Love Is in the Air

Size does matter. That’s what our naturalist told us as we watched the blue-footed boobies perform their mating dance. Foot size, that is. Because the male boobies are a progressive bunch who share the egg incubation and child-rearing duties with the larger, female boobies, the females look for big feet, in addition to the perfect blue, when choosing a mate.

When Matt and I returned from our trip to Wisconsin over Christmas, the end was in sight – only 3 more months on the Galapagos. We were eagerly counting down and one of the highlights along the way was our second Lindblad National Geographic expedition, this time on the newly launched Endeavor II. (Here are posts on our first National Geographic cruise and my cruise on the smaller Samba: Cruising the Galapagos and Sailing on the Samba.) Admittedly, Matt and I approached the cruise with a bit of a “been there, done that” attitude: after almost 2 years we have seen most that the islands have to offer. Instead, the islands wowed us again and we were as enthusiastic as first-time visitors when we saw new-to-us animals and voyeuristically observed mating behaviors.

Back to the sex. The birds were providing quite the shows. This poor swallow-tail gull couple had their fun interrupted by a frigatebird who just wanted to cause trouble!

Wah!!!

Matt and I were thrilled to see flightless cormorants for the first time. This pair did not disappoint: we watched their courtship dance that began in the water and then continued on shore only a few feet in front of us. Their turquoise eyes were stunning.

While the blue-footed boobies get most of the attention, the red-footed boobies’ colors are even more spectacular with their blue and red beaks in addition to their red feet. These pairs had already committed and were in the real estate phase of their relationships. The males would fly off in search of just the right twig, which they would return to give to the female. Then the two would fight over exactly where to place the twig in the nest. Who said decorating is easy in the wild?!

Incoming!

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The frigatebird bachelors were doing their best to attract some females. They have a teenage boy mentality: the males all hang out together, puff out their pouches and whistle to the females in an attempt to get their attention. No one got lucky while we were there.

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It was not all about the birds. My beloved marine iguanas were building their nests. It was a spectacular sight to see their compact bodies kicking up sand everywhere we looked. Even more fun were the turf wars.

We didn’t just see great land animals. On our way back from a hike, we spotted a whale from our zodiac. The rest of the passengers were back on board, but we were off on a wild whale chase!

It was both exhilarating and slightly terrifying – zodiacs are just little rubber dinghies! Matt and I were lucky to spot this orca from the ship on another day.

Orca

One of my favorite creatures to spot while snorkeling is the elusive octopus. This one was pretty easy to see for a change.

And, of course, my favorite:

Which leads us to the land iguanas.

Tres Amigos

In addition to the great animals and views, we also met fantastic people and had good conversations, games and laughs. An unforgettable last trip around the islands!

Day Tripper, Yeah

 

True Love, Booby Love

True Love, Booby Love

Last Saturday we took our first day trip. The trip entailed a 35 minute bus ride across our island (Santa Cruz), a 40 minute boat ride to North Seymour island, a 1 1/2 hour guided walk around North Seymour, a boat ride (during which time we were served a delicious lunch) to a beach for snorkeling that is inaccessible by land on Santa Cruz, a boat ride back to port and a bus ride home. We were picked up at 7:30 am and dropped off around 3:30. While the price seemed steep at $168 per person, we compared notes with several of our fellow travelers and found it was an average price for the tour.

While Matt and I were most excited about the snorkeling part of the trip, the walk around North Seymour proved to be the highlight of the day. We disembarked the Alta Mar and headed out with our English speaking guide, Carlos. Our group had 2 Germans, 2 Norwegians, a Colombian and us. English was the common denominator and everyone was quite friendly and fluent. The other group were older Ecuadorians who stuck to themselves and were led by the Spanish-speaking guide.

Touring North Seymour

Touring North Seymour

First spotted animal: the Sally Lightfoot Crab. We didn’t find it too exciting as Santa Cruz is loaded with them.

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightfoot Crab

The birds are the real stars of the show on North Seymour and we were not disappointed. Within a few steps we came upon these Swallow Tailed Gulls.

Carlos urged us along. Gulls are strictly supporting cast around here.

There they were: the Frigatebirds in all their glory.

Roadblock

Frigatebird Roadblock

The adult male Magnificent Frigatebird is essentially indistinguishable from the adult male Great Frigatebird unless you are close enough to see the sheen of the feathers. The Great Frigatebirds have a green sheen and the Magnificents a purple sheen. We saw Great Frigatebirds and the green sheen was gorgeous.

Green Sheen

Green Sheen

A few fun facts about Frigatebirds. They have the largest wingspan to weight ratio of any bird. Per Carlos, if they end up submerged in water, they drown because their wings get too heavy. They look impressive but are sneaky kleptoparasites, meaning they steal their food and nest materials from other birds. One way they steal food is to chase down a bird that recently caught something, shake it by its tail feathers until the bird pukes up its catch and then eat the catch. Lovely, right?

We were incredibly lucky to see the birds in all phases: eggs, babies, adolescents and adults. The birds live in colonies on sparse nests that look more like the birds just plunked themselves down rather than actually did any building. The single males scope out a territory where the posse then congregates and attempts to attract the females that fly overhead. The red throat pouch is their pickup move. It takes about 1/2 hour to inflate with air and then slowly the process of deflation occurs.

Couples are monogamous for the season and produce a single egg that is tended by both birds for a 6-8 week incubation period. Baby birds are allowed to stay in the nest for a year during which time their parents (although eventually just the mother) continue to feed them. As a result, usually a bird produces every other year. The adolescents have either white heads (Magnificents) or white heads with rust colored patches (Greats). The females of both species look essentially the same and are black with white breast and shoulders.

We also saw Blue Footed Boobies on the island. This couple was particularly sweet.

This one was incubating an egg in its nest, which basically is an indentation in the sand with one twig. No McMansions here.

Booby With Egg

Booby With Egg

In addition to the birds, North Seymour is home to many land iguanas. These guys look sleepy, but we saw one chase another out of its territory and they could sprint pretty fast! Interestingly, the iguanas on North Seymour were introduced from Baltra in the 30s. Subsequently, the iguanas became extinct on Baltra when it was used as a US military base. Because they are on nearby North Seymour, they can now be reintroduced to their original habitat on Baltra.

Finally, lest you think we live in paradise, we don’t.

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost