Birding Galapagos Islands

Birding Galapagos Islands
Birding for Conservation

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Birding the Galapagos Island - Santa Cruz

The historical significance of Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Island was the most powerful thought that repeated itself as we approached Baltra on a beautiful sunny day in February. Will we perceive the force of evolution as Darwin perceived it? How much have the Islands changed since Darwin´s visit 175 years ago? From the air, the islands and the water looked like any other piece of land and water.

The birds known as Darwin´s Finches where first believed by Darwin to be a group of blackbirds, gross beaks, and finches. Upon Darwin´s return he gave these birds to John Gould who identified them as twelve separate species of finches. In 1841 John Gould published: Birds Part 3 of The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle which can be found in its entirety scanned online at the at the These finches have been given special attention since 1947 when David Lack wrote the book name Darwin´s Finches. In this book he studied the different finches supporting that natural selection is a prime force in evolution.

We arrived at Puerto Ayora and settled at our hotel for $30 a room and started our first birding trip with a quick lunch at the Tropic Bird Restaurant on the main drag of Puerto Ayora close to the Angelique Art Gallery!

Our first visit was to the Darwin´s Research Station in Santa Cruz. This amazing place was the perfect setting to begin our birding-photographic expedition of the islands.

Soon we were surrounded by birds from the ground, air, and sea. It was a bombardment to our senses that filled my camera cards quickly. The Firgate birds called my attention whit loud scream putting a air show that only pictures can describe:

The Lava Heron popped in front of us while it was staking some jucy red crabs that were sunbathing in the lava rocks.

The Galapagos Flycatcher came out to meet us and poised two meters away from us to make sure that we would not look at any other bird besides himself.

A pair of ground finches took the stage just a few steps away from the Flycatcher. It was amazing to see how peaceful and undisturbed these birds continued with their ritual (courtship?) while we were rapid firing pictures with telephotos and surrounding them from all angles. We were not sure which finch it was but we reassured ourselves that they must be Medium Ground Finches, instantly we knew that finch ID business was going to be a lot more difficult than what we expected.

As soon as we left this lovely finch couple on their own a Galapagos Mocking bird flew past our noses and perched on top of a tree just in front of us, this one was easy to identify and that was a relief. This bird was collected by Darwin and originally thought to have different variations in the different islands. Later the mockingbirds were studied by the ornithologist John Gould who concluded that these birds had evolved into new species at the different islands.  This is the Galapagos Mocking bird:

The cacti were big, I mean really big. I had never seen such large tree-like cactuses, and then the first Cactus Finch appeared in one of the flowers with an equally big, really big beak. Then everything stoped; we admired his big beak specially adapted to penetrate deep in to the cacti flowers to reach the sweet bottom of the flower where the cactus pear is developing.

The excitement was so extreme that I forgot how hot I was becoming… The backpack, the heavy camera, the blue jeans I forgot to exchange for some cooler shorts all made my body temperature rise along with the surroundings. The sun was beating hot and everything seem to get hotter and hotter including my photographic subjects like the Lava Lizard, the Land Iguana, a few turtles and also the legendary Old Lonesome George!
Here is the Female Lava Lizard:

Here is the male Lava Lizard:

The Land Iguana:

Lonesome George

The heat finally got me and I had to take a rest at the gift shop near the end of the Darwin Trail. The cool down took about and hour and then we resumed our walk back to town. As we walked back to our hotel we noticed another perfect spot for taking pictures: The fishermen´s dock! We got some really nice pictures of the Lava Seagull, Laughing Gull, the Brown Pelican, and again the Magnificent Frigatebird.

Look carefully there are five pelicans in the picture!


Our first day at Santa Cruz was wonderful so we decided to leave early the next morning to Isabella which is the largest island and has a reputation of having more selection of birds!

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