TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
Friday 26 July to Sunday 4 August 2002
Mike Read - Travelling Naturalist
Daniel Jacome - Galapagos
Santiago Ramos - Captain Beluga
Friday 26th July
Today we took an early flight from Quito via Guayaquil to Baltra Island.
At Guayaquil, there were a number of American Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets in the ditches and on the grassland around the runway.
We landed on Baltra and were taken to the harbour where the Beluga was moored. As we waited for the pangas to collect us, we were able to watch numerous Brown Noddys and Blue-footed Boobies feeding inside the harbour. There were also smaller numbers of Brown Pelicans and Elliot's Petrels, a lone Lava Gull and a couple of Galapagos Sea Lions resting on a small boat.
Once on board Beluga, we settled in, had lunch and then moved to the small island of North Seymour where we took a 2-hour walk. As we landed, 3 Red-billed Tropicbirds flew over. On the island itself there were hundreds of pairs of Blue-footed Boobies nesting along with smaller numbers of both species of Frigatebird. The Boobies were at various stages of the breeding cycle; some were trying to attract a mate, some were on eggs while others had young. We also saw a number of Yellow Warblers (now more correctly called Mangrove Warbler), Lava Lizards and Marine Iguanas while we also glimpsed 2 or 3 small sharks and 3 Pacific Green Turtles just off shore.
Back on board Beluga we moved to a new mooring seeing many more Audubon's Shearwaters and a Dark-rumped Petrel as we went. As the sun began to set, a large flock of Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Noddies and Brown Pelicans were feeding on a large shoal of small fish perhaps brought to the surface by larger feeding fish below. Our day ended with drinks with the captain, crew and new-found friends before dinner.
Saturday 27th July
During the latter part of the night we moved to Bartolomé Island ad as we arrived, a couple of American Oystercatchers could be seen on the beach and 3 Galapagos Penguins were stood on water-side rocks.
After breakfast there was an exploration of the island and its geology; the volcanic arrival of all the Galapagos Islands was explained in detail as were the various lava flow types and formations. The boarded steps to the top of the hill was negotiated and on arrival at the top, one of the most noted views in the islands could be seen.
After a cup of coffee back on board Beluga, we went to the bay close to Pinnacle Rock. Here more Oystercatchers and Penguins could be seen and a Galapagos Hawk drifted overhead. We walked to the bay on the other side of the island but there was little to see except a few crabs (Sally Lightfoot and a lone Hermit Crab) and a bathing Brown Pelican. Back on the beach where we first landed there was the opportunity for some snorkelling which everyone thoroughly enjoyed especially in view of the close encounters with a Galapagos Sea Lion.
During lunch we moved to James Bay on the island of Santiago. There were the usual sea birds as we went including a couple of Galapagos Petrels. As we waited for the 3 p.m. landing time, a large shoal of fish attracted a huge mass of Blue-footed Boobies that were taking shallow dives and usually coming up with a meal. After an hour of swimming and snorkelling and a few close encounters with Pacific Green Turtles, we walked around the trail on this part of the island where wildlife of note included a group of waders (Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, a couple of Whimbrels and a lone Wandering Tattler), a group of Bottle-nosed Dolphins and about 10 Galapagos Fur Sea Lions.
As we returned towards the Beluga, the evening light shone brightly on to the nearby hill where dark rain clouds seemed to be gathering; it gave the leafless trees there an almost ghost-like quality. Then after the usual sumptuous evening meal we were under way as we had a long journey around the northern end of Isabella to reach Fernandina for tomorrow's first visit.
Sunday 28th July
By dawn we were anchored off Punta Espinosa, Fernandina. In the sea around us were many Turtles and a few Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins. After breakfast we went ashore at Punta Espinosa and the first birds we saw were Galapagos Mockingbird and Galapagos Hawk and there were a number of young Galapagos Sea Lions among the mangroves. We walked along a trail where we could see various types of lava and all the way we marvelled at the shapes and patterns made when the rocks that we were walking on were molten lava.
After this we headed for the beach area where we saw large numbers of Marine Iguanas and a small breeding colony of Flightless Cormorants. At sea there was a regular passage of Blue-footed Boobies with occasional Brown Pelicans passing too. We returned to Beluga and were soon under way for Isabella in preparation for our afternoon walk. Everyone was scanning the water for cetaceans as they had been reported from the area earlier that day. Try as we might, no whales or dolphins were located.
After lunch and a while of relaxation, we went ashore at Punta Tortuga on Isabella. There was a pair of Flightless Cormorants nesting near the landing point and a couple of Galapagos Penguins were feeding in the bay. On land, the start of our walk took us fairly steeply upwards to begin with and we were soon overlooking a lake. Just one distant White-cheeked Pintail was the only bird to be seen on the water though in the surrounding bushes there were plenty of Darwin's finches. During our walk we managed to identify Small, Medium and Large Ground Finches and probably Small Tree Finch. We also saw a few Mangrove Warblers; a Galapagos Dove and we glimpsed a Dark-billed Cuckoo. When we reached the top of the ridge, there were great views over a fairly recent lava flow to the Darwin Volcano and to other parts of the western shore of the island.
Needless to say, our return to the landing point was much easier back down the hill than it had been going up! We saw a group of about 14 feral goats which were part of a 100,000 strong population on the island; a population that was causing considerable damage to the vegetation. And the sad thing is that it is a situation repeated on many of the islands of Galapagos.
Before re-boarding Beluga, we were taken a short distance along the shore to get closer views of the colony of nesting Brown Pelicans. There were many nests at various stages of the breeding cycle with some containing quite well grown young. That completed our watching for the day and we remained anchored in the bay until well into the night.
Monday 29th July
At 5a.m. we set off for Urvina Bay on Isabela. Before 6a.m. there were a few people on deck watching for dolphins and after a while first one then another appeared and soon there were up to 7 Bottle-nosed Dolphins riding the bow wave of the Beluga. Further off, we saw a group of perhaps 20 Common Dolphins. When the dolphins moved away, the captain turned the Beluga and they were soon with us again ....... and again, and again. After about half an hour in their enthralling company, we left the dolphins behind and completed the journey over breakfast.
At 8 o'clock we were heading for the shore at Urvina Bay. Though the landing was a slightly difficult 'wet landing', one member of the group managed to make it a little more spectacular than that! After looking at the beach area where turtles regularly breed, we began a walk which proved very worthwhile as we managed to find about 10 Galapagos Land Iguanas as well as Mangrove Warblers, Medium Ground Finches and a Warbler Finch.
Back at the shore it was decided that it was too murky for snorkelling and so we returned to the Beluga and we set off for Punta Moreno. On the way, a few Galapagos Sea Lions caused a few false alarms before we eventually found a small group of Common Dolphins. This took us to lunch time and we completed the rest of the journey as we dined. After lunch we took the usual rest time through the hottest part of the day and then there was snorkelling at 3 p.m. for those who wanted it. At 4 o'clock everyone went ashore for a walk on an even more spectacular and desolate lava flow area.
During the walk we did see a few new species of birds and these included a Greater Flamingo, 2 Common Moorhens and a pair of Pied-billed Grebes on one of the pools. In a lagoon with an obvious channel to the sea, there were a few White-tipped Sharks and a Galapagos Hawks flew low overhead. We completed the walk just as the sun was sinking towards the horizon and by the time we were on board the Beluga and having our nibbles and drinks we had said goodbye to another fine and sunny day in the Enchanted Isles.
Tuesday 30th July
The day began with us completing the voyage to Floreana just as the sun was rising ..... well it did except we could not see it because there were clouds in the way. There were a few of the usual sea birds to be seen as we had the usual sumptuous breakfast, we headed for the Post Office barrel beach. Fresh tracks in the sand showed that a female turtle had laid her eggs during the night and she may have been any one of the 3 or 4 that we saw on the way to the beach.
After reviewing the mail in the barrel, we walked to a lava tube and descended in to it until we reached the level of the sea. On returning to daylight, we saw a Galapagos Flycatcher briefly before returning to the pangas and a ride through a rocky inlet where we saw plenty of Galapagos Sea Lions but few birds. We then had another wet landing followed by a short walk to the top of a small hill and this gave us excellent views over the mangrove-studded bay to the Beluga which was now moving towards our next port of call in the pangas.
So we now moved further along the coast once more and after landing we moved to overlook a shallow lagoon where about 35 Greater Flamingos were feeding. There were also about 40 White-cheeked Pintails and a lone Whimbrel most of which were resting on a small, rocky island. We then walked across part of the island to a superb white-sand beach, which everyone agreed was a rather special place. On the back of this beach were numerous mounds where more turtles had obviously laid their eggs for years and years.
Sadly we had to tear ourselves away from this lovely spot to return to the Beluga for lunch and a move to the islet of Champion. Many of the group went snorkelling while four of us were treated to a panga ride around this small island. Needless to say there were plenty of birds to be seen. Sea birds were the main group and these included many Red-billed Tropicbirds, Brown Noddies, Swallow-tailed Gulls and Audubon's Shearwaters. However, the rarest species that we saw was Charles Mockingbird. It formerly occurred on Floreana (previously called Charles hence the name) but had been wiped out there by introduced rats and cats. Now there was just a remnant population left on a few tiny islets around Floreana. Isla Champeon and Isla Enderby were 2 of these and we had been privileged to see a few of the survivors living there.
Back on board Beluga we were soon heading for Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island as this was where we would spend the night and the following day. During the voyage, we had something of a side wind, which made progress a little slow, and it also made any sea watching somewhat difficult as the Beluga was rolling quite considerably. However, we did manage to see a couple of Waved Albatrosses but little else of note.
We arrived in time for dinner on a steady ship and in the evening we visited the town as a 'last night celebration' for those who were departing the following day. And a jolly good time was had by all!
Wednesday 31st July
After breakfast and some warm good-byes, we boarded a bus bound for the highlands of Santa Cruz. Near Santa Rosa, we took a back road to a reserve where we found ourselves looking at our first Galapagos Giant Tortoise even before we had left the car park. In the first 200 metres of trails we saw another couple of individuals and one of these was sharing a muddy pool with a White-cheeked Pintail. Along the trails we found another 6 - 8 Tortoises plus Vegetarian and Woodpecker Finches. Galapagos Flycatchers were fairly frequent, as were Mangrove Warblers while on a pond there were a few Common Moorhens and 10 more Pintails.
Once our visit here was complete, we drove higher up to Los Gemelos (the twins). These large, collapsed, former magma chambers are quite superb especially as they are set among some Scalasia forest. There were few birds to be seen here and so we drove some distance back towards Puerto Ayora and made a brief stop by another lava tunnel. Departure from here was slightly delayed when Mike unknowingly stood on a Fire Ants nest while trying to photograph a Galapagos Flycatcher. The ensuing war-dance might have looked quite comical but Mike thoroughly recommends avoiding them in the future!!
Back in Puerto Ayora Mike, at long last, managed to rid himself of the last of the biting insects and we were able to board the panga and head for Beluga. After lunch we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station to look at the work that is being done to help the wildlife of these 'Enchanted Isles' in particular the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. We were able to enter some of the enclosures and take close-up photos of some of the animals and needless to say, we saw Lonesome George, the very last of his island race. Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours in town and were able to carry out some 'retail therapy' before returning to the Beluga for dinner to end a different, but once again a most enjoyable day.
Thursday 1st August
Overnight we moved to the island of Española for our final full day of exploration and relaxation in these wonderful islands. Our first port of call was Gardener Bay where a mile or so of white sand, together with large numbers of Galapagos Sea Lions, greeted us. This was time to relax and unwind (that is if you were still in any way 'wound up'!). There were also a few birds about and these included the island's endemic Hood Mockingbird and some Large Cactus Finches. After a walk, a swim and some general lazing around, it was time to return to the Beluga before many of those on board went snorkelling. Others were treated to their own, personal panga ride to look at birds on one of the nearby islands.
There was much to see. As Swallow-tailed Gulls and Blue-footed Boobies circled overhead, some Galapagos Sea Lions began to play in the flat-calm sea right beside the boat. This encouraged a more detailed look in to the clear water where numerous fish could be seen. Also there were three kinds of sea urchins that gave every opportunity for really close views. There was even a short 'excursion' in to a sea cave where fish with semi-luminous orange-tipped tails and fins swam in shoals. It was a fabulous and unique ride, which ended all too soon with a return to Beluga in time for lunch.
During our early afternoon relax time, the Beluga moved to Punta Suarez in readiness for our outing around the Waved Albatross breeding colony. Just before we reached our destination, we glimpsed a small group of Bottle-nosed Dolphins.
Soon we were on land and beginning the walk but first we had to clear the Galapagos Sea Lions from the landing steps. Then we walked the few yards to the beach passing numerous; brightly coloured Marine Iguanas on the way. Then, after a verbal introduction to the island from our guide Daniel, we were heading around the trail in the opposite direction to the group that had landed just a few minutes ahead of us.
All three species of finch that occur on Española (Large Cactus, Small Ground and Warbler Finches) had soon been identified. A number of Lava Lizards scuttled away at our approach though they never went far and a Galapagos Snake slithered over and under the rocky trail. Just as we reached the first of the nesting Waved Albatrosses, one of these birds, which are so graceful in the air, suddenly dropped in for what seemed to be a crash landing just in front of us. We obtained great views of many of the nesting birds close to the trail but the most spectacular events awaited us at the cliff tops. Here was a fairly regular procession of Albatrosses coming to launch themselves from the cliffs, as they cannot obtain the necessary air speed between the many bushes around the island. Some just walked to the edge and, without hesitation launched themselves into the breeze. Others, on reaching the take-off place, seemed to hesitate, even ponder the action they were about to take. Then, when the intensity of the wind reached its strongest, they would spread their impressive wings, take a step or two forward and with barely any effort at all they were away into that superb gliding technique that epitomises the albatross family.
Of course there was much more to see than that. Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies were ever present species, some drifting past on the up-currents created by the cliffs; others perched on nearby pinnacles preening. A young Swallow-tailed Gull was doing its best to solicit a meal from an adult bird that seemed totally unmoved by the calling or by the mass of Marine Iguanas that surrounded it. And all the time there were more Albatrosses patrolling the area perhaps looking to land, perhaps heading off out to sea to feed.
In the end we had to depart from this area and begin the walk towards the landing point. We did however pause at one more point and that was to see the water spout that was created by waves crashing in to a narrowing sea gully; most impressive! All of the way back along the trail we had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on Blue-footed Boobies that at times did not even wake up as we passed less than a couple of feet away.
Soon we were back on Beluga and enjoying our final evening meal before setting off for Baltra and our flight back to Quito on Friday.
Friday 2nd August
Another overnight move brought us to Black Turtle Cove on Baltra. Just after 6 a.m. we boarded the pangas for a final look at the wildlife of Galapagos. There were many Brown Noddies and Audubon's Shearwaters feeding close to the bay entrance and inside the mangrove-lined bay there were a few Brown Pelicans and Blue-footed Boobies flying around in search of a meal. In the distance a large flock of Cattle Egrets were leaving their night roost and heading for the cattle areas.
Around the bay we saw a few Pacific Green Turtles and some herons. These included about 5 Lava Herons, 2 Striated Herons and a Great Blue Heron. A lone Spotted Eagle Ray was seen just before we had to head back to the Beluga for breakfast.
After this final meal aboard, many 'thank yous' and 'goodbyes' were said before the panga ride to the dock-side. Then we realised that this was a 'travelling day' and the frequent queuing and waiting had begun. First for the bus, then at the airport check-in and finally in the departure lounge. This is a day for the brain to engage 'neutral'!
Then we were on board and taking off for the Ecuadorian mainland and with a final look back we said goodbye to the Enchanted Isles.
Arrival in Quito was on time and we were taken to the Hotel Alameda to prepare for our departure early the following morning. Once again we visited the restaurant, La Ronda for our evening meal and then returned to the hotel to finish departure preparations and sleep.
Saturday 3rd August
We were up early and had a little breakfast prior to our 05.30 departure for the airport. Queues were longer and slower than on Baltra but we appreciated the necessity for extra security. Take off was on time
Galapagos Penguin About 10 seen at Bartolomé on 27th then on 28th we saw 3 on Fernandina and 5 on Isabela
Pied-billed Grebe A presumed pair seen on a fresh water pool at Punta Tortuga, Isabela on 29th
Waved Albatross 5 on 29th when moving from Urvina Bay to Punta Moreno on Isabela and another 2 as we headed for Puerto Ayora on 30th. However, there were hundreds to be seen on 1st at their breeding colony on Española and this included many small young
Dark-rumped (Galapagos) Petrel A single bird seen on 26th off Santa Cruz then 2 at sea near Santiago on 27th. This was followed by a single bird as we approached Puerto Ayora on 30th and another on 1st near Española
Audubon's Shearwater Common at sea every day
Elliott's Storm-Petrel Common at sea every day with good numbers near Bartolomé on 27th
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel Perhaps half a dozen seen at sea on 27th, 3 on 28th, 1 on 29th, 3 on 30th and 4 on 1st
Flightless Cormorant About 20 on Fernandina on 28th, including 3 or 4 nesting pairs, and 4 on Isabela on the same day then 5 on Isabela the following day.
Red-billed Tropicbird 4 North Seymour on 26th, 6 on Champion on 30th and about 20 on Española on 1st
Blue-footed Booby Commonly seen every day with one of the highlights being 'formation diving' that we saw as we toured around Enderby in the panga on 30th
Nazca Booby (formerly Masked Booby) 5 at sea on 27th, 3 on Champion on 30th and then common on Española on 1st
Brown Pelican Common; seen every day in Galapagos
Magnificent Frigatebird Common; seen every day in Galapagos
Great Frigatebird Common; seen every day in Galapagos
Great Blue Heron A single bird seen at James Bay, Santiago on 27th then up to 3 seen daily until 1st when we saw none. Finally, there were a couple at Black Turtle Cove on 2nd
American Great White Egret 7 beside the runway at Guayaquil Airport on 26th and 1 seen there during the return flight on 2nd
Cattle Egret About 10 beside the runway at Guayaquil Airport on 26th, 6 at Punta Tortuga on 29th then on 30th & 31st we could see 50 or more flying to and from their roost while we were moored in Puerto Ayora. Also in the highlands of Santa Cruz on 31st there were plenty of this species anywhere there were cattle. From Black Turtle Cove on 2nd we could see a flock of about 100 birds flying from their night roost and there were a few at Guayaquil later that day
Lava (Galapagos) Heron 1 at James Bay, Santiago on 27th then not seen again until 31st when there were 2 near the Darwin Research Station. We ended with about 4 in Black Turtle Cove on 2nd
Striated Heron 1 hiding under a bush on North Seymour on 26th was followed by 2 in Black Turtle Cove on 2nd
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1 close to our mooring in Puerto Ayora on 30th and the only other one was on Española on 1st when one emerged from behind a rock, devoured a crab and then hid behind the rock again!
Greater Flamingo 1 on 29th at Punta Moreno then 35 the following day on Floreana
White-cheeked Pintail 1 on 28th on Isabela, 40 on Floreana on 30th and 12 on Santa Cruz on 31st
Turkey Vulture 2 Vultures from the 'plane at Guayaquil airport on 2nd were probably of this species
Galapagos Hawk 1 Bartolomé and another at James Bay, Santiago both on 27th, 1 at Punta Espinosa on 28th then 2 at Punta Moreno on 29th and finally 3 on Española on 1st
Common Moorhen 3 at Punta Moreno on 29th then 5 in the highlands of Santa Cruz on 31st
American Oystercatcher Seen at Bartolomé and James Bay on 27th, 2 at Punta Espinosa on 28th and 1 at Black Turtle Cove on 2nd
Semi-palmated Plover About 10 at James Bay on 27th
Whimbrel 2 at James Bay on 27th, 1 on 30th on Floreana
Wandering Tattler 1 at James Bay on 27th, 1 at Punta Espinosa on 28th
(Ruddy) Turnstone 2 at James Bay on 27th, 1 on 30th on Floreana
Lava Gull First three seen at the harbour on Baltra on 26th then 1 at Bartolomé on 27th, 2 on 28th at Punta Tortuga, 2 on 30th on Floreana, 4 in Puerto Ayora on 31st, 4 on Española on 1st and 2 on Baltra on 2nd
Swallow-tailed Gull 10 North Seymour on 26th, 6 off Santiago on 27th, 3 off Isabela on 28th and 4 there the following day, at least 25 on Champion on 30th and finally the largest numbers were on Española on 1st
Brown (Common) Noddy Seen every day except 29th
Galapagos Dove 2 on North Seymour on 26th, 1 on Isabela on 28th, 1 on Floreana on 30th, 5 on Santa Cruz on 31st then common on Española on 1st
Smooth-billed Ani 1 Guayaquil Airport on 26th, 6 James Bay, Santiago on 27th then seen every day in small numbers except 1st
Dark-billed Cuckoo 1 glimpsed on Isabela on 28th
Galapagos Flycatcher 1 on Floreana on 30th then common on Santa Cruz the following day
Galapagos Mockingbird About 5 at James Bay, Santiago on 27th, 6 on Fernandina and 10 on Isabela on 28th, common on Isabela on 29th and also on Santa Cruz on 31st
Charles Mockingbird About 5 seen on the islet of Champion on 30th
Hood Mockingbird Common on Española (formerly named Hood Island) on 1st
Large Ground-Finch 5 on 28th Isabela
Medium Ground-Finch Seen on 4 successive days from 28th
Small Ground-Finch 2 at Baltra Airport terminal building on 26th, common on Isabela on 28th and on Española on 1st and again seen at Baltra airport on 2nd
Small Cactus-Finch A bird probably of this species seen on Floreana on 30th
Large Cactus-Finch Common on Española on 1st
Vegetarian Finch 6 on Santa Cruz on 31st
Small Tree-Finch A few seen on Isabela on 28th and 4 on 31st on Santa Cruz on 31st
Woodpecker Finch 2 on Santa Cruz on 31st
Warbler Finch 2 on 29th on Isabela and then a few were on Española on 1st
Mangrove Warbler (formerly Yellow Warbler) commonly seen every day in Galapagos
Galapagos Sea Lion Commonly seen every day in Galapagos
Galapagos Fur Sea Lion About 10 seen at James Bay, Santiago on 27th
Bottle-nosed Dolphin A school of about 12 swam past James Bay, Santiago on 27th then at least 7 rode the bow wave of the Beluga on 29th off Isabela. The last ones were as we made our final approach to Punta Suarez on Española on 1st when about 8 were seen briefly
Common Dolphin About 18 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon of 29th off Isabela
Black Rat 1 seen dead on the road by the Charles Darwin Research Station on 31st
Lava Lizard Seen ever day from 26th until 1st
Marine Iguana Seen ever day from 26th until 1st
Galapagos Land Iguana About 10 on 29th on Isabela
Galapagos Giant Tortoise 9 in the highlands of Santa Cruz on 31st
Pacific Green Turtle Seen every day except 31st
Galapagos Snake A single individual seen on Fernandina on 28th and another on Española on 1st
Monarch Just a single individual seen on 29th on Isabela
Large Painted Locust A few seen on 26th, 27th and 30th
Yellow Paper Wasp Common on Floreana on 30th
Galapagos Carpenter Bee Seen on 4 successive days from 28th
Galapagos Green-eyed Horsefly Only really noticed on Floreana on 30th
Sally Lightfoot Crab Seen every day on Galapagos
Hermit Crab 1 at James Bay on Santiago on 27th then common on Fernandina the following day
Ghost Crab Just a single (ghostly?) sighting on Floreana on 30th
Whitetip Shark 2 seen in a small tidal pool on Isabela on 29th
Eagle Ray Just a single sighting at Black Turtle Cove on 2nd
Despite the small size of the 'group', this was another fabulous tour. Our ship-mates on Beluga came from the U.S.A., Holland, Britain and Quito ......... and somehow, we gelled! Humour was great, experiences were shared and above all there was a huge variety of conversation as we came from so many walks of life. Also, we had reached there in very different ways. Some had specifically come to Galapagos for a break from their normal work routine while others were ending a years globe trotting with one last visit to this very special location.
As for us, we had just completed a tour to mainland Ecuador where we had seen nearly 400 species of birds. Of course, in Galapagos the wildlife was so much more tame and it took our bird species total well past the 400 mark.
Galapagos is a great tour destination in its own right but add in the Beluga, the best vessel out there, a great crew, great weather with lots of hot sunshine and good company and, with a sprinkling of Bacardi and Cokes, you have the perfect tour.
3rd August 2002