The Galapagos Islands, 2006 & 2008

Charles Darwin (born 2oo years ago, in 1809) visited the Galapagos Islands for a month in 1835. Although his Origin of Species mentions them only briefly, his work and thought are a major source of the islands’ legendary aura.

This page displays a very limited selection from hundreds of images captured on two week-long trips to the Galapagos in July 2006 and July 2008. Both tours were led by the leading bird photographer Arthur Morris, with a superb local guide, Juan Salcedo. Our boat was the 16-passenger Beluga, with a terrific crew. The images show the archipelago’s starkly volcanic geology, as well as key species. Among them are the ubiquitous sea lions, birds such as finches, mockingbirds, boobies, gulls, frigatebirds and albatrosses, and reptiles (iguanas, tortoises and sea turtles).  The islands’ 13 species of so-called “Darwin’s finches” are particularly significant for the study of evolution. 

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After flying from Quito to catch our boat (in the right background) we were greeted by Galapagos sea lions, evidently representing the provincial government! A sea lion mom with her new-born pup (note the placenta on the right).  Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus californianus wollebacki) are an endemic subspecies of the California sea lion. A huge bull sea lion catching a bonita mackerel on Santiago Island (James). He had trapped the fish in a small underwater grotto and chased it to exhaustion. A typical wet landing, on the beach at Gardner Bay on Espanola (Hood), where waved albatrosses are a featured species. An adult Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) on Espanola Island (Hood), named after the wavy pattern on the upper chest. A waved albatross in flight over Espanola.  Their wing span is over seven feet, and they spend much of the year at sea, coming ashore only to breed (usually late March to early December). A waved albatross with a very young chick.  They have historically bred only on Espanola in the Galapagos, although a few pairs may now be doing so elsewhere in the Archipelago. A waved albatross with an older chick, on Espanola Island. A male Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) in flight; he displays his inflated red pouch when breeding. Magnificent Frigatebird (male) ready to breed, displaying his red pouch. North Seymour Island. Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) feeding a chick via regurgitation, on Genovesa (Tower).  Genovesa is the most north-easterly of the major islands and is sometimes omitted from tours. This is unfortunate, as it is an important site for red-footed boobies, great frigatebirds and swallow-tailed gulls, among other species. Flightless cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi)--perhaps the most celebrated Galapagos endemic (other than the finches).  Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, A pair of flightless cormorants at their nest; one has an offering for his/her partner. Punta Espinosa, Fernandina.\nThey later stood up, revealing a day-old or so chick, shown in the next image. Flightless cormorants at their nest, with a day-old or so chick. Adult Nazca Booby (Sula granti) on Genovesa. The first of three boobies on the Galapagos. \nMainly a Galapagos breeder,  it has been split  from the Masked Booby, which is much more widespread. Adult Nazca Booby in flight, over Espanola Island (Hood). Adult red-footed booby (Sula sula) on Genovesa (Tower), which is the main place where they breed on the Galapagos (some 140,000 pairs). They feed far offshore, so they are rarely seen other than on Genovesa (in contrast to blue-footed boobies, which feed close to shore). Adult blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii), on North Seymour.  It's the third booby species found on the Galapagos, and the most frequently seen. Blue-footed booby on its nest. North Seymour. Blue-footed booby with a very young chick. North Seymour Island. Blue-footed boobies feed by plunge-diving in lagoons or just offshore, often in very large groups, as here, when at least a thousand congregated. Black Turtle Cove off Santa Cruz Island. A close-up of blue-footed boobies  plunge-diving en masse for food. Black Turtle Cove off Santa Cruz Island. An adult Swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus).  Darwin's Bay, Genovesa (Tower), Portrait of an adult Swallow-tailed gull.  Darwin's Bay, Genovesa (Tower).  These gulls feed nocturnally on squid, which rise to the surface at night in search of plankton, and their large eyes are probably an adaptation for that. A Galapagos mockingbird (Nesomimus parvulus) exploring the hood of my camera lens.  Darwin's Bay, Genovesa (Tower).   \nAll of the four species of mockingbirds on the Islands are aggressive and inquisitive. A Hood mockingbird (Nesomimus macdonaldi), found only on Hood (Espanola) Island.  Four endemic species of mockingbirds have evolved on separate islands in the Galapagos,  In fact, mockingbirds are the only Galapagos bird family other than finches which has evolved into divergent species. A  typical Galapagos view, from Sombrero Chino island (Chinese Hat, named for its shape).The numerous patches of orange are Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are ubiquitous along rocky Galapagos shorelines. A Sally Lightfoot crab (Graspus graspus) in the surf. An adult Galapagos Dove (Zenaida galapagoensis), on Santa Cruz Island.  These wonderfully colored doves are endemic to the archipelago. A Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus galapagoensis), consuming a storm petrel on Genovesa (Tower Island). This is an endemic subspecies of the short-eared owl found over most of the rest of the world. A juvenile Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) in flight on Espanola (Hood). Endemic to the Galapagos, this species is in the same genus (Buteo) as the North American red-tailed hawk and the Eurasian common buzzard (buteo buteo).  Adults are a much darker brown than this beautifully colored youngster. A large group (not uncommon) of Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), on Fernandina.  They are endemic to the islands. A tight group of Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) on Isabela Island. \nThey are ubiquitous on rocky coastlines, numbering around 250,000 on the Galapagos. Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), on Fernandina, The white crystals on its head are salt.  Dubbed by one observer (John Kricher) "the Gargoyles of the Galapagos", these iguanas are the only truly marine species of lizard in the world. Marine Iguanas  are strictly vegetarian, with a diet almost exclusively of marine algae in tidal zones (as here on Espanola/Hood). A typical scene in our dingy (panga)  framed by Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomme. \nThe rock is the remains of a huge volcanic tuff cone (lava extruded near the shore). A pair of adult Galapagos Penquins (Spheniscus mendiculus) near Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome.  Endemic to the archipelago, these are one of  the smallest penguins (ca. 20 inches), and also the most northerly. A field of aa lava (a Hawaiian term, pronounced ah-ah), Punta Moreno, Isabela Island, Aa lava is chaotic and disjointed, with many sharp edges. Pahoehoe lava (a Hawaiian term, pronounced pa-hoy-hoy), on Punta Moreno, Isabela Island, Pahoehoe lava is rope-like, directly formed from fluid strands of molten lava. Lava cactus (Brachycereus nesioticus). Punta Espinosa, Fernandina.  It is generally the pioneer invading species on many lava fields. This is pahoehoe lava  (pronounced pa-hoy-hoy), solidified from streams of molten lava. Pacific Green Sea turtle  (Chelonis mydas agassisi), at James Bay. Although migratory, they are commonly seen around the Galapagos Islands, nearly always in the water. Pacific Green Sea turtle on a pebbly beach at Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island. Unusually, this one crawled a good thirty or more feet from the water--perhaps seeking the warmth of the rock in front of her? Giant Tortoise (Geochelne nigra)  on Santa Cruz Island.  The Galapagos tortoises are endemic--a single species with over a dozen subspecies. A closer view of the same Giant Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island. They are entirely herbivorous, reaching over 3 feet in length and over 600 pounds.  They may live over 150 years. Head shot of a particularly large Giant Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island. \nThey often spend considerable time in mud and shallow pools, as this individual has clearly been doing. A juvenile small ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa), on Santa Cruz Island.  In addition to the mockingbirds, the finches are the only bird family on the islands which has evolved into diverse species (13 of them) from a single ancestor.  The most significant variation among the finches is the size and shape of their beaks, which have adapted to different sorts of food. A male large ground finch (Geospiza magnirostris). Santa Cruz Island.  This species has the largest beak of all the Galapagos finches. The ground finches feed on the ground, mainly on seeds, with the larger beaks adapted to larger seeds. A breeding male small ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa), Santa Cruz Island.  Juvenile and female ground finches have streaky brown plumage, while males are mostly black, and their beaks (usually orange) turn dark in breeding season. A juvenile cactus finch (Geospiza scandens), with a more pointed beak than the ground finches.  Santa Cruz Island. A juvenile male small ground finch (Camarhynchus parvulus, on Santa Cruz), with a small conical beak and relatively light, brownish plumage. A Warbler Finch (Certhidia olivacea), on Espanola (Hood). This species has much the sharpest and smallest beak of all the Galapagos finches (hence its name), and as one would expect, it feeds mainly on insects.  

Bird Photographs by John Van de Graaff