Floreana — Punta Cormorant

(from Google Earth)

Note:  If you want to skip the text and just see photos with brief descriptions, click here.  The first 5 are from Post Office Bay; the next 4, from Devil’s Crown; and the remaining, from the afternoon outing on Punta Cormorant.

Thursday, Sept. 17, afternoon

Given its name, one might think that Floreana’s Punta Cormorant (in Spanish, meaning “cormorant point”) would be crawling with the endemic cormorant species of the Galápagos.  Alas, one would be wrong.  With wings that have evolved into useless stubs because it has no predators from which it needs to fly, the Flightless Cormorant can only be found on the farthest west islands of Isabela and Fernandina.  Rather than being named after the bird, the point honors a U.S. ship of the same name.

We landed on the west side of the point, at a beach where the sand had a slight green-ish tinge to it, because of the presence of the crystals of the mineral olivine—a magnesium-iron silicate found in igneous rocks, named for its olive color.  On a large stone at one end of the beach sat an unofficial display of the remains of several sea creatures—mostly green sea urchins, which are the spiny objects. Actually, the smoother one at about 11 o’clock of due center is also a green sea urchin—the shell (called the “test”) without the spines.  The term “sea urchin” means, appropriately enough, “sea hedgehog,” since “urchin” is the Greek word for “hedgehog.”  Stray skeleton pieces and shells make up the rest of the interesting presentation.  As we headed up the path, this lovely Floreana Daisy (also called “cutleaf daisy”; right) hugged the side—a low evergreen shrub that grows in lava or cinders and one of the few flowering plants we saw anywhere, since we were in the archipelago during the dry season.

As we headed east along the path, we passed a coastal lagoon with several feeding, and several nesting, Greater Flamingos.  Seeking crustaceans, mollusks, insects, plant matter, algae—a truly varied diet—the flamingos sweep their bills upside-down through the water, using them as filters.  Nests are built in small colonies such as the one in the photo below right.  The nest of mud is pie-shaped, 8 – 10″ high.  In this photo, you can see 2 nests on which flamingos are incubating.  (Click on the photo to see a larger version; use your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.)  A single egg is incubated by both parents and hatches in about 30 days.  The chick leaves the nest shortly after hatching, sporting a straight bill that begins to develop its characteristic downward curve only after about 3 weeks; fledging occurs 2 – 3 months after hatching.  Estimates place the Galápagos population of Greater Flamingos at about 500 individuals—a stable but small and therefore vulnerable population.

While we were enjoying the flamingos in the lagoon, Carlos spotted a shorebird at the far end.  Since he didn’t have binoculars, he asked me whether it was a Sanderling.  As I zeroed in on it, I said, “Nope, not a Sanderling.  But it looks like a phalarope—is that possible?”  (Since the bird was quite distant, even for Zeiss binoculars, I couldn’t be sure.  But it appeared to be engaged in that characteristic spinning common in a feeding phalarope.)  Carlos responded that phalarope was certainly possible; I handed him my binoculars and he confirmed it—a Wilson’s Phalarope.  A familiar U.S bird, but a surprise to see it here.

As we left the lagoon to head further east, Z spotted a male Galápagos Carpenter Bee at a saltbush.  Carpenter bees are the only species of bee in the Galápagos, named for their burrowing into dead wood or structural timber to nest.  A key pollinator, this insect reportedly pollinates 75% of the plant life in the archipelago.  The female is black and quite common; the male, yellow-brown and about 2/3 the size of the female, is much less common.  (You will definitely need to click on the photo for a larger version if you want to see the bee.)  Most of the flowers in the Galápagos Islands are yellow—a favorite color of the carpenter bee.

Continued on p. 2; click below.

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