(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)
The captain started the engines around 2 a.m. and we arrived at Floreana just at dawn (6 a.m.). As the sun rose, I spotted 3 other boats in our area: King of the Sea, Galaven, and Reina Sylvia. I felt a bit like a celebrity spotter—I’d read so much about so many different boats, I was really excited to see some of them in person. I was especially interested in the Reina Sylvia, since it is typically chartered by rather wealthy clients. (For instance, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie brought their family to the archipelago recently, they traveled on the Reina Sylvia. Just sayin…) No famous faces that I could see this time, though.
First thing in the morning, Carolina had the day’s schedule on the white board in the library (above). We had been to the Floreana landings before, so we knew what to expect. We spent the early morning on Punta Cormorant. Contrary to what you might think, Punta Cormorant is not named for the endemic Flightless Cormorant. In fact, you won’t find any cormorants at all on Floreana. (You need to travel to Isabela or Fernandina to find them.) Instead, it was named after a U.S. military ship. Go figure.
Our visit in 2009 had been very (VERY!!) low-key. It was the last afternoon of that trip and I think our naturalist guide was running out of energy. Our group wandered around the beach area and just relaxed. But this time, Carolina spent a lot of time pointing out wildlife as we walked to and from the beach, as well as on the beach itself.
After a wet landing, the olivine beach didn’t seem as green as the last time we had been there. Perhaps it was the difference between morning and afternoon sun. Made up of magnesium, iron, and silica, the olivine crystals originate deep in a volcano. They likely traveled on the wind from the nearby tuff cones. The ubiquitous and beautifully colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs greeted us, crawling around the rocks by the olivine beach. This colorful beauty was probably relatively mature, since younger crabs are darker. In addition to their marked speed and agility (hence the name), they help to clean up the beach areas of all sorts of organic detritus.
We headed to the brackish lagoon that hosts Greater Flamingos—one of the largest populations of these stunning birds in the archipelago. During the walk, we spotted an insect that would be Zell’s nemesis on the inhabited islands—the Yellow Paper Wasp (below). Across the next 2 days, Zell was stung 3 different times by these wasps. They seemed especially drawn to the area around his daypack where webbing connected the straps to the packbelt. If you’re especially sensitive to wasp stings, you might consider putting some insect repellent on that part of your day pack.
Floreana has only one species of Lava Lizard (Microlophus grayi), endemic to this island. A diminutive member of this species paused on the path, allowing close examination. Although both males and females have orange-red throats, the females have red on the face as well. Howdy, little lady.
A young fledgling songbird watched us from the trees. From this photo, I can’t definitely determine whether it’s a young Yellow Warbler (which, at least in the U.S. tend to be quite drab) or a young Galápagos Flycatcher (should the beak be two-toned?). Given how calm it was, I would guess it was a Yellow Warbler; flycatchers tend to be a bit more skittish. May was a delightful time to be in the archipelago, from a birding point of view. We saw a number of recent fledglings—both songbirds and shorebirds—still being fed by their parents. I also heard Yellow Warblers singing on just about every landing we made. To my ear, the songs seemed a bit different on each island—and all seemed different from the very familiar Yellow Warbler song I know from our Colorado home (“sweet-sweet-sweet-I-am-so-SWEET!”). But the rhythm and tone were similar enough to let me identify them. Very different from visiting during September, when we heard no singing at all.
Continued on p. 2; click below.