they are very hard to distinguish. The Magnificent Frigatebird is slightly larger, but it's still hard to tell them apart. We learned that the Great Frigatebird has a green sheen on its shoulder feathers (like the photo on the left above) while the Magnificent Frigatebird has an iridescent purple color.
It also is hard to tell the young boobies apart, but there is no mistaking the adults. This Red-footed Booby was quite colorful.
After seeing enough juvenile boobies and frigatebirds, we made our way back to the beach where there was a Ruddy Turnstone doing what it does - turning over stones looking for food.
There were also a lot of the colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs on the rocks by the shore.
After our walking tour, we were given the option of hanging out on the beach or snorkeling. A few of us attempted the snorkeling, but it was the middle of a tide change and the visibility was pretty bad. We got out of the water pretty quickly and just watched the sea lions until everyone was ready to go back to the boat.
That was a busy day.
Back on the ship, we got showers, went to Myra's briefing on tomorrow, and then watched the sunset.
Then we had another nice meal and called it a night as the crew took up the anchor, and we started our overnight journey back to Santiago Island.