Genovesa (click on map for a larger version)
(from junglephotos.com—image not available from Google Earth)
(Note: To skip the text, you can see photos, with brief descriptions, of the wildlife on Genovesa here; the first 12 photos are from the Prince Philip’s Steps area and the remainder (including those on p. 2) are from the beach at Darwin Bay. Click on any photo to see a larger version.)
Sunday, 9/13, afternoon
After lunch, we first set off in the pangas to do some snorkeling in Darwin Bay. No beach landing this time, just get into the water from the pangas. Entering the water from the pangas was a real act of courage—no slowly easing yourself into the water from the beach. After plunging in, I found I had a return of the panic attack when I started to float. Also, the water was really, really deep, which added an exciting new element to the panic, just to keep things lively. But I took my time and worked on controlling my breathing; probably after only 5 minutes or so, the panic subsided and I was ready to head off again. Hurrah for me! As before, I don’t really remember any of the species of fish that we saw, but they were really pretty. The sea lions were even bolder than they had been off Rábida; one came right up to my mask and looked me in the eye. It then dove under me and went on its way. Quite an experience.
After heading back to the boat for a quick change, we all boarded the pangas again for a wet landing and a short walk on the beach at Darwin Bay. There, we saw nesting Swallow-tailed Gulls (STGU). STGUs are the world’s only nocturnal gull, feeding only at night. STGUs are very striking birds up close, with their red eye rings and red feet, although the moniker “swallow-tail” seems a bit overblown. (At most, they have a moderately notched tail, not the long forked tails I at least think of as “swallow-tailed.” But I’ve been accused of being too literal.) Their beaks are strongly patterned as well—black with a bright white spot at the base of the beak and light gray the tip of the beak. They feed at night; the light areas on their beaks may give the nestling a target to beg at when feeding in the dark. We watched several adults picking up small stones and putting them down, a nest-building behavior. STGUs nest on beaches, cliffs, and rock ledges. When they nest on the beach, they use primarily small white stones on a light-colored beach, with just a few black stones. (You can see a nest beginning in the photo to the right—click on the photo for a larger image and use your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.) But when they nest on darker beaches, they construct a mirror image of these nests: mostly small black stones with just a few white stones. They lay a single egg, which is tended by both parents; the young stick with the parents for 3 months after leaving the nest. The juveniles are white with dark spots—in fact, STGUs are the only gull to have white young, perhaps again to help to find them in the dark—with very dark beaks, looking very little like their parents (below).
We ran into more Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. This one was apparently sunning itself in this odd posture. Kind of looks like yoga pose. A pair of White-cheeked Pintails (also called Galápagos Pintail, an endemic subspecies of White-cheeked Pintail) waddled past us to a lagoon behind several tidal pools. You can see the distinctive dark bill with the bright pink base on the bird to the left. (Click on the photo to see a larger version.)
This beach also had a lot of Opuntia—prickly pear cactus. Opuntia is the most widespread of the cactus species on the islands. With 14 “variations” in 6 species, the Opuntia vary widely across the islands. On some islands—especially those with land iguanas and tortoises that browse these plants—it grows tall and tree-like. On Genovesa, with no browsing animals, Opuntia helleri is a low-growing species, with rather soft and wavy spines. The Opuntia are a valuable food source for not just iguanas and tortoises; they also offer food and shelter for a variety of birds such as many of the finch species, mockingbirds, and the Galápagos Dove.
As we headed back to the beach to meet the pangas, a Red-footed Booby bid us “buen viaje.” It would be the last one we saw on the trip.
We faced another long overnight voyage from Genovesa to the southern shore of Santa Cruz—as long as 9 hours. It too could potentially be a rocky voyage. But since the voyage from the south the previous night had been relatively calm, it seemed unlikely that it would be too bad. We ate dinner early—5 p.m.!—so we could set off to the south around 6:30.
Tomorrow—“Tortoises and civilization” at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. Puerto Ayora is the main town on the island of Santa Cruz and (as Galapagaño towns go) a large one. Although I was very much looking forward to seeing the tortoises, I was feeling a tad ambivalent about the “civilization” part after so many days of just our group and crew and the few other tour groups we ran into on the landings (although the possibility of interesting t-shirts was a bit of a siren song).
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