Galapagos Albatross

October 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the largest of flying birds, albatrosses have been described as “the most legendary of all birds”.  The Albatross has been the subject of legends and stories for hundreds of years going back to the day of great sailing ships where sailors believed that albatross were the spirits of sailors lost at sea to being the central emblem to the poem  “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.  

The Galapagos Albatross or the Waved Albatross is the only member of the Albatross family that lives in the topics.  The Galapagos Albatross is considered endemic to the Island of Española though in recent years small groups have been identified on both on the island of Genovesa and 5 to 6 pairs on Isla de la Plata on the coast of Ecuador.  The Albatross arrive on Española each April where they mate, nest and remain through December.

Albatross come back to find the same mate every year until one or the other dies.  The mating ritual begins with the couple engaging in a series of beak jousting moves where they circle each other raise and lower and then clack together.  They then built a nest typically on the rocky surface.  The couple will produce 1 egg per year which is raised in a nursery with other chicks while the parents head out to sea to feed.   In December when the chicks are big enough to survive on their own entire colony will head out to sea where they live over the ocean along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru.

Visiting Española you can see the chicks as well as the adults with their giant 6 foot wing span as the fling themselves off the cliff to fish in an area appropriately nicknamed the Albatross Airport.

Andres Baquero, executive director of Equilibrio Azul Foundation, says that a Waved Albatross population is classified as Critically Endangered. The number one threat to the Albatross population is fisherman as the birds confuse the prey on hooks and get caught by fisherman.  In a study conducted by the Foundation in Santa Elena, 30% of respondents had seen fishermen albatross their hooks.

“Fishermen are not interested in capturing seabirds in the country, that way no problem,” emphasized Baquero.   The sixth meeting of Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) took place in Guayaquil at the end of August and is looking into new ways to help preserve these majestic birds.


Red Footed Booby

September 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Red Footed Boobies are the smallest member of the booby family at only about 28 inches in length making them a couple inches smaller than the Blue-Footed and Nazca Boobies also found in the Galapagos Islands.

Telling the difference between these three types of boobies is quite easy as the appearance of all three is quite unique. The blue-footed booby is mainly white with brownish wings and bright blue feet while the Nazca (also known as Masked) booby is white with a black band around its eyes like a mask and pointed black wings.  The red-footed booby has a range of color the majority seen in the Galapagos have a brownish body color with a blue and pink face, beak and throat pouch and red feet which give the bird its name.

During mating season hundreds of animals may pair up and mate.  Unlike other boobies the red-footed booby build their nests in shrubs or trees.  A female will lay an egg every 15 month.  Both parents incubate the egg, and brood and feed the chick.  The parents continue to feed the young for up to four months after fledging.

Red-footed boobies are excellent fliers and spend most of their long lives (up to 20 years) at sea.  They are often seen flying above or along side passing boats.  The red-footed booby is semi-nocturnal and can be seen fishing both during the day and for squid at night.

The colorful red-footed boobies are the least seen of the three species of boobies that are found in the Galapagos by visitors.  The best way to see them is by taking a Galapagos Cruise that stops at one of their two nesting sites in the islands either at Genovesa or Punta Pitt on the northeastern tip of San Cristobal.

Swallow-Tailed Gulls

August 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

August begins the nesting season for Swallow-Tailed Gulls on the island of  Genovesa. Though some pairs can be found along the coast in the region they are  near endemic to the Galapagos Islands. When not mating these gulls are pelagic, spending  their time hunting the waters near Peru, Ecuador and north to the coast of Colombia.

These medium sized gulls are the only fully nocturnal gull in the world.  Their nocturnal feeding habits scientists hypothesize are for survival.  Frigate, the pirates of the bird world feed during the day by stealing the  chicks and prey of other sea birds. Swallow tailed gulls that leave their cliff shelters during the day can be seen being chased by the frigates. Additionally  Red-billed Tropicbirds which feed during the day were direct competition for  food. However the tropicbirds are able to plunge dive (unlike the  swallow-tailed gulls) which allows the tropicbirds to feed on prey below the  surface while the gulls can only prey on that close to the top. To survive the  swallow tailed gull’s eyes adapted to allow them to hunt at night feeding on  fish and squid miles from shore.

Swallow tailed gulls nest in colonies through the eastern side of the  Galapagos. Their nesting patterns are synchronized within the colony. The couple will make a rudimentary nest or platform out of a piece of lava, coral,  twigs or sea urchin spines. The nest protects the egg from rolling off the cliffs edge. Though most gulls lay three eggs per season the swallow tail gulls  typically only lay a single egg. The egg is incubated for just over a month.  After it hatches both parents take turns feeding the hatchling. Once the chick  is 60 – 70 days old it begins to take flight. Its parents will continue to feed it for another month until it leaves to feed on the open seas.

Can be found throughout the Galapagos with the exception of Fernandina and  the west side of Isabela however the best places to see the swallow-tailed  gulls are on South Plaza and Genovesa.

Top Places to Visit in Galapagos – Genovesa

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Red footed Boobies

Our #2 choice for top places to visit in the Galapagos Islands is Genovesa or Tower Island.  Located to the far north, Genovesa can only be visited on a Galapagos Cruises with 40 passengers or less.

The arrival to Genovesa is the most unique of any in the Galapagos.   The island’s volcanic caldera long ago collapsed and as it filled with sea water it created what is now known as Great Darwin Bay.  Arriving in Genovesa you are seemingly surrounded by the island on all sides as your boat lays anchor in the very belly of the island and its one time caldera.

Going ashore at Prince Philips Steps you climb a steep stair case to reach the island’s plateau.  Here you will discover why Genovesa is known as “Bird Island” there is a vast potpourri of sea birds everywhere!  Genovesa is home to the best collection of sea birds in Galapagos – there are frigatebirds, pelicans, herons, swallow-tailed gulls, tropicbirds, storm petrels, lava gulls and all three types of boobies – Nazca, blue-footed and red-footed.

There are smaller birds too like the Galapagos Mockingbird, Darwin Finch, Galapagos doves and short eared owls.

The wildlife of the island is not restricted just to birdlife. Snorkeling at Genovesa is quite exciting as well this is one of the best sites to snorkel with sea lions, fur seals and hammerhead sharks all on the same excursion.

For it’s fascinating collection of birds, great snorkeling and interesting entrance Genovesa is our choice for #2 top places to visit in the Galapagos.

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