North Seymour — and buen viaje

We then headed to the breeding colonies of Magnificent Frigatebirds (MAFRs).  One theory about the name “frigatebird” relates to their method of feeding.  Historically, pirates used frigates as warship; and MAFRs qualify as the pirates of the Galápagos.  MAFRs, much like cormorants and Anhingas, don’t have waterproof feathers and therefore cannot spend much time in the water fishing.  However, they often live in the same habitats as Blue-footed Boobies, who are excellent fishers.  A MAFR relies on its sharp vision and swift flight to determine when a booby has caught a fish.  Zeroing in, it chases and harasses the successful booby until it drops its fish.  The MAFR swoops in and catches the falling meal mid-air and flaps off with sustenance.  We occasionally saw them harass Red-billed Tropicbirds in this way, too.  (Note that in 2010, scientists determined that the Galápagos MAFRs have differed genetically from MAFRs in both the Caribbean and the Pacific sides of the archipelago for more than 500,000 years.  You can read more about this study here.  Whether this genetic difference is sufficient to warrant designation as new species is as yet unknown.  Stay tuned…)

The stages of MAFR breeding overlapped greatly on this island.  We saw male MAFRs engaged in breeding displays, inflating their bright red gular (throat) pouches and flapping their long, out-stretched wings.  In many cases, these “raring to get started” males were displaying in close proximity to rather mature MAFR nestlings.  Remember that we saw only Great Frigatebird (GRFR) nestlings on Genovesa.  You can tell that these chicks were MAFRs rather than GRFRs because they had no brown on their heads.  You can also tell that the adult females in these photos were MAFRs rather than GRFRs because they had the deep black Vs on their breasts; female GRFRs have white all the way to their throats.  Also, while female GRFRs have red eye rings, female MAFRs have blue eye rings.  The blue eye ring is hard to see in these photos, since we kept our distance from the breeding colonies.  But the red eye ring of a GRFR would have been quite obvious, even at this distance.  The 3 photos immediately below were the same colony, with one displaying male.  (Click on any photo to see a larger version; use your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.)  In the 4th photo (2nd row, center), you see one male (far right) with a fully inflated gular pouch near a male whose pouch has deflated to a barely visible red squiggle, signifying that he was finished trying to attract a mate.  (Perhaps the female preening to his right had already consented.)  Throughout the islands, we saw males with gular pouches in a variety of sizes—another demonstration that the breeding season for MAFRs in the archipelago stretches across many months.

Since we had several great views of the displaying male MAFRs and the nesting colonies, we traversed the shorter out-and-back trail, heading back to the pangas after just about an hour.  Several folks in our group had spotted a flip-flop off the path on our way out; coming back, Carlos tracked it down, determined to remove any and all litter.  (He had already picked up a rapidly disintegrating piece of foam that seemed to have been from a cheap cooler.  The curses of an island’s being so close to major civilization, I imagine.)  It was a ways off the approved path, so he took a moment to gauge how far it was from the path to the dreaded intruder and how he could get to it without touching land.  Tossing a comment over his shoulder in a mock-serious announcer voice—“I am a trained professional.  Don’t try this at home, children!”—he  rock-hopped deftly to the flip-flop, snatched it up, and rock-hopped back to the path without ever touching the soil.  He took the admonition of “Take only photographs; leave only footprints; kill only time” one step further:  Not even footprints remained.

A pair of Swallow-tailed Gulls and a preening Brown Pelican watched us troop down the rock staircase and back to the pangas.  If you look closely at the Swallow-tailed Gull in the lower left corner of this photo (a zoomed-in copy is on the right), you can get a sense of the bright red interior of its mouth and its tongue—nicely coordinated with those bright red legs and feet.

Continued on p. 3; click below.

9 Responses to North Seymour — and buen viaje

  1. Claudine says:

    Again Tina thank u so much for your quick feedback. I think my mind is just about made up now thanks to u. 🙂


  2. Claudine says:

    Hi Tina I have taken your advice and looked at another itinerary. Thanks again for all your feedback and input . Your site is an excellent site. The other one I have looked at is an 8 day aboard the Angelito thru Happy Gringo:

    Baltra, North Seymour
    Sombrero Chino, Bartolome
    Genovesa, Prince Phillip Steps, Darwin Bay
    Santiago, Puerto Egas, Rabida
    Charles Darwin Station, Santa Cruz Highlands
    Espanola, Punta Suarez, Gardner Bay
    Santa Fe, South PLazas
    Black Turtle Cove, Baltra
    Thanks again for any feedback u can give me on this one before I go any further.


    • Tina says:

      Hi, Claudine–

      The Angelito is a really good tourist-superior boat—one of 2 in that class that I heartily recommend. She was recently refurbished and it sounds like they did a good job. The owner (Maja) even sometimes serves as the naturalist guide and she gets good reviews. We ran into her with her group on our landing at Urbina Bay and I really enjoyed her interacting with both our naturalist guide and her group. So I think you’ll be happy with the Angelito.

      This itinerary is a very solid “eastern” itinerary, going to 2 of the 4 most distant islands (Genovesa & Española). Those islands are really wonderful and should be great in Oct. (We were there in Sept. on our first trip.) You also have a good chance of seeing a small group of the adorable Galápagos Penguins that move between Sombrero Chino and Bartolomé; no guarantees, but many people report seeing them there while snorkeling (as we did on on our first trip). You’ll get to see the Giant Tortoises living free in the Santa Cruz highlands–one of my favorite experiences! And Santa Fé has a unique species of Land Iguana, found nowhere else in the archipelago (or in the world, for that matter!).

      I’m not sure what kind of babies you’re interested in. Songbirds won’t be breeding, but many of the other species of animals—avian and mammal—have staggered breeding seasons, which vary by island. We saw a good number of young Galápagos Sea Lions hanging with their moms when we traveled in Sept. and we even came upon a female that had recently given birth. I don’t think you’ll see many young reptiles; they tend to hatch during the warmer months. But no matter what, you’ll have lots of great encounters with wildlife.

      So I think this is a great choice. And Happy Gringo gets really good reviews as a reliable and responsive agency specializing in travel in the archipelago. I think you’ll be in good hands with them.



      • Claudine says:

        Hi Tina

        And thanks again for the quick response. One island that I would of have liked to have gone to is the San Cristobal but is not included in this itinerary. With the other islands on this cruise would I be missing a lot by not seeing this one.


      • Tina says:

        Hi, Claudine–

        We haven’t been to San Cristóbal. When we’ve gone to the archipelago, we’ve pretty deliberately tried to minimize our time in the populated islands. You can’t avoid them completely, since you have to fly into and out of an airport and the itinerary usually spends at least a bit of time somewhere on that island. We’ve also not been to Puerto Villamil on Isabela, for that same reason. We go for the wildlife and we want them to be as wild as possible. Personally, I never felt like I was missing much, wildlife-wise, because we had chosen the islands to visit very carefully. At least with land wildlife, I can’t think of any you’d see on San Cristóbal that you wouldn’t see on the Angelito’s itinerary you’re considering.

        If you really wanted to see the island, one option would be to spend a few days on San Cristóbal before or after a cruise. You can get there via a speedboat ferry from Santa Cruz. If you did that, you could try to get a day trip to Kicker Rock (good snorkeling, by most reports) or Punta Pitt (although the itinerary you’re considering goes to Genovesa, where the sea bird breeding colonies are much larger and closer to the paths). These day trips may not go every day, though. And I know the Kicker Rock day trips can fill up fast. So if you did this, you might want to see if you could make reservations to make sure you can do them on the days that you’re there.



  3. mason gomberg says:

    Thank you for a well thoughtout prose about your trip, We are deciding whether to use the TipTop II or another boat or do land tours, but this definitely helps. If you email back I have a few additional questions if you have the time to answer. Thanks again Mason


  4. Marcia Dolce says:

    Great trip report! I will be on the Tip Top II in ten days and appreciate all the details you’ve provided.


  5. Ann Barber says:

    Tina, I have read the whole blog and am moved at your presentation. One, the prose and explanations are terriffic along with the pictures. But your knowledge of how to move from page to page and to enlarge the photos are beyond my capabilities. I think it would be wonderful to print it as a memory to the trip.
    Many many thanks for all the work and detail you provided. We all loved the opportunity to take this adventure but having such memories is priceless. Ann


  6. Steve Marchetti says:

    Thanks for the great trip summary and photos. My wife and I are taking the same trip in mid-March and are looking forward to it with excitement. When we made the reservations we were a little “up in the air” over the boat, your comments settled our concerns.


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