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Friday 3 Jan 2014
Punta Suarez, Ecuador

Albatross!

Another early start saw us on Punta Suarez on Isla Española.  The marine iguanas here bore their Christmas mating colours with red and green scales down their backs.  We found at least 30 of them on the beach, huddled together in a big group for warmth overnight.  They were just beginning to spread out to find a sunny spot for the day.  Once they have warmed up sufficiently, they turn their bodies toward the sun and raise their heads, providing a strip of shade down their backs.  They are so still and silent that I almost trod on a couple on the rocky path.  They live in close proximity with the sea lions and tolerate them without too much fuss.  We watched a young sea lion lolling on the rocks near the beach, happily chewing on the tail of an iguana on the rock above him.  The iguana ignored the pup for quite a while before crawling just out of reach, leaving the the poor thing looking around forlornly for his lost toy.

Fabian led us up a trail through the dry foliage, which was about 6’ tall on either side, to reach the cliff edge.  On the way we saw Galápagos doves, mockingbirds, finches and some nesting nasca boobies.  Nasca boobies are a race of murderers – they lay two eggs a few weeks apart.  When the second egg hatches, the chick is immediately murdered by the older sibling – it is there only as a back up in case the first egg doesn’t hatch. On the way up, we stopped to look down on the rocks below us and watch the waves crashing against them, waiting for them to hit in just the right spot and blast up through the blowhole in the rocks.  The spray shot several metres into the air when it went off.

Our reward for reaching the cliff top was to witness the flight of the Waved Albatross – the biggest bird in Galápagos and the only albatross species to nest here.  We’d missed the biggest part of the mating season but there were still a few pairs and some young chicks growing out their baby plumage.  They still sported an awkward looking ginger mohawk of feathers on their heads.  Albatrosses are the ultimate seabirds, they hate coming to land and can spend two weeks at sea in one go.  They fly all the way to Chile or Peru to feed on the coastline there – about 3500 miles away! – before returning home to feed their chicks.  Their wingspan can grow to 3m wide, allowing them to coast on the breezes and updrafts for hours. 

However, they are surprisingly ungraceful on land and waddle from side to side when they walk.  Because they are so big, they can’t take off from a standing start.  Instead, they have to take a run at the cliff edge and jump, using the sea winds to get them airborne.  We were lucky enough to see this a couple of times.  One albatross stood on the edge for several minutes watching one of his companions circling around.  We held our breaths and willed him to go for it, then cheered when he spread his wings and took the plunge, soaring up on the air currents.  We spent ages trying to catch fly by photos of the albatrosses as they wheeled in great figure of eight patterns above us, getting slowly closer to the ground in order to land.  Simply magnificent birds – yet another magical Galápagos moment that I will never forget.

For today’s snorkel, we headed out to a rocky islet nearby, where the water was much deeper but there were caves to explore around the outside, a result of old lava tunnels.  We found a few more sea lions.  There was a young pup sitting on a rock just above the water level, so Ailsa, Kim and I tried making sea lion noises at him to encourage him to come and play.  He stared at us for a few moments and then slid in the water – hooray! – and promptly vanished into a cave underneath and disappearing from our sight.  Oh.  Luckily we found another cheeky fella later on who kept hanging upside down in the water with his tail fins sticking out.  I’m sure they actually play with their own reflection on the underside of the water.  He would swim away just far enough and then hang upside down watching us until we caught up, before darting down and around us a few times, then doing it again.  Brilliant!

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

Travel blog by zobeedoo

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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    Isla Espanola

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