Route map (click on map to see a larger version)
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Friday morning, 9/18
As Carlos’s schedule board artwork declared, this morning’s target species was the Magnificent Frigatebird, which nests on North Seymour. North Seymour (which Carlos pronounced “say-more,” rather than the English pronunciation of “see-more”) lies just north of Baltra (and the tiny, uninhabited Isla Mosquera). It was perhaps named either for Sir George Francis Seymour, a British Admiral in the 1800s, or the ship of the same name that was the first of four ships to carry emigrants from England to New Zealand in 1850. (In case you’re wondering, an early name for Baltra was South Seymour.)
We were scheduled to visit North Seymour early, to allow time for traversing the full trail on the island, in case we didn’t have good views of nesting Magnificent Frigatebirds along the shorter path. We gathered rather groggily before dawn in the lounge for a quick snack and some juice, to tide us over until breakfast. It was a cool morning with a slight mist. As I was boarding the panga at the boat, I learned my only Quichua word (the language of the Incas). Rodolfo was muttering “achachay” as he worked with the panga’s lines; nearby, Carlos noted that that was “cold” in Quichua. It does have rather a teeth-chattering sound to it. We landed at the rock staircase on the southwest shore of the island just as dawn was breaking. This was a challenging landing for the panga pilots—the wind was strong, the sea was a bit choppy, and the pilots had to hold the pangas tight to the boulders so we could clamber out. It was a group effort, to be sure. In the photo on the right, Alfredo gunned the motor to keep the panga close to the rocks while Carlos (far right) held the line and Rodolfo (blue jacket) gave passengers a needed hand up. Clearly Alfredo was keenly focused on the landing—it was probably the only time he hadn’t announced “Life jackets, please” as the shore neared, so those in the panga would pass the life jackets to the front before they got out of the panga. Instead, folks headed up the boulders with their life jackets still on—and then had to stop and return them to the panga.
We passed by a number of Land Iguanas, still lingering close to one another in the cool of the morning. As noted earlier, the Land Iguanas on North Seymour were not endemic to that island. They were all translocated from Baltra in the 1930s, in an experiment to see if they could survive on the new island. Indeed they could; and even more importantly, they were able to provide the breeding stock for the re-introduction of Land Iguanas back onto Baltra after they had been extirpated during the U.S. occupation of the airfield there. Both populations are now doing just fine.
We passed a mother Galápagos Sea Lion and her pup. Carlos pointed out the placenta on the sand and guessed that the pup was probably not much more than an hour old. You can see the umbilical cord still attached to the newborn. The placenta clearly was prized by a number of birds. A Lava Gull was definitely interested. (As noted earlier, this was only the 2nd time we had seen a Lava Gull. The previous time was nearby on the north shore of Santa Cruz—the most populous island. Lava Gulls have adapted to humans and their detritus, so it was no surprise that we saw them on these 2 well-visited islands. This Lava Gull was much darker all over than the one we saw on Santa Cruz—a typical adult plumage.) Below, the Lava Gull eyed the mother sea lion warily, trying to calculate how it could get at the placenta. A Ruddy Turnstone in almost complete breeding plumage showed an interest in the placenta as well. (You can get a sense of the breeding plumage in the cropped version of the larger photo, on the right.) At least while we were there, mom kept the birds at bay although she didn’t really do anything very obvious—at least obvious to us humans.
Continued on p. 2; click below.