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At this time I have not made a formal brochure, but the following Trip Report from 2016 will give you a very good idea of the upcoming Photo Tour. The Report has everything ... probably more information than you'll see in most brochures. I will have a brochure posted in January 2017.

Trip Report:

Galapagos wildlife
Photo Tour
Trip Report




This was our first trip to the Galapagos Islands since the digital age, and what a wonderful return! Our trip was truly special -- we contracted to do a full two-week tour of the islands, which took us to ALL of the major destinations. That included Genovesa (Tower) for its incredible birds, the Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Greater Frigatebirds, Red-billed Tropicbirds, and more, in the northeast, and Espanola (Hood) Island in the far southeast, with the only nesting site of the beautiful Waved Albatross, colorful Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Hawks, and more. We circled the entire Archipelago, enabling us to visit remote Ferdanina and Isabella Islands, two of my absolute favoites. And we snorkeled -- at least some of us, and for Mary and I this was the highlight of the entire trip. We had a blast!

We shot 10X the number of images, at the very least, than we had previously during our visits here in the film days, and this enabled us to capture incredible images. We'll be doing this one again -- in 2018, for another two week cruise to this great location.

One point that we did worry about prior to the trip was how 'regulated' the Galapagos had become. We've heard that tourists can be pushed along, rushed, as group after group visited some sites. While we were on some islands where three other groups arrived and visited, our guide was great, and instead of racing along, we simply stepped aside and let them pass. Consequently, we spent as much time as we wanted with our subjects, seeing everything with quality. Our concerns ended up as only needless worries.

Here's the report!

Day 1. We left our hotel in Quito at 6AM for our flight to Galapagos, arriving in the islands at 11AM. Our first bird was a Great Egret, and two Land Iguanas greeted our plane, laying on the runway and ignoring us as we taxied by. We met our guide, Oswaldo, boarded a bus, and headed to our catamaran boat.
Our first landing, at 2PM, was on Seymore Island, known for its Land Iguanas, Great Frigatebirds, and Blue-footed Boobies. We had a few large female Land Iguanas, including one that was standing almost vertically to feed upon a cactus. As the Iguana stretched to read a cactus pad it lost its balance and fell backwards, prompting a laugh from us and costing an interesting shot as no one fired at the time. There were only a few Blue-footed Boobies present, with one sitting on eggs, and two others sky-pointing, fanning their wings in display, and flopping their feet. dGreat Frigatebirds soared overhead, with very few with inflated red throat pouches. Swallow-tailed Gulls, Brown Noddy Terns, Lava Gulls, and Galapagos Warblers were the other birds we saw and photographed during our two hour excursion.
After the landing we snorkeled, spending about 40 minutes in the not-too-cold water. One White-tipped Reef Shark, and three Spotted Eagle Rays were the highlight of the swim, although Parrot Fish, and various Angel fish were common.
At sunset we began motoring to our next destination, and a school of Bottlenosed Dolphins joined us, eventually leaping out of the water right beside our boat. We’re using a catamaran, and several times Dolphins leaped clear right between the two hulls of the boat. It was an exciting way to end our day.

Day 2. Santa Cruz

We motored in to the main town in the Galapagos where we boarded a bus for a 30-40 minute ride into the highlands for Giant Tortoises. The first time I visited the Galapagos, easily thirty years ago, the main street was nothing more than a third world-looking road, with tiny shops or kiosks, and little more than the Darwin Station and one or two poor-looking hotels along the waterfront. Now, all the streets are paved, and modern shops, hotels, restaurants, etc. The contrast was striking, as the town was now in the modern age.
The bus ride was uneventful, with some Smooth-billed Anis along the road, and little else. Close to our destination we saw our first Tortoise, grazing on vegetation on the side of the road. When we arrived at the farm, three Tortoises, all females, were in sight, and after a brief orientation our guide led the group into the woodlands to provide some orientation, and direction, for independent wandering. Galapagos Finches hopped about on the grounds around us as we moved through the forest towards a vegetation-covered pond where Tortoises had gathered to soak and drink.
fI left the group at that point, looking for some vantage to photograph the Tortoises, and weaving through the moss and lichen-covered trees to get closer to the pond. I spotted one Galapagos Rail, and typical for the species, the bird quickly skittered to cover. Alone in the woods, it was pleasant to walk quietly, stalking close to Tortoises that sometimes are shy when someone walks too close.
Most of the Tortoises were females, but I did find one male, a giant that was at least three times larger than any of the females I’d seen. At the pond I was able to shoot some Tortoises at water level, using Live View to stick the camera down low without lying almost head-down into the pool. At 10:30, and way too early for the opportunities available, we left the farm to check a cave for possible owls, but the caves were empty. We returned to the boat by noon for lunch.

bPM. At 2PM we returned to the island where we walked the near-mile route to the Darwin Research Station. Yellow Warblers, Medium Ground Finches, a Vegetarian Finch, Lava Herons, and Pelicans were common along the way. The Station, which features a few large enclosures for some Tortoises, was a disappointment, with one enclosure having one lone Land Iguana, and the others, with Tortoises, either lying about under trees or eating vegetation. Very boring.
However, the Lava Lizards were wild, and colorful, and we did some shooting of these unique little lizards. I was lazy today, and while most of our participants carried their normal cameras, and some with 100-400 lenses, I carried my new Olympus Tough point-n-shoot. The zoom goes to, I’d guess, about 200mm, but the minimum focus is mere inches, and using that camera I was doing frame-filling, and head-body portraits, of these lizards growing no more than 8 inches long. On the LCD the images look great – we’ll see what they look like when downloaded.
Our Darwin Station visit was rather brief, but our three hours on land went fast, with a little shopping, and a nice break at a bar for a welcomed beer. We returned to the boat at 6, under a clear sky and a nice sunset, and as the evening morphed to night the stars shined brightly.

Day 3. Isabella Island, Moreno Point

We motored through the night, leaving Academy Bay at Santa Cruz right after dinner and arriving at our anchorage shortly after 7AM. After breakfast we motored to shore to hike along a vast lava field, characterized by rope lava and deep crevices where lava had dried, cracked, and split. At one point I laid down on my belly to shoot a lizard-level shot of a Lava Lizard, not thinking that my Olympus point-n-shoot in my front pocket would be vulnerable to the sharp lava rock. Minutes later, when I removed the camera for a shot I was surprised, and angry, to see that this brand new camera now had a deep scratch etched into the LCD monitor. Fortunately it was that side, and not the lens!
lThe walk’s highlight was one of the several marshy lagoons where a Caribbean Flamingo had floated down to land. In my past experiences with Flamingos here I found them somewhat wary, but this bird was oblivious to us and we had nice shots at ten yards or less.
After the walk we did a panga ride among the rocks where we saw our first Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins. The cormorant obligingly stretched its tattered, useless wings wide to dry, creating a silhouette against the sky. The Penguin groomed, in good light, from several angles.
Next, Victoria, Lisle, Mary, and I snorkeled, with our target being Green Sea Turtles. We saw at least six, and the turtles were surprisingly tame and tolerant. I started with a GoPro, and at one point a Turtle swam in close, trying to grab the loose nylon strap attached to my monopod. Meanwhile, Mary’s GoPro flooded, so we switched cameras  and I shot stills with the Olympus, while Mary did more video. She always does better with that camera than I do, and she did today as well. I did well with the Olympus, swimming alongside, and trying to get ahead, of Turtles that leisurely flapped along, unconcerned with me hovering overhead or beside them.

PM. Urbina Bay.

At 2 we disembarked to a sandy beach where gold-colored Land Iguanas grazed on the new growth of a barren, once-weedy field. Wild Tortoises are here as well, and we saw one, but this female kept her back to us as she moved into the brush. mCoral skeletons marked where, in 1954, a severe earthquake caused the land and bay to rise three meters, stranding fish, sea turtles, and sea lions, scores of yards from the sea. Because we were the only group here we had the luxury of time, and I spent a good deal of it with the Land Iguanas, who obligingly ate vegetation while I waited nearby. At the beach, we had our first Galapagos Hawk, who flew by rapidly, wings beating hard, to swoop in and grab something further down the beach. We approached, but the bird took off before we reached it, and the hawk flew overhead, a partially eaten Yellow Warbler in its talons. Lyle went swimming, and had a dozen or more Sea Turtles, and a striped Tiger Eel that he mistook for a sea snake. We stayed on the beach until 5:45, returned to the boat, and had a sun-downer beer to end the day.

Day 4. Darwin Bay and Tagus Cove

We had anchored during the night and at first light most of the surrounding landscape was shrouded in thick fog. After breakfast, as we began to board our zodiac for the short ride to the landing, the sky cleared, the fog burned off, and the morning grew hot. Our destination was an overlook of a small lake that rose above a view of the bay where we were anchored.
At our landing, a pair of Flightless Cormorants had begun to build a nest on the steps leading to the lake. When we arrived, both birds were at the nest, which was characterized by very fresh-looking algae. After our hike, less than an hour later, the algae had dried, and the female had arranged the material into a quite well defined nest.
The hike was otherwise rather uneventful, with a nice view of the lake, bay, and landscape. Mockingbirds and small Galapagos Finches, of unknown species, were flitting in the trees and shrubs along the way, and a tail-drag of a land iguana marked its presence.
When we returned from the hike the male Flightless Cormorant had left the very problematic nest area, where struts and crossbeams of a fence compromised any shooting. Now, the bird was perched on a rock overlooking the water, and presented spectacular photo opportunities.
Mary, Victoria, Eric, Larry, and I did the hike, while the others stayed on the boat where they had a great photo opportunity with a Green Sea Turtle. The turtle swam close to the boat, straight on, and the shots, of the head and beak sticking out of the water, were quite nice.
bAfter the hike, the entire group did a zodiac cruise along the shoreline where we photographed a Brown Pelican, some Marine Iguanas, a pair of moulting Galapagos Penguins, and where we were visited by a curious Sea Lion. Back at the boat, Storm Petrels danced along the water, and with our shots we discovered that the birds were not walking on the water but actually their webbed feet sunk into it, to the depth of an inch or less, so the birds were actually flying-walking on water.
Lyle, Victoria, Mary, and I snorkeled, hoping to find Sea Turtles in the extremely clear water, but we didn’t see a one. Instead, we had a long, and very cold, swim, and shot nothing with either the GoPro or the Olympus.
We cruised afterwards, heading to our next destination, Espinoza Point, Fernandina Island.

PM. At 2PM we headed to one of my absolute favorite locations in the Galapagos, Espinoza Point. We landed at a cement wharf in a stand of mangroves, where a Marine Iguana parked itself on the trail. Our walking route skirted Marine Iguana nesting beaches as we walked along the lava flows, where Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Marine Iguanas, and several Flightless Cormorants, including one courting couple, marked the afternoon. We saw several Galapagos Snakes, slithering along through the lava and Marine Iguanas that paid the snakes no attention. Lava Lizards, the snake’s food, reacted quite differently, and raced to cover whenever a snake was near.
There was an El Nino event this year, and although it was supposed to not be too severe in the Galapagos, we saw a depressing number of dead Marine Iguanas. This puzzled me, as the warm waters of an El Nino would affect the fish, and consequently nesting birds, but not algae-eating Iguanas. Nonetheless, we saw several dead Iguanas, including a few that looked as if they had died within the last day or so. Mary saw a few large males that looked at Death’s Door, so spent she thought they were indeed dead, until they moved, but all, Mary reported, had their prominent dorsal spines drooping sideways, no longer high and erect as one would see in a healthy iguana.
bThe shooting was quite rewarding, and our initial walk brought us back to the beach and our landing about 70 minutes earlier than ‘my’ scheduled departure. Another group had arrived, but we stayed in one small section of the beach where we had the luxury, once more, of taking our time and concentrating on scenes and compositions, with Iguanas, Sally Light Foot Crabs, and Sea Lions. Our late afternoon concluded with a Galapagos Sea Lion and her nursing baby. Another baby, just a bit larger and either now weaned, or abandoned, btried to horn in with the mother, who didn’t react, but her blond-colored baby did, leaving the mother and barking, honking, at the interloper. The other baby approached three times before mother and baby moved off, walking right to us and forcing us to give ground before she settled on the lava and, once more, the baby nursed.

Day 5.  Puenta Egas, Santiago Island

Another very successful morning. We made a wet landing at a sandy beach, then climbed a small rise to a trail that eventually led to a broad beach of sand and stretches of lava. We hoped to find a short-eared owl, but were unsuccessful, but we did have three species of Heron, Great Blue, Lava, and Yellow-Crowned Night. hThe Great Blue was standing in a sea grape field close to the trail, the Night Herons were a pair, roosting on a ledge of a lava blowhole, where, at surging tides, water blasted forth like a geyser. We had several Lava Herons, including one that grabbed a Sally Lightfoot Crab and consumed it only feet in front of me.
The El Nino event probably influenced the number of Marine Iguanas present, as we saw few, but those we saw were grazing on flat rocks, effectively using their blunt snouts to scrape the thin veneer of algae on the rocks. Although I’m not sure the facts are accurate, our guide said that the warm waters created conditions that induced a different species of algae to grow, that was either ‘poisonous’ to the Iguanas, or simply something they couldn’t digest. With the warm waters of El Nino, I’d have thought that one, the iguanas would have an easier time of it, with warmer temperatures, and two, that algae growth would be accelerated. Apparently my assumptions were wrong.
Lava Lizards, and American Oystercatchers – including one fast mating event were other highlights for the morning walk, which took until nearly noon. We had a snorkeling excursion planned, but the shooting was too good, and the weather a bit discouragingly cool, to bother with snorkeling and we spent our time productively photographing.

PM. Buccaneer’s Cove, Santiago Island

bWe left at 3PM for a zodiac ride that was ‘scheduled’ to last until 5:30, but the surf was rough and by 4:30 we felt we had exhausted the subjects. A surprisingly high surf rolled in to the beach, which we avoided as we motored along, with Brown Pelicans repeatedly diving in, close to shore, for fish. After nearly every dive the pelicans would be swarmed by Brown Noddy Terns, some of which would land on the pelican’s head as they tried stealing fish.
Another highlight were the Galapagos Fur Seals that lay along the rocks on some steep cliffs. Although the surf was challenging, we may have captured some nice shots – despite the bouncing. At 5PM we headed to our new next destination, hoping that we’d find dolphins, but aside from Galapagos Petrels the seas were rather anti-climatic.

Day 6. Rabida Island

Clear skies, cloudless and hot, marked the morning in what I jokingly called a ‘wifi zone,’ meaning a wildlife-free-zone, as our landing was rather noneventful. A pair of American Oystercatchers were our only real wildlife subject, but the two were btame and fed along the surf line, walking practically between our legs as they moved down the beach. A lone Galapagos Hawk, and some unidentified Galapagos Finches flittered about. Several of us did a short walk to an overlook where we could look down onto the bay and our boat, with Opuntia Cactus trees lining the shoreline. Since the shooting was marginal, we left the beach early, and skipped the snorkeling here, opting instead to head to Sullivan Bay where wildlife opportunities would be greater. We arrived at anchor early, for a 2PM departure.
Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island
Several of us went snorkeling, with Lyle, Mary, and I having great luck with Green Sea Turtles. Mary used the GoPro, and with her video mounted on a monopod was able to extend the camera low enough to get a wonderful video sequence when two Sea Turtles met each other, and circled about for several seconds in obvious curiosity to one another. I was photographing the same thing with my Olympus, but watching the video later I was amazed at how short the encounter actually was – less than a minute, yet it seemed far longer while we were watching the two turtles.
We had three different turtles, and several were quite accommodating, swimming right at me, and challenging my ability to stay a bit ahead to get face-on shots as the turtles approached. Several White-tipped Reef Sharks patrolled the interface between the deep water and the rocky shoals, and we managed a few shots of the sharks as well.
After the snorkeling, which Dave, Tom, Victoria, Lyle, Mary, and I did, several of us (Eric, Victoria, Lyle, Larry, and Mary and I) walked through the eerie and alien landscape of Sullivan Bay’s lava fields, that extends for hundreds of acres with barely any living thing, any vegetation or insect, in sight. I did notice a few sprigs of some leafy plant, and two or three Lubber Grasshoppers that flitted up as I walked by, but otherwise the landscape was bare.
lBut it was interesting, with ropey-looking lava creating swirls and designs, and flat pancake stretches of lava that split and heaved, mimicking the earth’s crust. In a few locations puckered gaps marked where hot bubbles had formed, and either popped or collapsed upon themselves. We stayed until shortly before sunset, with the light dropping to the point where the necessary relief on the lava features was becoming muted and dull. At 5:45 we started our cruise to our next destination, Tower, or Genovesa Island, planning to arrive in the early morning hours tomorrow.

Day 7. Tower Island (Genovesa)

One of the highlights of any trip to the Galapagos is this, one of the principle wildlife islands located in the far northeastern quadrant of the archipelago. Tower is ancient, and our visitation area is inside a collapsed caldera. Our morning destination was Prince Phillip’s Steps, a steep climb up the lava cliffs. There are stone steps cut into the rock, and, now, a handrail, making pulling yourself up a little easier.
fAs we rode the zodiac to shore Red-billed Tropicbirds flashed by overhead, and the skies were filled with Frigatebirds. Several times we watched Frigatebirds chase and grab Boobies, and one was pulled and tweaked repeatedly by these dark, sinister-looking birds, as the Frigate tried to force the Booby into disgorging its prey. Another Frigate so cornered a Tropicbird that the bird was forced to the water, where the Frigate dipped its long bill downward, trying to intimidate the Tropicbird into regurgitating. When we landed, several Tropicbirds zoomed by, and I caught one series as a bird bflew in to the cliffs to land. The skies were mostly clear, and in the short time it took to ascend the stairs all of us were hot and sweating. Nazca Boobies, formerly Masked Boobies, were nesting or standing on rocks along the edge, and the first part of our walk skirted many nests that were located right beside the trail. Red-footed Boobies, which nest and roost in trees, and Greater Frigatebirds, also nesting in the low, shrub-like vegetation, were close to the trail as well.

bThe skies were thick with Galapagos Petrels, swirling around like swallows, and seemingly for no reason. Towards the end of the trail I had time to watch the birds (as did Mary and Lyle), discovering that for all the swooping and darting the birds had a purpose. Eventually they would settle and almost immediately vanish into a crevice or slit in the rock. Petrels often burrow, but here there is no soil for digging, and the birds utilize the rocks instead.

fAfter lunch Victoria, Lyle, Mary, and I snorkeled along the lava cliff face. Victoria saw a large shark, and Lyle and I had a large Ray that was half-hidden under a boulder. We were hoping for more Sea Turtles, and although we saw one sunning itself, floating along, as we rode in for the swim, we didn’t see it again. Mary, via her monopod fully extended, did some great GoPro videos of fish and a swimming Red-footed Booby.

. After our swim, at 3:00PM, we rode the short distance in to Darwin’s Bay, a sandy beach and wet landing. Galapagos Sea Lions slept along the shoreline, and two large males had a territorial dispute, but I don’t believe anyone shot the seals at that point. If ever.
We had more cloud cover, so the afternoon became quite pleasant, but by 5:30 the skies had clouded up so much that we lost all light. Red-footed Boobies, both the brown and the white morph, more great Frigatebird nests, a large number of Swallow-tailed Gulls, a pair of Lava Gulls, Mockingbirds, Finches, and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron were other subjects. One of the afternoon highlights was a lengthy and vicious fight b
between two Nazca Boobies – Don shot 350 frames of the battle, and Mary said that she worried that one of the birds would have a wing broken, so violent the fight. They also had a mating of Swallow-tailed Gulls – both of which I missed, as I hiked along, scouting the rocks, looking for the still missing and elusive Short-eared Owl.


Day 8. Daphne Island, Baltra Island, and Bachas Island

We motored through the night back to the center of the islands where we’d refuel and stock up for our second week of cruising. After breakfast we circled the hat-like island of Daphne, an island that is almost impossible to land on as the seas have undercut the rocks, creating an island that resembles a cupcake with icing spilling over the edges. Two ornithologist researchers, we were told, had landed there not too long ago and made an important and striking observation. Weather, perhaps a drought or perhaps quite the reverse, had changed the vegetation drastically and the resident Finch population had nearly been wiped out. What happened next surprised everyone. The surviving Finches, whose beaks were poorly adapted for the present vegetation conditions, changed, and in just a generation or two had transformed into a population whose bills now suited the new vegetation. Previously, natural selection and the consequent changes were thought to take fdecades or centuries or longer. These changes, where the Finches ‘had’ to change in order to survive, took only a fraction of the predicted or expected time. A scientist that preceded Darwin by a century or two, named Lamark, had proposed his own idea of evolution which suggested animals and plants inherited acquired characteristics, and perhaps (memory fails me here for complete accuracy) the need or desire for a trait as well. In that context, a muscular body builder’s children would be heavily muscled as well, or a skinny runner would have skinny kids. This, of course, goes against what we know of genetics, and one simple experiment, cutting off the tails of mice (an acquired characteristic) never resulted in tailless mice, regardless of how many generations of mice suffered the same amputation.
The cruise around the island revealed none of the above, of course, but we did have nice views of Galapagos Petrels, Noddy Terns, Frigates, and Masked Boobies. Eric, shooting a Canon camera with very high resolution, actually recorded the band number on a Booby that flew by. After circling the island several times we headed to Baltra for fueling.
The afternoon was extremely hot, and we postponed our visit to Bachas and the beach there until 3:30. We were hoping to see American Flamingos at one of two small brackish pools, but the ponds were empty. Teal, Lava Gulls, and Black-necked Stilts were the only birds in residence, although a pair of Brown Pelicans swam and fished in one of the ponds for a time, with Frigate birds swooping and soaring overhead, occasionally dipping low to try to snatch a fish from the water or from one of the pelicans.
rThe beach was dotted with the crater-like depressions of sea turle nests, but none hatched while we were there and so the Frigate birds went hungry. Spotted Eagle Rays swam off-shore in clusters, and at the end of the day, hoping to encounter the Rays, Lyle, Mary, and I went swimming. We had no luck with Rays but did see several small Black-tipped Reef Sharks, and numerous Parrot Fish. Unfortunately the water was so clouded by sand that visibility was extremely poor, although I did manage one shot of a shark. The vast stretch of sand, however, did capture the sun’s heat and the water was warm, so much so that we didn’t need wetsuits and at a temperature that was refreshing after a hot afternoon of beach walking.

bDay 9. Santa Cruz

This was a restocking day for the boat and most of the crew was gone for most of the day. We headed to the highlands at 8AM to visit a different Giant Tortoise farm, hoping to not only see tortoises but also Vermillion Flycatchers and Short-eared Owls. We saw neither of the latter.
Before visiting the Tortoise location we headed a bit further up the slopes to the site of two collapsed calderas, one on either side of the road. Years ago I’d seen a Short-eared Owl here, but now an established trail leads along the edges of each, and the prospects didn’t look good. They were not.
At the tortoise farm everyone scattered to some extent to look and work on Tortoises. Mary, with Larry, Victoria, and Eric, headed down a trail that would, ultimately, have taken them nearly four miles in one direction. Luckily they turned around – but they did have a very long walk.
I found a couple of large male Tortoises, and I shot wide-angles that incorporated the forest or the pond landscape. Near the end of our visit a large male approached me, and I shot close-up videos as this tortoise fed on grasses and forbes just feet bofrom where I crouched. As we left the farm our driver took us to a small shack, little more than an outhouse in size, where two Barn Owls perched on the open door. The birds squinted, their eyes nearly shut, but otherwise seemed completely unconcerned by our presence just a few feet away.
As we left to return to the boat we had a pleasant surprise. I’d been down at the boat taxi dock, photographing Brown Pelicans fishing, with Brown Noddy Terns landing on their head, when the Galapagos’s most famous photographer, Tui de Roy, walked down the plank. We’d met once before, but she didn’t recognize me until I reintroduced myself, and then she rememebered our NANPA meeting in Austin. I asked Tui about the effects of El Nino this year, but she was dismissive of the El Nino, saying that instead the effects we’re now seeing our simply global warming. Tui said that the warm temperatures influenced the growth of algae, and the Marine Iguanas were particularly affected. From what we’d seen, with plenty of dead iguanas at various beaches, I’d certainly agree. Tui was headed to Ferdanina where she’d be tagging along with a research group, photographing a bay that she considers the absolute best representation of wildlife on the islands. We envied her opportunity.

. At 2PM we returned to Academy Bay, doing a little grocery shopping for chocolate, some earrings for Mary, and a round of beer for everyone else. We returned at 4:30, rested and ready for the remaining days of our cruise.

Day 10. San Cristobal Island

bWe motored most of the night, and didn’t arrive at one of the Galapagos’s most distinctive geologic formations, ‘Kicker Rock,’ until after sunrise. The rock is located several miles offshore from San Cristobal, the easternmost island in the archipelago. It’s shape, when viewed from one side, resembles a boot, and the ‘kicker’ alludes to a shoe or boot kicking. The rock, actually a sheer island, is split in two, with one narrow, near vertical spire, although the main island has numerous cracks and splits, with at least one of these also splitting the island in two.
A sea turtle, plenty of seals, Noddy Terns, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Galapagos Shearwaters, Frigates, and Boobies were either in the air or perched on the steep cliffs of the island, which we circled three times before moving on to the island for a wet landing in a protected cove.
On the island we photographed the endemic San Cristobal Lava Lizard, Tropidurus bivattatus, which is somewhat smaller than the Galapagos Lava Lizard, T. albermarlensis, we’ve been seeing throughout the islands until now. This Lava Lizard has distinctive rows, or stripes, extending down its body, rather than the blotchy pattern of the common Lava Lizard. We landed in a wide bay with a sandy bottom, and the water was surprisingly warm, and Mary, Lyle, and I all snorkeled without wetsuits, trying to get shots of the Galapagos Sea Lions that lounged or played in the surf just offshore.


One of the morning highlights was the diving Brown Pelicans and Blue-footed Boobies that repeatedly dove into the sea not very far from shore. One to four Boobies would fly along, then look down, stop flapping, twist, and with wings outstretched in a cross start their dive. A few milliseconds before striking the water the Booby would fold its wings flat, with the wing tips actually crossing at the tail, and hit the water like a spear. With the motor drive, the initial strike barely caused a splash, but with the displacement of the bird’s body as it sunk a meter or so beneath the sea a plume would rise from the disturbed surface. Getting a close, in-focus shot was the challenge here, and hopefully some of us succeeded.


. In the afternoon we first snorkeled in Isla Lobos Bay, where we found two Green Sea Turtles. One was merely swimming along, and I tried staying ahead of it as it leisurely flapped its large forelimb fins. The water was murky and I only managed a shot or two that was clear. Our second turtle was more cooperative, feeding on algae close to the rocky shore, and Mary’s GoPro probably did a great job capturing the turtle feeding. Again, with the turbulence of the water and the particulate matter that was stirred up most of the shots were somewhat murky.
After our snorkeling, we returned to the shore for our afternoon excursion. Blue-footed Boobies were nesting, and we photographed several that were on eggs. More than one pair seemed to be a bit confused as to who was mated and paired with who, as one of a pair would on occasion walk off and court another Booby nearby. Frigates nested as well, although nothing dramatic resulted, and at the end of the day a Brown Pelican perched along the rocks, silhouetted against the sea, was a fitting image to conclude the day.

aDay 11. Espanola (Hood) Island

Like Genovesa, Espanola Island is one of the highlights of a Galapagos trip and usually, either one or the other is included on an itinerary. But not on our two week trip! Hood Island has the only nesting colony of the Waved Albatross, named for the vermiculation of its feathers, creating a series of waves along its chest and belly. Albatrosses were nesting, having arrived perhaps a month earlier, and we saw some mating, but unfortunately none did the beak clacking, head raised courtship display.
The morning walk was a long one, covering reasonably difficult terrain as the trail was along rocks, and virtually every step required looking where we placed our feet. We had a dry landing on a cement wharf that led to a sandy beach where the endemic Hood Island Lava Lizard, the most colorful subspecies of Marine Iguanas, and some Sea Lions lounged on the beach. A few Sea Lions had died, and were in the process of dissolving, with hides sloughed off, carcass bones showing against a black bed of grease. Lava Lizards frequented the carcass, undoubtedly for picking off the flies that visited a carcass.

When we began our walk our first stop was at a scenic location where Nazca Boobies nested, with a rolling surf pounding the shoreline in the background. One Waved Albatross nested reasonably near to the trail, which we photographed, although further on the trail we had multiple birds to choose from. Our trail paralleled Boobies and Albatrosses, finally leading to a lava bed where the h
incoming surf blasted geyser-like sprays into the sky whenever a new surge crashed against the shore. Galapagos Hawks flew overhead and two or three flew rather close by, as did a couple of Waved Albatrosses towards the end of our visit.
The tide had changed as we returned to our wharf and now the very fierce-looking waves that rolled along, looking nearly ten foot high, were breaking on the rocks lining our wharf. We had to time our exit to the zodiac to avoid the surf, but a couple of people, including me, got caught when a surprisingly big wave broke on the rocks and then swept over the wharf. Luckily no one was swept off their feet, and we exited the island safely, a bit excited over the little adventure.

sPM. After lunch we snorkeled in Gardner Bay off Gardner Island. The water was cold, but clear, and very deep, and the snorkeling was rather uneventful. We were about to cut the swim short when Lyle spotted Sealions playing along the surf line, and the next ten minutes or so we snorkeled with the seals, who circled us, swimming loops beneath the water, dashing so close to us at times we could easily have touched them. It was a great conclusion to a cold swim.
Minutes after returning to the boat we headed back to Espanola, where we landed on a long sandy beach. Sealions were lying on shore, plagued a bit by biting flies, and the shooting was rather gboring. The group headed down the beach, where they eventually came up Marine Iguanas fairly close to shore feeding on algae, and got some nice shots. I was distracted by the endemic Hood Island Mockingbird, and then by Galapagos Warbler Finches, Yellow Warblers, and, at the very end of the day, a Galapagos Hawk that had perched in the vegetation at the edge of the sand. That bird was very cooperative, and I suspect checked the beach regularly for baby sea turtles, as the beach for its entire length was pocketed by the crater-like depressions of their nests.

Day 12. Floreana Island

Our landing this morning was rather slow, as we visited a large salt-water lake where about eight American Flamingos fed. Most were quite far away but upon circling the lake we had a pair that were close enough to have some detail. Medium Tree Finches and Ground Finches flittered about in the surrounding trees. I photographed the most cooperative group of Sally Light Foot Crabs along the cliffs here. Several used their front claws to delicately pick up tidbits, which they transferred to their mouth, located beneath the carapace and resembling, from my angle, like tiny fingers reaching for the food. The mouthparts are similar to a grasshopper’s, if you’ve ever looked closely. Right above the mouth, and facing forward almost like a little rectangular TV screen, was another opening, which bubbled constantly, as if exchanging gases.
From the lake we hiked to the opposite side of the island where, on our last visit way back in film days, we had a Great Blue Heron at sunset massacring baby sea turtles emerging from a nest. We recognized the location as we approached, but fortunately there were no hatchings today, although a sinister Frigatebird patrolled overhead, back and forth, as if it knew that eventually more hatchlings would arrive. Ruddy Turnstones flew by in a small flock, and Galapagos Sharks followed the surf line, their dark shapes just below the waterline.
sAfter our walk, our boat captain joined us in leading us on a snorkeling trip to one of his favorite locations, and we could see why. Sealions were common and playful, and both Mary and I did some nice videos, of the seals as well as numerous reef fish. Our captain would dive deep, without bothering to wear a wetsuit, grab a rock for stability and an anchoring point, and remain under for a minute or more. He motioned me deep, once, to see a resting shark, but wearing a wetsuit by buoyancy was terrible, and my lungs bursting by the time I surface.

PM. We landed at Post Office Bay, where tourists drop postcards off at a bucket to be picked up, and delivered, by other tourists later. The surf for this dry landing was too dangerous for a landing with camera gear, but we snorkelers landed, and tried snorkeling … but the turbulence in the sand was so great that visibility was three feet or less. Our hoped-for sea turtles were missed. We spent the remainder of the afternoon watching a documentary on the first settlers of this island, involving a crazy pseudo-baroness and a multitude of lovers, resulting in her disappearance and the death of several.

Day 13. Santa Fe Island

Our destination this morning was Santa Fe where a new species of Land Iguana, distinguished by being paler than the other species wide-spread through the islands. The iguana reminded me of an American Chuckwalla. A tree-like Opuntia, or Prickly Pear Cactus, dotted much of the shoreline, and iguanas were scattered along the path.
hWe had good luck with an immature Galapagos Hawk, which perched on three different locations, allowing almost everyone to get shots at each. Sea Lions dotted the beach, including many babies, and Stingrays swam close to shore. Mary waded in and with a Polarizer shot surprisingly clear images of the Rays.
When we returned to the boat we did a very lengthy snorkeling excursion, led once again by the Captain. Two Green Sea Turtles lay upon the bottom, slightly under an overhang, but shallow enough that I could swim down, grab a rock for an anchor, and shoot the turtles at their level. I borrowed Tom’s Olympus camera, and somehow, once again, I goofed up, turning a dial to go to a custom setting, instead of the underwater setting where the images would be shot on RAW. This is the second time I screwed up like this with the sea turtles – I’m wondering if I’m jinxed with these turtles! Near shore we had at least a dozen Sea Lions, all very curious, and floating in the surf just feet from our lenses. A couple of times a seal would grab a camera with its mouth (how else?) but would release the camera quickly.
We swam through a channel into the open sea where we had an incredible variety of fish. The schools were surprisingly tolerant, too, and both the Captain and I swam down and soon we were literally enveloped by the school. With wetsuits the water was quite comfortable, and the swim ended after a very fast-moving hour.g

iPM. South Plaza Island

We landed at 3PM at another great island for Land Iguana, which were scattered everywhere. Opuntia cactus forests provided their food, and we were lucky to find one Iguana that had found a cactus pod which it rolled upon the ground, presumably to dislodge spines or to break them to a shorter length, before swallowing the pod. There certainly were spines still on the pod, but the iguana didn’t seem to be bothered.
Swallow-tailed Gulls were abundant, and we gshot them swirling in flight below us as we stood upon a cliff, and Red-billed Tropicbirds raced along, announcing their presence by a distinctive cackle, and reminding me, with their noise and their long tails, of the parrots we’ve filmed in the Pantanal. We shot until 5:30, in the best afternoon light we’ve had, and as we boarded the boat, with perhaps a half hour of light remaining, the sun dipped below a cloud bank and the light was lost.

Day 14. Chinese Hat

Our last landing was rather tame, with extensive lava fields and few birds flying overhead. We walked to the end of the trail along a route that often crossed the flat planks of lava, finally ending at an overlook to the sea where we shot seascapes and a few Marine Iguanas. I used my SinghRay Variable Neutral Density filter for the first time on the entire trip, doing long shutter speed with the waves. Mary and I did a video promo while the rest of the group shot seascapes, and we returned to the boat by 10AM. Afterwards, however, we did another snorkeling dive, following the cliffs where we had a White-tipped Reef Shark. The water was clear, and around the boat we had a sandy bottom, and from the panga we saw a large Stingray. The water, however, was also surprisingly cold, and I didn’t know if I was just tired, and it was me, or the temperature really was cold. Everyone agreed – it was cold.
gThe highlight of the snorkeling was a Galapagos Penguin that was perched upon a rock close to the tide line. Lyle, Mary, and I took turns standing in the water nearby, shooting a couple shots of ourselves with the penguin. As is typical, many birds (and mammals) do not associate danger coming from the sea and this penguin completely ignored us. It was a nice way to end the dive, and we swam back to the panga chilled to the core but happy.

iPM. Bartolme Island

The jagged pinnacle that marked the end of a sand spit at Bartolme Island is one of the iconic images of the Galapagos. For anyone who saw the film ‘Master and Commander’, the pinnacle was prominently featured in a scene. At 2PM Victoria, Lyle, Mary, and I did our last snorkel dive, in water that was surprisingly pleasant. The swim lasted well over an hour, and on it I did, finally, my best video sequences of swimming Green Sea Turtles. I also shot stills, but again, and this time for no apparent reason I can discern, when I switched from video to stills with my Olympus, the images were captured in JPG! I truly am jinxed.
The turtle was wonderful, however, swimming leisurely along with gentle flaps of its pectoral fins. I was able to swim in front and beside the turtle for some nice front-on views, but often the turtle was faster and simply glided underneath me, just inches away. Mary did a nice GoPro sequence of a White-tipped Reef Shark that was hiding beneath a ledge, as she brought the camera along the sand, slowing coming closer. Parrotfish, our yellow-lipped ‘attack’ fish, and innumerable others rounded out the dive, with one very, very brief encounter with another Galapagos Penguin swimming by.
Our landing was a hike up the unearthly landscape of Bartolme Island, fortunately on a wooden boardwalk and wooden steps. When Mary and I last did this trip, years ago, this was a dirt trail, and it was far easier to do now. Still, over 300 steps are involved, and perhaps a gain of 400 plus feet, so it was a bit of a uworkout. Everyone that landed – Victoria, Eric, Larry, Lyle, Tom, Dave, and Mary and I, all made it to the top where we had a great panoramic view of the bay and the pinnacle. For Dave, who had had a heart transplant two years ago, and had a bad drug reaction just months ago, completing that climb was a real personal triumph. We were extremely happy to see him make that climb – and do so without stress!
That evening we did the Highlights of the Trip, and the answers were quite varied. The favorite island for some was Genovesa, followed by Hood, and the rest scattered about. My favorite was Fernandina Island, with its Marine Iguanas and volcanos in the background. To me, that island says Galapagos. The highlight of the trip varied as well, with Don citing the Nazca Booby fight, others the Land or Marine Iguanas, and for Mary and I, surprisingly, the snorkeling. That opened up an entirely new world of the Galapagos, and was fun and rewarding. I had swam with Sea Turtles before in the Galapagos, but nothing like the experiences we had this time. For anyone contemplating a Galapagos trip, I’d recommend doing whatever it took to get yourself ready for snorkeling. The effort would be quite worthwhile!

Day 15. Baltra to Quito

Our last morning in the Galapagos, involving little more than a final packup, breakfast, and the bus ride to the airport. Ironically, Brown Noddy Terns were fishing on bait fish right behind our boat in greater numbers, greater light, and the closest we’ve had the birds consistently, but our gear was packed. At 11 we left the islands, flying high and directly east, giving no chance for an aerial of the islands. We arrived at 3:30 in Quito, where with great sadness we said goodbye to the group. Larry, Mary, and I are on to Peru from here, for a quick visit to Machu Picchu, Mary’s birthday present to herself and a tick-off for a life’s dream, bucket list destination.

gOur group: Sitting on the log - Joan, Don, our guide Oswaldo, Lisle,
Victoria, Eric, Larry, Dave, and Tom.
In front, in the sand - Joe and Mary