Genovesa Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Map by Ed Madej
Genovesa Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Map by Ed Madej
Swallowtail gull nesting on the Prince Phillip Steps.

Our fifteen hour cruise through rough waters took us to Genovesa Island.  Genovesa Island is shaped like partially eclipsed sun. The island is the tip of a defunct volcano barely peaking above sea level with a water filled crater. The Letty and four other ships were at anchor when we awoke. Access to sites in the Galapagos National Park are strictly regulated. Each ship was assigned this destination over a year ago. Throughout the day the 100 or so people scattered throughout the vessels would take their turns visiting the island and its surrounding waters. Our agenda included two walks, a snorkel, and a sea kayak. First up was a dry boat landing at the Prince Phillip steps for a morning walk.

The names of the archipelago features were originally in English when the first map of the area was made by the buccaneer Ambrose Crowley. In 1684 Crowley honored his fellow pirates and British royalty or noblemen. These names were in use at the time of Charles Darwin’s renowned voyage on the HMS Beagle and so became authoritative as the Beagle produced navigational charts of their expedition.  Eventually Ecuador took possession of the islands and chose to rename most prominent locales in honor of the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus. Genovesa Island is in honor of Genoa, Columbus’s home town. Prince Philip steps are in honor of Isabela’s husband, the Columbus expedition’s patron.

Prince Philip has a mighty memorable feature names after him. The walls of the crater are very steep lava. There’s hardly a break and one small beach. We’d be making a wet landing at the beach that afternoon but this morning our panga driver pushed the nose of the our shuttle up against the cliff and one by one we disembarked onto a narrow break in the cliff. Steep, irregular steps led up to the bird filled island body. Our line of eager visitors was immediately held up by a nesting swallowtail gull. There was no way to pass without violating the 6 foot rule. Welcome to the Galapagos. The wildlife has no fear. Our guide pushed ahead and lead us past. The gull did not flinch. A thousand people must pass every week.

Up on top we had our first in depth interpretive tour. The highlight was a Galapagos Mockingbird killing a giant centipede. Our group stopped and watched the mockingbird whip the centipede over and over again on the rocks. Satisfied the centipede was no longer a threat the bird ate the centipede’s brain and only its brain and flew away. The centipede’s legs were still moving. Our guides and Howard had never seen this behavior and has never seen a centipede of this size in the islands. Day one and we were already making history.

Next up was a heap of red-footed boobies in all stages of the reproductive cycle. We saw nesting, hatchlings, juveniles all at the same time. Our guide said it was unusual for the red-footed booby to have a mishmash of breeding at one time. The guide speculated climate change was triggering profound changes in currents and food and bird habits.

The swallowtail gulls were all around, too. These birds are the only nocturnal gulls in the world. Their eyes are rimmed in bright red trim that resembles plastic. Nobody knows for sure what the eye makeup does. At night we could see their ghostly shapes following our ship and diving for churned up squid or jellyfish.

After the walk we returned to the ship for lunch. Our afternoon was filled with another walk at Darwin Beach and a kayak and snorkel. More glorious wildlife above and below the seas and too much food. Food was always plentiful and delicious. There’s no snacking on the islands which initially caused me concern. I like to eat on a walk. The return from excursions was always met with fruit, snacks, and juice so I had no need to worry. My friend Pat told me it would be okay and she was right.

That afternoon we headed out to sea for another big overnight crossing.

Chilly morning start at the northern most island of Genovesa.
Day 1 Galapagos enthusiasm. Trying to stay 6' back but the animals approach.
Day 1 Galapagos enthusiasm. Trying to stay 6′ back but the animals approach.
Galapagos Mockingbird takes on a giant centipede.
Galapagos centipede 12". Killed by Galapagos Mockingbird.
Galapagos centipede 12″. Killed by Galapagos Mockingbird.
Booby Chick
Booby Chick
Another booby chick.
Red-footed Booby, Genovesa Island
Descending the Prince Phillip Steps, Genovesa Island.
Swallowtail Gulls nesting on foot path. That’s my foot edge on the right. Bright red eye trim.
Exit of the crater. The open Pacific is beyond the gap.

Sea kayaking along the wall of the crater.

Panoramic of the crater.
Panoramic of the crater from our ship. Wetsuits hanging on the starboard side. Sea kayak hanging on the port side.




Nazca Booby
Nazca Booby

Everybody loves boobies. They are so darned cute. On the Galapagos Islands there are three species of boobies: Red-footed, Nazca (formerly masked), and blue-footed boobies. Foot color and intensity is an indication of health. Blue-footed boobies have an elaborate courtship dance that includes bowing and wing flapping and very sustained showing off of the feet. Look! My feet are bright blue! I am young and healthy! Pick me! Female boobies wave back with their feet if they like a guy. Lucky for us we saw a blue-footed booby couple dancing and calling. There was all kinds of foot waving and bowing.

Red-footed boobies are similar to blue-footed boobies that wave their feet and dance when looking for a sexual partner but the red-footed boobies also do a thing called sky-waving. They point their blue faces skyward and show off a blue throat. We did not see this but we did see nesting red-footed boobies and red-footed booby chicks. Red-footed boobies are very diverse in appearance. There is a white phase and a brown phase and several mixed phases between white and brown. Add to that juvenile versus adult coloration and sometime these boobies are hard to tell apart from other boobies.

Nazca boobies take a different approach. Nazca males find a tree based nesting spot and defends it. The ladies pick the males based on the desirability of the nesting site. Very sensible. Choosing real estate over theatrics and cosmetics is astute.

Boobies deep dive for fish. Their nostrils are permanently closed and a sac of air protects their brains from high impact dives. Each of these species fishes in a different area of the ocean. In close, out further, and out really far.  Blue-footed fish close to shore and the red-footed fish scores of miles out at sea. The Nazca booby fishes in between.

Nazca is the name of a region of Peru and the tectonic plate of the Galapagos islands. Nazca boobies can be found in the Nazca region of Peru as well as teh Galapagos Islands.

Boobies sometimes land on tourists heads. It almost happened to me.
Boobies sometimes land on tourist’s heads. It almost happened to me.
A flock of juvenile boobies.
A flock of juvenile boobies.
Red-footed booby
Red-footed booby. It has a blue face.
Baby booby.
Baby booby.
Blue-footed booby
Blue-footed booby and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Marking territory with a circle of defecation.
Marking territory with a circle of defecation. a popular roosting spot. The poop stream changes as the bird moves to face the sun.
Red-footed Booby
Red-footed Booby
Nazca Boobies
Nazca Boobies