Galapagos Redux

Sally Lightfoot Crab
Sally Lightfoot Crab

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.

Fiona in the sea kayak.
Fiona in the sea kayak.

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.

Brian getting groovey.
Brian getting groovy. Fiona on my fiddle. Brian on my mandolin. I am properly unarmed.
Mailing my post card.
Mailing my post card.

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.

A wintry but warm day in the Galapagos.
A wintry but warm day in the Galapagos.

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.

Hammerhead sharks
Hammerhead sharks
IMG_1610
Hawksbill sea turtle

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.

Bartolome
Bartolome
Blue-footed boobies
Blue-footed boobies

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.

White-cheeked Pintail

American Flamingo

Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos Shearwater
Elliot’s Storm-Petrel

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-tailed Tropicbird

Magnificent Frigatebird

Great Frigatebird

Nazca Booby

Blue-footed Booby

Red-footed Booby

Brown Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Cattle Egret

Striated Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Galapagos Hawk

Common Gallinule

Black-necked Stilt

American Oystercatcher

Semipalmated Plover

Whimbrel

Ruddy Turnstone

Sanderling

Western Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Wandering Tattler

Swallow-tailed Gull

Lava Gull

Brown Noddy

Galapagos Dove

Smooth-billed Ani

Galapagos Flycatcher

Galapagos Mockingbird

Floreana Mockingbird

Española Mockingbird

San Cristobal Mockingbird

Yellow Warbler

Green Warbler-Finch

Gray Warbler-Finch

Woodpecker Finch

Large Tree-Finch

Small Tree-Finch

Small Ground-Finch

Large Ground-Finch

Common Cactus-Finch

Medium Ground-Finch

Española Cactus-Finch

 

 

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Dump run

Dump burning
Dump burning

Burt’s been battening down the hatches around here as we make ready to fly off to the Galapagos. Yesterday we made a run to our local dump. I went along because birding is always interesting and, well, it’s the dump. When I was young a run to the garbage heap of our area was an adventure. My brothers and I always wanted to take home enormous globs of glass we would find there.  Bowling ball sized hunks of glass in shades of pale blue and green or clear. I still don’t know where that glass came from. When I moved to Montana in 1992 you could still prowl our local landfill for discarded treasures. Burt knows a guy that found a 150 year old Irish flute made of rosewood and silver. In the garbage.  That all ended when the transfer station was built. I shudder to think of the many things I have discarded that I could put to use now.

The area dump is located between the towns of Pescadero and Todos Santos. The ‘relleno sanitario’ services ten thousand or so people and no industries. This is home garbage. Pretty regularly the place catches fire. I wish I knew why. In the US our dumps would burn regularly too, before strict regulations. In Montana we still fielded burning dump complaints after the turn of the millennium. Sometimes incompatible items spontaneously ignite. Other times heavy equipment throws a spark. Most often though people light them on fire under misguided ideas of fun or trash management. When this dump catches fire the wind almost always takes the noxious and unhealthy smoke towards populated areas. We live upwind. There’s a lot of yelling on social media on burning dump days. I’m sure I’d get up in arms if the smoke headed my way but it doesn’t so I don’t spend too much time wondering about it. I did that enough for a living.

Yesterday was two days after the dump burned and sent billowing smoke into Todos Santos. Burt and I figured the fire was out because we couldn’t see any smoke. On the drive in we passed a flock of over 100 lark sparrows with a bunch of butter butts and other warblers mixed in. Birds love the free garbage meals. It was so exciting Burt parked the car and we walked around counting birds. There are a few homestead places near the dump. These are places where people make a residence out of things they’ve gleaned from the garbage. Our walk took us to an abandoned camp where we found some high end goods. I made a thorough perusal of the camp to be certain we weren’t stealing instead of up-cycling. There was no sign of occupancy. No food, no clothes, no bedding, no water. Burt and I gleaned 4 chairs and a long and heavy workbench/saw horse from the place. It was a kind of high grading of the high grading experience.

After forty-five minutes of birding and scavenging we finally delivered our own garbage to the spot where you throw it out. During past visits to the dump we’ve been met by several men and a pack of dogs looking for tips and handouts. These men recycle and glean for a living. Yesterday there was only one guy and no dogs. There were scores of yellow-rumped warblers flitting about in the still smoldering ashes. I presume the fire drove off the usual residents and attracted the warblers. Even birds disagree on the treasure versus junk question.

Found objects
Found objects
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Burt’s sick! Struck down by a sandwich.

Besame Mucho by Priscila. She's a superstar.
Besame Mucho by Priscila. She’s a superstar.

It’s been non-stop action around here until this morning. All was going well for my cousin and her hubby on their first vacation to Baja. Hikes, food, music, sightseeing, whale sharks, whales. And then a sneaky organism found its way into Burt’s digestive tract. Super-host Burt was struck down by a microbe. I’ve never heard him in such agony. I’ll spare you the details. Today we are sleeping it off. Tennis and Bridge canceled.

Cara and Bobby arrived on Tuesday. Since then they saw a packed Gypsy Carpenter show, gone to yoga, hiked, boated and snorkeled with the whale sharks, and eaten a lot of fine food. The weather has been the usual 78 and sunny. Cara’s blog link is on the left. You can see her pictures and read her impressions there soon. I’m happy she and the big guy are here and having a great time. Until today.

When Cara and Bobby arranged their trip they asked if they could see whale sharks. Cara said it was on her ‘bucket list’. My previous experience with the whale sharks was less than interesting. It was a small, loud boat with loud companions. There weren’t many whale sharks and I only spent a quick moment in the water. After seeing actual whales I was underwhelmed by the vacant stare of the plankton eating mega-fish. And I was seasick. But since I love my Cara-pooh I tried to be upbeat and I made arrangements to see the world’s largest fish. I am glad I did. This second trip was far more interesting and exciting than the first visit to the Bay of La Paz.

Neza and Zorro were our guides. We met up with them at 9:00 AM in front of the Burger King on the Malecon in La Paz. It took some firm evasive maneuvers to actually find Neza. We had a date with Neza but several other boat guides tried to poach us as we walked the twenty yards from our car to our meeting place. These other guides all said there was no guy named Neza. Neza? Neza who? Then Neza showed up and they were all like, “ohhhh, Neza. Yeah, we know him.” All’s fair in love and the eco-tourism industry. Despite having an appointment with Neza we didn’t actually have a slot to visit the whale sharks. There was some explaining about the restrictions on the number of boats and swimmers. Neza offered to take us on a longer tour and we could explore more areas (for more money of course). We said, nah, we’re good. We just want to see the whale sharks. I had no problem with this idea but I hate motor boats and all day in an open boat is sun and salt blasted and tiring. No biggy, we’d just go out and wait our turn.

It’s a form of kidnapping. A pleasant kidnapping where you wind up loving your kidnapper. Stockholm syndrome. The guides don’t want to loose a client when they don’t actually have a slot for their visit so they get you on the boat and have you in the bank so to speak while they wait for a slot to open. Since we had to wait over an hour for a space for our tour we just wandered around and looked at things.  I think if you didn’t speak Spanish you might not even notice the guide negotiating over the radio to try and get in. It would be easy to think everything was moving along as planned. A pod of dolphins swam by so we followed them from a respectful distance. We saw a few magnificent frigates and brown pelicans. We enjoyed a lecture on all the names of the whale shark from around the world. Whale shark is a really extreme misnomer. This fish is neither whale nor shark. It’s its own thing. It needs a new name. Ginormo. Mr. Mouth. Godfisha. I learned that the fish are all in a database and can be identified by their unique spot patterns. The same technology on a smart phone that identifies constellations of stars can identify the whale sharks in photos.

After about two hours of wandering we finally were cleared to enter the whale shark area. It was a hoot. We immediately found some fishes and jumped in and swam with them. Quite literally. They swim and feed and you swim along side. It’s a terrific workout. Kicking like mad and breathing through a small tube while a 25′ fish with a mouth as large as a refrigerator cruises along. We were able to follow several and really see them in action. They were much more entertaining this time around. Cara has her own personal story that I’ll let you read from her blog. I’ll just say Zorro earned a large tip for his superb work.

In summary, I highly recommend visiting the whale sharks with Neza and Zorro. They kept us entertained and safe and we saw what we wanted to see.

Our guides Neza and Zorro with Burt. We saw many many many whale sharks.
Our guides Neza and Zorro with Burt. We saw many many many whale sharks.
Sculpture on the La Paz Malecon.
Sculpture on the La Paz Malecon.
Whale Shark. Just like the jaguars they can be identified by their spots.
Whale Shark. Just like the jaguars they can be identified by their spots.
The Gypsy Carpenters warming up.
The Gypsy Carpenters warming up.
Las Fuentes our favorite stage in Todos Santos.
Las Fuentes our favorite stage in Todos Santos.
Dad and SaraGay.
Dad and SaraGay.
Cartwheel at the end of the 5K. Photo by Lisa.
Cartwheel at the end of the 5K. Photo by Lisa.
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Inner Nature

Inner Slug
Inner Slug

When we talk about past lives or spirit animals, do you ever think who was that guy that was crushed under a stone block while building the pyramids? Or who’s spirit guide is an earwig? I’m always hearing about the Cleopatras and panthers, never Marie Antoinette’s chamber maid or the ant she stepped on. When the subject goes there that’s what I always think about. The lowlier and less famous. The you and mes of history or the animal kingdom. Yesterday’s prompt about nature even lead me that way because I was contemplating the nature of humanity versus nature nature. This morning I woke up and was thinking of my inner slug. Maybe it’s my inner sloth. Moving is hard some days. If we’re kind we could say it’s my hibernating grizzly bear. The day’s prompt hadn’t arrived. I’d been in and out of consciousness since my 5:30 AM hot flash. It’s become a regular thing. I fall asleep at 8:00 PM now because I am pretty much up a few hours before dawn riding the hormone train. I am grateful that (so far) I get a solid night of sleep in before I throw off the covers.

So there I was actually thinking of my inner slug. Reveling in my gooiness. The slackness of a formerly firm physique slumping all over the bed. Actually thinking: I am a slug and I like being a slug. I had my phone in my hand. While lying there in my puddle of adipose tissue the prompt came in to think on our inner nature. The universe was talking.

My Chinese astrological sign is the snake. A Facebook quiz once said I was a great white shark. I do not deny these aspects of my personality. The old philosophy about human nature that says you’re either a lamb, a shepherd, or a wolf rings true to me. I’ve been told I’m a shepherd. Shepherds mostly tend their flock and protect them from wolves but shepherds also kill the lambs when it’s time to kill. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a wolf. These days a retired wolf.

If I could choose, I would opt to be a grizzly bear or a blue whale. I like the grizzly bear because they sleep half the year, eat as much as they like and still look good, and they only procreate when there are sufficient resources for survival. I like the blue whale because it’s the biggest thing in the history of the world. Imagine that. Bigger than anything else alive in the history of ever. What is your inner animal?

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Connect with Nature

Palms and sky
Palms and sky

Today’s prompt was to connect with nature. Find something inspiring in nature and write about it. Seeing as this is about all I regularly write about it gave a good laugh. Even Burt said, “Where would you begin?”

Twenty years as a regulator with the EPA wasn’t for the money and prestige and fun. The money was a good but it was a thankless job full of conflict and insults. Many people didn’t understand our role. But I stayed because I succeeded in doing many things and I believed in my work. I protected birds from oil pits. I cleaned up aquifers. I saw to it that hazardous waste was safely disposed. I was lucky to know quite a few other competent and committed professionals, too. But those days are behind me and much of the successes I as part of are being undone. Birds will no longer be protected in the oil fields thanks to our current administration. Incidental kills are now legal. I spent an entire year working with a team of colleagues from various agencies to save the tens of millions of birds killed in our oil fields. We achieved real success and were even awarded the EPA’s highest award. All that work down the drain. You might say I’m bitter. You’d be correct.

Meanwhile, here, now, I count birds everyday. I submit my data into an international database. I try to be part of the worldwide effort to protect and improve habitat of our feathered friends. Birds are still earning their keep as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. They are telling us loud and clear about the health of our world and the changes in our climate system. If we can see that we are all inter-related maybe we can start taking action to protect us all. Each little part of our world depends on the rest.

On top of that, I’m trying to subtly influence my little human friends. Trips to the beach can lead to a love of the outdoors and that can lead to a love of nature.

We are all stuck here together. We have no place else to go. And, you know what, it’s a damn lovely home we have.

Algae
Algae and bees
Kids at beach
Kids at beach
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Back to the itinerary

Our cabin on the Letty. We were at water level.
Our cabin on the Letty. We were at water level.

The good ship Letty was our vessel for the week. She’s about 30 years old but biannual dry dock upgrades have kept her in fine shape. I wish I could go in for a remodel every two years. Burt and I were bunked below deck in a room with three beds. The extra bed made for spacious storage. We had our guitar and mandolin and the usual necessities to stow and the bed made it much easier. Also, it’s generally considered more comfortable to sleep apart in rough seas. There’s nobody else rolling around in your bed. Elbows and knees fly about erratically when trying to exit the bed for a midnight pee. Not a very romantic situation.

The first excursion was to La Loberia on Isla San Cristobal. Here was a harem of sea lions lolling about and a ‘beach master’ bull male guarding his ladies. The beach master was lumbering in and out of the shallows and down the  shore break bellowing and grunting. He swung his head back and forth and if his flippers could reach he would have been beating his chest. The beach masters are mature males working hard to prevent competitors from accessing the females. Beach masters work so hard chasing off suitors they only last in charge a short while until they collapse from exhaustion and hunger. Every few weeks they are dethroned and a new beach master takes over until he too is drained of all virility.  This sounds entertaining for the ladies in more ways than one.

While the menfolk do what men do, the females are feeding and caring for the youngsters. We saw many nursing babes and juveniles snoozing in the waning sun. Well fed sea lions rolled around and did yoga poses and slept while we gaped and took photos. It was as if we were invisible. Our guides kept us a whole 6′ away. Years of conditioning made it hard to let an animal of this size this close. In a magnificent roll reversal I was more cautious of the sea lions than they were of me. I mean to tell you, those things have some serious teeth and despite the lack of legs they do move fast.

San Cristobal Island is one of teh oldest in the archipelago. At La Loberia the lava boulders are well worn and rounded because it is the oldest lava and the beach faces the harshest waves. Over the milleniums the rocks have been softened. Other places we were to see were full of jagged and scary rocks of new lava. Also, there are two types of lava: aa and pahoehoe. Aa lava is jagged from the time it erupts. Pahoehoe means robes and it is a softer, more sinuous lava. Pahoehoe rocks start out smoother. Our guides explained all this during our walk to the beach.

We returned to our ship where I had an octopus dinner. Burt had beef. The cruise’s food was good and surprising. The menus are very diverse. Lunches are more traditional with a base of beans and rice but dinner was influenced by world cuisine. That night was a 15 hour open ocean cruise north to Genovesa. I took a dramamine and woke up 12 hours later. I highly recommend dramamine if your are prone to motion sickness. I nearly threw up trying to brush my teeth. Once I took my pill and hit the hay I had not a care in the world.

Morning found us anchored in a sea filled volcanic crater. Coolio.

Female sea lion at La Loberia on San Cristobol Island.
Female sea lion at La Loberia on San Cristobol Island.
San Cristobal
San Cristobal
My new blue footed booby buff.
My new blue footed booby buff.
San Cristobal
San Cristobal
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Marine Iguanas

Marine Iguana country. Our ship in the background.
Marine Iguana country. Our ship in the background.

Marine iguanas are also, surprise, known as the Galapagos Marine Iguana. These reptiles are unique in the world. They forage at sea for algae. The larger males dive deep and can spend many minutes under water. Females and juveniles eat closer to shore and from the inter-tidal zone. Their noses and teeth are specially adapted to eat close growing algae off of rocks. Burt and I saw a few swim by while we were snorkeling. A lizard at sea. In times of scarce food, caused by current shifts, the iguanas can reabsorb bone and literally shrink in size. last year there was a food shortage and large numbers died. We saw many skeletons and got a good look at their vegetarian teeth. This year the food is abundant and the population is bouncing back. Several island have their own unique subspecies. Old mariners thought the iguanas were ugly. Carol Simon and I think they are sublime.  Carol is a herpetologist and the marine iguana is her favorite lizard. When watching sunning marine iguanas you will see them occasionally snort spurts of salty water. They expel excess salt through their noses.

Marine Iguana
Marine Iguana. Stub nose, strong swimming tail.
Warming in the sun
Warming in the sun
Marine Iguana teeth.
Marine Iguana teeth.
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Galapagos Highlights

Naturalist Journey's trip to see the Boobies. Three kinds in the Galapagos. Do you know which these are?
Naturalist Journey’s trip to see the Boobies. Three kinds of boobies live in the Galapagos. Do you know which these are?

I’m too tired to get into the blow by blow trip details. The Galapagos are famous for the friendly wildlife and amazing scenery. They are a volcanic archipelago bathed in cold sea currents. If you don’t know the name of some species of plant or animal stick the word Galapagos or Lava in front of it and you might be right. Lava gull, lava lizard, Galapagos mockingbird, Galapagos prickly pear….Our journey covered more than 500 nautical miles and 5 islands in 8 days. Naturalist Journeys hosts Howard and Carol gave 4 lectures covering the natural history, human history, evolution, and environmental threats. Our local guides were phenomenally well informed, energetic, and kind. Burt and I snorkeled in 8 locations. We saw more than 40 new species of birds and animals. I think you should check it out.

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Flying juvenile red-footed boobies. The red feet come later.
Dead Marine Iguana.
Dead Marine Iguana.
Many Marine Iguanas.
Many Marine Iguanas.
Lobo Marino or Sea Lion.
Lobo Marino or Sea Lion.
Galapagos lava
Galapagos lava
Cactus
Cactus
Galapagos Prickly Pear.
Galapagos Prickly Pear.
Land Iguanas. Males squaring off for a territorial battle.
Land Iguanas. Males squaring off for a territorial battle.
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Up in the Wild

Old Ranch near Babisal
Old Ranch near Babisal

Babisal Ranch is at the heart of the Norther Jaguar Project’s reserve. The cows are long gone but the original structure is used as a kitchen and two new adobe and stone guest rooms have been added. Burt and I will turn an old water tank into a third guest room. Year round these facilities are used by cowboys and biologists and other visitors. Overflow people stay in tents or hammocks. On this trip Burt and I scored a cabin of our own. The beds are traditional rancho cots made from burlap suspended between two Xs. With a Thermarest pad the bed is pretty comfortable but it moves a lot and the motion made me a little queasy. More Galapagos training I told myself.

Our group consisted of two donors, Mark and Monica, a photographer, Charles, us, and Randy and Turtle, NJP’s staff/guides. After the 12 hours of driving Burt and I headed straight to bed after dinner and didn’t really get a good look at our companions. We were grateful for the warm food and welcome gifts of NJP hats and personal napkins. In the morning we had some more filling and tasty vegan food and then piled in a pickup for a nearby hike.

All seven humans and three dogs rode up the steep mile or so to another defunct ranch. We would hike up the a tight, wet canyon and pass some camera traps and see what some people consider the spiritual heart of the reserve. In fifteen bumpy minutes we reached our starting point. The abandoned ranch buildings were full of wood perfect for our project. It will be fun to deconstruct and reconstruct out in the wilderness. The old wood will look beautiful in a new situation.

Pretty quickly we reached a camera trap. Randy and Turtle removed the data chip and tried to find a camera that could reveal its secrets. There are a few different models of cameras in use at the reserve and they all have their own way of formatting chips. Luckily our third and last try at reading the chip was successful. The chips and batteries are changed out every one to three months. Since this particular trap’s chip had been changed four mountain lions, a few bobcats, and an ocelot had passed by the trap. The ocelot passed just the day before we did. Smiles all around thinking the ocelot was nearby watching us. As Randy says, I haven’t seen a jaguar but I know they’ve seen me. I like that feeling.

Our walk to the canyon wasn’t more than half an hour. We could have gone further but we didn’t feel like swimming and mud crawling so we sat around and enjoyed the scene. I visited the spiders. Snacks and water and getting to know you conversations were had by all. After people were satisfied with the hanging around we had a choice, return home by the trail we had taken in or canyoneer our way down canyon. We chose the adventure route. It was pretty rough going but Randy was a competent guide and very able assistant. Burt and I did fine on our own. We mostly traveled ahead of the group. It took us much longer to reach the truck going down the boulder filled stream bed but it was also more fun. The dogs have a different version. One ran home on the trail. Another was lifted through the worst spot. The third either jumped or fell twenty feet into a pool. She was not happy. Eventually it was just a stream bed and we all dispersed. Burt and Randy went to inventory wood and I wandered downstream alone.

At the truck point we all reunited. Burt and I opted to avoid the truck bed for the downhill jostle and walked back to camp along the stream. It was a tussocky and watery route back. It was noticeable that there were not a lot of birds. When we finally reached camp it was time for lunch and a siesta.

That evening we took a silent sunset walk. We heard an elf owl. Or was it pygmy? I’ve forgotten. Tracks were seen in the creek bed sand. Quail flew up. We thought they were scaled quail but they were Elegant Quail. Similar but not the same. Dinner and bed.

The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Our room.
Our room.
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Other Critters at the Reserve

Red-Spotted Toad, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Red-Spotted Toad, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tree frog, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tree frog, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Velvet Ant, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Velvet Ant, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Ring necked snake, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Ring necked snake, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tiny cat prints, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tiny cat prints, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Grasshoppers getting down, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Grasshoppers getting down, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Frogs, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Frogs, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Northern Jaguar Project Reserve, beetle and bugs
Northern Jaguar Project Reserve, beetle and bugs
Tarantula, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tarantula, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Neotropical otter or nutria,Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Neotropical otter or nutria, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Wolf spider, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Wolf spider, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
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