Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Hello all. This is my first attempt in blogging to show the pictures I took on a visit with Priya to the Galapagos Islands between Dec 20 and Dec 28, 2004.

Thanks to Mythili, we were lucky to get a cabin on a ship to tour the Galapagos. Its literally impossible to get a cabin on any boat unless reservations are made at least 6 months in advance. Mythili called a zillion travel agencies in late October and found a way to get a cabin.

Galapagos is a very unique place to visit if you are interested in evolution and exotic wildlife. Its one of the great places in this world to visit. But, this is NOT Disneyland or Sea World. Every day is different but somethings are the same: a lot of hiking, swimming/snorkeling, and lot of excellent food. The routine is simple:
630am - wake up call
7am - Breakfast
8am - get on the dinghy to get to shore
11am - back on the ship for lunch
Noon - Siesta or snorkeling/swimming
3pm - Get on the dinghy for the afternoon visit to the islands
6pm - Back on the boat
730pm - Dinner
830pm - Briefing for next day
930pm - salsa lessons (doubt any1 went for that as most of us were so tired)

The schedule was imposed and maintained to the minute every day.

Galapagos has a lot of restrictions. To maintain the islands in pristine condition, one cannot leave anything or take anything. You cannot touch an animal but an animal can touch you. No flash photography what so ever.

The following photographs were taken with a 6 mega pixel Nikon D70 SLR with the standard lens: 18-70mm (this is equivalent to 24mm - 105mm for the 35mm format).

Here is the workflow from snapping the pictures to this blog:
Nikon D70 -> Sony Vaio -> JPGs on CDRs (didnt want 11GB worth of images to be lost due to hard drive failure) -> Dell 8100 with Photoshop CS (post processing of pictures) -> Picasa 2 photo album -> Hello (to upload images from Picasa to the blog) -> Blogger.

Hope u enjoy the pictures. If you click on an image, it will zoom it. I appreciate our comments.


The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos, between 1 and 4M years old, are an archipelago of several volcanic islands located in the Pacific Ocean, about 650 miles west of Ecuador. 'Galapago' means tortoise in Spanish and may derive from the word for saddle, referring to the distinctive saddle-like shell of some of the tortoises. Consisting of 19 islands, and dozens of other islets and volcanic rocks it has a total land area of 3,000 square miles, spread over an area of sea covering some 20,000 square miles. About 17,000 people live on 4 of the islands, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana.
It was here that Darwin found the ideal conditions to formulate his theory of evolution: that far from any land mass (nearest land is 650 miles away), life evolved into a strange sub-world of specialized creatures who adapted to their harsh environment in an amazing variety of ways. We also quickly came to appreciate each island as a little "world unto itself" with its own distinctive character, terrain, climate, and wildlife.

Baltra Airport - Galapagos

We landed at around 1230pm on 12/20 from Quito after a short stop at Guayaquil. The airport was originally constructed by the U.S. military during World War II as a base to protect the Panama Canal from enemy attack.

Galapagos Legend

This is the Galapagos Legend in which we spent 8 days and 7 nights hopping between various islands and crossing the Ecuator (5 times, I believe). It has 45 cabins + quarters for the crew. Galapagos restricts the number of ships as well as the size of ships to preserve the wildlife. This is one of the biggest ships allowed in the waters of galapagos.

At the Baltra Airport.

Our group (The Lazy Iguanas) are on the Panga (Dinghy) from the ship to shore. This was our 2nd ride on the panga (the 1st one was the ride from the Baltra Island to the ship. From the left to right are Sandi, Priya, Alexa, Lauren, Emily, Josh, Zach, Andy, Randi, and Howard (the Lead Iguana). The other iguanas not in the picture are david (u can see his nice legs on the left) and our guide Pato (holding the walking sticks on the right).

The Panga ride generally takes 5 minutes except when we go along the side of an island to see animals or birds in which case we spend up to 30 minutes.

You'll know ahead of time whether you're in for a "wet landing" (you'll get wet wading ashore, typically on a sand beach) or a "dry landing" (there's a rock formation that's used as a dock and you can step from the panga directly to the shore). Either way, you should always be prepared for getting dunked.

Pato - our group naturalist guide

This is Patricio aka Pato. He is a certified naturalist and ws with our group for the whole 8 days. He has been a guide for about 4 years and works 3 weeks a month. He lives in Isla santa Cruz. He was very knowledgeable and a great guy. Thans Pato!!!

Here is a picture of the group ahead of us getting off the panga on to shore on North Seymour Island. North Seymour and Baltra are very similar in appearance both created from Geological Uplift and having typical arid vegetation including Prickly Pear Cacti, Palo Santos Trees and Salt Bushes. The island is less than 1 square mile in size.
This is one of the best islands for photographing Blue-Footed Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds.

12/20 PM - Isla Seymour Norte

We saw lots of sea lion colonies along the shore on North Seymour. Each colony has a dominant male and a bunch of females and cubs. In this picture you can spot 3 females feeding their pups.

The key differences between sea lions and seals are (a) Sea lions have visible ears (b) Seals cant support themselves on their front flippers (c) Seals swim with their back flippers while sea lions swim with their front flippers.

Alexa, Lauren, and Priya Watching a Sea Lion pup on North Seymour. The pup gets fed only by its mother until it can become independent (12-18 months). If the mother is killed (sharks are its main predetors), the pup does not get fed and dies due to lack of food.

A Blue Footed Booby

Boobies belong to the family Sulidae, which also includes gannets. In the Galapagos, there are three boobies: the Nazca booby, the red-footed booby and the blue-footed booby. Despite the obvious color differences, the three boobies are very similar in body shape, with the Nazca booby being the largest and the blue-footed the smallest. They fly high above the ocean looking for schools of fish and squid. When prey is sighted they plunge headlong into the water in a swift, vertical drop.

Boobies nest in colonies but have a highly developed territorial sense. Courtship also involves display-an elaborate dance by the male in which the feet are raised alternately several times, followed by a gesture known as sky-pointing. The eggs, usually two in number, are laid on the ground in a rudimentary nest. Boobies get their name from their tameness and lack of fear of humans; they were easily killed by early mariners, who named them boobies to denote their presumed lack of intelligence.

A Sally Lightfoot Crab

This is a picture of a Sally Lightfoot crab found everywhere on rocky shores. These crabs are very colorful. They eat algae. When you get close to them, they run away and hide under the rocks.

Swallowtail Gulls

Swallowtail gulls are endamic meaning that they are only found in the galapagos Islands. The birds feed only at night time. The red eyering act as sonar during hunting for fish at night. These birds have developed the capability to hunt at night so that they dont have to compete with other birds for fish. The white marks on its base and beak help the chicks in the nest to see the arrival of the parents at night.

Magnificent Frigatebird - Female

We know this is a Female Magnificent Frigatebird because it has a blue eye ring (Great Frigatebird on the other hand has a red eye ring). Juveniles have a whiter face and throat. They stay still until their parents with food come back to the nest. Just like human babies, they scream when their parents arrive with food demanding for attention and food. They stick their heads down the parents' throat to pick up and eat the food.

Magnificent Frigatebird - Male

There are 2 types of Frigatebirds found in the Galapagos: The Magnificent and the Great. This picture shows the Male Magnificent Frigatebird. Male frigatebirds are black with a patch of red skin at the throat that is the gular sac. Frigatebirds are pirates who harass birds, especially boobies until the victim is so upset that it disgorges its catch. The frigatebird then drops with amazing speed and plucks the catch out of the water, or even catches it before it hits the water! Not only do frigatebirds harass other species, but other frigatebirds as well. The disgorged catch may pass through several beaks before it is finally swallowed. In addition to stealing food from boobies and from one another, they steal nesting materials as well.

12/21 AM - Philips Steps Isla Genovesa

12/21 AM: Genovesa is one of the northen islands (north of the Ecuator). Here is a picture of Lauren, Alexa, and Priya on the panga going to the Price Philips Steps on Genovesa.

A Fur Sea lion

Fur sea lions are not commonly found in the Galapagos archepelago. We saw a few on Genovesa. They generally sleep during the day and they swim and hunt at night. In the early 20th century, they were nearly extinct due to hunting by whalers.

Here is Priya hiking on a trial near the Prince Philips steps on Genovesa. During the hike, we saw Nazca and red footed boobies as well as lava cacti.

A Nazca Booby

Nazca boobies are the biggest of the 3 species of boobies found in the Galapagos. They build nests on the ground. They weigh about 3 lbs.

A Nazca booby lays 2 eggs. The 2nd one is just an insurance in case the first egg does not hatch. The 2nd egg is laid 4-5 days after the 1st one. If the 1st chick is born, the booby feeds. When the 2nd chick is born, the 1st chick pecks and kills the 2nd chick. The parents watch the sibling rivalry. In over 90% of the cases, the 2nd chick is killed by its elder sibling.

12/21 PM: Darwin Bay Isla Genovesa

12/21 PM: Darwin Bay, Isla Genovesa. We came across a colony of Frigatebirds and Boobies (mostly Nazca and Red footed ones) living together in colonies.

Juvenile Female Great Frigatebird in Genovesa

This is a juvenile female Great Frigatebird stting in a salt bush in Genovesa. The bird is born after an incubation period of about 2 months. Maturity takes 5-6 months before the juvenile can fly.

The eyering of a female Great Frigatebird is red in color. The bird lays a single egg in a nest of twigs, always in a tree or bush. The frigate reproduces every 2 years. It always returns to the same nesting site to lay its egg. This is an "offshore feeder", flying far away from the shores to catch fish. Thus it avoids competition with the Magnificent Frigatebird. The bird also preys on turtle eggs and recently hatched young.

A Great Frigatebird - Male

This is a male Great Frigatebird in Genovesa island. Males are black with a greenish sheen. Its wingspan is as big as that of the albatross. It spends it time gliding in circles in the sky in pursuit of other birds such as boobies. It has lost the waterproofing of its black plumage and so it never lands on the sea. It catches small fish on the surface of the water with a quick swipe of the hooked beak.

Just like the Magnificent Frigatebird, during the courtship display, it inflates a huge red pouch under his thoat to attract a female to the nest.

Priya Playing with Juvenile Red Footed Booby. It constantly followed her finger movements.

A Juvenile Red Footed Booby

This is a juvenile red footed booby. The skin color of a juvenile is grayish brown and the beak is gray. Its feet are also gray. The feet dont turn into red until it becomes an adult.

Genovesa Island has the largest colony of red footed boobies.

A Red Footed Booby

The red footed booby is the lightest of all boobies weighing under 2 lbs. When it is an adult, its beak turns blue. Its red feet are adapted to gripping branches and thus it is the only booby to nest in trees. It lays only 1 egg. As it takes a long time for the chick to be on its own, it takes 14 months before the booby nests again.

12/22 AM: Punta Suarez, Isla Espanola

12/22 AM: From Genovesa we crossed the equator another time to reach EspaƱola. It is the oldest and the southernmost island in the chain. EspaƱola's remote location helped make it a unique jewel with a large number of endemic creatures. We landed on the beach at Punta Suarez welcomed by a number of sea lion colonies.

Espanola's Marine Iguanas are very colorful during the mating season.

A Marine Iguana & a Sally Lightfoot crab.

With a wingspan of 7-8 feet and a weight of 7-11 pounds, the waved albatross is the largest Galapagos bird. On land they appear to be very clumsy, but in the air, they are among the most graceful of sea birds. They are endamic & found on only one island, Espanola. They spend part of their year at sea. From January through March, they are found in the Pacific east of the Galapagos, and along the coasts of Ecuador and northern Peru. Waved albatrosses mate for life, so the male returns to the previous year's breeding territory and waits for his partner. Between mid-April and July the pair produces one egg, which is incubated by both parents for about two months. Early in incubation, each parent takes long stints, as much as three weeks, but as hatching nears, the stints become shorter. The albatross does not build a nest, but rather, lays the egg on the ground.

Waved albatrosses engage in a very lengthy & noisy courtship ritual. The dance involves bill-fencing, in which the partners bend, face each other, and rapidly slap their bills back and forth. In another step each faces the other in an upright posture, sometimes poising with bill wide open. The bills are then shut with a loud clap. Sometimes the birds will clatter their bills rapidly. The dance also involves bowing, and parading around one another with the head swaying side to side in an exagerated sway. These steps are interspersed frequently with bouts of bill fencing. The courtship we say lasted more than 20 minutes!!!

Espanola has the biggest Lava Lizards. The males are black and the females have bright red colored head. They feed on insects, leaves, seeds, and flowers. They bask in the sun on lava rocks. Its predators are snakes, hawks, mockingbirds, and herons.

Our group, the Lazy Iguanas posed for this picture before leaving Espanola.

Here are 2 pelicans drying their wings and getting ready to fly again. Pelicans fish along the shore. They will take in 1-2 gallons of water. They will dump the water through the holes in the beak before swallowing the fish.

12/23 Noon-ish: Priya swimming (with flippers for the first time) in the Bachas Beach in the Baltra Island.