Thursday, October 18, 2012

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: North Seymour Island

Saving the best for last!!!

On the map, North Seymour is situated just above Santa Cruz (red circle). South Seymour is where the Baltra airport is situated (the one we arrived at).  
This morning we had an early start. I was up at 5:30am again but there was no sunrise to see because it was cloudy. We left the yacht at 6:30 for North Seymour Island but before we left, I went to the back of the yacht where the panga is stored and I was just enjoying the cool morning air when I saw a grey shadow in the water. Not being sure what it was, I stared at the water for some time and there in front of my eyes was a shark! Yes a real shark! They are called white-tipped reef sharks and they are around in these waters but I have not been fortunate to see one until today. Omar said that you can go snorkeling in the water and they won’t bother you. The thought of swimming close to a shark and not have it bother me is a bit science fiction-like.
I was so excited to see it. One mind said to run back to the cabin for my camera and the other said to stay and watch because as soon as I leave, so will the shark. After watching for a good 10 minutes and it was still following the yacht, I decided to get my camera and as soon as I tried to step away, I saw another grey shadow move in the water. It was another shark!! This was my lucky day. For a full week, I had seen none and now there were two of them. I really did run to my cabin and got my camera and tried to take a picture of both of them at the same time but I could only manage to get one in the shot. They look so graceful gliding just below the surface of the water. And they just kept up with the yacht for almost half an hour. It was quite a spectacle to see.
We landed on North Seymour shortly after 6:30am. We had not yet had breakfast so the early morning excursion was a bit different than our routine for the last week. Omar said there would be lots of birds to see but the place looked like it was deserted of even sea lions and that was a rare feat.  The vegetation was quite stark – looking like every tree had died and there were only trunks and branches left.
We walked for a bit and could not really see anything. I thought to myself that this was going to be one shore excursion that was going to be a dud. But we rounded a corner and there was a blue-footed boobie with one of her young. The youngster looks quite different than a fully-grown one. They are the purest white downy colour with black beaks. No other colour. Then we saw other boobie chicks in various stages of growth, from just hatched to a couple of weeks old. 

By now we had seen a number of the blue-footed boobies but had not seen any young ones so this was different. Nevertheless, they are still stunning.

What we were really hoping to see were frigate birds but they are hard to find and sometimes only on specific islands. I wasn’t sure this was one of the islands but Omar said that if we were lucky, we’d spot some.

And then I spotted one in a tree! Male frigate birds have a red sack – sort of like an airbag - just under their bill and when they want to court a female, they will inflate the sack. This can take as long as 30 minutes to do. Once it’s inflated, they then call to the females and the females come and check them out. If she likes what she sees – a big sack that is very red – she’ll let the mail know that he’s the one. If not, she flies off to check out other males and he sits there calling other females in the hope that one of them will find him attractive. The one I spotted had only a partially inflated sack but I reckoned that if that was the only one I’d see, I’d be satisfied with the picture.

Then we walked a bit further into the island and we saw some female ones.

There are two types – great and magnificent. Those are really the names and they really do look great and magnificent. One of the females had a very young chick, most likely just hatched a day or two before.

Then the most marvelous sight – a male perched in a practically leafless tree in all his glory - with wings spread wide apart and his sack completely inflated – calling to any female to tell him that he was the one. You should have seen it. The pose was utterly impressive

Then we saw two males with their inflated sacks and a female sitting right next to them trying to decide which one she found more handsome and he would be her partner. She picked one and the other sat there looking so crestfallen. Imagine you are a suitor competing with another male for the affection of one girl. Think of how you would feel if you pictured yourself to be so handsome and irresistible – only to have the girl look at you then pick the other guy. Talk about rejection. And talk about pretending to continue to look cool even in the face of rejection! Hard but it’s survival of the fittest as Darwin said.

A couple of last pictures of the bell flower, a Darwin finch and a female frigate bird with the most enchanting blue bill and blue rings on its eyes.

This was a great morning. What a way to start the day – to see some rare birds and so many of them on one place. Back to the yacht for breakfast and then off to the Baltra airport for our flight back to Quito.
I had so much to think about in the plane that my mind could hardly settle on one image that I liked better than the next. I have so many great pictures in my head that I wish that I could have captured all of them on my camera but some things are best left in my head for me to enjoy in moments of solitude.

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