Tuesday 31 December 2013

Pinta Island - The Northernmost Island

Satellite View of Pinta Island
Satellite View of Pinta Island

Pinta Island (also known as Abington, but better known as named after Columbus' ship The Pinta) is a tiny spot representing less than 1% of the entire Galapagos land reserve (it is just 60 km in area). Its highest point is 2550 feet above sea level. Pinta is a shield volcano with numerous young cones and lava flows. Not only is Pinta the most northern of the Galapagos Islands, but also it hosts no visitor sites, other than one boat landing site, used primarily by scientists, on its northern shore called Punta Neros.

Volcanic Formations on Pinta
Volcanic Formations on Pinta
Pinta is an important island from the viewpoint of conservancy, preservation and species evolution. It is renowned for two significant reasons. It is best known for being the home of Lonesome George, the iconic Galapagos tortoise, the last of his species, who died in June 2012. Second, though remote and very small, this marvelous gem hosts nearly 1/3 of the native terrestrial plants in the Galapagos.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Why Can't I See That Animal - Camouflage on the Galapagos Islands

The heads of these marine iguanas basking in the sun look just like the surrounding rocks.
Survival of the fittest. Adaptation of the species.

Familiar phrases, but what do they mean? In the simplest terms, they mean that animals have, over time, changed in ways that give them the ability to survive despite challenges in their environment. One such adaptation is the ability to change color to blend into the surrounding landscape, thus offering protection from predators. The volcanic land masses on the Galapagos Islands are predominantly shades of earthy tones in browns, tans, blacks, siennas, whites, grays and dusty greens. With few exceptions, this means the birds and wild life blend into their surroundings, protecting them from hawks and other prey.

In this post, I share with you some of my photos that graphically show how millions of years of adaptation protect our precious life forms.

You might walk by this bird's nest dozens of times before realizing its presence.
A little boobie chick hiding in the bushes.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Rules, Rules and More Rules

Galapagos Island National Park and Marine Reserve Map
Galapagos Island National Park and Marine Reserve Map

Preservatin of Blue Footed Boobies You've finally made it - you're in the Galapagos Islands.  You want to have fun, adventure, freedom, play on the beach, glide gently through the mangroves, climb inside a volcano.  Who knows what interesting or sometimes even crazy things you may want to do once you get here.  Your imagination may be running rampant.  And, believe me, you will have a marvelous time.  You will find yourself responding to new and unusual animals, sea creatures and birds with wonder - sometimes even the wonder of a child.  You'll swim with sea lions, watch all types of animals mating, walk on lava, see Mars-like vistas and the beautiful crystal clear ocean and you'll experience the most amazing sunrises and sunsets imaginable. 

Owl on Genovesa Island
But, I have to be perfectly honest, all of your adventures will be subject to "the rules."  There are lots of rules here and it's essential that you follow them.  All of the Galapagos Islands - both land and sea - are part of a vast national park that is environmentally protected and maintained by the Galapagos National Park Service.  The Park Service's primary responsibility is to keep the land and water here natural and untainted. After all, the animals were here first - and we want them to stay here "forever."  This is their home and they indulge us by allowing us to infringe on their environment.  They aren't the least bit afraid.  And that behavior is as intriguing as anything else you will experience here.  But bear in mind that part of the reason they are unafraid and don't mind our encroachment is that there are rules that prevent us from intentionally or accidentally interfering with their freedom, their food source and their habitat.  The rules are good ones - definitely not meant to be broken.  And, broken rules may lead to serious consequences not only for the one breaking them but for the wildlife and flora as well. As you will be told time and again, the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands is delicate.  It is your responsibility to help us maintain nature's delicate balance.

So, let me explain:
Wednesday 12 June 2013

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant - Unique in All the World

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant
Galapagos Flightless Cormorant
What a wondrous creature – the Galapagos Flightless Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi). There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It epitomizes the meaning of species adaptation and is one of the most unique and interesting birds anywhere on Earth. With its long neck, grace and gentle demeanor, it's a favorite attraction for all Galapagos visitors. Look at those piercing blue eyes.

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant
Photo by David Cook Wildlife Photography
There are cormorants found all over the world and all species of
cormorant are marine birds that source their food from the sea. With one exception - our unique and remarkable cormorant -  cormorants fly above the ocean and dive down to catch the fish on which they survive. Once, our cormorant too flew, just like the other 27 species of cormorants found around our planet. Yet, over time, our unique and beautiful creature evolved and adapted to the rugged and arid volcanic terrain surrounded by salt water that defines the Galapagos Islands.

Sunday 19 May 2013

It's May - Paradise for Waved Albatross

This is a most exciting time of year for Punta Suarez on Espanola Island.  Though there is never a bad time to visit this island, in springtime, visitors get to see all of the Waved Albatross in the world settle here, engage in their ritual dance, mate, and care for their babies.  I've written about Punta Suarez before.  See that post, here.  And, I'm sure you'll hear more about it again, because it differs from season to season.  Sometimes the blue footed boobies' nursery is the centerpiece.  Now though, in springtime, it's the amazing, wondrous Waved Albatross.

Albatross Esganola Island Galapagos Suarez Point
Here's one now - greeting us head on - completely unafraid - posing for the camera.

Waved Albatross Mating Area on Espanola Island Punta Suarez Galapagos
Mating Area
Mariners have long associated albatross with good luck because when a sailor sees an albatross, land is near.  If you visit Punta Suarez on Espanola Island from the beginning of spring through November, and see these dramatic and unique birds, you’ll believe that they bring good luck too.  Your landing by panga on Espanola will barely hint at the wonder you are about to experience.  The initial path is rocky and dry, typical of the volcanic formation of the Galapagos Islands.  Soon though it opens up to a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean, pounding seas, dramatic blow holes, and, most special of all, the world’s only Waved Albatross mating area.
Monday 6 May 2013

Santa Cruz Island - Black Turtle Cove

Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove Panorama
Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove Panorama from Wiki
Located on the northern shores of Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove is a very special place; the atmosphere is quiet, contemplative and visual. Galapagos National Park rules require that upon your arrival at Black Turtle Cove via panga, the motor be turned off.  Silence and stillness permeate.  That is until you start to hear the sounds of nature all around you. Listen to the birds, hear the water and waves, listen for the sounds of fish jumping in the still waters, look around and smell the greenness of the mangrove trees that surround this beautiful area. In the panga you will navigate into the cove and then through the mangrove forest, sometimes paddling so as not to disturb the wildlife. The approach to the wildlife in silence assures that the nesting green sea turtles, sharks, herons and rays are allowed to remain peaceful and undisturbed in their natural habitat.

Approach to Black Turtle Cove
Approach to Black Turtle Cove
The mangroves themselves are beautiful, dense and diverse. Some are old; some new. They are not all alike; in fact, there are three mangrove species at Black Turtle Cove. Their root systems merge directly into the shallow blue saltwater of this cove. Their colors vary and the leaves sparkle where they are hit by the tropical sun.

Monday 15 April 2013

Santa Cruz - Charles Darwin Reseach Station

Entrance to Charles Darwin Research Station
Entrace to CDRS by Scott Abelman
The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island near the town of Puerto Ayora, is one of the best known and most visited sites in all of the Galapagos. The CDRS is a joint effort of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service to protect, conserve, keep from extinction and repopulate the many Galapagos Tortoise species that are endemic to the islands.

Lonesome George and a Petite Female Galapagos Tortoise
George and a Female
CDRS was created in 1964 and its tortoise preservation program initiated in 1965. From 1971 until his death in June 2012, CDRS was the home of the biggest celebrity in the Galapagos Islands, Lonesome George. George, who lived at the CDRS for more than 40 years, was the last extant tortoise from Pinta Island and had, for many years, been the focus of concerted efforts to breed him with other similar, but not identical, tortoises. Unfortunately, all efforts failed and when George died, so did the species. For an extensive discussion of Lonesome George and the efforts to reproduce the species see my earlier post written right after his death
Monday 18 March 2013

Santa Cruz Island - Bachas Beach

Beautiful White Sand Bachas Beach

Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island is the first stop on many cruise itineraries, and a perfect place to introduce you to the Galapagos Islands. Here, from a beautiful white sand beach, you will be exposed to part of the rich human history of the Islands, both land and marine iguanas, nesting Galapagos green sea turtles, endemic flora, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, flamingos and pelagic birds, all to be topped off with a swim in the Pacific Ocean, replete with gorgeous vistas and the Galapagos blue sky. Heaven!

Frigate Birds Fly Above Bachas Beach
Frigate Birds Fly Above Bachas Beach
So, let’s begin our Bachas Beach journey. From your cruise ship, you will take a panga to a wet landing, meaning your feet dip into the Pacific Ocean for the first (but certainly not the last) time on your visit. You arrive on a pristine white sand beach and feel the warmth of the sand and sun. The walk here is not strenuous, but an opportunity to let the surroundings pull you in, to relax, to feel the uniqueness of the world around you and to put yourself in the moment - a place you will want to be throughout your Galapagos visit.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Travel Preparation for Galapagos Islands

Fernandina Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
You’re traveling to the Galapagos Islands! Be prepared because the Galapagos Islands are unique and special – unlike any other place on Earth.

This post provides you with some of the practical information every traveler to the Galapagos Islands should know: the weather, what to pack, our currency, and other general information that will help you prepare to make your trip as seamless as possible.


The Galapagos Islands are Unique - Prepare Yourself For a Once In a Lifetime Experience


With the exception of hotel and ship board amenities and delicious food, you are leaving big city life behind. You will travel to places where things are not the same as they are back at home. Here, things are understated, not fancy. They are designed for relaxation and enjoyment.  Nature, not materiality, is the focus of your time in the Galapagos Islands.  Our culture differs from yours in many ways.  Be prepared for some trade offs.  For example, in exchange for maintaining our environment (land, sea and air) in as pristine a way as possible and for protecting our plant, animal and marine life, we limit land use, energy and water consumption and even the number of people and boats. If you find that your hotel room is a little smaller than expected, remember the land use limitations that bind us.  And also, remember that it is because of these regulations that you will marvel at sea lions lounging not only on the beaches, but also on Main Street, Blue Footed Boobies dive bombing into the Pacific Ocean and stunning pure blue skies. 

Let me give you a few facts to keep in mind during your stay here.
  • You will be in a National Park where everything is regulated and overseen.  See my post on these regulations here.
  • You will be expected to comply with these rules at all times, where ever you are.
  • All flora and fauna is protected. 
  • The amount of land one may own is limited, building sizes are restricted. 
  • Water and electricity are rationed.  You are likely to be asked to be aware of conservation during your stay here.
  • Until just a few years ago, there was no internet here.  Though the large cities now have internet service, and even wifi, prepare for it to be erratic.  Our communications systems and technology are not as sophisticated as they are back home.
  • Because we are a distant set of islands, everything is expensive as it has to be flown or shipped here.
  • Hotels and boats must comply with very strict regulations.  Remember, this is not New York City!
  • Most hotels try to give you a sense of our customs and the ambiance of the Galapagos Islands so as to immerse you in our culture.
  • Throughout Ecuador you will see dogs, roosters and chickens seemingly on their own.  The National Park Service is working on this, but don't let it be a surprise.
Enjoy your stay in the Galapagos Islands.  When you are here, we want you to experience and become a part of the wonderful Paradise we call our home.  But most of all, allow yourself the luxury of experiencing our culture and special "quirks" and trends.  Your stay will be most enjoyable if you "go with the flow."

The Weather                                                                                                         

Galapagos Hawk, Typical galapagos Island weather
Blue Sky, Beautiful Clouds
Typical Galapagos Island Weather
You may experience vastly different climates during your visit. While we are located on the equator, often it is not as hot as you might expect it to be. Sometimes the temperatures are unpredictable. In the higher altitudes on the mainland, particularly Quito, it may be 50º F.  At the same time, it may be 100º F in the Galapagos Islands. Plan for both extremes. It is coldest with the heaviest seas in the summer months of June, July and August.  It is warmest with the calmest seas in January, February and March. This is all due to the currents that run throughout the Pacific Ocean. To learn about the currents and how they effect our weather see my earlier post.
Wednesday 13 February 2013

No Two Galapagos Iguanas the Same - A Photographic Review

Galapagos Island IguanaIguanas are one of the most ubiquitous and interesting characters in the Galapagos Islands. In reading my earlier post, you will have learned that they are the only ones who forage on both the land and in the sea.

But, here’s another very interesting fact: the iguanas on each and every island are different. They have adapted to their environments in coloration and size based on the available food sources as well as the lava rock on which they rest and camouflage themselves. Here, through photographs, are examples of the colors and differences of the iguanas on many of the Galapagos Islands.


Iguana and Lava Lizard, Espinosa Point, Fernandina
Iguana and Lava Lizard, Espinosa Point, Fernandina
Resting Iguana, Urbina Bay, Fernandina
Resting Iguana, Urbina Bay, Fernandina

Marine Iguanas Basking in Fernandina Sunshine
Marine Iguanas Basking in Fernandina Sunshine