ECUADOR BIRDING TRIP REPORT
2007 Galapagos Birding & Photo tour
Our 2007 birding tour of the Galapagos Islands was a co-marketing venture with Neblina Forest. The tour was led by Lelis Navarette and was a great success. We saw 66 bird species in total, including all the Galapagos endemics except the rare Galapagos Martin. We also saw a variety of seabirds from the boat as well as nesting colonies of seabirds on the various islands. In addition to birds, we saw several other specialty animals of the Galapagos. I will take some pains to avoid further mention of the brightly colored Sally Lightfoot Crabs that are found on many rocky shorelines throughout the islands and everybody raves about. Those with cameras enjoyed fantastic opportunities to photograph lizards and birds during the tour, not to mention the crabs.
The tour began with a 2-hour flight from Quito to Baltra, the embarkation point for all Galapagos tours. As we walked off the tarmac from our plane, a Galapagos Dove flew by the terminal building and we saw our first Galapagos finch, a Small Ground-Finch. Then, before we could even get to our yacht, the Fregata, we saw an accidental, a Black Tern in winter plumage flying about the harbor area. This was only the 5th record of this species in the Galapagos ever! We then sailed a short distance to Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island, where we had our first taste of Galapagos endemics. En route we saw Galapagos Shearwater, newly split from Audubon's Shearwater, and our first look at the ubiquitous Elliot's Storm-Petrel, a subspecific form of White-vented Storm-Petrel. We also saw our first Blue-footed Boobies and Nazca Boobies flying by our yacht. On the beach and a little inland we were amazed to see Greater Flamingos in a freshwater pond. We also saw our first Galapagos Mockingbirds as well as Small Ground-Finch and Medium Ground-Finch.
We sailed overnight to Genovesa Island, a less frequently visited island because of its considerable distance from the other islands in the Galapagos. A major attraction there is the Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch, which is only on Genovesa, and we had great views of this bird. Genovesa also features a large colony of Red-footed Boobies, a species that does not nest on the other islands and is only occasionally seen at seen away from Genovesa. A second feature attraction is the large colony of Great Frigatebirds, which nest only on Genovesa. This island also afforded us our first views of the beautiful Swallow-tailed Gull as well as Lava Gull, both endemic to the Galapagos.
The sail from Geneovesa to the northwestern shore of Isabella takes all night and traverses some quite choppy waters of the open ocean. This was the most likely time for people to feel sea sickness, and a few people did. Those of us who stayed topside watching for seabirds were rewarded with good views of Dark-rumped Petrel, a large and quite scarce petrel endemic to the Galapagos. The seas north and west of Isabella are the best places to see this species. We also had our only views of Band-rumped Petrel and Leach's Storm-Petrel during this traverse.
We visited several locales on the west side of Isabella over a period of 2 days. We also sailed across the strait to nearby Fernandina Island for an afternoon and a night's anchoring. There we had our first views of Galapagos Penguins and Galapagos Hawk as well as sea lions and marine iguanas. On Isabella we again saw the endemic Galapagos Hawk during a walk across fresh black lava. We also saw our main target bird, the highly endangered endemic Mangrove Finch, which nests only in the mangroves on the west side of Isabella and has a surviving population of only about 50 pairs. In addition to birds, we visited a lagoon where we saw numerous Green Sea Turtles and we saw several Southern Right Whales blowing and porpoising some distance from our yacht.
From Isabella we sailed overnight to Floreana, where we spent the next morning. On Floreana we had great views of a Paint-billed Crake. We also had our first views of the endemic Galapagos Flycatcher. We fulfilled our primary goal of seeing Medium Tree-Finch, found only on Floreana, and also saw Small Tree-Finch, Small-Ground-Finch, and Medium Ground-Finch. In the afternoon we sailed past nearby Champion's Islet, the only place one can see the endemic Charle's Mockingbird.
That night we sailed to Espanola Island, our favorite place on the entire tour. We spent the morning exploring, hardly enough time! Espanola is the primary nesting site of Waved Albatross. Nesting begins in April and is winding down by November at the time of our visit. Much of the colony was already abandoned but there were some young birds about. We even saw 2 adults going through their courtship rituals, which was a real treat and gave us unexpected photo opportunities. Espanola also has a large colony of Blue-footed Boobies, which were just beginning their nesting season. We greatly enjoyed watching and photographing their antics as they went through their courtship rituals. From the cliffs on the far side of the island we saw many albatrosses and boobies as well as a single Red-billed Tropicbird flying by. Espanola is also home to the Hood Mockingbird, which is not found on any other islands.
In the afternoon we sailed to nearby San Cristobal, one of the more populated islands in the Galapagos. We visited the village and learned about the history of the island, not always a pretty story. The main attraction of the island is the Chatham Mockingbird, found only there, and we had many great views of this bird. We also saw a variety of Darwin's finches, including Vegetarian Finch, Small Tree-Finch, Woodpecker Finch, and Warbler Finch as well as the more ubiquitous Small, Medium, and Large Ground-Finches.
Overnight we sailed to Santa Cruz Island for our last full day in the Galapagos. In addition to visiting the Darwin Research Station, we had a couple goals in mind. A primary goal was to see Common Cactus-Finch and Large Tree Finch, found only on Santa Cruz, both of which we saw. We also saw Small Tree-Finch, Woodpecker Finch, and Warbler Finch as well as the more common ground-finches. A second major goal was to see the Giant Tortoises found in the interior of the island. These can be seen in captivity at the Darwin Research Station, but it was far more exciting to see them in the wild. We found many of them, scattered like giant, slowly moving boulders across an open field in a reserve established for their protection. We also saw a land iguana on Santa Cruz, the only one we saw during the tour. We skipped Sante Fe Island, where one of the two species in the Galapagos is found and where they are most easily seen.
During our last night we sailed to nearby North Seymour Island, not far from Santa Cruz and Baltra. There we saw a second colony of Blue-footed Boobies as well as Lava Gull and Swallow-tailed Gull. We also saw a single Red-footed Booby on the island. The main attraction is the large colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds. They were in various stages of nesting, with many incubating eggs or brooding and feeding chicks. We were a bit late to see their incredible courtship displays, but we saw several males with partially inflated gular pouches and one male with a fully inflated gular pouch. It was an amazing sight to behold. It takes the birds about 20 minutes to fully inflate these pouches, but once inflated the blazing red color ballooning out from their throats is quite amazing.
Our flight back to Quito was quite uneventful once we actually left. Unfortunately, due to fog in Quito planes were grounded and our departure was delayed about 5 hours. The only good thing was that when we finally left, the airline provided us with a direct flight to Quito instead of stopping in Guayaquil en route. We were sorry to leave the Galapagos, but we left with a lot of great memories and great photos.