Galapagos Adventure 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Genovese Island
National Geographic Islander

Layers of basaltic lava making up the steep wall of the cliff side at Prince Phillip’s steps; this is our visitor site of the morning. A 90-foot climb to the top of the cliff, from where we walk through the seabird colonies to get to the younger part of the island. Prince Phillip from Edinburg visited and landed on this very place in the 60’s, so today we will follow the steps of the royalty.

The Galapagos fur-seal is one of those animals that make wonder if you really are at the equator when you visit the Galapagos. The ancestor of this pinniped is from southern Chile, inhabiting the very cold waters of this part of the world. So finding one of these creatures just a few miles off the equator is like seeing a polar bear on a tropical beach. 

The nazca boobies are definitely a highlight when you are bird watching, since they are very active while on the nest, you can observe constantly courtship behavior, nesting material collections and very often a fight with the neighbor birds. This species is also one of the most studied in the Galapagos since they appear to have a very unique behavior a sets them apart from the rest of the members of its bird family.

Coralline beaches are quite common in the Galapagos; they cover the very volcanic coasts of many islands. The process of sand-making is very slow when caused by erosion but rather fast when tropical fish and specifically parrot fishes get involved in the process. These kinds of fish pulverize the chunks of coral in order to get to the algae inside, after this happens they excrete the coral dust which eventually settles on the bottom and then washes up ashore. 

The red-footed boobies is one of the most colorful boobies in the world, they are a polymorphic species, which means they have three different plumage colors in the Galapagos. The most common plumage is brown making up to 90 percent of the populations, the second is white with a little over 5 percent and the least common is a combination of white and brown. Today we will have the opportunity to perhaps see the three of them, since Genovesa Island alone holds the world’s largest population.

The National Geographic Islander takes us to one of the most remote and fantastic islands in the Galapagos. Located on the north-eastern side of the archipelago, holds one of the world’s largest bird populations. Tower island as its named in English is a collapsed caldera, eroded on the south eastern flank allowing entrance to its center where we anchor and visit both sites; Darwin Bay and Prince Phillip’s Steps.

Galapagos Adventure 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Santiago Island
National Geographic Islander

Striated heron

Juvenile Galapagos hawk

We had a smooth and peaceful navigation during the night from the eastern realm of Galapagos to the center of the archipelago. Shortly before dawn Captain Jaramillo dropped anchor off the island of Santiago. Following our hearty buffet breakfast we chose between kayaking and a Zodiac cruise along the rough lava that we flowed out of a vent in 1897 and extends several square miles. Whalers in the islands during the event recorded a massive eruption in that year.

The kayakers paddled along with guide Socrates in the lead and enjoyed close looks at fishing striated herons, oyster catchers, and sea lions and they were the only ones early this morning to find a pair of penguins who conveniently popped out of a cave just as the kayakers were nearby! Those in the Zodiacs searched in vain for penguins but found much other wildlife including a golden juvenile hawk perched in green shrubbery behind the beach.

The snorkeling this morning was fantastic! We saw all we hoped to and more. We felt as if we were swimming in an aquarium; the visibility and number and variety of fish was amazing! We saw several white tipped reef sharks, sea lions, dozens of species of fish, sting rays and a good number of us spotted a fast moving penguin as it darted among the tiny fish and streaked past us literally flying under water!

After lunch and siesta I gave a presentation with photos of my PhD research, done many years ago, when I camped for a year and a half on Volcan Alcedo and studied the competition between the giant tortoises and the introduced donkeys. Then we headed out for a hike on the lava flow at Sullivan Bay.

We made a dry landing right on the barren black lava flow and took a loop trail inland. The texture and variety of shapes of the lava field was quite beautiful and we returned to board the pangas just before dark. Tonight we watched and cheered for our video chronicler Ashley’s video preview and then had a delightful barbecue dinner on the sky deck. What a great day we have had! Yet another different and interesting day in las islas encantadas of Galapagos.

One of our guides:

Lynn Fowler·Expedition Leader

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and one of seven children, Lynn grew up in various university towns where her father was a professor of physics. Lynn obtained her B.A. in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, followed by a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida, which encompassed a study of marine turtles in Costa Rica. She arrived in Galápagos in 1978 and became one of the first female naturalist guides working for the Galápagos National Park.

Galapagos Adventure 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

South Plaza and Santa Fe Island
National Geographic Islander

Galapagos sea lion pup.

We woke up to the beautiful view of two small islands in front of our mother ship. After breakfast, we had a dry landing on a small flat island known as South Plaza. The place looked gorgeous from the beginning: red succulent plants, a forest of prickly pear cacti, and when you looked carefully, several individuals of land iguanas were spotted under the shade of the cacti, either resting or feasting on pieces of the succulent cactus.

As soon as we started our hike, we spotted a very young sea lion pup that had been born a few minutes before we landed on the visitor site. The placenta was till next to him, as well as his mother protecting him. Right next to the sea lion we encountered a rare specimen for Galapagos: this was the case of a hybrid iguana. It was an individual iguana resulting from the crossbreeding from the male marine and female land iguana. They don’t usually live long and there aren’t necessarily many of them, so for us was great to be able to spot one right on the trail.

After an extraordinary hike on the uplifted island of Plaza, we returned back aboard and went swimming right off our mother ship. A talk about the human history of the islands was presented afterwards.

After lunch, we navigated towards Santa Fe island, where we went snorkeling with green Pacific sea turtles and small schools of eagle rays. We even spotted a few white-tipped reef sharks resting in the bottom of the ocean. Snorkeling here was definitely one of the highlights of our day. Some of us chose to go kayaking along the coast of Santa Fe instead of snorkeling. After snorkeling and kayaking, we went on a hike on the inner and coastal land in search of the Santa Fe land iguana, species which are found only on this island, and nowhere else in the world. We found several iguanas and had an incredible day.

One of our guides:

Jonathan Aguas·Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Jonathan was born into one of only a handful of families that reaches back five generations in Galápagos, in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, on San Cristobal Island. He first left the islands when he won a highly-coveted scholarship to finish his studies in the U.S. This was the start of his life-long passion for science and languages.

Galapagos Adventure 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Santa Cruz Island
National Geographic Islander

Young explorer next to a Giant tortoise. 

Giant tortoises mating.

The National Geographic Islander dropped anchor at Academy Bay on the Island of Santa Cruz. This island is the economic hub of the Archipelago and home to the majority of the inhabitants.

Early in the day we prepared for a long day of exploration, with a mix of wildlife and human settlement.

The first place we visited was the famous Charles Darwin Research Station. Here we walked by the corrals where giant tortoises are held. In the last half century this institution has been breeding these animals with the aim of restoring the populations that were decimated by the early colonizers. So here we discovered the process that is followed to ensure that the precious eggs that come every year survive the 5 year program.

Later we walked to the always busy Puerto Ayora town. One of the most iconic stops in town is the fishermen’s market. Here the wives of the fishermen clean the fish, and the leftovers are given to a sea lion that is the star of the show. We kept on walking and shopping until it was time to switch location.

We took buses to visit a rustic sugar cane press that is run by a Galapagos family. Here we tasted the products that come from the cane and coffee. Some guests preferred to have a richer experience with the community, and visited a school sponsored by Linblad Expeditions-National Geographic. But eventually we all met at a nice restaurant in the highlands of Santa Cruz.

To end the day we took the buses again and drove to a private property which happens to be in the middle of the migrating path for the Giant tortoises. We were lucky that this year Galapagos is going through a severe drought and the tortoises are coming to the top of the islands in search of food and water. We were surprised by a couple of Giant tortoises that inaugurated the mating season in this place.

Galapagos Adventure 2016

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Floreana Island
National Geographic Islander

National Geographic Islander

Today we visited the island of Floreana. This island was the first to be colonized by Ecuador, making it the political capital and later transforming it into a penal colony. Nowadays there is a small population of a couple hundred people. In the morning we dropped anchor at a popular place called Cormorant Point. This place received us with a green-olivine beach full of juvenile sea lions. Behind the landing site there is a brackish lagoon where for the first time we found greater flamingos feeding on very tiny crustaceans. The trail was fairly flat and led us to the biggest nesting site for turtles on this island, where we were lucky enough to see the first couples starting the mating cycle that will end with the laying of precious eggs. Also this beach provides great shelter to stingrays from the always fearless sharks so it is a great place for spotting these gentle giants. As all this activity happened before breakfast, we returned soon to get the energy needed for the upcoming day.

The National Geographic Islander next headed to Champion. Here we took our Zodiacs to explore the coast of this islet, which is home to a handful of Floreana mockingbirds. Along the coast we found boobies, gulls, shearwaters, and tropicbirds. But the best of this place is found underwater; so we visited it again, but this time to snorkel. In the very moment we jumped in, thousands of tropical fish were at the surface eating the planktonic life coming with the ocean currents.

Later in the day we moved for a last time to Post Office Bay. Hundreds of navigators arrived to this place in the 17th century to deliver letters to their families as they continued journeys that lasted years. We wanted to keep this ancient tradition, so we landed here to leave postcards for our relatives during this special time of year. Then we cruised along the coast to find turtles, rays, sharks, and sea lions. We returned to finish this wonderful day with a great sunset as wine tasting was offered on the deck.

One of our guides

Enrique Silva·Naturalist

Enrique was born on San Cristobal Island, which is the political capital of the Galapagos. His parents moved from mainland Ecuador in the 1980’s, as did many other Ecuadorians, in search of better work opportunities.

Galapagos Adventure 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Española Island
National Geographic Islander

Gardner Bay is an excellent place for water activities as well as bird watching, we enjoyed the time spent at the beach and snorkeling in the crystalline waters in the area. This is a mayor nesting site for the green sea turtle and resting site for sea lions.

Arriving to the beach to receive hands on instructions with the snorkel equipment, many went for a swim, others preferred to explore the land and found many sea lions and mockingbirds on the beach.

The cliffs of Punta Suarez are quite impressive to the eye of the photographer and explorer; they have a very dramatic appearance, heavily eroded by the wind and waves and covered by very colorful vegetation.

We enjoyed hiking at Punta Suarez, seeing different species of seabirds and reptiles, as they got closer to the cliffs we had a great opportunity for photography, bird watching and sightseeing.

Waved albatross gliding over the cliffs, as we photographed them, this is the last month these birds spent in the Galapagos prior to their migration for pre-nuptial feeding off the coasts of Peru and Chile.

We had the great opportunity to visit an incredible island; it has one of the highest degrees of endemism in the archipelago. This is the only place where you can see the waved albatrosses, mockingbirds, lava lizards to name a few of the species that are unique to this island.

One of our guides

Socrates Tomala·Naturalist

Socrates was born and raised in Galápagos. Since a very young age he has been involved in conservation serving as a volunteer for the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. Growing up in the islands was quite an adventure for Socrates since he was able to see many islands that are restricted to most people and get close and personal with Galápagos wildlife.

Galápagos Islands

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Leslie Pearson

Flying out today! After several months of hard hard work getting the Fayetteville Pie Company to be what it is now...this is a much needed break. I look forward to a time of rest and exploration. Both Pie Co and Vizcaya Villa are closed for the holidays and I am thankful that I don't have to worry about what's happening there while I'm gone.