Seeing the world, one country at the time

Fish and Fowl

Galapagos Day 3

At 7:45 we were fed and clothed and dropped off on the beach on at Darwin’s Bay on Genovesa Island, which is teeming with birds. We were met by sea lions first, but everywhere we looked were our winged friends: the Swallow-tail Gull and the Red-Footed Boobie. Their chicks had blue-black beaks and blue-tinged feet. In front of us was a wall of birds on low shrubs, squawking and chirping. We also saw the Nasca boobies with their orange beak and face-mask.
We had no idea what all these birds were at the time, but you get to learn so much about them and see them so often that you learn and you become interested. It’s the first time that we could be so close to them on their home turf, in their natural habitat, where we were only visitors and they were gracious enough to let us walk among them.

We spotted a Lava gull, which are rare as there are only 400 of them. They are scavengers. The male Great Frigate has a red neck pouch it fills with air to attract females during mating season. Frigate birds, who are strong fliers, attack Boobies in mid-air to steal nest material and food. They hound the Boobies, though they have no real need to, so the boobies take revenge on land, where they are stronger. We saw a Frigate father arrive and try to feed his angry chick before a Boobie swooped down and attacked the baby.

JC showed us a dead sea horse, which some bird had dropped up there, high above the sea. The funny thing with sea horses is that the males get pregnant instead of the females, so who is to say that it wouldn’t be possible for humans in the future to switch the sex of the “mother”? We passed many nests within bushes and trees and spotted the bird babies, which are nothing but big white cotton balls with black heads. There is “guano” (bird poop) everywhere, but the smell is surprisingly subtle. The mothers sit on the nests when the babies are small enough to share the perch, or when they are still incubating an egg. They puff themselves up when we walk by, to make sure we understand that they’ll put up a fight if we try anything. These creatures give me ideas of domesticity and settling down. Somehow they trigger the maternal instinct in me. Other than the nesting mothers, the birds don’t move when we come close. They are indifferent to our presence. At most, they show curiosity, wondering what kind of animal we are. We can come up to a couple feet of them, and they just look at us questioningly, then go about their business.

Mockingbirds made Charles Darwin famous, but his theory of course extends to all living organisms and their adaptation to the environment. JC pointed out a cactus that has fruit that birds will eat and consequently distribute its seeds. Galapagos is full of natural wonders like this – plants and animals who have adapted to survive in their specific environment and it’s so easy to see them and understand how it all fits together, especially with such a knowledgeable guide as JC, who spouts off facts and can answer any question we throw his way.

After our walk, we returned to the boat and retrieved our snorkelling gear, then took a dinghy out to a snorkelling spot. I buddied with Lars and we saw some wonderful fish. The Stone Scorpionfish was the best, as it was a total surprise and it was so well-camouflaged. We spotted several sea lions, which swam with us! We also saw Razor/Yellowtail Surgeon fish or “chanchos”, King Angelfish, Giant Damselfish, Blue-chin Parrotfish, Steamer Hogfish (aka the transsexual fish) and several Marbled Rays.

We had cantaloupe and grapes as snacks upon return before our scrumptious soup and fish lunch.
The more active we are, the better our food tastes, but the meals are far more gourmet than we imagined. After lunch I went upstairs to read on deck and Lars went down to do photos and we all fell promptly fell asleep. I was DEAD. It was hell to wake up again at three for our afternoon bird walk on Genovesa Island. We had a wet landing at Darwin’s Steps, where we were met by three sea lions on the steps that we had to climb up to the top of the island. JC clapped to wake them up and encourage them to move. I guess they’re used to it. We clambered past them and up the stone steps to a bird haven.

It hasn’t rained here in a year. That is great for the marine birds, but bad for land birds that can’t find food. Nest areas are recycled. Twigs fall as babies grow heavier so they are finally just sitting on a bare branch. Since there is no rain, there is lots of guano and twigs under nests. The smell of guano overwhelms us at times. Unlike Peru, however, guano collection is not economically useful here, as the rain, when it comes, washes it away. Little flies and horse flies are constantly upon us, but at least there no mosquitoes.
Birds can’t sweat, so they open their beak and vibrate their throat to pant. We pass hundreds of birds like the Great Frigate and Galapagos Dove as we cross the split and crackling volcanic rock, in search of an owl. Owls hunt storm petrels, which are flying around everywhere. Unfortunately for these small birds, the owls have no natural enemies.

Before too long JC spots a Short-Eared Owl, difficult for us amateurs to see because of how well it blends in so it can hide from prey. Its brown and yellow body stands a mere 35 cm tall. It had us spellbound. It was so tiny, yet seemed so wise and powerful. It never moved, even with ten people surrounding it. Lars and I stared transfixed at it for as long as we could, until our group disappeared in the distance. We caught up to them near the stairs where they were watching pairs of angry boobies arguing and attacking each other while their chicks cried in consternation. We got into our dinghy to return to the boat, when we spotted Galapagos fur seals, which look like bears and hide in crevices. They came and swam with the dinghy. From the boat we could watch birds perched or chasing their prey on the rocks, such as the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron and the Blue-Footed Boobie.

Back on the boat, we relaxed. We were met by Edgar, who offered warm pizza hors d’oeuvres and banana chips. What luxury! They were gone in no time. We sat and chatted and heard more incredible stories. We drank shandies before they called us for another delicious dinner where we sat with Barb and Ricky, who had us in stitches. They’ve had a FASCINATING life, living in Gore Vidal’s home in Italy and redecorating homes in Portugal, among other adventures. They published a book called A Cottage in Portugal, which we need to buy, since Lars is interested in home renovation. We laughed a lot at their antics before being torn away from our pineapple pie dessert for a briefing on the next day’s activities.

After our briefing, the boat started up and within minutes we were suffering from all the rolling and rough seas. I took shelter on the top deck where the fresh air revived me a little. Karen came up feeling ill and stayed with Will while Lars and I lay on the deck chairs trying to sleep and fighting off nausea. By eleven pm it was too cold and windy and I was tired of fighting the rolling waves, so we braved the cabin and tried to sleep, against all odds. It was yet another light night’s sleep with lots of strange dreams. The next morning would be a tough wake up.