Trip report from the singing and swinging group on the Letty. Susan and Burt, Susan and Bill, Amy and Edwin, Sue and Clay, Brian, and Fiona, and Robert. From this point on: Susan is Susan Mittelstadt. Susana is Susan Roth, Sue is Sue. There’s a full list of birds seen at the end.
2/4/18: The very first moments of our very first day looked like we might have a long week ahead of us. It all begin well enough with a fish dinner followed by Amy’s birthday cake at Puembo Birding Gardens. Then things went bad. Susan woke up with an intense version of tourista at 2 AM. With only 5 hours to go before the bus to the airport arrived some tough calls needed to be made. Pondering the hospital or disturbing a guest, Susan and Burt chose the guest. Edwin has been Susan’s intermittent primary care provider of 35 years and the two share a long tradition of medical care in remote locales. Susan swallowed her pride and gratefully accepted a shot of anti-nausea drug. She also despaired over the idea of dragging some noro-virus like disease onto airplanes and a ship with a group ready to enjoy the Galapagos Islands. Edwin assured her that if she kept her hands clean she would not infect the group. So she made up her mind to get herself to the Galapagos and recover en route. At seven she was able to leave the room and found the group rallied and taking over leadership roles. Burt was managing Susan. Susana was gathering people, luggage and keeping track of time. The bus was late. Twenty minutes after the scheduled pick up time the bus was spotted passing by a block away. Our hostess was excitedly trying to direct the driver by phone but it was not working. Ultimately Bill saved the day and ran down the bus on foot. Run, Bill, run! We arrived at the airport with only a little time to spare but EcoVenturas was ready and swept us though all the preliminaries with alacrity. Susan was wheeled about in a wheelchair. Sue and Clay joined us at the airport. We all made the flight. Way to go team. Roberto joined the group at the stopover in Guayaquil.
We arrived in San Cristobal on schedule and were ferried to the boat. The Naturalist Journey’s group met 6 new friends and we seamlessly merged into one group of friendly and excited participants. Susan passed out the species checklists and shared the extras with the other couples. We had our boarding briefing and then enjoyed the first of a continuous string of fine meals. After lunch there was a practice emergency drill. Susan slept through it but reports were it went well. We are all pleased there was no need to find out who or who not might have been paying attention.
The afternoon was the first snorkeling of the trip. Burt helped the newbies figure out the mask and snorkel and generally relax in the water. Fiona saw her first sea turtle. Highlights of the outing were the Pacific Green Sea Turtle, the blue-footed Booby, sea lions, great and magnificent frigate birds. That night an exhausted group headed to bed early. No music was played.
2/5/18: By the first morning aboard we were all under the Galapagos’ magic spell and the bad omens of the day before were forgotten. We started with a wet landing at Cerro Brujo and a beach walk. Our Ecoventura guides Cecibel and Giancarlo set us free to explore a lovely stretch of soft sandy shoreline. We walked in sight of Leon Dormido (or Kicker Rock). There we saw our first marine iguanas and lava lizards. The San Cristobal mockingbird, a warbler finch, and the velvety gray lava gull were also spotted. Elliot’s storm petrels danced on the water behind the Letty, too.
The late morning was spent snorkeling nearby. Words fail, mainly because I have no idea what we saw. The snorkeling never failed to impress.
After lunch we did a hike at Punta Pitt. Begging blue-footed booby babies. Dancing blue-footed boobies. Egg sitting blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies are looking good at Punta Pitt. A marine iguana took a run at Susan and she leapt and screamed to the delight of everyone in her group. Susan swears she was not scared only startled by the love stuck reptile.
Highlights of the day: All three species of boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca) were seen. We also enjoyed close up swoops of the nocturnal swallowtail gull and the red-billed tropic bird. Fiona is bitten by the bird listing craze and it is revealed that her SO is an eBird administrator. Fiona spots a pair of American Oystercatchers.
2/6/18: Day three found us walking at Punta Suarez on Espaniola and sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking along Gardener Bay. It was a jam packed day. On our hike we saw our only waved albatross. It was dead but nobody seemed to mind. Giancarlo explained that the largely unfilled niche of carrion eaters in the Islands was why skeletons and mummified remains were so plentiful. On the live side we saw more Nazca boobies, a snake, and sea lions and marine iguanas. The marine iguanas are especially colorful and active this time of year. Our boating expedition was a delight. Calm seas, clear water, balmy temperatures. What else could you ask for? Susan and Fiona went out together while Burt boated with Brian. Roberto did the SUP and all the other couples were paired with their mates. Nobody was thrown overboard.
During the snorkel we saw a massive ball of creole fish. A shimmering blue delight.
That night Susan ate her first solid food and the instruments and singers came together and got the trip groove going. Brian, Burt, Susan, Fiona, and Roberto got down. The Capitan danced with Sue to Love Potion #9 while Claudia drove the ship. Edwin wins the award for knowing all the words to all the songs.
The day’s highlights: Galapagos mockingbird, Espaniola warbler finch, wandering tattler, a yellow-crowned night heron, creole fish, marine iguanas.
2/7/18: On our fourth day we were getting the hang of this expedition. Our ship was anchored just off Floreana. Cecibel had us getting up early to avoid the heat. The early wake up call had the added benefit of avoiding other groups. We’ve hardly crossed paths with other visitors on any day. Despite our good natured grumbles about the 6 AM alarms we are happy. That Cecibel is a smart one. On this day we visited Post Office bay and learned the history of the area. Following a centuries old tradition we took the time to sort through the mail and find some post cards to hand deliver. We left our own cards behind with the hope someone would bring them to us someday.
Before the visit to the post office, we took a walk to the turtle beach and saw fresh tracks of a Pacific green sea turtle. She was swimming away from her nest as we arrived. On our return walk we stopped and watched American flamingos in the pond just behind the dunes. Joining the flamingoes were a whimbrel, a sanderling, some lava herons, white-cheeked pintails, and a black-necked stilt. The day’s bird list was very long and varied.
That afternoon there was more snorkeling and in the evening lots of fun music with Fiona singing Crazy and Danny Boy. The requests started pouring in and the whole group was singing along now. Brian wowed us with some Sligo solos and joined in on the pop tunes, too.
2/8/18: On this day we left the wilderness behind and visited the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. First up was a stop at Los Gemelos, the twin giant sink holes in the lava on the side of the highway. At this volcanic formation half our group saw the elusive woodpecker finch. The rest of us enjoyed hearing about seeing the woodpecker finch. Afterwards we bussed up to El Chayote Farm to see the giant Galapagos tortoises. The seasonal rains were late this year and so the vegetation wasn’t very deep or thick. While a dry wet season isn’t good news for all creatures it makes for prime tortoise viewing. We saw many fine creatures and they were in the mood for love. Tortoise humping is not as sexy as it sounds nor is it a high action event but it is very fun to see. We saw many Galapagos finches here and started checking off some of Darwin’s famous species. We walked through a beautiful and long lava tunnel. There were common gallinules, smooth billed-anis, a whimbrel and some cattle egrets in the ranch surroundings.
That afternoon we took a tour of the Darwin Center. Giancarlo and Cecibel explained the captive breeding program and the accidental finds of George in the wild and Diego in a zoo. We saw Diego, father of hundreds, in his compound with several lovely ladies. We also saw the remains of George, father of none, hermetically sealed in a glass case. George was the last of his kind so it’s appropriate he has a place where we can forever contemplate the loss of a species.
Afterwards we had free time in town. There was shopping to do and Ecuavoli to watch. That Ecuavoli is a high stakes game. Three on three for several hundred dollars a match. The Carnival parade with a band and the local beauty queens came by just as we headed back to the Letty for the evening.
2/9/18: On this day we visited one of the most spectacular scenes in the world, Bartolome. We took a boardwalk across a lava landscape to a view of Pinnacle rock. It was a stout hike but we all made it without distress. Again we were grateful to Cecibel for an early start. We had the island to ourselves and the dark lava was already heating up at 7:30. Our guides explained the geology of the area while we walked. Tuff was discussed at length. We saw some lovely lava cactus starting the process of vegetating the islet. At the viewing deck you can see the isle nipped in with bays on opposing shores and Pinnacle rock in the center of it all. Afterwards some of us snorkeled. Again, the snorkeling was worth the effort of donning all that gear. White tipped sharks lurked in shallow crevasse just below us. The lava landscape continued into the seascape. On our way back from the swim we passed the base of Pinnacle rock and spotted a Galapagos penguin. Fiona, on board, was watching the pangas and took note of our stop and saw the penguin from the Letty with her binoculars. Impressive skills of observation.
That afternoon we took a panga ride into the Black Turtle Mangroves on Isla Santa Cruz. Right away we happened upon a multi-species feeding frenzy. Sardines were running and everything else was chasing them. Frigates slid down in lazy arcs to just dip the tip of their bills in and flick out a fish. Pelicans and blue-footed boobies plunged deep from up high. Herons lined the shore and stabbed at passersby. Meanwhile bigger fish swam behind the schools and created vortexes of disturbed water.
We traveled deeper into the mangroves and found a hawksbill sea turtle and both white and black tipped sharks. Then we found one of the most delightful creatures to see from a boat, juvenile hammerhead sharks. We had stumbled into the recently discovered hammerhead shark nursery. There were clumps of five or more in several locations. Our guide, Giancarlo, had never seen so many baby hammerheads in one location. Hammerheads at this size look like a fun pet. This is such a recent discovery that it only made the news the week we returned.
More music and more singers let lose in public that night. Roberto slayed Dylan’s Another Cup of Coffee. Brian showed he’s got the chops to improvise on anything we throw at him.
2/10/18: The penultimate day. The previous day was one boggling scene or creature after another. On our last full day in the islands we had the time to look around and think about all the beauty we had taken in. First we took a long walk at South Plaza. We saw a hybrid of a land/sea iguana at the entry to the island. This streak faced animal is neither one nor the other. It isn’t even known if it can propagate. We also observed courtship between swallowtail gulls, a nursing sea lion and pup, some wrestling lava lizards, and some interspecies interactions between land and sea iguanas. I guess they have to interact if they occasionally produce hybrids.
We watched the shearwaters and swallowtail gulls soaring off the cliffs. A hatchling in a cliff side nest below us was fed by a parent. Half the group watched sharks eat a seal. It was reported to be a gory slow death.
That afternoon we snorkeled and hiked at North Seymour. Our hike was full of frigates in all stages of reproduction from courtship to eggs to hatchlings to juveniles. There were shrub climbing land lizards, too. There were also many blue-footed boobies. We saw two male boobies vying for the attention of a lone female. All that foot wagging and sky pointing and she seemed unimpressed. We enjoyed the show.
Our last night of tunes was full of group singing. The crew joined us for some well known numbers in both English and Spanish. Cielito Lindo, Besame Mucho, Quizas…
2/11/18: We spent our morning hanging in internet cafes and passing the time before our flight back to reality. Here’s the complete bird list.
Great Blue Heron
San Cristobal Mockingbird