Today marked the first full day in the islands and our introduction to the rather intense schedule that would be typical for the rest of the week.
Wake up was at 6:45am with a full breakfast buffet (or whatever you wanted from the kitchen) from 7am to 8am.
Promptly at 8am, we departed for Punta Suarez on the westernmost tip of Española Island. For such excursions, we used zodiacs — inflatable boats with outboard motors commonly used by the military — to ferry from the Endeavor to the shore.
Española Island is composed of relatively rocky shores with the occasional beach where we landed. We then hiked around to stand atop 100 foot cliffs.
In between, we met many of the critters endemic — unique species only found in the Galapagos and, in some cases, only found on one of the islands — to this particular island. This was also the first island where we encountered the red marine iguanas, one fine specimen pictured at left.
They were everywhere on this island, obviously along the shore but also quite far inland as the females will wander way inland to dig a hole to lay eggs, sometimes losing more than 50% of their body mass on the journey.
Marine iguanas are exclusively vegetarian and are the only iguanas that forage in the water for their food, primarily the algae that grows on the rocks up to 30 feet under water.
But more about Marine iguanas later in a post dedicated to these magnificent creatures. Española had many other creatures, including some unique to the island.
Like, for example, the Sally Lightfoot (Grapsus grapsus) crab.
The Sally Lightfoot crabs are everywhere on every shore. They are the cleanup crew of the island and one of the first land critter to colonize fresh lava flows (marine iguanas and sea lions being the sea critters that climb up on the land and provide the crabs with one major food source). The crabs feed on basically anything dead or nearly dead, efficiently converting biomass into what will eventually become the soil that provides a toehold for plant life and other creatures.
Crabs have an exoskeleton and, like many such creatures, they shed that exoskeleton periodically as they grow. This is actually a shed exoskeleton. While the live crabs are quite brightly colored, their shed exoskeletons are even more intensely colored.
Lacking a fear of humans, the animals of the Galapagos do their animal things sometimes right under your feet. It quickly became quite apparent that I should keep my camera out, lens cap off and ready to shoot at all times!
While walking the trail on Española through a bit of fairly heavy brush, these two doves popped out and started fighting pretty much right on top of my feet.
Except, no, they weren’t fighting….
… they were mating.
Just as quickly as they appeared they disappeared off into the bushes on their merry dove way.
Española Island was also the first island where we encountered one of Darwin’s mockingbirds.
In this case, a Hood Mockingbird endemic to this particular island. When Darwin visited the islands, it was really the mockingbird specimens that he took with him that really catalyzed the notion that the animals of the islands had evolved to the unique environments presented by each island.
These guys were quite the characters. Not just fearless of us, they hood mockingbirds have been known to poke about a hiker’s clothes, backpacks or water bottles for food or water.
They are also fascinated by camera equipment. While I got a photo of a mockingbird eyeing me up, the videographer on our trip shot a video of a mockingbird inspecting his camera’s lens quite closely!
After hanging out with the mockingbirds, doves, and finches, we walked around to the cliff-tops to visit the waved albatross nesting grounds.
The waved albatross is a huge and beautiful bird that is optimized for long flight. With a wingspan of over 7 feet, the albatross is a bird made for soaring!
And soar it does!
After hatching, the young albatross is cared for by the parents for about 10 months. At the end of which, the young albatross quite literally walks to the edge of the cliff, throws itself off and 95% of the young learn to fly before hitting bottom.
Once the young take flight, they stay in the air or at sea for the next three to four years before returning to these cliff-tops to nest.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that the albatross literally throw themselves off the cliff.
While we were sitting and enjoying the cliff-top breeze, one albatross did exactly that. It walked over to the cliff, consider the wind and the “runway” for a moment, then took a sort of stumbling run right off the cliff!
For all that wingspan, the albatross has a fairly short and stubby set of legs. They simply can’t take off from the ground at all well. However, the birds can take off from the water and we saw well over one hundred albatross well off the coast foraging for food.
This also means that the albatross is not much of a nest builder. As a matter of fact, the female lays a single egg (per season or every other season) directly on the ground and will roll it about as it is incubated!
The cliffs on top of which the albatross live are magnificent. Being relatively young volcanic islands, the interface between land and sea is often sheer, extremely rough, and full of holes.
This leads to lots of holes and ledges. The ledges are oft used by various birds and the marine iguanas while the holes sometimes lead to giant jets of water like the one at right, a blowhole.
The albatross taking off was successful and at left is a picture of said bird flying in front of the cliffs just to the left of the blowhole.
The albatross have no fear of humans and many of them were “nesting” (more like, sitting around on the ground) very close, if not on, the designated path through the island.
Roger found all of the creatures to be thoroughly fascinating and consistently found lots of things that no one else had noticed.
We spent the afternoon snorkeling, but I really didn’t spend much time taking photos. We focused on making sure Roger was comfortable with snorkeling (being his first deep water snorkeling experience) and I figured out how to use the underwater camera.
All in preparation for the next day’s adventures!
But, it was impossible to walk back to the zodiac landing spot without running into at least one more photo opportunity (and, if you look in the Flickr set, about a dozen more).
In this case, a nazca booby preening….
Española Island is home to both nazca boobies and blue footed boobies. It is actually not uncommon to see a nazca raising a blue chick or vice-versa!
Taking anything but an extreme close-up or something in flight, it was almost impossible to shoot a photo of just a single species. As in this picture, there always seemed to be a lizard or iguana popping up in a bird picture or vice-versa!
We did spend the afternoon snorkeling around Gardner Islet on the northeast corner of Española.
This was the only photo I kept. Mostly, we used the time to get aclimated to snorkeling. In particular, it was the first time Roger has snorkeled in deep water (and only the second location he snorkeled).
He took to it like a fish. By the end of the week, Roger was diving down 20 to 30 feet to checkout the critters at the bottom!