Genovesa — Prince Philip’s Steps

Route map (click on map for a larger version)


Genovesa (click on map for a larger version)

GenovesaMap(from—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.  Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

Sunday, 9/13, morning

The overnight ride wasn’t nearly as choppy as it might have been.  Whew!  (Of course, it was still livelier than any night we’d had before.)  Genovesa (pronounced “hen-oh-VAY-suh”) is an inactive volcano; Darwin Bay was formed when its large crater collapsed below sea level. Genovesa is the only island of the 5 northernmost islands that is open to visitors.  Named after Genoa, 20090913_YCNHeronthe birthplace of Christopher Columbus, it is also called “Tower.” But since Carlos primarily used the Ecuadorean names of the islands, so did we.  We started the morning with a dry landing at Prince Philip’s Steps (named after the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited in the 1960s), a natural dock with a steep rock staircase leading to the flat top of the island.  We were greeted by a Yellow-crowned Night Heron as we climbed the steps.

The wonders began at the top of the rather steep and tall steps, where we found ourselves plunged immediately into the midst of nesting frigatebirds and boobies.  20090913_GreatFrigate3Frigatebirds nest in trees or tall bushes; the nests are a jumble of twigs providing a platform for the growing nestling (left photo).   The islands have 2 species of frigatebirds.  The ones we saw here were Great Frigatebirds (GRFR) rather than Magnificent Frigatebirds (MAFR), since MAFRs feed in shallow water and Genovesa is surrounded by deep water.  GRFRs, on the other hand, are deep-sea feeders, so Genovesa is their cup of tea.  The adult males of the 2 species can be difficult to differentiate; books talk about the MAFR as slightly bigger and having a purplish sheen on the back feathers while20090913pm_GreatFrigate1 the GRFR has a more greenish sheen.  (Yeah, well—good luck with that!  Unless you’re looking closely at 1 of each, side by side, that would be a tough call.)  But the adult females are relatively easy to separate.  Female GRFRs have solid white on their chests that stretches all the way up their throats; in female MAFRs, the white is more of a V shape cut into their otherwise dark chests, with black from their throats to their beaks.  (It sounds subtle, but it’s really not that challenging.  In the right photo, you can see the full white chest and throat of the female GRFR.)  If you’re up close and personal, as is so often the case in the Galápagos, you can also see that the GRFR females have red eye rings, while the MAFRs have blue eye rings. (The eye rings are visible in the right photo if you click on it to get the larger version; click on your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.)

20090913_GreatFrigate1And speaking of up close and personal—I don’t think it gets more so than this big GRFR nestling.  Nestling frigatebirds can be differentiated as well:  Both have white heads but GRFRs also have brown on their heads while MAFRs have all-white heads.  GRFR nestlings are dependent on their parents for as long as 18 months, because the feeding techniques of the deep waters are difficult to learn and perfect.

Continued on p. 2; click below.

3 Responses to Genovesa — Prince Philip’s Steps

  1. Claudine says:

    Sorry Tina but on the last post I meant to say it would be an Oct 2015 trip. Would we see many babies at that time?


  2. Merry Wheaton says:

    Thanks for your wonderful writing, details, insights and suggestions! My husband and I are going to the Galapagos in late May and I feel a whole lot more able to make the necessary plans now that I’ve read your account. Way more helpful than tour books, I must say!


  3. Jeanne Clarke says:

    We plan to go to the Galapagos (with Road Scholar) this Oct. I’ve very much enjoyed your blog (I read and re-read constantly!) and I’m wondering if you learned all of the above about the birds just by going on the trip or were you already well informed? Do you think it important to do some research / study about this beforehand or shall I just rely on the naturalist to fill me in? I’m very interested in learning about the wildlife, but have very limited knowledge now.

    Tina writes:

    I am a birder, and I bought a wildlife guide for the Galápagos, which I looked over some before our trip. But it really wasn’t necessary. I’d say 75% of the info on the pages here came from our marvelous naturalist guide. I looked up the rest when I started writing up the various pages. The walks are really leisurely and the naturalist guide spends nearly every minute talking about the wildlife, the vegetation, the geology—everything. I found myself taking lots of notes at the end of the day, trying to remember all of the info he shared (since I knew I was going to write the blog). I always slipped my field guide into my pocket when we had a landing. But I almost never referred to it while we were out and about. All of the creatures are so close and so easy to observe. Anything that isn’t really obvious, the naturalist guide will identify for you and tell you all about it. It’s a truly amazing experience.


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