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Ecuador - Galápagos 2004

1. High Andes

 2. Galápagos 

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Ecuador - Galápagos 2004

Galápagos Archipelago

Western Islands

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Giant land tortoise Galapagos

Giant Land Tortoise

Galápagos Archipelago

The Galápagos Archipelago of 19 islands and 42 islets ( land mass between 1 and 5 square miles ) straddles the equator about 600 miles off the coast of the mother country Ecuador. Volcanic in origin, the largest island Isabella is made of five volcanoes.

Tourism is strictly regulated. Typical trips start with a flight from the mainland to the airport at Baltra * a small island just north of Santa Cruz. We boarded the first of two boats for our trip around the islands. The red line on the map approximates our route. Each boat is required to carry an Ecudoran guide and landing sites must be arranged in advanced. Landing schedules are not flexible. A missed landing cannot be made up the next day.

Map of Galapagos Islands showing our route
Life On The Boat

We used two boats on our trip around the islands the first boat the "Angelique" was the smaller of the two and the dining room was on the open deck. It did have a nice front area for bird watching. The second boat called the "Free Enterprise" had the dining room enclosed but little seating on the front deck.

Two people shared a small room on both boats. Each room had a private bath. Showers were limited to one per day per person, but most of the time there was hot water.

Meals were good on both boats although it was a little cold at times eating outside on the windy deck. Both boats were clean and as comfortable as can be expected of boats in general. I felt more welcome on the first boat.

The Angelique was our first home in the Galápagos.


Shore landing were made using a smaller boat. One or two landings a day is the usual rule.

Beach landing usually require some wading in the water. Best thing to do is to just take your shoes off and carry them in your pack. Some landings are made at docks or stairs and are dry landings. The Ecuadorian guide should announce which type of landing to expect as well as the strict landing rules.

From the airport we took a bus to the dock to board the first boat. The birding began in the harbor where we saw the first of the many Audubon's Shearwaters that would dominate our time at sea. Also White-vented Storm-petrels ( also called Elliot's Storm-petrel). With the anchor up serious sailing began with: Lava Gull, Red-billed Tropicbird, Nasca (formerly lumped with Masked)Booby, Swallow-tailed Gull, Red-necked Phlalaropes. There were also dolphin and a breaching Manta Ray.


Once at sea some immature Magnificent Frigatebirds joined us for a free ride in the rigging. The frigatebirds are a most unusual seabirds being unable to land and take off from the water or to drink seawater. On one of our walks we visited a fresh water lake and watched several frigatebirds coming in for a drink. They swoop low to the lake and scoop up water with their long bills. Occasionally one of them accidentally landed on the water and then struggled to take off before their wings got soaked.

Magnificent Frigate Birds follow the boat
Magnificent Frigatebird Male dispaly on Galapagos

Late in the trip we visited North Seymour Island where I got this close picture of displaying male Magnificent Frigatebird. We also saw immature Great Frigatebirds. We probably saw mature birds as well but they are difficult to distinguish in the field from the more common Magnificents.

Galápagos Penguins

The first afternoon we sailed to the small island of Bartolome just north of Baltra. The skiff took us in two groups close to the island to see the Galápagos Penguin. There is an exclusive club of birders who have seen 17 penguin species and I want to join. The Galápagos Penguin is an endemic seabird that can only be seen in the vicinity of the islands. So with great anticipation, I got in the first skiff . We got very close to 3 birds standing on a rock. Unexpectedly two birds were up for a good show.

Galapagos Penguins
Galapagos Penguins copulating

If the 17 penguin club is exclusive then the group of birders who have seen penguins actually mating is even more so. While we watched, the male sidled up to the female and stood right next to her. They exchanged some bill clicking for a few seconds and then the male mounted the female for about 3 minutes.

According to one reference, eggs are laid in September. This is the first week of August. Seems a little early.

Mating complete, the female composed herself while the male strutted off to the water.

I have seen many penguins, but this was a first for me. Unfortunately only half of the group was in the first boat and witnessed this amazing sight.

Galapagos Penguins
Galapagos Penguins after mating. Male on left.

Leaving the female on the right, the male walks off to the water. The whole thing was witness by a third penguin who also stood on the rock to the left.

The Galápagos Penguin is related to the Magellanic Penguin of southern Chile and to the similar Falkland Penguin. The disastrous 1982-83 El Niño caused the loss of 77 per cent of the population which is slowly recovering.

Almost immediately a second male (left) climbed up on the rock and approached the female. Too late buddy. Shove off.

Back on the Angelique we watched a great plunge diving show by the Blue-footed Boobies.

  Galapagos Penguins

Western Islands Isabella and Fernandina

Darwin's Finches

After seeing the penguins, we set sail over night for Playa Negra on the far side of Isabella. During the night we crossed the equator twice. Early the next morning we had the first two Waved Albatrosses,one very close to the boat. We also had many Brown Noddys and several of the severely declining Galápagos Dark-rumped Petrel.

The Mangrove Finch was our target bird of our first real beach landing . Darwin used the Galápagos finches to explain his theory of the evolution of the species. There are 13 species of finch found on the islands all of which supposedly descended from one species. They are the ultimate "little brown jobs". It takes an experienced birder to separate them in the field. We actually saw our first finches the Medium Ground-finch and the Small Ground-finch at the Baltra airport. The males are all dark and the females striped. The size of the bill is the main distinction, but we were soon to learn that there are small billed mediums and large billed mediums. Most species of finches are rather common and can be found in the city at places like the Darwin Station in the major city of Porto Aroyo. Some can only be found on one islands. It is probably not possible to see all thirteen species on one trip.

Sea Turtle tracks on Isabella

These are the tracks left by a Green Sea Turtle on the way to laying her eggs in the sands of Isabella. At the top of the beach were several large craters where eggs had been laid. We did not see any sea turtles.

The Green Sea Turtle is the most abundant and only sea turtle that is not endangered. It is also the only sea turtle that comes ashore to bask in the sun. As clumsy as these guys are on land, in the sea they are good swimmers. . I once saw a sea turtle while I was snorkeling in the Virgin Islands and tried to swim above it. It was way too fast for me.

We searched for the Mangrove Finch by walking along the edge of the Mangroves at the back of the beach. The finch was finally located by our expert guides using a tape recording and a lot of patience. The Galápagos Mockingbird was easily seen poking around the mangroves. A Galápagos Hawk flew over the beach.

Red crabs on Galapagos

The marine iguanas warm their bodies by sunning themselves on the dark lava rocks.  Marine iguanas are only found on the Galapagos Island and have evolved from land iguanas who accidentally arrived on the island.  They eat algae off rocks they find under water.

Red crabs are also found on the lava rocks.

Marine Iguana  

Flightless Cormorant

Our afternoon landing was at Punta Espinosa (Spiny Point) on Fernandina the western most island. The tide was coming in as we landed . There were Wandering Tattler, Oystercatchers, Striated Heron and

Lava Heron at the landing site. We walked a short marked path across pahoehoe lava and sand and around nursing sea lions and spitting Marine Iguanas.

There are two types of lava flows both with Hawaiian names. The pahoehoe lava is formed by a very slow moving tongue of lava which hardens on the surface while the flow continues underneath forming frozen waves. It forms a very solid sheet which is fairly easy to walk on.

The more common type of lava is called aa and consists of angular blocks of rock of various sizes. It can be almost impossible to walk through unless a path is cleared

Pahoehoe lava flow
Flightless cormorant feeding chick

The parent bird on the left regurgitates food into the chick's mouth. Like penguins the chick whole bill seems to be in the parent's throat. That ought to make anyone gag.

Not all boat trips of the Galápagos reach the Flightless Cormorant colony on the far Fernandina Island. Our dry landing here turned a little wet when the tide came in and covered the rocks to the landing spot. We had to remove our shoes and walk barefooted over the sharp lava.

The bird on the far right is bringing a piece of seaweed for nesting material. Notice the vestigial wing of the bird on the left.

"Stop" the sign says, but as you can see you are allowed to walk very close to the colony. This picture was taken with a point and shoot Cannon Powershot Digital camera.

Flightless Cormorants
Flightless Cormorants 

The Flightless Cormorantis a Galápagos endemic. The wings are functionless. Notice the parent Cormorant in the back has two chicks. The one on the right is almost as big as the parent while the second chick in the middle is much smaller.

 Trip ReportsEcuador - Galápagos 2004  |  1. Introduction - High Andes |  2, Galápagos  | 3.  Espanolá   Top of page      Comments to webmaster