Archive for the 'Life' Category

Galapagos April 20, 2010 (2 of 4): Zodiac Tour Of Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island)

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Isabela Island Cave

Anchoring off Punta Cicente Roca after our long journey around Isabela Island, we were greeted with quite the geological smorgasbord of coastline.

Cliffs of Isabela Island

Beyond this rather stunning point of green with cave below, you can see a much rawer bit of dark lava to the right.

To the north — just beyond that cave — are long stretches of coastline that are largely raw, relatively, fresh lava flows with swaths of green where the lava hadn’t flowed in the last 100,000 or so years. Even in this relatively small bay, there were sandy beaches, weathered cliffs of a sandstone like rock, broken tumbles of lava boulders and dramatic sheer cliffs.

With all of the different kinds of coastline in such a small area, this was clearly a spot worthy of further exploration.

Before diving into one spot (literally), we took a zodiac based tour of the shore to see what critters might be around.

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Galapagos April 20, 2010 (1 of 4): Crossing the Equator

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Common Dolphin (Delphinus)

During the night, we crossed the equator while traveling northward on our way to the westernmost islands of the Galapagos archipelago. Specifically, our destination was snorkeling off Punta Vicente Rosa (Isabela Island) followed by a hike over lava flows on Punta Espinosa (Fernandina Island).

First, though, we had to get there.

At about 6:30am, we were woken by an announcement that a couple of large schools off dolphins off both sides of the ship.

And large they were!

Literally hundreds of dolphins cruising through the water on the way to wherever dolphins go at the crack of dawn.

Common Dolphin (Delphinus)

But not just swimming. Quite a few of the dolpins seemed to want to fly, leaping high out of the water, twisting about, and splashing along.

The captain of the ship circled us about for a while amongst the dolphins and we had nearly an hour amongst these magnificent creatures.

Photography aside: This is when the Canon 100-400mm lens really came through. The dolphin were mostly far off from our boat. Having an image stabilized lens with 400mm of reach on a 1.6x crop factor camera body made these images possible.

That and a bit of patience, a touch of luck, and a willingness to burn through a few hundred exposures before 7am.

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Galapagos April 19, 2010 (2 of 2): Beach Combing & Hiking Punta Cormorant (Floreana Island)

Saturday, May 15th, 2010
Slate Pencil Urchin And Roger

After the wonderful snorkeling in the AM off Champion Island, the Endeavor lifted anchor at lunch and took a short cruise to anchor just off of Cormorant Point (Punta Cormorant) for an afternoon of beach walking and hiking on Island Floreana.

Floreana is a middle-aged island in the archipelago. Thus, it actually has honest-to-goodness beaches while still having volcanic cones and a handful of fairly raw, mostly lifeless, lava flows.

Access to any part of any of the Galapagos islands outside of the handful of human enclaves is extremely restricted in what is, effectively, a gigantic natural park.

Floreana offers one of the few beaches upon which we could wander freely. And so we did prior to taking a walk across Cormorant Point to a second beach that was also the nesting grounds of green turtles.

Upon landing, Roger immediately found something interesting. In this case, a sun-bleached pencil urchin.

Roger Being Splashed
Sea Lions In Surf

On this particular Lindblad cruise, there were actually quite a number of kids.

The free beach time was also an opportunity for the kids to swim about and generally get in some quality beach play.

The waters were warm and, on this beach, quite clear.

Not surprisingly, the kids weren’t the only ones to show up on such a beautiful beach. The ever present sea lions were out and about, too. While the kids were in the water, you would often catch a glimpse of a sea lion or two swimming about near or, even, between various swimmers!

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Head Profile

The beach had its share of creatures beyond sea lions, too.

This brown pelican — rather grand brown pelican — was hanging out on one end of the beach.

Combining the lack of fear of humans with the low afternoon light, it made for a very patient and stunning photography model!

I ended up taking about 100 frames of this one bird, varying parameters, angle and framing.

Between the patience of the bird and me being able to take the time to do a proper photographic study of this magnificent creature, I ended up with enough “keepers” to devote a post to this one subject!

What an absolutely incredible creature!

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The Brown Pelican (Galapagos April 19, 2010: Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island)

Saturday, May 15th, 2010
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Portrait

While beachwalking on Island Floreana, we came across a brown pelican hanging out on one end of the beach.

It was late afternoon and the sun was fairly low in the sky, making for some wonderful warm lighting as long as I could maneuver around to the right angle.

Which, of course, proved to be easy given that the pelican really couldn’t care less what about me.

Thus, photo study time….

Pelicans are quite interesting geometrically. They can choose to maintain a relatively horizontal profile or can lift their head up, tuck in their bill, and go for a vertical appearance as in this shot.

With just a bit of a wind, the feathers on the back of the bird’s head were fluttering slightly in the wind.

The color near the end of that viciously hooked bill is exquisite, too.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Profile

Like I said, wait for a moment and you can grab a vertical profile or a nice horizontal shot like this one.

Given the texture of the feathers, I’d bet this pelican had been fishing not long before and was so patient because the sun was warm.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: The Blink

Take enough photos and you’ll eventually get something truly out of the ordinary.

In this case, I caught the pelican mid blink. That would be the pelican’s nictitating membrane, if I’m not mistaken.

I would like to say that it was my awesome skills applied to an epic shutter finger that yielded this photo.

Not so much.

This is the product of taking about 100+ photos of this one bird. Choose an angle, choose a framing, choose some settings (I shot all of these in manual mode to get a feel for it), and fire off three to five frames (my camera is pretty much always in multi-frame mode).

The beauty of digital is that there is no more cost incurred, save for a bit of your time selecting the best shots, for shooting one frame versus 10 of any given subject!

Galapagos April 19, 2010 (1 of 2): Snorkeling Champion Islet Off Island Floreana

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
On Zodiac To Snorkeling

The seas around the Galapagos are every bit as biologically interesting and diverse as the land, but in a different way.

Whereas there are relatively few land dwelling species on the island, all unique and generally completely lacking in fear of humans, the sea life is more in line with what you would expect in relatively tropical waters around the world.

While the fish were fairly typical, the underwater environment was otherwise atypical. Notably, there simply isn’t any significant coral growth. No coral heads of any size. No coral reefs and none of the rough, nook and cranny filled, walls of coral growth normally associated with tons of tropical fish.

Instead, and making the waters of the Galapagos fairly unique in and of themselves, the lava foundation of the islands provides all the hidy holes marine life of all sizes might need.

School of Fish

To provide the biomass to feed the incredible numbers of fish and other marine life, the islands sit at the cross roads of five ocean currents, with major currents dominating from the South, North, or West depending on season and El Nino.

Some of the currents are quite deep and bring up tons and tons of biomass in the form of plankton and other deep sea creatures as the currents hit the archipelago.

As a result, there is plenty of biomass to support a dense and diverse marine population. Yet, those very currents — the one up the west coast of South America from the Antarctic — also means that the water temperatures can be really cold for part of the year.

Hence, no significant coral growth. Coral needs a constant, relatively warm, water temperature.

Travel tip: If you are planning on visiting the Galapagos, go in April/May. The predominant water current is very warm and, thus, we spent the week snorkeling in 79 to 82 degree water. No wetsuit needed. If you were to visit the same locations in August-ish time frame, the water would be a chilly 65 degrees!

In any case, enough words. What about the creatures themselves?

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Galapagos April 18, 2010: Hiking on Española Island

Friday, May 7th, 2010
Red Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus) Sunning
Española Red Iguana (Amblyrhynchus) Stares Back

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.

Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus) Digging a Nest

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.

Sally Lightfoot (Grapsus grapsus) Molt

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.

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Galapagos April 17, 2010 (2 of 2): Hiking on North Seymour Island

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Sea Lion Strikes a Pose

Our first hike was on North Seymour Island, a small island just to the north of Baltra Island. During lunch, the Endeavor left the bay on Baltra and anchored just off shore of North Seymour.

Travel aside: The logistics of the trip were pretty intense; the Endeavor generally only moved when we were asleep or during meals (as needed to get to the next location). The guests were pretty much never confronted with the monumental amount of work going on around us to get from place to place, to portage folks to/from excursions, or to otherwise keep the boat livable and comfortable. Truly, the crew did a fantastic job of making us comfortable and providing access to the animals with minimal environmental impact.

The North Seymour island hike is a good introduction to the typical excursion in Galapagos. The overarching theme of every excursion was do no harm. Hikes were always on marked trails approved by the Galapagos National Park. Excursions were always broken into groups of 12 to 14 people with at least one licensed naturalist per group.

Animals come first. Many times on a hike, we would pause while some critter would take its merry time crossing our path.

Sea Lion Stares Back

At left is the first critter on this particular hike. A Galapagos Sea Lion doing a bit of sunning. It was pretty much exactly in the middle of where we entered the trail. Around we went and it really didn’t care.

That much, anyway. As you’ll see in a number of photos, sea lions are very curious beasts and, for some odd reason, they really like to look at you upside down as the character on the right was doing!

However, the wildlife of North Seymour was certainly not limited to sea lions! Read the rest of this entry »

Galapagos April 17, 2010 (1 of 2): Arrival

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Christine & Roger Fresh Off The Plane

After nearly three days of travel (SF -> Miami (overnight) -> Quito -> Guayaquil (overnight) -> Baltra, Galapagos), we arrived in the Galapagos Islands Baltra Airport to a sunny, warm, late morning.

Like almost all but the oldest islands in the Galapagos archipelago, Baltra is fairly flat with a central set of volcanic hills. The vegetation tends to be relatively low growing, the ground littered with volcanic rock and the place is generally inhospitable to mammals.

Female Lava Lizard (Tropidurus) at Airport

Even at the airport, it was already readily apparent that the animal life of the Galapagos was utterly unique in its general lack of fear of people. Waiting for customs, we were greeted by a handful of lava lizards, finches, and a Galapagos locust or two. Save for the locust, the critters were far, far, more concerned about territorial rights amongst their peers than they were of us.

National Geographic Endeavor

We then took a short bus ride to the Endeavor, the National Geographic / Lindblad ship that would be our home for the next week.

Photo aside (there’ll be a lot of these):Along the way, I took a photo of the ship out the bus window. The bus was a good 1/2 mile — maybe 2/3rds — from the boat when I took this photo. It was hot and humid and there was considerable heat haze in the air. As a result, the full sized image of the boat looks more like a watercolor than a photograph! Neat!

After being greeted by the crew, a nice lunch, and safety orientation, we spent the afternoon hiking around North Seymour Island for our first real encounter with the amazing wildlife of the Galapagos.

Galapagos 2010

Friday, April 30th, 2010
Charles Darwin Research Station

Roger, Christine and I spent one week of April 2010 in the Galapagos Islands on board the National Geographic Endeavor, a vessel in the fleet of Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society.

While the Endeavor is definitely a luxurious cruise, featuring great food, fully climate controlled interior (the ship spends part of the year in the arctic/antarctic), spa service, and all other services you might expect in a fine resort, this was no trip of relaxation and total disconnect. Every day was filled with opportunities for hiking on or snorkeling around the various islands of the Galapagos archipelago.

If you so chose (and I did!), every day was filled with opportunities to get up close and personal with all of the unique life of the Galapagos. And it wasn’t just a sightseeing tour. The staff included seven naturalists deeply versed in the wildlife, geology and history of the Galapagos who patiently answered all questions and offered deep explanations and observations of the islands and all wildlife therein.

The itinerary covered many of the islands and quite a few islets in the Galapagos. Itinerary details are below and will be filled with details and links as I write up each entry across quite a few upcoming blog posts.

Throughout the itinerary, hyperlinks will be to various posts on the weblog and to flickr photo galleries.

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Fatblogging: I’m below 230! (Assist by The Scale That Tweets)

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

For the first time in umpteen years, I’m solidly below 230 lbs (I briefly dipped below 230 in 2007 or so, the last time).

I’m using the rather innovative and revolutionary diet of Eat Right and Exercise. Otherwise known as Consume Fewer Calories Than You Burn.

Namely, I’m biking to work every day it isn’t raining, cut out junk food, cut down on portions, and have focused on eating lots of veggies and fruits.

At right is my means of tracking weight, the Withings Wifi Body Scale.

The Withings scale is WiFi enabled. Thus, if you stand on the scale for about 5 seconds after your reading stabilizes, the scale will submit your weight to a central web site where a (rather bloated and slow) Flash app can be used to monitor your weight.

However, there is also a fairly nice iPhone app. The scale can also be configured to tweet your weight (my 174 lbs target is actually below what I’d consider success @ about 190), as well.

I also briefly used the Lose It! application. It is actually a very well designed, easy to use, application for tracking your caloric intake.

Beyond all the techno-goop, the Withings scale is simply very well engineered. It has a striking, minimal, design and feels quite solid. Setup was a breeze and use is quite intuitive. It can track multiple people’s weight and automatically identifies each user by their weight (though I have no idea how it would deal with two people who have similar weights).