Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blue Footed Booby Nest and Eggs

This is a photo of a blue footed booby nest that was basically on one of the trails.  All their nests are on the ground, so it's easy to see why they would be vulnerable to rats or other introduced species!  I thought it was interesting how the ring of bird poop defines the nest. 

Although boobies typically have two eggs, only one survives...the stronger of the two.  I was glad to be there during the season of egg laying vs. hatching for this reason.  Seeing the baby birds that do not make it would have been a tough thing to see.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Frigate Birds

We saw very large frigate birds in the Galapagos, including magnificent frigates with big red pouches inflated to attract females.  On one island, we saw some frigate bird chicks in the nest.  This is a parent and a chick, and then a closer view of the chick.  The chick was just so cute, it looked like a stuffed animal in a toy store...all fuzzy and ready to be taken home.  But, it was obviously alive and being babysat quite well! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lots of Dolphins!

Sailing between islands in the Galapagos, we encountered whales and dolphins.  I never got a good photo of the whales, but I had a little better luck with the dolphins.  We encountered a school of hundreds of dolphins as they were hunting tuna.  They jumped in groups, and they were swimming very fast.  I think this photo does the best of the ones I have at showing the scale - though of course I have zoomed in enough to tell they are dolphins.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marine Iguanas, Part I

Marine iguanas are often the poster children of the Galapagos Islands.  They exist no where else in the world.  They are cold blooded, so at night they cluster in groups for body heat.  You find them laying on the black rocks everywhere you go, and at first they are hard to see.  Once you see them, you realize there are hundreds - everywhere!

When their body temperature is high enough, they go into the ocean and dive down for algae that grows on rocks.  They have an ingenious mechanism for processing the salt in the water - they spit it out.  When resting on the beach, all of a sudden one will spew forth a very salty spray out of its nose.

There are also land iguanas in Galapagos, but we'll save those for another day.  I have a zillion marine iguana pics, but here are two where I like the composition of the shot, not just close ups of the iguanas.  There will be more to come though - we saw these creatures every day, on every island.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

White Tipped Reef Shark

I know that many sharks are not to be feared, and I have always wanted to see one snorkeling. I was lucky enough to see this approximately five foot white tipped reef shark while snorkeling, and also lucky enough to get a photo with one of those disposable underwater cameras.  The shark swam under us for a long while, and it was graceful and seemed to be looking for things in the shallower waters.

In the Galapagos, I also saw several Galapagos sharks, but they were circling the boat and I was not in the water with them.  They were large, and gorgeous.  I never did get a photo, but they were really, really neat to see. 

I also saw a giant Eagle Ray - at least 6 feet across.  I watched it move a rock with its nose and look under it on the ocean floor.  It was too deep to get a photo of, and I was surprised how large its head was. 

The snorkeling in Galapagos offered huge numbers of fish, more than I have ever seen elsewhere.  I saw turtles, swam with sea lions every time, and got to see a shark and a ray - doesn't get much better than that!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sea lions, Part II

While snorkeling with the sea lions in Galapagos, they came right up to our masks.  They were very curious about us, and it was so awesome to have a wild animal in its own environment chose to interact - not for food, not for any reason but free choice and natural curiosity.  One touched me with a flipper!  They went by so fast it was very hard to get a photo, and I was using a cheap disposable underwater camera too.  I would have loved to get photos of the young ones playing with sea stars and sea urchins - very much puppies of the sea!!!  But these are at least decent enough shots to remember the experience by.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Waved Albatross

The waved albatross only nests on a single island in the Galapagos and no other place in the world.  We saw them nesting, and also got to see (and hear) their mating dances.  The birds open their beaks and clack, and seem to be engaged not just as couples but with little bands of birds participating or vying for attention.

This endangered, large seabird flies incredible distances, staying out to see months at a time.  Lately there has been an issue with some fishermen in Peru catching them in fishing nets on purpose and consuming them - a problem biologists and the governments involved are working on.  It doesn't apparently bother some to consume endangered species.

It is not hard to see hoe this bird got into trouble.  Breeding on only one island, breeding only every other year, and raising only one young can make for some population limitations.  The birds have a bright yellow beak and a frosted light yellow head.  As with all things in the Galapagos, you can get amazingly close to these birds.  We were within a few feet of several of them, which was quite a privilege.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sea Lions, Part I

I had heard that you can get REALLY close to sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.  They were not kidding.  One of the very cool things about the trip was how many angles and ways we got close to sea lions.  The first day we took a panga (small inflatable raft) around an island and encountered the sleeping sea lion pictured here.  It literally kept sleeping as we were 3 inches from it - I could easily have touched it.  I took the photo without zoom, it was RIGHT next to me.

We often saw sea lions on our island walks, and they never moved away.  Though at times past they were killed by visiting sailors or pirates, the sea lions in the islands are generally very, very trusting of people.  We walked within a foot of them, often having to step over them or very nearly so on many of the islands.  Sometimes sea lions would walk past us, or even along with us.

We saw (and heard) them nursing.  We saw healthy young, and unfortunately, a few who lost their moms and were not going to make it.  We saw wet sea lions, dry sea lions, sea lions of all sizes.  We saw them swimming, sleeping, and playing.

My personal favorite was that every time we snorkeled, young sea lions would come up to us, check us out and play with us.  They brought up sea urchins from the ocean floor, and star fish.  They played with each other, zooming around and blowing bubbles.  One brushed me with a fin.  They zoom up to your snorkel mask. It's INCREDIBLE.  Living free and in the wild, they are curious - like puppies of the sea - and they want to play.

Once in awhile a big male would warn us to stay out of his territory with big deep barks.  No problem - easy enough to do.  They were never any threat.  I have been shocked that nearly every person who asked about the trip, when Is aw we snorkeled with sea lions, says "Isn't that dangerous?"  These are gentle creatures that eat fish.  They chose to approach us, we are not approaching them.  They are a million times faster than us in the water.  They come over to play and check us out - it would never occur to me to be the least bit fearful of them as long as one is respectful of their space.

Though sea lions themselves are not animals you can't see elsewhere, I don't think you could have such an extensive and intimate experience visiting with them elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wildlife on Bartolome Island, Galapagos

The first island in the Galapagos we set foot on (aside from Baltra, where the plane landed) was Bartolome.  It doesn't have a ton of wildlife, but it has a boardwalk where you can climb to the top of the island for a famous view of Pinnacle Rock.  (Personally, anything I climb I prefer to have a mammal - or ideally many - at the top, and otherwise it's a bit of a bust.....even though views are nice, they are not always worth the time and effort).  This was not a bad trek though, there was some wildlife along the way - lava lizards, a few birds, a painted grasshopper, ants, and a Galapagos snake. 

Pictured here is a young finch, the first of "Darwin's finches" I saw.  It was sitting on the railing of the walkway and I liked the photo. 

The other photo is the snake - about 2.5 to 3 ft long and the diameter of a pencil.  This was a lucky sighting and the only snake I saw on the islands.