Archive for the 'Travel' Category

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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Saturday, August 29th, 2009
skimboard Splash

We have spent the last week in Kauai, Hawaii having a bit of a break from life.

Awesome time.

While sitting on the beach, a guy showed up with a skimboard and started carving the waves of Kalapaki beach. A skimboard is a wonderful way to turn rather small waves into a bit of fun.

He was having a good run at tossing parts of each wave this way and that.

skimboard Fail

But even the small waves can bite back…

Fortunately, spout over handle in the water leads to a relatively soft landing.

(Thanks, Corbin, for the correction!)

Roger & Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus Occidentalis)

Sunday, October 19th, 2008
Roger & Shedding Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) On Shoulder

Roger has a way with bugs. We have often called him a “bug whisperer” because of his ability to capture butterflies and their subsequent willingness to simply hang out on his hands, shirt, head, whatever as if it were a perfectly normal thing for a bug to do.

As he has gotten older, his fascination has expanded to include frogs, lizards, and turtles.

Roger captured this fine lizard around the house in Seaside, CA (near Monterey) that we stayed in over the weekend. Wonderful house.

Dessert climate, but across the street from the Frog Pond Wetland Preserve. More on that in a moment.

Shedding Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

As best as we can tell, this lizard is an example of a Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus Occidentalis) or one of its subspecies.

Blue Belly of Shedding Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

The distinctive blue belly gives strong indication of both the species and that it is likely a male.

This particular lizard was in the midst of shedding.

The western fence lizard is common throughout the sub-6,000 feet of elevation areas of the west and northwest.

These lizards are commonly fed upon by ticks. However, they are not a transmission vector for Lyme disease. Instead, the lizards carry some kind of natural anti-bacterial agent that kills the lime disease in the ticks!

Areas with western fence lizards, and subspecies, have a notable reduction in the number of lyme infected ticks.

A very good lizard to have around!

From Piece of Pooh to Beautiful Butterfly…

Saturday, August 9th, 2008
Juvenile Swallowtail Caterpillar

Meet the juvenile black swallowtail larva (I’m pretty darned sure). This little guy looks like a piece of bird pooh for a reason.

Specifically, it is employing feces camouflage. By resembling a bit of bird poop, the caterpillar makes itself look singularly unappetizing during the vulnerable first part of its life.

And by “little guy”, I do mean little. This worm was exactly 3/16ths of an inch long — just about 5mm long.

No, really, about the size of a grain of rice.

That leaf? It is the end of a parsley leaf.

I was wrong. This is not a swallowtail larva. It is most likely of the Brush-footed butterfly family (Nymphalidae). Swallowtail caterpillars of this size look very similar — similarly bird poop like — but do not have spines.

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

It is amazing how quickly they grow. Within only a few days, that little pooh-pillar turns into a rather stunning green worm that will grow to up to 2″ in length.

Not so coincidentally, the caterpillar features a new defense mechanism. When harassed, it sticks two bright orange antenna out of its head that stink horribly.

Swallowtail Butterfly Worm Face Caterpillar

Even without the antenna, the caterpillar’s head is really quite striking.

I tried to get a shot with the antenna sticking up, but discovered that the caterpillar seems to fairly rapidly learn that any particular stimulus is not threatening and will stop wasting energy defending against harmless “attacks”.

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Early Spring Bugs in Missouri

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008
Red Velvet Mite (Trombidiidae)

In the forest, the various bugs common to the leafy undercover were waking up, too.

This is a red velvet mite (Trombidiidae).

They play a critical, if slightly surprising, role in the health of the forest. Namely, the larval stage is parasitic and effectively controls populations of locust, grasshoppers and other plant destroying insects.

As adults, the red velvet mite is a ferocious predator that will take out mites and insects many times it size. In particular, the mite seems to favor insects that eat bacteria and fungus.

Thus, the mites help ensure that fungus and bacteria remain abundant within the forest and, by doing so, help ensure that the decomposition process remain high.

While the red velvet mite is related to chiggers and ticks, they do not bite humans and are quite the sociable little bugs.

Blue Metallic Bug Detail

I have no clue what this bug is other than “beautiful”.

It has gigantic jaws for its size, clearly designed for biting and ripping.

The bug really is that brilliant color of metallic blue. Even more amazing, the bug flew a few feet and landed on a tree. When the sun strikes it at a different angle, it turns a gorgeous metallic green.

Unfortunately, it moved too quickly for me to snap a photo, but I’ll definitely be keeping a lookout for these on our next visit.

More bugs on the click-through….

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Critters in Florida!

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008
Lizard on Tree

We are in Florida for Easter, visiting family.

Roger, of course, captured a couple of toads and a frog within the first 5 minutes of being here.

On closer inspection, we have found that there are tons of critters in the area.

This was a lizard that Roger caught on the back porch. We let it go and watched as he hopped from branch to branch for a bit.

Beyond this photo — my favorite — I also snapped a neat photo of the lizard on saw grass and another of the lizard walking on a bit of tree branch.

There is a bit of a swamp in the backyard, so this really isn’t much of a surprise.

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Claysville Store in Claysville, Missouri

Thursday, October 25th, 2007
Claysville Store

On Sunday, we headed down to the Claysville Store in Claysville, Missouri for lunch.

Claysville is an old rivertown that was pretty much defunct until recently. The Missouri river is huge and the “river bottoms” it flows through is even larger — miles wide. While decades ago Claysville was a bustling town where cargo was transferred from river to rail, the river shifted such that it flows almost a mile away from the town now.

Out of the outright stupidity that was the death of the railroads in the United States has come one gem, though, and it is breathing new life into river towns like Claysville.

Specifically, the Rails to Trails program and the creation of the Katy Trail. The Katy trail passes right by Claysville and, like many other river towns, a business or two has sprung up to serve the bikers and hikers that pass along the trail.

Claysville Store Biscuits

In the case of Claysville, it is the Claysville Store. Owned and run by a family in the weekends — in their spare time — it has become quite the hot little lunch spot.

On Sunday, they open at 12:30. We showed up a little before noon and drove around the bottoms for a bit. We returned at 12:10 and a couple of customers had arrived. By 12:30 the parking lot — the lawn in front of the restaurant and the shoulder of the road across road (gravel) — was full.

Reservations only for this particular hole in the wall on the weekends. However, they are happy to fit in a handful of hikers/bikers off the trail.

Upon sitting down, they bring tea, lemonade, water, or soda and a big plate of piping hot fresh cooked biscuits. Delicious amazing biscuits that really need no butter, but are definitely even more delectable with drippy buttery goodness.

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