June 19, 2006

Galapagos Adventure — Days Seven and Eight

Filed under: Ecuador 2006 — Lilli @ 10:43 pm

Genovesa Island
This is one of the most outlying islands, so many tour boats don’t visit Genovesa. But if you’re a serious birdwatcher, you don’t want to miss this.

Clockwise from top: female, two males and juvenile frigate bird

It was also the most exciting snorkel, since that’s where I saw the white tips of the white-tipped shark (see higlights blog). The island is shaped like a horseshoe, so we snorkeled inside the shoe, along the wall. On my right was a rocky wall teaming with fish. On my left, the abyss.

At least that’s what it looked like. I guess you’d eventually reach the other side of the horseshoe, but the water was deep. Deep enough to keep sharks and rays happy, although I saw one ray, larger than my coffee table, hanging out on some rocks just a few feet below me.

This is also where I saw the most enormous parrot fish I’ve ever seen in my life. This may be a fish story, but I swear they must have weighed 20 pounds. And I saw a rainbow wrasse, usually home-aquarium size, that had to be seven inches long. All in all, an awesome last snorkel, except that it was the last snorkel of the entire trip.

We started the day with a panga ride along the cliffs, looking for seabirds, including penguins. I saw penguins a couple of times, but could not get a good photo. I had no problem getting photos of boobies though. Someone asked me if I was really that close to the animals, or if I was using a telephoto. No professional-quality camera for me, but as you can see in this photo, I really was that close.

Curious Nazca booby, and my shoe (lower right)

We spent the morning searching for an elusive owl that is, apparently, not noctural. It may not have been sleeping, but it certainly wasn’t sticking around waiting for us. A couple of people allegedly saw one through binoculars, but I was not among them. Still, walking along with a view of the ocean is never a bad time.

As we approached the sea cliff that makes up the outside of the horseshoe, I saw what looked like flies — thousands of black specks in the sky. But they were petrels, birds that appear to be constantly in motion. Camilo says this is to avoid predators, but it looked exhausting to me. The sky was littered with them.

Petrels litter the sky over Genovesa

There were also many red-footed boobies on this island, more than we’d seen anywhere else. Camilo says the red-footed booby with the blue beak is unique to Genovesa. This guy sort of looks like his mother didn’t know how to dress him.

Red-footed booby with a blue beak, unique to Genovesa

The afternoon was supposed to just be a time to hang out at the beach, but it turned out to be some of the best bird watching of the entire trip. This was the closest we came to many birds, and the mangroves made it one of the prettiest areas, certainly one of the most green.

Male frigate bird, in all his mating glory

Red-footed boobies nest in the mangrove trees of Genovesa Island

Swallow-Tailed Gulls, Genovesa Island

Frigate bird communing with boobies, including a rare red-footed booby with white feathers

We also saw a young fur seal (fur sea lion) that appeared to have been adopted by a regular sea lion. Our guide says this is extraordinary, to see them together like that.

Extraordinary sight: a sea lion (left) and fur seal lounge together, Genovesa Island

Even the sand here held plenty to be in awe of, especially the tiny violin crabs, so named because they have one enormous claw that makes them look like they’re playing an instrument.

Tiny violin crabs. They have one giant claw and one small.

Seashells; Genovesa Island

Then after seven magical days, it was over.

Our last briefing board: the tortoise says it all

Sunrise aboard The Beagle, near Santa Cruz Island

There was one last trip, at sunrise, to the placid mangrove lagoons on Santa Cruz island. Here a spotted eagle ray flapped by alongside our panga in crystal-clear water so shallow I could have waded. In the distance we saw a whole school of rays flapping like smooth birds just below the surface. A couple of turtles, a shark, and then, just when we thought it was over, the flock of boobies in a feeding frenzy. An incredible finale to the journey. It was fitting that just when I was content to be present in a glittering dawn, something else extraordinary came along. That’s how it always was for me in The Galapagos. Every day was magic.

Boobies fill the sky over mangrove lagoons, Santa Cruz Island

It was sad to pack up and leave this pristine paradise. But it’s pristine and a paradise because it is left in its natural state. It would not be either if people were to move in and try to make it their paradise. There should be some parts of the planet that are left to other creatures.


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