Its all about boobies in the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their unusual birds.  The Islands’ birds have evolved independently of mainland species, and have evolved to adapt to the unusual geographic conditions.  And like other land and water species, most of these birds have no predators, so they are indifferent to human and other animal proximity.  Scientists are not positive how the evolutionary ancestors of these birds first arrived on the islands.  Perhaps blown way off course from the mainland.  Perhaps floated for weeks on debris washed out in flooding mainland rivers.
The first stop on our cruise was Genovesa Island which is the furthest to the NE in the grouping.  First views when coming up on deck after sleeping during the sailing was that of red-footed boobies dive bombing into the water beak-first for fish … in droves – hundreds at a time.  Our first shore excursion was all about birds.  Birds were EVERYWHERE!  Sitting on the ground, sitting in bushes, sitting on rocks.  They would not even flinch as we walked by.

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aptly named red-footed booby

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red-footed boobies nest in trees, because their feet can wrap on branches. The other two species of booby nest on the ground.

Genovesa Island is also home to thousands of Nasca boobies.  These fishing birds are perhaps less dramatic looking, except for the chicks that appear as big cotton balls.

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immature nasca booby
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nasca booby chick
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Kaia & I spotted this blue-footed booby on Santa Cruz Island

Mixed amongst the boobies were Galapagos lava gulls and night herons –  all equally indifferent to us gawkers.

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Galapagos lava gull

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Galapagos night heron

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After snorkeling in the afternoon, we went by zodiac across the bay (Genovesa Island is a volcanic crater – the crater forms the bay, with an opening to the sea) and scampered up some stairs built into the cliff to explore more bird habitat.

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Even more boobies here.  You literally had to walk around them, and had to be careful not to back up onto one.  We walked from the inner part of the crater to the outside on the open ocean where we saw a Galapagos short-eared owls were hunting Galapagos petrels (you might notice a trend here ….  we realized it is pretty easy to name/identify the birds – just put “Galapagos” in front of whatever … because they are all endemic here)

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I'm having a moment with a nasca booby

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males and females take care of egg-sitting ...and fledgling sitting!
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Victor knows a lot things about a lot of birds. The island appears very grey and "dead" at this time in the dry season. It roars back to green when the rains return.
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looking for the elusive owls ...
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found one! wow, now that's camouflage!

Other days took us to other islands that hosted other birds.  “Darwin’s Finches” are well known.  Darwin collected specimens when on the islands in 1835, and while sailing back to England he noted how identical looking brown finches from different islands had markedly different beaks.  Similarly with mockingbirds from different isles. This is one of the things that got him thinking about the concept of “adaptation” and evolution.  Each island had different vegetation and seeds, so beaks were specialized.

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mockingbird on the red sand of Rabida island
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note that this mockingbird from Isabella island has a more straight beak
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in absence of predators, this finch just nests in the sand

Frigate birds also have a significant presence in the Galapagos, but are found elsewhere too.  These birds catch fish, but are unable to swim or take off after being in the water (they die if they end up in the water).  Sailors of years gone by always welcomed the sight of frigate birds because it meant they were getting close to land (the birds have to stay reasonable close to shore).  We saw frigate birds on land, but were most impressed with their inclination to fly with our boat when we were under way.  They would fly about 3 ft off the side of the ship … sometimes 5 or 6 at a time … and were so close that we could actually have touched them if we’d have tried.  It reminds me of dolphins liking to swim just off the bow of a moving boat.

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immature frigate bird
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adult male frigate bird. When courting, the males puff the red pouches out into very large balloons.
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frigate bird on Genovesa Island
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this was a common sight while we sailed
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Jake already talked about the Galapagos penguins. We'd occasionally see them standing on rocks at waters' edge.

Galapagos hawks were the top land predators.  We’d see them circling around above when we went ashore.  They eat mostly lava lizards, snakes and especially marine iguanas.

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Pelicans were also a common sight, and were great fun to watch as they dive bombed for fish

On our second last day we visited Punta Espinosa on Fernadina Island where we encountered the flightless cormorant.  These guys made their way to the Galapagos Islands via flight, but food was so readily available in the water (fish!) that they have evolved to become swimmers, not flyers.  Their wings are now tiny, and useless, though they still like to dry them in the wind like cormorants elsewhere with “real” wings.

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yes, rather sad looking wings ...
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cormorants nest in the open, building nest with sand, seaweed and "guano" (poop)
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sorry ... no cuteness prize for this baby cormorant!
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A rare blue-chested booby was sighted at the Baltra airport, in front of the post box.

Cam

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