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Boobies (and other birds) in the Galapagos

While most people tend to enjoy a cruise to see the Galapagos Islands they can be a) very expensive and b) not at all fun if you suffer seriously severe seasickness in even the slightest swell. However, it is possible to do land-based tours in these islands and while it’s difficult to avoid boats completely (well, you could, but you would be missing out), there are a number of tours that offer day trips to the closest islands (couple of hours max in a boat) which provide plenty of opportunities to see the amazing wildlife and spend the night at a comfy hotel in a bed that doesn’t move.

Santa Cruz was the starting point for the trip – on landing at the airport on Baltra, having had all luggage checked by the security dogs to ensure that no extraneous organic matter which could upset the delicate balance of the natural environment was present, we headed straight to the port, grabbed a ferry for a very short journey to Santa Cruz, crossed that island by minibus to the southernmost port and got on a boat. The plan was to spend a couple of nights on Isabela then return to Santa Cruz for another five days and take day trips to some of the other islands.

The trip from Santa Cruz to Isabela was bad. We knew the journey was going to be rough when the crew handed out plastic bags to all the passengers. Hint: sit at the back of the boat (outside) on the right hand side going towards Isabela and on the left hand side coming back otherwise you will get wet! Unfortunately these optimal spots had already been taken by other passengers and we had to sit inside the boat on the way out. Two and a half hours of bumping on the waves took their toll, resulting in the use of the sick bag as lunch eaten an hour before made a return visit. Yuck. However, upon landing on Isabela, all nausea vanished. The islands are truly amazing – there is wildlife everywhere – in fact, you have to be quite careful that you don’t accidentally bump into a sealion or step on an iguana. There are loads of trips available and many companies in the town with whom you can make bookings. Make sure you bring swimming gear- most of the trips we took involved swimming or snorkelling at some point. If you need a wetsuit they are available for hire but we found that the water was warm enough that a swimsuit alone sufficed.

One of the first trips we did was to Los Tuneles on Isabela island, a lava formation that encroaches into the sea and has the most amazing land/seascape. Amazing arches of lava have formed in the sea. There’s not much vegetation, but cacti have managed to grow there, some of these are several decades old.

On climbing onto the lava we first encountered blue-footed boobies. This was one bird species we had particularly wanted to see and we were lucky that we were visiting during the breeding season. The blue-ness of the boobies’ feet is derived from the algae they eat, but it also forms a significant part of their courting ritual.

The male makes a great display of showing his blue feet to his partner. One foot at a time.

He also shows his impressive wingspan to demonstrate what a catch he really is.

She watches on. His voice is a whistle, she honks. And if she is impressed, she will honk her approval.

It must be love.

We encountered many boobies on other islands too. These were on North Seymour, an island about an hour’s boat trip (on much calmer seas) away from Santa Cruz. This female was completely unperturbed at the tourists taking photos of her as she incubated her eggs.

Sometimes you do wonder what the wildlife thinks of all the tourists.

The boobies are wonderful birds. The name derives from the Spanish word “bobo”, which means “stupid” or “clown”. The great thing about Galapagos is that you can get so close to the animals as they have absolutely no fear of humans. This male challenged Colin to a contest of ‘who has the blue-est feet.’ Of course the booby won and Colin was deemed to be the beta male of the encounter.

On North Seymour we also saw the magnificent frigate birds. Which were magnificent. And great. ‘Magnificent’ and ‘Great’ being the two species of frigate birds. And they really are spectacular. You see them soaring all over the Galapagos islands, following the boats as we sailed across the sea.

Again, because we visited during the mating season we were able to see the male frigate birds trying to tantalise potential mates with their amazing scarlet throat pouches.

The females have less conspicuous markings.

The main town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz has a row of restaurants lining the seafront. Over the road is the fish market. It’s very pleasant to be able to relax after a long day’s excursions, drinking a cocktail or three and watching all the action across the road. The Galapagos are so special that you will even see wildlife there – frigate birds, pelicans and even sealions can be found lurking as they are fully aware that they might pick up a tasty fish head or some delicious entrails.