Galapagos-The Enchanted Isles -Part 3

Albatross action!!!!!!

Galapagos Adventure-Part 3

Day 5- June 23/11

We awoke off Floreana. After breakfast we headed to the tiny islet of Champion just to the north of Floreana. This is the last refuge of the critically endangered Floreana Mockingbird, which we were able to observe closely from the Nemo 2 as we circumnavigated the island. Perhaps as few as 150 Floreana Mockingbirds remain on the two islets of Champion and Gardner having been extirpated on Floreana due to predation by introduced species. A recovery plan has been initiated by the Galapagos Conservancy but long term survival of this species is very questionable.

A scruffy Floreana Mockingbird -Champion Island

Lots of seabirds shared the island with the mockers including
Galapagos Shearwaters, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Blue-footed and Red-footed Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Brown Noddies & Swallow-tailed Gulls.

Magnificent Frigatebird - female on giant prickly pear cactus-Champion Island

Brown Noddy off Champion Island

Swallow-tailed Gull Champion Island

After lunch we had an opportunity to go snorkelling and were joined by several young Galapagos Sea Lions and briefly by a bull which was a bit intimidating. The young sea lions were very playful and fun and must have found us quite amusing. I had several Galapagos Shearwaters flying right by, over & around me which was a unique experience.

Galapagos Sea Lion- Champion Island

The afternoon was dedicated to an inland trip to see the Medium Tree Finch and we also saw our first Galapagos Flycatchers and Galapagos Tortoises. We enjoyed the sunset from the dock at Puerto Velasco Ibarra watching some locals surfing and enjoying the companionship of a Brown Pelican, a unusually alert Marine Iguana and a couple of sea lions.

Galapagos Flycatcher-goofier than penguins - Floreana

Marine Iguana at the dock at Puerto Velasco Ibarra

Brown Pelican contemplating life at sunset - Puerto Velasco Ibarra

Unfortunately the cruise to our next stop was made in the dark so there was no pelagic birding opportunity. I was consoled by my knowledge that the next day we would be rubbing shoulders with Waved Albatrosses and Blue-footed Boobies on what is arguably the most fantastic of all the Galapagos locations - Isla Espanola.

Day 6- June 24/11

We woke up just before sunrise and landed on an old pier by a lighthouse. We had to navigate around clusters of red and black Marine Iguanas and Galapagos Sea Lions to get to shore. A Striated/Lava Heron eyed us as we approached as did a Galapagos Hawk which was perched on the lighthouse.

Striated/Lava Heron -Espanola

We found the trail and with anticipation headed out to explore. Large clusters of Marine Iguanas were everywhere - you had to be very careful not to step on one.
Floreana Mockingbirds hopped around the piles of iguanas nibbling on bugs.

Marine Iguana warming up at sunrise - Espanola

Veteran world birder Colin Campbell and friends - Espanola

It wasn’t long before we ran into a mess of Blue-footed Boobies. Everyone most enjoyed watching these clowns and there goofy antics. Nazca Boobies were present in good numbers and seemed to be a bit aloof compared to their rather extroverted cousins.

Blue-footed Booby antics-Espanola

Blue-footed boobies are the least abundant of the three booby species that inhabit the Galapagos with roughly 10,000 breeding pairs. They like the Nazca Booby nest on the ground. They apparently breed year round but no chicks,juveniles or eggs were seen on this visit. Lots of courtship displaying seem to imply imminent breeding.

Johnny & Shari Powell, Jesse Fagan (Field Guides leader) studying Blue-footed Booby behavior (note Lava Lizard on rock beside Boobies)- Espanola

As I was busily photographing the boobies I turned around to notice a Waved Albatross presumably sitting on a egg not more than five feet away. It seemed entirely oblivious to my presence

Waved Albatross on egg - Espanola

We moved along to the famous “Albatross airport”. This is large flat rocky area on a point with no tall vegetation and lots of nesting Albatosses. The birds coming soaring in like 747s offering excellent opportunities for “flight shots” and observing there less than graceful landings.

“Albatross Airport”- Espanola
Waved Albatrosses in flight - Espanola

We took our time watching the show and drifted down the rocky cliff edge enjoying the rugged scenery and the abundant birdlife. A perfect spot on a perfect morning.

00Nazca Booby,Espanola, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador-az
Nazca Booby in flight- Espanola

Swallow-tailed Gull in flight- Espanola

Swallow-tailed Gull- Espanola

We followed the trail inland to a grassy area with a large number of
Waved Albatrosses. Numerous large eggs were randomly scattered around. The Waved Albatross makes no nest and the eggs may end up getting moved around considerable distances. Given the very rocky nature of the island rates of egg loss are apparently high.

Waved Albatross colony- Espanola

We watched one bird wander from egg to egg seemingly tending them touching the eggs with its bill on several occasion. It met up with another individual and some very interesting courtship behaviour occurred. I wondered if there was some sort of communal responsibility for the eggs. Several birds were sitting on eggs other eggs were unattended and maybe these had been abandoned.

Waved Albatross wandering around seemingly tending multiple eggs- Espanola

Waved Albatross after tending eggs meets up and engages in interesting courtship display -Espanola
Eventually the original Waved Albatross wanders back to an egg and a few minutes later the second bird follows and more courtship display occurs

What it all meant if anything eluded me but it was certainly a most interesting experience. We contunued on through a grassy area with numerous albatrosses on eggs. A Galapagos Hawk finally offered some photographic opportunities and some really neat Lava Lizards were basking on any rocks not already draped with Marine Iguanas.ghesp_2076438
Galapagos Hawk-banded-Espanola

Lava Lizards - Espanola

Marine Iguana- Espanola

It was back to the Nemo 2 for lunch. After lunch we visited Gardner Bay which wasn’t very birdy (except for lots of Floreana Mockingbirds). It was incredibly beautiful and a major lazing spot for a large number of Galapagos Sea Lions.

Galapagos Sea Lions - Gardner Bay, Espanola

We left Garner Bay and headed for the open water en route to San Cristobal. I anticipated more opportunities to observe Galapagos Petrels and it wasn’t long before the action started.

Galapagos Petrels en-route from Espanola to San Cristobal

We were greeted by the bright lights at the Puerto Baquerizo Moreno habour on Isla San Cristobal. It had been an incredible day from dancing Boobies to Waved Albatross courting and finished off with some of our best views of Galapagos Petrel so far. Some of the crew went to town to party I went to bed.

Day7 -June 25th
Breakfast came early and the usual storm-petrels were flitting around the back of the boat. After a second glance I realized that these weren’t Elliot’s Storm-petrels (the default in shore Storm-petrel in the Galapagos) but
Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels. Breakfast would have to wait as an opportunity to get a few decent pics of these species was not to be missed. The low light made it challenging but the reflections of the boats and angle of the light combined for some interesting effects.

Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels - Puerto Baquerizo Moreno habour on Isla San Cristobal

Elliot’s Storm-petrels - Puerto Baquerizo Moreno habour on Isla San Cristobal - compare wing structure with Wedge-rumpeds above

A few Elliot’s Storm-petrels came along and it was a nice comparison. The Wedge-rumpeds have considerably longer narrower more pointed wings and a fast swallow-like flight. Much to quickly it was time to head to shore for the San Cristobal Mockingbird which was quite cooperative. After lunch we departed for Santa Cruz Island and another pelagic opportuntity.

Galapagos Petrel flying past Isla Santa Fe

The cruise between San Cristobal and the small islet of Santa Fe turned out to be the best pelagic birding of the trip. We saw at least 50 Galapagos Petrels, many light under winged Galapagos Shearwaters, Elliot’s, Wedge-rumped and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and loads of Boobies, Frigatebirds and Tropicbirds in a feeding frenzy off Santa Fe.
Galapagos Petrels between San Cristobal and Santa Fe

About two thirds of the way to Sante Fe I caught a glimpse of a familiar small white storm-petrel be-bob-biting along ahead of the boat. Jesse spotted the bird at the same time and we both yelled out White-faced Storm-petrel. On closer inspection we noted there were three and subsequently over the next 30 minutes had 4 more individuals. This is fairly remarkable as from what I can gather there are probably less than a dozen previous records. They weren’t very cooperative for photos but we managed adequate “record shots”.

I suspect we still have quite a bit to learn about seabird distribution in the Galapagos.

White-faced Storm-petrel between San Cristobal and Santa Fe

This was a truly great conclusion to the seabirding portion of the trip. I did manage a few good pictures at the harbour at Peurto Ayora on Santa Cruz. The best show was a Blue-footed Booby repeatedly diving in the waning light.

Blue-footed Booby -Peurto Ayora

Brown Pelican -Peurto Ayora

We had a wonderful fair-well dinner with the Captain and crew of the Nemo 2 and the next day we spent the day searching out the remaining endemics including Galapagos Rail and Large Tree Finch.

Fair-well cocktails with the crew of the Nemo 2

Route of the Nemo 2 on Days 5,6 & 7

The trip had been a great success. I had seen and photographed all the Galapagos seabirds as well as seeing all the endemic species and photographed all the Darwin Finches. The Nemo 2 was a great vessel both for living and birding. The crew was extremely hospitable and the food was great. I would like the thank Captain Henry and the crew for there great support. Jesse Fagan and Peter Freire were both excellent and provided great leadership and knowledge. Thanks to Field Guides for doing what they do best - putting together a flawless trip with inspiring leadership. Lastly thanks to all the other tour participants for making the trip a lot of fun. I will finish off with a few pictures from the last day on Santa Cruz.

Next stop Fort Bragg, California.

Kirk Zufelt
World Pelagic Birding Headquarters
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

The Tortoise Whisperer -Darwin Centre, Santa Cruz - photo courtesy Colin Campbell

Los gemelos-ancient giant sinkhole-Santa Cruz

Woodpecker Finch - Santa Cruz

Galapagos Tortoise & Small Ground Finch - Santa Cruz

White-cheeked Pintail - Santa Cruz

Scalesia Forest - Santa Cruz

Large Tree Finch - Santa Cruz

Land Iguana - Darwin Centre, Santa Cruz

Large Ground Finch with tiny seed - Santa Cruz

Lava Gull -Santa Cruz