Of all of the excursions we took on this trip, I personally found this one to be the one that captured the essence of the Galapagos more than any other.
Life was abundant, the land was harsh, and the contrasts between lifeless and teeming were distinct.
This was also the hike that drove home exactly how harsh life on the islands can be for any given individual animal, while the population, as a whole, thrives. More on that in another post as the pictures are rather brutal.
Isla Fernandina is the most active volcano in the archipelago (and one of the most active in the world).
Thus, it is an island of many fresh lava flows intermingled with the green of new, and sometimes relatively old, growth.
As the rich sea upwellings strike the island, it supports a diverse and rich ecosystem at the shore.
Much of which we were about to see.
Looking across the lava flow and beaches from our Zodiac, it looked like the entire island was covered ancient weathered logs.
Not so! There were hundreds and hundreds of marine iguanas. Thousands, actually.
Piles of them everywhere.
And, oddly, in the late afternoon sun, they largely align themselves in the same direction towards the sun. As mentioned in a previous post, marine iguanas are cold blooded. They regulate their temperature by both pressing their bodies against the hot lava rocks and/or controlling the cross section of their bodies exposed to the sun.
As can be seen in this photo, the iguanas were entirely un-phased by our presence. Actually, the bigger risk was to us!
Namely, after the iguanas spend time feeding in the ocean, they sit on the rocks, warm up, and sneeze out salt water. If you are posing like Roger was in this photo, you run the very real risk of being sneezed upon!! No surprise, Roger spent a bunch of time trying to get sneezed on!
No surprise, the Sally Lightfoot crabs were ever present on this island, too.
This one is demonstrating one of their primary roles on the islands. The crabs are the cleanup crew!
This crab grabbed a dead fish from a pool and had dragged it up on the lava rock for a fine meal.
With food in claw, a crab was one of the few critters that was actively wary of us. Given the tug of war that other crabs demonstrated over much smaller bits of food, I can certainly understand why said crab was feeling a bit possessive!
Punta Espinosa was also home to tons of sea lions, including many pups.
This particular photo reminds me nothing more of a puppy looking for a treat!
This particular bit of rocky beach was also home to many flightless cormorants.
Many were sunning away, warming up their stubby little wings in the late afternoon sun.
But, not all.
This pair of cormorants were in the midst of a courtship dance.
It is interesting to note just how low in the water the cormorants swim! Almost their entire backs are submerged most of the time.
By contrast, your average North American duck sits with almost its entire body out of the water.
I conjecture that the evolution away from flight in a tropical clime also included an evolutionary change away from the exceedingly efficient lightness of being that flighted birds must maintain.
In the midst of the walk, we took a moment to have a sit on the beach and enjoy all the wildlife going on around us.
Hrmm…. big still things that are atypical. So, of course, the wildlife came to check us out.
It was like a parade of sea lion pups!
Each one would wander up in front of me, check out me and my camera, then wander off to their next task at hand.
In some cases, it felt like they were posing. “Check me out! This is my good side!”.
In this case, I turned around to snap a photo of Roger looking at something interesting and this particular sea lion stuck itself right smack in the middle of the picture!
I had no idea I had snapped a picture of roger with the sea lion until I downloaded the image to the computer.
Yes, in fact, I had been photo-bombed by a sea lion!
This was another one of those photos where the naturalists expressed some surprise. The lava lizard was eating a crab. Long rumored, but never really confirmed. When Roger and I first found this scene, the crab was very much still alive. We called the naturalist over and he was both surprised and excited to have confirmation that the lava lizards are potentially predatory, a behavior that had not been expected.
Note also that the lava lizard has a bit of dividing line right down the middle. It is the middle of shedding and, thus, the front half is relatively new skin while the back half is still in the process of shedding.
Much of our walk was across gigantic slabs of ropy lava. This is much of what the fresh lava flows look like.
“Ropy” is an apt description. I cannot imagine the fluid dynamics of the millions of tons of red hot molten rock that would lead to such consistent ropy pattern across the surface. Amazing.
More amazing,though, is that such a terribly hostile surface can be worn down to support life.
In particular, the Lava Cactus is one of the first to colonize the lava flows.
After the wind blows over the lava long enough to create surprisingly small pockets of sand that provide just enough purchase for the roots of the cactus.
I would assume that birds eat cactus seeds and then drop them on the lava.
The cactus are often eaten by an endemic rat. In any case, their remains fall and rot, creating more soil for more cactus or other species to gain a foothold.
For a photographer, one benefit of the incredible abundance of generally fearless creatures is that you can find those animals that are willing to pose (much like this brown pelican).
Out of the thousands and thousands of marine iguanas on this particular spot, I found these two individuals that, somehow, struck me as having just a bit of something to make ‘em interesting subjects.
Maybe it captures a bit of the magic of the Galapagos. On the one hand, you are immersed in this incredible science lab that illustrates the evolutionary brilliance of our planet better than any class ever could. Yet, stepping back from the science, you are surrounded by both sheer beauty and, upon closer study, those one in a million individuals that, due to sheer circumstance, happen to strike a pose.