Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Galapagos Islands day 1 - Santa Cruz

There are very few places in the world that I've been that have well and truly lived up to all the hype. The Galapagos Islands are regularly featured on the TV or in wildlife magazines; moments of magic where sea lions beg for food in a fish market or you struggle to find your way around Marine Iguanas. I was pretty skeptical about the Galapagos Islands being a real life Spielberg-type place, this reticence enhanced with my now annual use of it as a case study as an environment under threat with my A Level Geographers!

The whole experience was absolutely fantastic though - yep it was nice and dudey a lot of the time, but that's not really a bad thing. Wildlife you had to back away from as it approached you, getting to grips with the seabirds, the finches and just taking it all in. I can't really do the place justice, and as a consequence have decided to split the next few blog posts into a day-by-day type of approach.

We traveled on the Beluga boat (thanks to a recommendation from one of Karen's friends), and lucked out with a relatively sedate group of 12 other people along with a great crew and Juan Tapia as our naturalist guide (fortunately he was a birding guide, leading for Naturetrek the week after we left). We spent 7 lovely days sailing around the islands, and then spent an additional couple of nights in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz just relaxing and taking in the lasts of the critters. So I'll start off with the first day, well the first afternoon (as we arrived late morning)...
Galapagos Penguin
Before we'd even got on our main boat, the panga (dingy) ride produced a massive surprise as I found a young Galapagos Penguin swimming about in Baltra harbour; way out of range for where it should have been and it looked a little weary. It was also time to get used to the abundance of Elliot's Storm-petrels as they just cruised about in the harbour in the midday sun. The first Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans were hard to miss.

And after having the safety briefing and the first of many top lunches, we sailed away along the north coast of Santa Cruz for a couple of hours - reaching Dragon Hill late afternoon. Each boat is strictly controlled by the national park authorities in relation to its route and how long you're given to land. Great for the wildlife, but for somebody like me who wanted to look thoroughly at things while papping away, it took a bit of time to work out the best strategy for each landing point!
Yellow Warbler ssp.aureola
And so at Dragon Hill, after getting used to the umpteen Galapagos Shearwaters, Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Noddies and Magnificent Frigatebirds I was likely to see each day. We had a walk around the lagoon where 5 American Flamingos glowed in the evening light, while I obviously got most excited with a couple of brief Lava Gulls! 2 White-cheeked Pintails showed nicely and I got my first taster of Galapagos Mockingbirds, Galapagos Flycatchers, Medium Ground Finches and a surprising number of typically sprightly Yellow Warblers.
American Flamingo
White-cheeked Pintail ssp.galapagensis
But, to be honest, the birds played second fiddle - absolutely loads of Marine Iguanas typically spitting their load while the Land Iguanas were pretty cool customers, just lazing about while checking us out.

Land Iguanas
Not a bad first few hours on this wildlife paradise. Perhaps it was worth all the hype after all!

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