Thursday 24 July - Sunday 3 August 2003

Neil Arnold

Monica Plaza

The Crew Of The MV Beluga

Captain Wilson Cordova


One of the delights of the trip was the pleasure we all gained from sharing the" Beluga experience" with such an entertaining group of fellow-travellers.

As one might expect at this time of year the seabird-watching was dramatic but the land birds, especially the finches, were less demonstrative than usual. Our thanks go to Wilson and the crew of the Beluga and especially to Monica who received a universal vote of approval. Last, but not least, I would like to thank you all for making my task of leading you so easy. I hope we will meet again soon.

Neil Arnold

August 2003



The flight to Quito via Madrid was comfortable and punctual. We arrived in Quito in time to relax for a while before dinner and then catch up on our sleep.



WEATHER (Galapagos) 4/8 cumulus, sunny, light breeze.

An early morning flight took us from Quito to Guayaquil and then on to the island of Baltra. At Guayaquil there were a number of Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets in the drainage ditches and on the grassland surrounding the runway.

We were greeted at Baltra Airport by Monica and the rest of the ship's complement. Some time was spent identifying Small and Medium Ground Finches. We were also entertained as we waited to board the Beluga. Blue-footed Boobies and Brown Pelicans were fishing off the quay. Brown Noddies, a single Lava Gull and a lone Great Blue Heron were also noted. As we boarded the Beluga she was surrounded by fishing Elliot's Storm Petrels. The most vociferous member of the welcoming party though was a Galapagos Sea Lion that was shouting at us from beneath the quay.

We were soon eating lunch at the anchorage to the south of North Seymour Island. The bay was full of Audubon's Shearwaters and more Elliot's Storm Petrels. In no time we were ashore on North Seymour, having arrived by rigid inflatable boats, known locally as' pangas'. A group of nesting Swallow-tailed Gulls immediately grasped our attention. We watched them at three metres range. Blue-footed Boobies were all over the area, some displaying for a mate, some on eggs, others with young. The young varied in size from minute hatchlings to birds of up to eleven months in age. Frigatebirds were also busy breeding. Most were Magnificent Frigates but there were also a few Great Frigates in the colony.

Mangrove Warblers (formerly Yellow Warbler) were abundant. We also enjoyed close views of two fine Land Iguanas and several Marine Iguanas. Galapagos Sea Lions were numerous and small numbers of Pacific Green Turtles were feeding in the surf.

The Beluga then took us to a mooring in the Canal de Itabaca between Baltra and Santa Cruz.

After dinner we sailed to Española, arriving just before dawn.



WEATHER Dull am brighter pm. Light breeze.

The first surprise of the day was the discovery of a Red-billed Tropicbird sitting on the upper deck. We were assured that this was not unusual and that the bird was not in difficulties. The guests on board were disappointed to hear this as Neil had been appointed to rescue this sharp-beaked bird - you see what a rotten lot they were, even by Day Two!

The rest of the morning was spent at Punta Suarez. As soon as we landed we came upon scores of brightly-coloured Marine Iguanas huddled together for warmth. The "Ahh" factor then came into play as we admired a number of newly-born Sea Lion pups. We then noted a fine Yellow-crowned Night Heron and a black male Large Cactus Finch. The low vegetation seemed to be the preferred home of the Warbler Finch, which was numerous. Small Ground Finches were also busy on the rocky shore.

As we walked inland we came across hundreds of nesting Blue-footed Boobies and rather fewer Nazca Boobies nesting along the cliff tops. Swallow-tailed Gulls and Red-billed Tropicbirds were also busy breeding. We were especially fascinated by the sight of a Swallow-tailed Gull, presumably the male, bringing a succession of small stones to the nest and placing them neatly around its sitting mate.

The highlight of the morning though was provided by the Waved Albatrosses. At first they were seen in distant flight and in rafts of birds sitting on the sea (some 120 in all). Then we encountered the adults sitting amongst the stones on the cliff top. Some were sitting on eggs, others were guarding small fluffy young and yet others were in pairs indulging in billing and mutual preening. Two groups of eleven and five were sitting together on the edge of the 'airfield', the area used for running takeoffs. It was suggested that these might be the departure lounges. It was encouraging to find that there were already eight chicks this early in the season. As we watched, individual albatrosses flew low over our heads.

The appearance of a Wandering Tattler, a Lava Heron, two American Oystercatchers and a Galapagos Hawk brought the morning to a close. The Beluga then motored to Gardner Bay.

Early in the afternoon some went snorkelling then we all went ashore. We relaxed on the beach whilst watching the antics of a patrolling 'beachmaster' bull Galapagos Sea Lion.

We set off in the evening for Floreana.



WEATHER The early morning mist dispersed by 08.00 but there was still heavy cloud cover with some sunshine. The afternoon was clear and warm. A light breeze.

We awoke at Punta Cormorant. By 07.30 we were landing on the Green Beach. Here we encountered two Turnstones, a Semi-palmated Plover, Ghost and Hermit Crabs. The lagoon beyond the beach was studded with vivid Greater Flamingoes which shared the saline water with White-cheeked Pintail. The muddy edges were the preserve of a number of waders, resident Black-necked Stilts and migrant Least Sandpiper and Whimbrel. The nearby 'Flower Beach', an organic beach of fine flower-like sand, held a Wandering Tattler.

We then sailed to the small offshore island of Champion. At 11.15 we split into two groups, one snorkelling with sea lions and the other circumnavigating the island in search of birds. The birdwatching group were able to edge up to the cliff ledges and almost touch the nesting birds, especially the Brown Noddies, Red-billed Tropicbirds and Swallow-tailed Gulls. Audubon's Shearwaters were also noted as they flew from their nest crevices. Close views were also obtained of three Charles Mockingbirds. This species was once common on Floreana (Charles) but was wiped out by introduced mammals. It is now confined to the islands of Champion and Gardner and is consequently an endangered species.

The highlight of the morning was reached when a member of the party saw a pelican flying by but exclaimed 'Oh look, a low-flying penguin!' (The name of the party member is totally confidential - unless of course a big enough bribe is forthcoming!). Leaping Manta Rays closed an exciting morning.

We then travelled on Beluga the short distance to Post Office Bay. The panga ride around Sea Lion Island was rewarding. We had great views of Pacific Green Turtle and noted Turnstone, Wandering Tattler and a lone Grey Plover. We then visited the famed Post Office, a barrel in which mail is left to be collected by any traveller who is able to pass it on. As we returned to Beluga we saw two Galapagos Penguins.

The rest of the day was spent en route to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. Before long we spotted splashes in the distance. As we neared the area it was surmised that they might be Common Dolphins, a species that is usually very demonstrative. We were then surrounded by about two hundred dolphins leaping from the sea. They were in fact Common Dolphin. The dolphins attracted a number of seabirds including seven Waved Albatross, Blue-footed Boobies, Audubon's Shearwater, Wedge-tailed and Band-rumped Storm Petrels.

Later on in the journey we chanced on two Red-necked Phalarope. They were unexpected as they do not usually return from their northern breeding grounds until later in August.

Our final event was the arrival of small parties of Galapagos Petrel as we approached Santa Cruz; there were fourteen in all. This was especially significant as this highland breeding species is critically endangered.



WEATHER Misty early, sunny periods and light showers in the highlands.

By 08.15 we were aboard a rather quaint coach on the way to the highlands. Our first port of call was Los Gemelos, 'The Twins', a pair of vegetation filled collapsed craters. Here we were shown a wide variety of plants and a number of land birds, including Small Tree Finch, Warbler Finch, Medium Ground Finch, Large Tree Finch and Large Ground Finch in that order. We also saw two very active Galapagos Flycatchers.

The main event of the morning was our visit to the Butterfly Farm, not as we might have imagined, a place for farming butterflies but a giant tortoise reserve. As we drove towards the farmhouse a fine male Vermilion Flycatcher caught our attention. This wonderful bird sat still, enabling massed photography. A Woodpecker Finch was also noted but it was elusive.

Some thirty Galapagos Tortoises were assembled, all but one being male as most of the females were still making their way from the lowlands. At one point a male Vermilion Flycatcher alighted on the back of a huge tortoise - another fine photographic opportunity!

Lunch was served aboard Beluga and then we were ferried to the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is an area of representative coastal vegetation and a number of pens connected with the protected breeding of tortoises and land iguanas. Free-flying finches and Galapagos Mockingbirds were also seen, unfortunately a Vegetarian Finch only briefly. It was enlightening and encouraging to witness the fine conservation work of the station.

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping. The harbour was alive with creatures including Marine Iguanas, finches, a Lava Gull and Lava, Great Blue and Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

We then sailed to Punta Moreno on Isabela.



WEATHER 2/8 Cu. Sun,SE 3-4

The Beluga anchored at Punta Moreno at 06.20 and we were soon on our way to the shore. Here we found what on first acquaintance appeared to be a moonscape. The landscape was the product of a lava flow some two hundred years ago and the colonisation by plants was slow. As we walked over the shattered glassy lava we decided that this would not be a good site to be shipwrecked! Before long Monica was showing us signs of life, plants of all kinds flourishing in the crevices between the lava blocks. The biggest surprise though was the lush vegetation we found in areas where the crust of the lava had collapsed leaving small craters. These were filled with brackish water fed by fissures connected to the sea. The first birds we saw there were Greater Flamingoes looking very much out of place in this drab scene. There were also Black-necked Stilts and Moorhens in support. Overhead flew a Galapagos Martin, a very local species.

As we approached the sea we were to have another surprise, a pool full of marine species, including five White-tipped Sharks, Blue-tailed Damselfish, Galapagos Blue Porcupinefish and a fine Pacific Green Turtle. All these creatures were awaiting high tide when they would be able to leave their haven and make for the open sea through a narrow passageway.

The ride back to Beluga was brightened by excellent views of Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins and a pair of American Oystercatchers.

Soon we were on the way to Elizabeth Bay, Isabela. The most exciting sightings en route were five Waved Albatross and three Madeiran Storm Petrels.

Our stay at Elizabeth Bay was dominated by a panga ride which took us first to the mangroves and then to a small offshore island. The sheltered mangroves were tranquility itself as the boat was quietly rowed near to the trees. Small groups of Galapagos Penguins called loudly to each other, each sounding like a braying donkey. We were also able to slide up to a Galapagos Sea Lion resting in a tree; yes a tree! Pacific Green Turtles were abundant, swimming around and even beneath the boats. We then braved the choppy waters of the bay to visit a group of penguins on the island.

Our next destination was Urvina Bay, Isabela.



WEATHER 1/8 Cu, sunny, E 1-2

The landing zone is one of great interest as it is an area of lava that was raised from the sea some fifty years ago. It consists of lava covered in the encrustations of coralline algae. Seashells and well-rounded lava pebbles complete the scene. The sandy substrate is, therefore, very suitable for reptiles as it is easy to dig in and retains the heat of the day. Not surprisingly we saw a number of Galapagos Land Iguana protecting their burrows. We also came across two Galapagos Giant Tortoises and an abundance of Lava Lizards and Marine Iguanas. At one point we were able to count eight Galapagos Hawks, the main predators of young reptiles. Yet more penguins were seen from the panga.

At 10.20 we set off for Fernandina.

Almost immediately we saw a blow from a whale, then two more. As we moved slowly towards the blows a whale arched its back, showing a strongly falcate dorsal fin. The nature of the blow, the steep arching of the back and the shape of the fin suggested that this was probably a Bryde's Whale. The other highlights of the trip were the sighting of an adult Hammerhead Shark and seven Madeiran Storm Petrels.

On arrival at Punta Espinosa, Fernandina we were surprised to find a pair of Royal Terns patrolling the beach. Though a tropical species this tern is usually only in Galapagos waters during January to March. On landing we concentrated our walk on the Flightless Cormorant colony. Not only did we enjoy close views of these unique seabirds but also found scores of very young Marine Iguanas. Then both the cormorants and iguanas were alarmed at the sudden appearance of a Galapagos Hawk as it swept low over the beach.

At 16.00 we set sail for Puerto Egas in James Bay, Santiago. As we headed north we encountered Swallow-tailed Gulls, Nazca Boobies and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels.

Then suddenly we were on the track of another whale. First we saw a number of blows and then the 'roll'. Once again we came to the conclusion that we were probably watching a Bryde's Whale.

By 18.00 we were awaiting the crossing of the Equator. At exactly 18.16 the sun set. At 18.21 we celebrated with a cocktail as the GPS read:

S 00 degrees 00. 000 minutes

W 91 degrees 36. 974 minutes

At last light a group of Galapagos Sea Lions porpoised in front of the bow.



WEATHER 1-4/8 Cu. Hot. SE 3-4

The beach here is rocky with deeply incut fissures. It is a haven for herons, waders, seabirds, iguanas and sea lions. Four sleeping Fur Seals (sea lions) and five Lava Herons were the highlights of the morning. That is until Monica turned over a stone and revealed a Galapagos Scorpion!

At 11.00 we set off for Bartolome. En route we had great views of Nazca Boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls. A moment of drama occurred, though, when a seat cushion blew over the side and a full 'man overboard' drill took place to recover the offending item!

The early afternoon was spent in a relaxed trip ashore to enjoy the fine beaches and the spectacle of Pinnacle Rock. Some snorkelled. Later a geological overview was had from the lookout - our having climbed three-hundred and seventy steps to rise one hundred and fourteen metres - not so relaxing! The rewards, though, were great, with wonderful views of the surrounding islands. We even had a bonus - more penguins!

We then moved to an anchorage between Baltra and Santa Cruz. The farewell dinner was splendid.



WEATHER Calm and fine

We arose early so that we could take a panga trip into the mangroves. Although there were a few bird species of interest including Great White Egrets the fish dominated the morning. As we were paddled through the clear waters we had fine views of White-tipped Sharks, Eagle Rays and a host of Golden Cow-nosed Rays.

Our final panga ride was to the quay on Baltra. Even here there was excitement as we found three Lava Gulls.

By mid afternoon we were in Quito where we enjoyed a brief guided tour of the Old City. We were all impressed by the stylish buildings in spacious squares but especially by the Presidential Palace and fine churches. We entered the churches of La Sagrario and of San Francisco.

In the evening we dined at the La Ronda Restaurant where the atmosphere was heightened by two bands, one a traditional pan pipe ensemble and the other a guitar trio.




After shopping and lunch we headed for the airport to fly home. The plane was late arrivingÖ




By the time we landed in Madrid we had missed our intended flight to the UK. We managed to change our tickets just in time to dash to the next flight out. On arrival in London we were three and a half hours late. Our luggage arrived some days later! Oh for a 'Beam me up Scotty machine!'














PENGUINS Spheniscidae

Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus Recorded FL,I and BA [30]


Waved Albatross Diomedea irrorata Wonderful views of breeding birds E with up to 120 birds off shore. Also noted between FL and SC and off the coast of I


Dark-rumped (Galapagos) Petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia Fourteen off Puerto Ayora, SC

Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri Common and very widespread

STORM-PETRELS Hydrobatidae

Elliot's Storm-Petrel Oceanites gracilis Very common in coastal locations often feeding near the Beluga

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma tethys Scattered records at sea [20]

Madeiran Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma castro Much more pelagic than other storm petrel species. Only noted during passages between sites [14]

TROPICBIRDS Phaethontidae

Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus Small numbers NS, a large breeding colony E and smaller groups on FL


Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii Both common and widespread

Nazca Booby Sula granti Two off B, common E but elsewhere only scattered records

CORMORANTS Phalacracoracidae

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant Phalacrocorax harrisi Only on I and FE. Fine views of the colony on FE [35]

PELICANS Pelicanidae

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis Noted daily


Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens Widespread but greater concentrations in the more central islands

Great Frigatebird Fregata minor A more pelagic bird with greater concentrations on the outer islands. Both species breed together on NS although magnificens is in the majority


Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias Six scattered records

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Hundreds on SC, one NS and one B

American Great White Egret Casmerodius albus One Elizabeth Bay I and two Black Turtle Cove SC

Striated Heron Butorides striatus One Elizabeth Bay I

Lava (Galapagos) Heron Butorides sundevalli Noted daily [12]

Yellow-crowned Night-heron Nyctanassa violacea Five records on rocky beaches and one in the mangroves at Black Turtle Cove

FLAMINGOES Phoenicopteridae

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber Forty four at Punta Cormorant FL and eight at Punta Moreno I


White-cheeked Pintail Anas bahamensis Twenty three at Punta Cormorant FL and one at the Butterfly Farm SC

HAWKS Accipitridae

Galapagos Hawk Buteo galapagoensis One Gardner Bay E, eight at Urvine Bay I, three at Punta Espinosa FE and one at Puerto Egas S

RAILS & COOTS Rallidae

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Ten adults and several juvs at Punta Moreno I


American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus Scattered records on the foreshore [8]

AVOCETS & STILTS Recurvirostridae

Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus Five at Punta Cormorant FL, three at Punta Moreno I and four at Black Turtle Cove SC

PLOVERS Charadriidae

Grey (Black-bellied) Plover Pluvialis squatarola One Gardner Bay E

Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Scattered coastal records [6]

SANDPIPERS Scolopacidae

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus One Punta Cormorant FL, three Punta Espinosa FE and two at Puerto Egas S

Wandering Tattler Heteroscelus incanus Scattered records on beaches [7]

(Ruddy) Turnstone Arenaria interpres Only on F (4) and Punta Espinosa FE

Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus Two at sea between FL and SC were unexpectedly early migrants

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla One at Punta Cormorant FL

GULLS Laridae

Lava Gull Larus fuliginosus At least three B and one or two Puerto Ayora SC

Swallow-tailed Gull Larus furcatus The stronghold would appear to be E and FL but also noted on NS and in the north of I

TERNS Sternidae

Common Tern Sterna hirundo

Royal Tern Sterna maxima Two at Punta Espinosa FE were very unexpected

Brown (Common) Noddy Anous stolidus Common, noted daily

PIGEONS & DOVES Columbidae

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia At Puerto Ayora SC

Galapagos Dove Zenaida galapagoensis Good views of what can be an elusive bird [12]

ANIS Crotophagidae

Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani Noted on NS, SC,and I


Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus Three males at the Butterfly Farm SC

Galapagos Flycatcher Myiarchus magnirostris Scattered records at well-vegetated sites [10]

SWALLOWS Hirundinidae

Southern (Galapagos) Martin Progne modesta One at Punta Moreno and two at Elizabeth Bay I


Galapagos Mockingbird Nesomimus parvulus Noted on SC, I and FE

Charles Mockingbird Nesomimus trifasciatus Three Champion Islet off FL (Charles)

Hood Mockingbird Nesomimus macdonaldi Common E (Hood)

BUNTINGS & NEW WORLD SPARROWS Emberizidae - Emberizinae

Large Ground-Finch Geospiza magnirostris Only SC [3]

Medium Ground-Finch Geospiza fortis Widespread

Small Ground-Finch Geospiza fuliginosa Noted daily

Small Cactus-Finch Geospiza scandens Only FL and SC [4]

Large Cactus-Finch Geospiza conirostris One record E

Vegetarian Finch Camarhynchus crassirostris One brief encounter SC

Large Tree-Finch Camarhynchus psittacula One SC

Small Tree-Finch Camarhynchus parvulus Only SC [4]

Woodpecker Finch Camarhynchus pallidus Fleetingly SC and S

Warbler Finch Certhidea olivacea Seen well E and SC


Mangrove Warbler Dendroica petechia Common and very widespread


CARNIVORES - Sealions Carnivora - Otariidae

Galapagos Fur Seal Arctocephalus galapagoensis Four Puerto Egas, S

Galapagos (Californian) Sea Lion Zalophus californianus Endearing and very common

CETACEANS - Marine Dolphins Cetacea - Delphinidae

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis At least two hundred seen in one pod during the passage FL to SC

S 01 degrees 14.050 min

W 90 deg. 27.016 min

CETACEANS - Rorquals Cetacea - Balaenopteridae

Bryde's Whale Balaenoptera edeni Two sightings of single whales were probably of this species. Both were off I

1. S 00 degrees 24.611 min

W 91 15. 766

2. S 00 04.680

W 91 29.809


Lava Lizard Microlophus sp. Widespread

Marine Iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus Widespread

Galapagos Land Iguana Conolophus subcristatus Excellent sightings on NS and Urvine Bay I

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Geochelone elephantopus At least thirty at the Butterfly Farm SC and two at Urvine Bay I

Pacific Green Turtle Chelonia mydas Very common. Wonderful views in the shallow waters of the mangroves


Those fish seen without entering the water:-

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Sphyrna lewini One seen from Beluga en route FE

White-tip Shark Triaenodon obesus Common. Close views Punta Moreno I and Black Turtle Cove SC

Spotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus narinari Two Black Turtle Cove SC

Marbled Ray Taeniura mayeri One Elizabeth Bay I

Golden Cow-nosed Ray Rhinoptera steindachneri Probably as many as a hundred Black Turtle Cove SC

Manta Ray Manta hamiltoni Good views of adults leaping from the sea FL

Yellow-tailed Mullet Mugil cephalus rammelsbergi Numerous

Yellow-tailed Damsel Stagastes arcifrons Common

Bluechin Parrotfish Scarus ghobdan One Urvine Bay I

Four-eyed Blenny Dialommus fuscus Seen well S

Galapagos Blue Porcupinefish Chilomycterus affinis galapagoensis One P. Moreno, I


Sulphur Butterfly Phoebis sennae marcellina One Puerto Moreno I

Spot-winged Glider Pantava hymenaea Widespread

Large Painted Locust Schistocerca melanocera One Punta Moreno I

Yellow Paper Wasp Polistes versicolor Widespread

Galapagos Carpenter Bee Xylocopa darwini Widespread

Galapagos Green-eyed Horsefly Tabanus vittiger Only noted at Urvine Bay I where they drew blood!


Galapagos Scorpion Hadruroides maculatus galapagoensis One Puerto Egas S

Sally Lightfoot Crab Grapsus grapsus Ubiquitous on rocky shores

Semi-terrestrial Hermit Crab Coenobita compressus One Punta Cormorant FL

Ghost Crab Ocypode gaudichaudii Widespread on sandy beaches

© The Travelling Naturalist 2003


Our good wishes go to Gitte, Stephen, Jan, Eliza, Henrik, Rob, Kirsty, Muhib and Kaniz -our fellow travellers.


© The Travelling Naturalist 2003