Reflections 2015
Series 11
July 8
Galápagos II - Darwin – Wildlife – Puerto Ayora


As we move from discussing the Beagle in general to discussing more about Darwin and his visit to the Galápagos, you might want to again refer on occasion to our Galápagos map:


Charles Darwin   We began discussing Charles Darwin in discussing the HMS Beagle on the last posting, and specifically the famous Second Voyage of the Beagle. This is where he participated as a supernumerary, a private passenger among the 70 of the crew, who, thanks to his father, was paying his own way. In this manner, his notes and specimens collected were his own to keep, and did not belong to the hydrographic expedition. He was just 26 when the Beagle was in the Galápagos for five weeks during September and October of 1835. He was a trained geologist, also a naturalist, but the birds and small mammals he'd started to collect with growing interest on the east and west coasts of South America were really not within his major field of expertise. He was a Cambridge man, but had fortunately learned how to preserve bird specimens at the University of Edinburgh.


The Beagle reached the Galápagos a week out of Callao/Lima on 15 September 1835. Its hydrographic task here was to survey approaches to harbors. The next day, Captain FitzRoy dropped anchor at Chatham Island (San Cristóbal—see map). The older English names are customarily used when discussing the Beagle and Darwin, as opposed to the modern Spanish names of the islands. We must remember that there were very few people in the islands at the time, mostly those whalers and sealers who stopped at Charles Island (Floreana/Santa María), where, as it turned out, a penal colony with a few additional settlers had been founded. So when we say that the Beagle dropped anchor near where today's Puerto Banquerizo Moreno is located, it can be assumed that there was absolutely no one there to greet them! It was here that Darwin spent his first hour on shore in the Galápagos. Copy and paste this map of the Beagle in the Galápagos:


As the Beagle continued on its rounds charting the coast, Darwin was eager to be put ashore as often as possible to see the volcanic islands, where he first encountered the giant tortoises. He noted on his first field note that a mockingbird he found on Chatham (San Cristóbal) was similar to those he'd seen in South America. This is a view of the San Cristóbal mockingbird (Photo by Benjamint444) and of the Chilean mockingbird (Photo by Alastair Rae). that Darwin actually saw in Chile.


The Beagle went on to Charles (Floreana), with its penal colony, where Darwin had the most significant encounter of the trip. An Englishman named Nicolas Lawson was the acting Governor of Galápagos for Ecuador, and by chance, he was the one who greeted them on Charles, and accompanied them up to the penal colony. During a conversation along the way, it was Lawson who pointed out that the shape of the shells, pattern of the scales, and size of the tortoises differed from island to island that that he was now able to tell from which island tortoises had been brought by just looking at them. Darwin didn't pay much attention to this seminal point at the time, apparently just considering it a curiosity, but he did remember it later. But on Charles he found a second mockingbird, and noticed it differed from the Chatham one. (This is an actual view of the Floreana mockingbird by ornithologist John Gould in 1839 (see below) that appeared in Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle). From this point on, then, he carefully noted on which island mockingbirds had been caught. He continued to collect his specimens of animals, insects, reptiles, and plants.


The next stop was Albemarle (Isabela), which is volcanic, and which therefore particularly interested Darwin. He visited a volcano that had been active recently. The Beagle anchored near Tagus Cove near what is today Darwin Volcano (see main map) and Darwin spent considerable time exploring the area. He saw his first Galápagos land iguanas and caught a third species of mockingbird.


The Beagle than passed the northern islands of Abingdon (Pinta), Bindloe (Marchena), and Tower (Genovesa), after which Darwin was put ashore on James (San Salvador/Santiago) for nine days with the ship's surgeon and their assistants. You'll remember that the ship's surgeon was the official naturalist of the expedition, Darwin being a supernumerary. While they were busy collecting numerous specimens, including a fourth species of mockingbird, the Beagle went back to Chatham (San Cristóbal) to get fresh water (a side trip not indicated on our small map). Personally, I'd feel uneasy being left on an uninhabited island with no means of communication, hoping that the ship would come back, but all went well.

 Darwin, with additional financial help from his father, had hired an assistant, Syms Covington, who he taught to shoot and skin birds, so that ashore, Darwin could spend more time doing other things. It would seem that perhaps Darwin himself didn't have the time in which To Kill a Mockingbird. (Sorry, but that one was just too good to resist—it just told itself.)

The ship did more surveying, and, as the small map shows in the inset, went NW to pass by the tiny islands of Wenman (Wolf) and Culpepper (Darwin), at which point they set sail for Tahiti on 20 October. That's just 35 days, or five weeks, after their arrival on 15 September. During this time, Darwin set foot on four islands, San Cristóbal, Floreana, Isabela, and San Salvador. Of the 35 days, he spent a total of 19, or just over half the time, on land. It's nice to know that he did pass by, but did not stop at, the tiny island eventually named for him.


When he wrote up his notes on the long, continuing voyage, he was amazed to find that the specimens of mockingbirds caught on the four islands were different as to varying plumage and beak differences. All those from Charles were of one species, Albemarle of another, and James and Chatham together of a third. He also tied in Lawson's comments about the tortoises, and began to speculate about the significance of such biological variability in such a small group of islands. However he continued to err at this point by thinking that the birds now known as Darwin's finches seemed unrelated to each other, and he did not bother to label them by island. He also noted that many birds were similar to, but smaller and darker than, their counterparts on mainland South America. These observations were basic to his later theories of change of species over time.


His thinking in this vein was not only as a naturalist, but as a geologist. He noted that the islands were volcanic and had risen from the ocean in relatively recent times. These changes supported the idea of a dynamic earth that keeps on changing, rather than one that had been rigidly static since some initial creation, and without change.


Darwin kept a diary of the events, which is why we know so precisely what happened when. He rewrote the diary as a book that was first published four years later, in 1839, but which changed its name in subsequent editions. It eventually became known as The Voyage of the Beagle. It was both a travelog and scientific journal and was very popular, hence the multiple reprints. In it, Darwin admits that his first real training in natural history, beyond being a geologist, took place on the Beagle.


There were still months ahead until they returned home, so Darwin had plenty of time to speculate. Up until then, a common doctrine among naturalists was called the stability of Species, referring to the belief that what was, still is, and will always be. His mockingbird and tortoise discoveries seemed to undermine that doctrine. This speculation was the first recorded expression of his doubts about species being immutable, or unchangeable. This led him to the doctrine of the transmutation of Species, where species would change—evolve--over time, depending on local conditions, in other words, evolution.


But the study of birds, ornithology, was not Darwin's field, so on returning from the voyage, he presented his finches to the Geological Society of London for their meeting on 4 January 1837. All the bird specimens were then given to John Gould, a famous ornithologist, for identification. Gould dropped everything he was doing to have his answers ready for the next meeting on 10 January. The birds that Darwin thought were several different varieties of birds were actually ground finches unique enough to be of 12 species, a fact that was reported in newspapers. (I suppose these revelations were the 19C equivalent of bringing back moon rocks.) The mockingbirds were not just varieties but separate species. There were more species than Darwin had expected, and Gould concluded that 25 of the 16 land birds were new and distinct forms, related to South American birds, but otherwise endemic to the Galápagos.

 Earlier we showed a photo of the San Cristóbal mockingbird and Gould's actual sketch of the Floreana mockingbird, It was unclear just which ones Darwin found on the other two islands, so I didn't include photos. At this point, for the sake of completion, I want to try to complete the illustrations. There are 16-17 species of mockingbird, four of which are found in the Galápagos. In addition to the earlier two, there is the Galápagos mockingbird (Photo by putneymark), found in six subspecies, largely according to island. This one shown is found on Santa Cruz, North Seymour, and others; as a matter of fact, this online picture was taken right at the Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz—yet I never saw a mockingbird, not there or anywhere else. Another subspecies is found on James/Santiago, among others, which might be the one Darwin found there.

The final mockingbird endemic to the Galápagos is the Hood mockingbird (Photo by Benjamint444). As the name explains, it's found only on Española (Hood) Island, which Darwin did not visit, so I cannot explain that, unless he found what is known as a vagrant, a bird that's wandered off from its usual location, when he was on Albemarle/Isabela.

At this point, Darwin realized his error in not labeling the finches by island, so he went back to others on the expedition to check their notes. FitzRoy and others also had collected their own specimens and had indeed labeled them by island, and Darwin was able to reconstruct which islands his own finches had come from.


What he concluded about local geographic variations in species among related, but isolated, animal populations supported the doctrine of transmutation of species. By 1838 he conceived his theory of natural selection, and discussed his theories with other naturalists. But he needed to do extensive research, and his geological work took priority, so time passed. Finally, he was writing up his theory in 1858 when the inevitable happened. A man named Alfred Russel Wallace sent him an essay describing the same idea. Darwin was about to be scooped! The upshot was that they issued a joint publication with their theories.


Finally, in 1859, 24 years after being in the Galápagos in 1835, Darwin presented his theories in his The Origin of Species.

 The title of the work is frequently misquoted by adding "the" before the last word, which makes it nonsense. The problem arises because the word "species" doesn't change its form from singular to plural. But Darwin is referring to Species in general, all Species of every kind, plural, not some single megaspecies of some sort.

The book turned out to be more popular than expected, and all 1,250 copies sold out. But he was talking about evolution of fauna and flora, and only made a passing reference to human evolution, wondering aloud if the theories would advance any further than what he'd said.


Darwin's Theories    He argued for common descent, that one ancestor can have several different descendants, that is, descent with modification. This is shown by the Chilean mockingbird having several different mockingbird species descended from it on the Galápagos. He referenced artificial selection, whereby animal and plant breeders practice selective breeding to gain changes in subsequent animal and plant generations, with what he called natural selection, where the same thing happens automatically in nature. Weaker organisms die out, and those organisms, that by chance happen to show stronger desirable traits, do survive, with these traits then gradually becoming typical for the species as they evolve. Thus, natural selection is the basis for the evolution of these and other species. Put more formally, evolution can be described as the change in inheritable traits over successive generations. This change of traits allows later generations to adapt better to the environment in which they find themselves than earlier ones did.


A man named Herbert Spencer, after reading Darwin's work, was the first to find a synonym for natural selection when he used the phrase "survival of the fittest" in a work on economics he wrote in 1864. He made reference to his economic use of this phrase being parallel to Darwin's biological use of the concept, in which he'd used the phrase "natural selection". Darwin himself then used the new term next to his own term in the fifth edition of his work in 1869.


The most obvious and striking everyday example of natural selection, or survival of the fittest, being the basis for evolution, is with viruses. When penicillin was invented, it was effective against most strains of a given virus. But a few of the fittest strains of the virus survived, eventually making penicillin ineffective for the evolved virus. New antibiotics are used to attack these survivors, but the same thing happens again, as the viruses continue to evolve even further. This is evolution we experience on a regular basis. And just think, understanding this all goes back to mockingbirds, Darwin's finches, and giant tortoises on the Galápagos.


Darwin's Finches    Not the mockingbirds, but Darwin's finches, are what's classically used to illustrate these developmental changes. Although these finch-like birds are today classified as members of the tanager family, the old name persists. Darwin noted particularly how their beaks varied. The significance of this would only become apparent to him later, which is that each beak is suited to the available food. This suggests that beak shapes evolved by natural selection. Of the so-called Darwin's finches, only one is found elsewhere, the Cocos finch on Cocos Island. All the remaining are found on the Galápagos. I have two charts that illustrate these. The both essentially show the same thing, but I like the different ways they do it. Copy and paste:


The first chart is in the standard tree form, starting from the common South American ancestor at the bottom. The first division is between ground, tree, and warbler finches. Then the first two categories are further broken down by what those beaks are used for, seeds, cactus flowers, buds, or insects. Then the divisions continue further.


The second chart instead uses a partial pie chart. The central part again separates seed, cactus, and insect eaters from what it calls fruit eaters instead of bud eaters. The yellow band is the most interesting, defining what the bills do, and the outer ring separates the tree, ground, and warbler finches. And they're all related to each other, and to a common ancestor in South America. Of all of these, I only saw one, on South Plaza Island. It was identified by the naturalist as a warbler finch, right after which it proceeded to warble! How nice is that?


Past Wildlife Trips    It is obvious that visitors go to the Galápagos for one thing, to see the wildlife, in particular the giant tortoise. And so did I. But in deciding to come to the Galápagos, as I planned how I'd work it out, I wanted to put the trip into perspective and review the other trips I've made that involved seeing wildlife as a principal goal so that I could put my earlier experiences into perspective as to what I could expect here.


Going backwards from the Galápagos visit in 2015, in 2011 I went to Churchill, in northern Manitoba, Canada. While the rail trip there was very important, as was seeing Hudson Bay and the tundra landscape, whose flora we discussed in detail, it was mostly about seeing the polar bears (2011/28). It was an easy trip, the temperature was cool, but very comfortable, and no effort at all was needed on the wildlife tours, since we were in the climate-controlled tundra buggy eating hot soup and sandwiches for lunch.


The trip in 2010 to Australia was only partially for the wildlife, since I was mostly eager to see the country, ride all the rail routes, and visit friends. But still, the wildlife was a major factor. From a tour bus we saw kangaroo on the side of the road much more frequently than I'd see deer in the US. We also stopped at the roadside where the naturalist showed us koalas in the trees. But the highlight was the visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park (2010/19) where we saw more of the above, plus egrets, ibis, a cassowary, wombats, a Tasmanian devil, dingo, echidna, and more. The high point was walking into the emu compound and having an emu, taller than me, walking up, lowering its head, and trying to see how tasty my shoelaces might be. I still had a platypus on my must-see list, and a visit to the Sydney Aquarium took care of that, There I also saw sharks, a dugong, and the Little penguin, the smallest species in the world.


In 2008 it was Africa (2008/9-12). After seeing jackass penguins near Cape Town, the Rovos Rail train stopped at game reserves in South Africa and elsewhere on the route all the way north. In Tanzania I stayed in Ngorongoro crater. I saw everything on my must-see list--elephants, lions, giraffes, rhinos, cheetahs, and much more. The only thing I didn't get to see from that list was a hippopotamus, so I'm glad I've seen them in the zoo. It was the only animal on all four of these trips on my must-see list that I didn't get to see. But that's how it is with wildlife, if they're not out that day, you don't see them. In any case, it was very easy traveling—in all the game reserves we were in jeeps or vans, and, since we were up on plateaus, it was not at all hot, but usually cool, jacket weather.


In 2006 it was Antarctica (2006/15), and the first thing you'd think of is that it would be cold, but the temperature was no problem—every day both the air and water temperature was 0° C (32°F), which was quite comfortable, and you'd often have to open up your jacket because you were too warm. (I should remind that the bulk of the wildlife was on South Georgia Island, near Antarctica, and the ship's captain told me one evening that he thinks there's no better wildlife viewing anywhere on earth than South Georgia.) Moving from ship to shore on the inflatable zodiacs was very easy, with mostly wet landings, where you'd simply swing your legs over the edge and step off into the shallow water at a landing beach. Understandably, there were very few docks where we went. Once on shore, the wildlife, including lots of seals and numerous types of penguins, was almost always right there, just steps away. From the ship we saw albatrosses and petrels in flight and a humpback whale and calf.


It might strike you as odd, jumping from cold to hot, but the Antarctica trip was the one that I thought would be closest to visiting the Galápagos. Other than seeing icebergs and stepping on the Antarctic continent, the Antarctic trip consisted primarily of wet and dry landings from small boats followed by nature walks to see the wildlife. And the Galápagos experience was also small boats leading to nature walks. Generally, it turned out to be true, they were the most similar of all these wildlife trips, but there were some serious differences in the Galápagos based on the heat and on activities in the heat that were more demanding and challenging than expected, which we'll discuss in a later posting.


Galápagos Wildlife    Since it's all about the wildlife—the fauna--in the Galápagos, it wasn't until I checked out thoroughly what wildlife there was to see and then made up from the results a must-see list, that decision-making about how to set up the visit became clear. But after the trip, the two-way "must-see" and "other" list turned into a triage, because I saw lots of the "other" group, anyway. The following three lists are "Must-See Wildlife", all of which I did see, making the trip a great success; a "Wildlife Also Seen" list, which was surprisingly extensive, improving the trip even more; and an "Other Wildlife of Interest" list. If you're tempted to think that that third list is my "hippopotamus" list, you're wrong. I didn't really care about a couple of entries, and in the case of some others, I'd already seen them elsewhere.


As for flora, which was of mild interest, I've discussed it as appropriate in three locations: (1) with Puerto Ayora below, and in the next posting, with (2) South Plaza Island, and (3) North Seymour Island.


"MUST-SEE" WILDLIFE    We'll start with the wildlife that I felt it was most essential to see, all of which, fortunately, I did see.


Galápagos Giant Tortoise    The giant tortoise is so associated with the islands, with the islands even being named after them, that it was essential to discuss a lot of their story earlier, including how they might have reached the islands from the mainland (2015/10). We'll add more now, with pictures, and more still, with even more pictures, when we do the narrative of the visit in the next posting.


The first obvious question about these tortoises has to be how they got so large. The superficial answers were inadequate, so I dug deeper and became fascinated. I've now found a principle of evolutionary biology known as Foster's rule, or the island rule, first stated only in 1964. It states that members of a species that have moved to islands tend to get smaller or bigger than their mainland relatives because of their new insular life. Foster proposed that smaller creatures get larger due to the fewer predators encountered on the island, and larger creatures get smaller because the available food is more limited.


Historically, there's an example of island dwarfism on the Channel Islands west of Los Angeles, where skeletons of extinct pygmy mammoths have been found that evolved from full-sized mammoths on mainland North America. On this chart (Chart by FunkMonk), the pygmy mammoths are in gold, and the mainland ones in blue. An historical example of island gigantism is that extinct flightless pigeon from the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, the dodo (Photo by Ballista at the English language Wikipedia). It's believed that they were one meter/yard tall, but their ancestors were normal-sized pigeons.


A contemporary creature exhibiting island dwarfism is the Key deer (Photo by Averette), which lives on some of the Florida Keys. It's the smallest North American deer, and a subspecies of the white-tailed deer. They are not much larger than large dogs. Adult males stand at 76 cm (30 in) at the shoulder, females a little shorter. On every visit to the Keys, I've gone looking for them, and usually find one or two.


A contemporary creature exhibiting island gigantism—along with the giant tortoise--is the Komodo dragon (Photo by Raul654), the largest lizard on earth, a native of Komodo Island (and others) in Indonesia. It can grow up to 3m (10 ft).


As for the giant tortoise, the fossil record shows that it's existed on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and on many islands, such as the Galápagos. But that particular giant tortoise is not the only one in the world today, since all these islands we're talking about historically include many of the smaller ones in the western Indian Ocean, plus Madagascar. Most of the tortoise species on the Indian Ocean islands were extinct because of human exploitation by 1840, but there is one exception. Located east of Africa and northeast of Madagascar are the Seychelles Islands, centered to the right of the map. On the left of the map are the four islands of the Aldabra atoll, centered around a shallow lagoon. Aldabra, a coral atoll, is uninhabited (except for a research station) and extremely isolated, and probably for those very reasons it's still the home of the Aldabra giant tortoise (Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen), similar in size to the Galápagos tortoise.


Most of the giant species of tortoise began to disappear about 100,000 years ago, but even only 250 years ago there were still at least 20 species and subspecies on the various islands of the Indian Ocean. The Aldabra tortoise population is the largest in the world at 100,000, far more than the number of tortoises in the Galápagos, which, as we said in the previous posting, is, at the very highest, about a quarter of that. Aldabra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are the Galápagos. As to origin, just as the Galápagos tortoises are related to those on mainland Ecuador, Aldabra tortoises are related to those on Madagascar.


The giant tortoise is not only the largest living species of tortoise, it's the 14th-heaviest living reptile. The ten heaviest living animals of any kind are all whales, making them also the largest living mammals. The ten heaviest land animals are three kinds of elephant, four kinds of rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, giraffe, and Indian bison. The fourteen heaviest living reptiles are mostly varieties of crocodile, alligator, and caiman, plus two types of sea turtle and these two types of tortoise, with the Galápagos weighing in at #14. The largest recorded individuals have reached weights over 400 kg (880 lb) and lengths of over 1.87 m (6.1 ft). However an average size is closer to 185 kg (408 lb), with the aldabra tortoise a little smaller on the average, and all females being smaller than males.


The giant tortoise is one of the longest-lived of the vertebrates. In the wild, its life span runs to over 100 years, and one tortoise in captivity lived at least 170 years. It drinks a lot of water when it can, which it can store in its bladder for long periods of time. It lives a very simple life, and can nap up to 16 hours a day. Its level of activity follows temperature and the availability of food. In the cool season, it's able to be active at noon, sleeping before and after that. In the hot season, the schedule is reversed; it's active in the early morning and late afternoon, while in the middle of the day it rests, as it tries to keep cool under a bush or wallowing in mud, half-submerged. Remember this bush-and-mud scenario when that's precisely what we see when we visit the tortoise reserve in the next posting.

 I always thought that "shell" and "carapace" meant the same thing when talking about turtles, with "carapace" being the more accurate term. Clams have shells, and lobsters have carapaces, so a turtle also has a carapace, right? No so fast. I've read a little more online and I now stand corrected. A turtle has a shell. The upper part is the carapace and the lower part is the plastron. Who knew?

There is one feature about the Galápagos tortoises that is unique among giant tortoises, shell shape. Shells—we can now specify we mean carapaces—are either "domed" or "saddleback". (Quickly, this brings us back to that argument whether galápago referred to a turtle or a saddle first—the correct answer remains "turtle".) What a domed carapace is (Photo by Mfield) is obvious—a rounded convex shape like a dome. A saddleback carapace (Photo by David Adam Kess) refers specifically to the front edge behind the neck, which in this case arches sharply upward, saddle-like. If you picture this correctly, you'll realize that, when a saddleback tortoise withdraws its head and forearms into the shell, a large unprotected saddle-like gap remains over their neck. On the one hand, this is evidence that, as this shape of carapace evolved, predators were lacking. But why did it develop?


As it turns out, larger islands with humid highlands over 800 m (2,600 ft) like Santa Cruz (with the tortoise reserve) have plenty of vegetation near the ground (Photo by Garrondo), particularly grass. Tortoises native to these areas have domed shells, but are larger, and have shorter necks and limbs. It seems that these might be considered the basic variety.


But smaller islands that are lower than 500 m (1,600 ft) with dry habitats, such as Española and Pinzón, are more limited in food. This is where saddleback tortoises are found, which also have longer necks and limbs. The unusual open space behind the neck, along with the longer neck, is an adaption that allows the tortoise to reach taller vegetation above ground level to feed on, such as the prickly pear cactus that grows in arid environments. As possible adaptations to limited resources, saddlebacks are smaller and more territorial than domed tortoises. Copy and paste this link to a saddleback feeding:


I hope that no one has missed the point that these shell differences adapted to environments are quintessentially Darwinian. As a matter of fact, Darwin did use these differences in tortoises, along with his mockingbirds and Darwin's finches, to formulate his theory of evolution. I have two final illustrations that contrast the difference. Copy and paste:


Tortoises breed mainly during the hot season, from January to May (I was there in May, and can confirm that—with pictures later on). In the cool season, females move to lowland nesting zones to lay their eggs, digging holes with their hind feet and dropping eggs into the nest, then covering the hole. Saddlebacks lay 2-7 eggs, but domed tortoises more than 20-25. The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the hatchling, which I found out at the Darwin Breeding Center. More on that later.


We've said these animals are huge, and rest frequently. You would too, with that weight. Since sitting isn't a factor, resting has to mean lying flat, on the ground, or in the water, on their—plastron—with legs splayed. That's how we always picture them. That's why I like this picture so much:


This is a large male tortoise on Santa Cruz, and we actually see him not only standing up, not only walking, but striding along! We see how high off the ground he really is. I can't really say I saw a tortoise walking like this, and if so, perhaps just a bit, then lying down again, so this guy trotting down the road seems special. I'm not saying that in a race between The Tortoise and the Hare, this guy would necessarily win, but still.


Blue-Footed Booby    When you're making a must-see wildlife list, after including something spectacular like a giant tortoise, you suddenly find that all you're left with in the Galápagos are birds and lizards, not the spectacular animals of Africa, Antarctica, or elsewhere. Still these are worthwhile, and in particular, this bird and the next one on this list. This first one has the improbable name of blue-footed booby (Photo by Marc Figueras), a name you won't forget too quickly. How might a bird have blue-feet? And what's a booby? Well, the last word is an alteration of the Spanish word bobo, "idiot", "fool", or even "clown", and yes, they have blue feet.


As a matter of fact, I'd been highly impressed about an entry in the Frommer guidebook. In the beginning they have their list of "bests", such as best villages, best museums, best temples. But first are the ten items called "Frommer's Most Unforgettable Travel Experiences" (in this case, in the South America guide). Listed among Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and Iguassu Falls are watching the blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance on the Galápagos. And it's the odd rituals of the mating dance that caused them to be called bobos in the first place.


You'll never misidentify a blue-footed booby because of those bright blue feet. The female (right) is slightly larger than the male (Photo by Hersfold), and, as the naturalist pointed out to us on North Seymour, the male (left) has a smaller pupil, which you can easily confirm in this picture. The larger female can measure up to 90 cm (36 in), with a wingspan of up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft). These birds are not exclusively found in the Galápagos, but appear all along the coast of the Americas from Mexico to Peru. However, about a half of all breeding pairs nest in the Galápagos, so this is a superior location to observe the mating dance.


The blue feet are the result of pigments obtained from the birds' diet of fresh fish, but also indicate the health of the birds. Those that haven't been eating well have feet that are a duller blue. Brightness also decreases with age, so we now see a basis for the mating dance. Females look to potential partners' feet for brightness. The brighter blue feet allows them to judge who is healthier, and who is younger, and therefore more fertile.


So the dancing of the male, flaunting his feet, begins the courtship of the female as he tries to impress her. He shows her his feet by strutting and dancing in front of her, he then presents nest materials to her to indicate he's ready to build a home, then displays his feet again. The most obvious show of display is when he raises one foot, then the other, then repeats the process. This display by foot-raising is then supplemented by the even more spectacular display by sky-pointing. When sky-pointing (Both photos by Pete), the male flares out his wings, but, oddly, with the front downward, then points his head and bill—and also his tail--to the sky. It's a simple and quiet, but spectacular show.


There are other interesting oddities about the blue-footed booby, all of which were observable on North Seymour. Both the male and female alternate sitting on the 2-3 eggs to incubate them, while the other either keeps watch or goes for food. But to keep the eggs warm, boobies don't have a brooding patch, the area of featherless skin on the underside of many birds during nesting season. So the booby uses its feet to keep the eggs warm! (Of course—what else?)


While both pictures show this, the first one does it better. And then there's the other oddity about the nest. The birds keep on turning in a circle so that droppings are deposited in a white ring of guano around the nest, typically noticeable with all nests. Again, both these pictures show this, but the second one does so much more clearly. The second one also shows the type of low scrub brush typical on arid North Seymour.


We're now in need of some word study. I noticed that the naturalist, when changing to Spanish for the Spanish speakers, called this bird a píquero de patas azules. While the last two words do talk of blue feet, it struck me that, even though the Spanish word bobo gave rise to English "booby", that isn't the Spanish name. At first I couldn't figure out what píquero actually meant, because references kept on referring to medieval soldiers armed with picas, or pikes. I then recognized a reference to the picadors in bullfights, but still didn't have an answer. But then pikes are lances, right? So the word corresponds to a medieval "lancer". Would that be because of the beak? I don't know, but the Spanish name is literally a blue-footed lancer.


I had earlier checked the German name, which is Blaufusstölpel, and thereby learned a new word. I'd just known Narr for "fool", but I checked with an Austrian couple on the tour, and sure enough, there's another word with the same meaning, Tölpel. Live and learn.


Then I looked up the French name, which is fou à pieds bleus. At first the name seemed to be parallel to English, since the first word does mean 'fool". But those who know some French might see an inconsistency. Any ideas?


Germanic languages typically use the same word for a human or animal foot, including English, German Fuss and Swedish fot. But Romanic languages make a distinction. Spanish, as an example, uses pie for a (human) foot, but pata (see above) for an (animal) foot. French does the same, which means that one would expect the French name to be *fou à pattes bleus. Why is the French standard name for this bird involve a human foot? Maybe it was poorly translated from the English name? It's a conundrum.


Now with all this, I hope you're not thinking I failed to provide a video of the mating dance. Here's a YouTube video of the blue-footed booby, including of course the mating dance. If you think it's a little long at 3:08, you may want to jump ahead to 0:23 for sky-pointing and 0:50 for foot-raising. But keep watching if you want to spot, and possibly solve, an error at 2:15 where they tell you the male returns to discover infidelity. What's the editing error?


It's rather cute where they show the head shot of the returning bird at 2:15, looking duly goofy, and supposedly surprised. But look at those eyes! The huge pupils show they've edited in a female in this tiny clip, not a male. If you want to re-check pupil size, move to the end at 2:45 where they start displaying again. As soon as you see the far bird's wide pupils, you know it's the female. Then wait for the closer bird to turn to the left at 2:53, and you'll see the little beady eyes of the male.


Magnificent Frigatebird    The second of the two birds that I really wanted to see is the magnificent frigatebird. You may think I'm getting carried away using that adjective, but no, both words are actually part of the name, and I'll show the scientific name in Latin to prove it: Fregata magnificens. The naturalist kept on pointing out fregatas whenever we saw them flying, which was frequently, although the full name in Spanish is fregata magnífica. I just love the French version: frégate superbe! But only German speakers will appreciate the German version Prachtfregatvogel. While Vogel just means "bird", the noun Pracht gloriously means "splendor", or "magnificence"—which then does make sense. Swedish praktfregattfågel is phrased like German.


So what makes this bird so magnífica, so supérbe, so prachtvoll? With this bird, it involves the mating ritual again, but here it's all about the male. He's all black, but has this "magnificent" scarlet throat pouch, which he inflates like a balloon in breeding season. Copy and paste:


The female, on the left, is brownish-black with white breast, and a bluish-gray eye-ring, which is visible in this picture. She is also slightly larger than the male. Frigatebirds are large birds, with a body length of 89-114 cm (35-45 in).


Note what the throat pouch looks like under normal circumstances. Their sharply pointed wings can have a span up to 2.3 m (7.5 ft), giving them the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird. This allows them to soar continuously and only rarely flap their wings (see below). They really are essential aerial, and are able to stay aloft, day and night for more than a week, hunting for food. They have an average ground speed of 10 km/h (6.2 mph) and can cover up to 223 km (139 mi) before landing. They can climb on thermals up to 2,500 m (8,200 ft), and then descend to near the surface of the sea. However, they do not swim, so they never land on water. Nor can they walk well, nor take off from a flat surface. They always take their food in flight, including stealing from other birds.


Frigatebirds have the most elaborate mating displays of all sea birds. The males take up residence in low shrubbery where they plan to make their nest. They do this in colonies of up to thirty individuals, as we noted on North Seymour, when we were surrounded by males trying to attract females. They display to females flying overhead by pointing their bills upward (Photo by Andrew Turner), inflating their pouches, and vibrating their outstretched wings. If a female flying above likes what she sees (what a choice for a bachelorette!), she descends to join the male she has chosen and allows him to take her bill in his. (Aw!)


They construct a rough nest in the site he had chosen—he usually gathers, she builds--and a single white egg is laid each breeding season. It's then incubated in turns by both parents for 41 to 55 days. The duration of parental care is among the longest of any bird species, so much so, that there's time to breed only every other year. Chicks are fed in the nest for 5-6 months. For the first three of those, both parents take turns feeding, but then the male leaves and the mother takes responsibility for up to 6-9 months. Thus, the birds can breed only alternate years.


This YouTube video (0:51) shows a magnificent frigatebird displaying on North Seymour Island. Remember, it's a female flying above he's trying to attract, not the female in the background.


As we were on our way to South Plaza Island, we saw how the frigatebird soars and hardly moves its wings when one followed our boat on the port side for maybe 15-20 minutes at what was just a bit more than arm's length, hardly moving. This second YouTube video (2:37) shows a huge number of frigatebirds flying, also near South Plaza. Watch them soar—they seem to be hardly trying. These seem to be largely females, but a red-pouched male joins in at 1:44.


Galápagos Land Iguana    When I first added the iguana to my must-see list, I had no idea that by the time I got there, iguanas would be old hat, after the experience in the parks of Guayaquil. But of course iguanas in the wild are a different experience than iguanas in an urban setting. It's also necessary here to say "land iguana", iguana terrestre in Spanish, since in the Galápagos, rather amazingly—and uniquely--there is a marine iguana, iguana marina, the next entry.


The Galápagos land iguana is endemic to those islands, with two varieties. One is found on the central area: Santa Cruz, with the smaller islands of Baltra, North Seymour, and South Plaza, which would be the variety I saw. The other variety is found on the two western islands of Isabela and Fernandina.

 The importance of this statement will become clearer later. A biologist might be deeply interested in seeing both varieties. As a lay traveler, I'm perfectly satisfied seeing just one, especially after seeing the green iguanas in Guayaquil. I have the feeling that some visitors overdo it when they feel they have to see "everything!" in the Galápagos, something they are less likely to do elsewhere—the Grand Canyon, say.

I learned from the naturalist the very helpful rule of thumb that says, if it's black, it's a marine iguana, but if the black includes yellow areas (Photo by David Adam Kess), it's a land iguana, such as with this specimen from North Seymour. Land iguanas are mainly herbivorous, with the prickly-pear cactus (more on the cactus later) making up 80% of its diet, with it eating fruit, flowers, pads, and even spines. Since fresh water is scarce and some arid islands, it gets most of its moisture from the cactus, as here on South Plaza.


It's estimated that Galápagos land iguanas have a 50-60-year lifespan, and that there are 5,000-10,000 of them on the islands. This 3:15 YouTube video shows the arid cactus-filled landscape of South Plaza where the land iguana is found. They live here in underground burrows.


Galápagos Marine Iguana    The Galápagos is the only place on earth where a marine iguana (Photo by Aquaimages CC-BY-SA-2.5) is found, and it's found on all the islands here, in different subspecies. It has the ability, unique among modern lizards, to live and forage in the sea (Photo by David Adam Kess). This picture was taken right in Puerto Ayora, where I saw them on land, near a beach, but never actually swimming, so let's look at this short (0:37) video showing a marine iguana swimming. The marine iguana can dive over 9 m (30 ft), eats algae, and is usually black. On land, it also burrows into the ground.


Marine reptiles such as this were much more common in prehistoric times, but most died out. One of the few other ones left is the sea turtle (below). It's theorized that land and marine iguanas evolved from a common South American ancestor, arriving here presumably by rafting. The two types diverged some eight million years ago. But that is older than any of the current islands in the Galápagos. For that reason, it's theorized that when the ancestral species arrived, it must have inhabited some now submerged islands southeast of Española, as discussed earlier.


Sally Lightfoot Crab    It may sound odd, but the one last creature I really wanted on my must-see list based on pictures I'd seen earlier was a crab, specifically the Sally Lightfoot Crab (Photo by Joseph C Boone), whose name alone should intrigue. While found in the Galápagos, it's not endemic to the islands, but, like the booby, it's also found all along the coasts of the Americas from Mexico to Peru, primarily among the rocks (Photo by David Adam Kess) surrounded by the turbulent waves on the shore line. When I did see a large grouping of them on a harbor excursion in Academy Bay in Puerto Ayora (you don't have to go far to see wildlife), I decided it was the most attractive—certainly colorful--creature I'd found on the islands, even though it was just a crab! This (2:27) video shows the crabs exactly as I'd seen them on rocks next to the pier on that harbor cruise. You will notice that some are more attractive and more colorful than others.


These crabs were collected by Darwin. In addition, author John Steinbeck was along on a team that studied the fauna on the Gulf of California. He wrote in "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" (that's the other name for the Gulf of California): Many people have spoken at length of the Sally Lightfoots. In fact, everyone who has seen them has been delighted with them. The very name they are called by reflects the delight of the name. These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes, They have remarkable eyes and an extremely fast reaction time. . . . They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. . . . If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear . . . They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colors, red and blues and warm browns.


The unusual name, Sally Lightfoot, reportedly was the name of a Caribbean night club dancer who dressed in bright colors, red, orange, yellow. Since being light on your feet means dancing well, her nickname refers to her inherent agility, her light and swift movements, stepping sideways quickly to avoid the hands of sailors reaching out to her as she danced. When these sailors left the Caribbean, rounded Cape Horn and found these crabs in the Galápagos, they saw brightly colored crabs, red, orange, yellow. Stepping high, they moved sideways swiftly, jumping from rock to rock. Without any doubt, they thought, these are Sally Lightfoots.


WILDLIFE ALSO SEEN    But in addition to seeing the must-see wildlife, a lot more wildlife presented itself on this trip. Now I wouldn't go way across the Pacific just to see a pelican, but when they showed up in great numbers, it was nice surprise. This second grouping is of wildlife also seen, and is actually longer than the must-see group.


Galápagos Green Turtle    Of the creatures I didn't expect to see, the one that was the most delightful surprise was the Galápagos green turtle. As with the crabs, this happened right at the dock at our first stop of the harbor cruise out of Puerto Ayora, and I'll keep on emphasizing that you do not have to go far to see wildlife. I looked off the dock and saw a head rising from the water (Photo by Charlesjsharp), and a large manhole-sized body under the water. Later I first thought I saw another one, but it must have been the same one returning. What fun!


There are seven species of sea turtle, this one endemic to these islands, where it nests on the beaches. It's smaller than the other species of green sea turtles, with an olive-brown carapace, oval in shape and tapering toward the tail. The legs are shaped like flippers to aid in swimming, which sounds like as much Darwinian adaptation to the environment as you could imagine. Apparently other green sea turtles have a predominantly hooked beak, which this one does not have. The females are slightly larger. I like this picture:


because it's as I actually first saw it, a head coming closer to the pier with a manhole behind it. Only when closer did I see it better. This short (0:25) video shows a green turtle swimming (not here, in Puerto Rico, as it turns out). Pause it at 0:10 to see the head out of water as it takes a breath—which is how I first spotted it.


Galápagos Sea Lion    While closely related to the California sea lion, the Galápagos sea lion (Photo by Charlesjsharp) is smaller, and breeds exclusively on the Galápagos.

 To clarify a difference that may confuse, sea lions are different from seals in that sea lions are brown, "walk" on land on their flippers, and have visible ear flaps, all of which is visible in the picture. They also bark loudly. Seals have small flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, and don't have ear flaps. In Antarctica it was seals we saw on the beaches.

Sea lions are extremely social, and blend well with people. We saw them in several places. The first time was when we stopped at a dock on the harbor tour of Academy Bay in Puerto Ayora, and there were several dozen clambering over the rocky area to the side of the dock. They were probably all females, since a bull male patrols "his" stretch of shore to guard his harem. When we were ready to leave, a sea lion had taken up residence on the narrow dock and was napping, blocking our way. The naturalist knew to clap his hands loudly to get the sea lion to jump back into the water.

 As an illustration of the sociability of the sea lions, among themselves, and with other animals and people, watch this video. It says it was taken on Baltra, and it seems to be taken at the ferry terminal. That could be the ferry on the right, and the Santa Cruz terminal is right across Itabaca Channel. Watch the Battle of the Bench (0:25).

The stretch of shore at this dock on the harbor trip was known as La Lobería, based on the fact that the Spanish name for the sea lion is lobo marino. I was discussing this with several people on the tour. One may be aware that lobo is actually the word for "wolf", so the Spanish name is literally structured as "marine wolf", or better, "sea wolf". I further pointed out that one can't be so parochial as to think that that's odd, arguing that it doesn't look like a wolf, because one has to take into consideration that it doesn't look like a lion, either. This naming phenomenon is just an interesting way new names develop—people name new creatures, in this case in he sea, after known land animals.


In addition, a lobería can be translated (awkwardly) as a "wolfery", but to be understood as a "sea-lion-ery". In other words, Spanish speakers being taken to a lobería in the harbor will probably expect to see sea lions there, while it has to be explained to other speakers what wildlife they're going to see. However, when I checked online, I did find that it is possible in Spanish to call it a león marino, just like other languages do.


I also looked up just what other languages say, and it's a good illustration of what we talked about in 2014/15 (Ctrl-F: "Working with Language") about how different languages phrase the adjective-noun situation. You can review if you wish the patterns "x Y", "Y of x", or "x-ish Y", although these examples should illustrate them quite well.


Germanic languages lean heavily on "x Y" (a modifying noun followed by a noun): English "sea lion", German "Seelöwe", Swedish "sjölejon", Dutch "zeeleeuw". Romanic languages tend to prefer "Y of x", two nouns with the modifying noun afterward, such as in French mal de mer "seasickness", literally "sickness of sea". But that doesn't happen here! We'll get back to that.


The third possibility is the one frequently used in Russian: "x-ish Y", where the modifying noun is actually turned into an adjective, followed by the main noun, and that happens here: морской лев / mor.SKOI lyev, literally "sea-ish lion", based on море /, "sea". And the surprise in this case is that is just what the Romanic languages do. The Italian name is leone marino, where mare. "sea" is converted to an adjective. However, it does appear after the noun, which is typical: "Y x". Similar is Spanish león marino / lobo marino and Catalán lleó marí.


But wait! Where's French? I looked that up, and the name is totally different--a sea lion is an otarie. I couldn't leave it at that, so I dug further. French Wikipedia also realizes the word is out of line with other languages, and explains that François Péron, a naturalist and explorer (of the Australian coast in the early 19C) coined the word. He made it up from the Greek word ὠτάριον / otarion, meaning "little ear", based on the fact that sea lions have those visible ear flaps. The Greek root is the same as in the beginning of the long word for an ear-and-throat doctor, otolaryngologist. However, while otarie is the standard word, the article also points out that certain otaries are also known by the name lion de mer. This is like other languages, but do note that it's formed with two nouns, and is not a hypothetical *lion maritime. Enjoy this video of otaries in the Galápagos (1:39).


White-tip Reef Shark    I didn't go to the Galápagos to see sharks, but off La Lobería we saw, down in the water, a school of what the naturalist identified as white-tip reef sharks, like this picture, except we saw them from above. My information is that it's a small shark not exceeding 1.6 m (5.2 ft) in length. You really can't misidentify it, because of the white tips on several fins, and the fact that it lives near the shore (where we were) near the reefs. During the day they rest, and hunt at night. While many sharks have to constantly keep moving to breathe, this shark can pump water over its gills, so it can lie still on the bottom (Photo by Dorothy). They are rarely aggressive toward humans, although they may investigate swimmers closely. Spear fishers might be bitten, though, by one of these sharks wanting to steal their catch!


Lava Lizard    The day of the harbor cruise was full of new and unexpected surprises, one of which was as we were walking up the hill from La Lobería, where the naturalist pointed out, among all the iguanas, a small lava lizard (Photo by Lutz Gottschalk). I later found that there are 22 species, nine of which are endemic to the Galápagos. They're distributed over many islands, and show the local adaption as to shape, color, and behavior, although all probably evolved from one single ancestral species. However, while several species occur on each of several outer islands, there's another single species that occurs on all the central and western islands, which leads to the belief that at one period in history, sea levels were lower and all these latter islands might have been connected. Lava lizards can change color to some extent, and those living mainly on dark lava are darker than ones who live in lighter sandy environments.


Brown Pelican    You certainly don't have to come to the Galápagos to see pelicans—we just saw several kinds on the Mississippi, and specifically the brown pelican is the state bird of Louisiana--but their appearance in Puerto Ayora was quite special. There are eight species of pelican, and the brown pelican (Photo by Dick Daniels) is the smallest, although still a large bird, 106-137 cm (42-54 in) long, with a wingspan of 1.83-2.5 m (6.0-8.2 ft). Pelicans are known for their huge bill, which in the case of the brown pelican is 28-34.8 cm (11.0-13.7 in) long. The brown pelican lives on both coasts of the Americas, and on the Pacific side are found from British Columbia to Chile, including the Galápagos. They are common in mangrove forests, which is where I saw them constantly in central Puerto Ayora. More on that, with pictures, below.


Warbler Finch (A Darwin's Finch)    I'd had no expectations of finding tiny birds in the islands, including any of Darwin's finches, but as mentioned above, when we were on South Plaza, the naturalist suddenly pointed out a small bird on a low tree branch in the distance, and identified it as one of Darwin's finches, specifically the warbler finch, at which point it turned to us and actually warbled, which was perfect. The yellow warbler (Photo by putneymark, cropped by Snowmanradio) is the most widespread species, breeding in all of North America down to northern South America, and there is a subspecies called the mangrove warbler located in mangrove forests on the mainland and in the Galápagos. Typical are the mangrove forests in the center of Puerto Ayora, where the brown pelicans also are. When we saw the yellow warbler on South Plaza in the tree branch, it was at about the same distance as this one in this 0:14 video.


Dolphin    Unexpected surprises abound. When our yacht was approaching North Seymour, the naturalist suddenly pointed out in the near distance a school of dolphins leaping in the water, just as you see in this 1:23 video of bottlenose dolphins breaching. I do not know what kind of dolphins we were seeing breach off North Seymour, but they were definitely identified as dolphins by the naturalist. My understanding is that dolphins frequently breach like this for several reasons. When traveling, jumping can save the dolphin energy, since there is less friction in the air than in the water. But they also do it to orient themselves, to fight, for non-verbal communication, to dislodge parasites, as a social display, and as entertainment. My gut feeling, and it's nothing more than that, was that we were seeing something between a social display and entertainment, but that could just be wishful thinking.


Dolphins appear in a number of coats-of-arms. A well-known historical example of a dolphin in heraldry was the arms for le Dauphin de France, the heir to the former throne of France from 1350 to 1791 and 1824 to 1830. Dauphin is French for "dolphin", as a reference to the depiction of the dolphin on his coat of arms (Image modified by Sodacan). Dauphin is pronounced doh.FÆ[NG], rhyming with "fang", but with the NG disappearing except for its nasality.


OTHER WILDLIFE OF INTEREST    I had defined my visit to myself in advance, which was the only way I could make travel decisions, since I wasn't about to arrive ignorant of the facts and possibilities. Many on the "also seen" list I didn't expect to see. It's just the luck of the toss sometimes as to what you come across. Conversely, it's the same with what you don't get to see, such as not finding a hippopotamus in Ngorongoro Crater. You can't walk into a city park on the first day of spring and insist that you're about to see a robin. Nature is nature. Either they're at home when you visit, or they're not. I'll call these no-shows.


On the other hand, some fauna—all birds—is prevalent only in distant islands, and I wasn't about to go way out of my way to visit these birds, when most fauna, and often the most interesting fauna, is found almost all over, often at a stone's throw. The birds living only on distant islands I'm going to count as too distant. The Galápagos are not Africa, and if I was OK with not finding my hippo, I'm certainly not going to obsessive-compulsively worry about not seeing a waved albatross. Yet advertising for the Galápagos continues to flaunt these individuals along with those you can find around every corner.


Much of the following fauna I've seen elsewhere--a different species perhaps, but to a lay traveler, they seem the same to me. Others, I wouldn't bend over backwards to visit in any case. If some of these had shown up as some of the "also seen" surprises, that would have been fine. But it didn't happen and I do not see it as a loss of any kind. I'm including the following for the sake of completeness, so that this posting has a listing of all the wildlife a lay traveler may—or may not—see in the Galápagos.


Galápagos Mockingbird    As I said in the discussion of mockingbirds and Darwin, when we saw this picture of a Galápagos mockingbird (Photo by putneymark) it was not only taken in Santa Cruz, but specifically at the Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora. I might have seen it when I was there, but it apparently wasn't home when I visited, and so I never saw a Galápagos mockingbird. It was a no-show. No problem.


American Flamingo    On the trip coming back from North Seymour, we did a wet landing on a certain beach to be discussed later. Behind the dune was a lagoon, where the naturalist said it might be possible to spot one or two flamingos. But when we got there—no one was home again, so the attempt was a washout. It was a no-show. Some people on the tour were willing to walk 20-30 minutes along the hot sand to a second lagoon, but I declined. I think they said later they did spot one there, but I was not concerned—too much effort in the heat for too small a possibility of gain.


I have now learned that there are six species of flamingo. The greater flamingo is the most widespread species, found in parts of Africa, southern Asia, and southern Europe. As the name implies, this is the largest species of flamingo, with a height averaging 110–150 cm (43–60 in). I can quote this recollection from South Africa (2008/10): We had been told to look to the left about ten minutes after the train left Kimberley to see a large lake inhabited by some 23,000 flamingos. Some birds were quite close, and others further away demonstrated a typical flamingo silhouette in the late afternoon sun. This online picture of a greater flamingo (Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa), was taken in neighboring Namibia.


The American flamingo (Photo by Martin Pettitt) is closely related to the greater flamingo and is the only one that naturally inhabits North America. It has also been known as the Caribbean flamingo, but the species' presence in the Galápagos makes that name problematic. It often stands on one leg in order to retain body heat. It breeds all around the Caribbean and in the Galápagos and is smaller on average than the greater flamingo—but still, is the largest flamingo in the Americas. It measures 120-145 cm (47-57 in) tall. I have seen American flamingos on display in Florida.


Galápagos Penguin    There are today four species of penguins known as banded penguins, and all have similar coloring: they have typical black backs and white fronts, but just before the edge of the white front is a black band running around their breasts from neck to feet, hence the name. The position of this black band also necessarily leaves a white band (see pictures below). They are also called jackass penguins because of their loud call that sounds like a donkey braying. All four species of banded penguins live in temperate climates and are not Antarctic, and apparently never were.


The African species (which I have seen) lives in and around South Africa. The Magellanic species lives in southern Argentina, southern Chile, and the Falklands, and is named after the explorer Magellan, who first spotted them in 1520. The Humboldt species lives in Chile and Peru, and is named after the Humboldt current in that area, which is in turn named for the explorer Alexander von Humboldt. The Galápagos penguin lives in the Galápagos, making it the most northerly of these, and all other, species of penguin.


This is the African Penguin (Photo by Adrian Pingstone). Study the black band on the breast, and see how it necessarily defines a white band as well. In Cape Town in 2008, after having seen a single African penguin lumbering across the grass on Robben Island near Mandela's prison (2008/10), I took a tour of the Cape Peninsula down to the Cape of Good Hope. I wrote at the time: . . . we stopped for something unique: African penguins. . . , a preserve for them. You walk along boardwalks to look at the nesting areas on and near the beach. When one comes with a visual image of penguins always on snow and ice, seeing them waddling in the sand to dive off a rock into the surf is a startling sight. African penguins are small, about the size of a large duck, and we spent some time watching their activities. Not the least of this is their unusual habit of braying, which explain their alternate name of jackass penguins. You would be looking at a cluster of several dozen birds, then suddenly one would point his beak straight at the sky and give off this surprisingly raucous braying sound, and when one was done, after a while, another would take over, evoking smiles from the spectators.


This is the Galápagos penguin (Photo by putneymark). Close inspection will show the same black band, leaving the requisite white band, around its breast. At 49 cm (19 in) long, it is smaller than the African penguin at 60-70 cm (24-28 in) long. As a matter of fact, it's the second smallest species of penguin of all.

 As mentioned earlier, at the Sydney Aquarium (not in the wild) I saw the little penguin or fairy penguin, or blue penguin (Photo by Kelapstick), at 43 cm (16 in) the smallest penguin in the world. It's found all along the south coast of Australia and around New Zealand. It is not a banded penguin, and while that's not tropical, it's not Antarctic, either.

The Galápagos penguin can survive as far north as the Galápagos due to the cool temperatures from the Humboldt Current coming up the west coast of South America. It lives primarily on Fernandina, and the west coast of Isabela (see map), but there are smaller populations on San Salvador (with neighboring Bartolomé) and northern Santa Cruz, and even down on Floreana.


The most interesting fact about the Galápagos penguin is actually just a technicality, but is flaunted nevertheless. Checking the map again, you'll note that the north shore of Isabela is north of the equator. Therefore, on those occasions where the Galápagos penguin visits the northern tip of Isabela, that becomes the only place in the world where a penguin, a creature of the Southern Hemisphere, can be in its natural habitat and in the Northern Hemisphere at the same time. You'll read that it "lives north of the equator in the wild", which is making a big deal out of an interesting, but minor fact. Still, it's fun to know, as a fact that can just be enjoyed intellectually without ever seeing them there.


The Galápagos penguin is endangered; in 2004 it was estimated that there were only 1500 individuals in the wild. While I was on the north coast of Santa Cruz, which is one place it can be found, I did not encounter it on the way to South Plaza, not on the way to North Seymour, nor arriving and departing at the airport. A fellow passenger I met, who I'll discuss more later and who I refer to as the "guy from Atlanta", told me he'd gone to Bartolomé (where I never got), and they didn't see any penguins, or any wildlife of note at all. While it would have been nice to have seen one, given its low population I can understand why it would be another no-show for visitors. Beyond this one, I think I've done well enough with penguins. And that doesn't even count Antarctica.


Flightless Cormorant    The flightless cormorant (Photo by putneymark) is also known as the Galápagos cormorant. It's the only cormorant that's lost the ability to fly. As the picture shows, it's duck-like, but has short, stubby wings. It's only found in one place, in the waters between Fernandina and Isabela and up through northwestern Isabela (see map). This online picture was taken on Isabela. Very few of these birds are to be found, and the total has fluctuated considerably. One survey in 2004 found 1500 individuals, another in 2009 found only 900, and a third in 2011 found 1679. It was not worth it to me to go searching for a needle in a haystack. I listed it as too distant.


Waved Albatross    The waved albatross (Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson) is also known as the Galápagos albatross. When not breeding, they are found primarily on the coasts of Ecuador and Peru; when breeding, they are found on Española, where this picture was taken.


The albatrosses comprise 21-22 species, in four groupings, and the waved albatross, which fits into the North Pacific Albatross grouping, is the only one found in the tropics. The other three groupings are found in the waters between Antarctica in the south, and South America, Africa, and Australia to the north, which is where I saw my albatrosses. My guess is that they were of the Great Albatross grouping because of their very large size. Great Albatrosses have the largest wingspans of any bird (not even limiting it in comparison to body weight, as with the magnificent frigatebird), being up to 3.5 m (11 ft) from tip to tip, although the average is a little over 3 m (9.8 ft). I only saw them on the fly.


In 2006/15, on the Explorer II during the trip to Antarctica, I wrote: On days at sea like this there are naturalist lectures during the day. . . . What one sees [up on deck] are many petrels, and the occasional albatross, and we were told about a number of varieties of each. The albatross . . . is the largest FLYING bird on earth, with wingspans of 3 to 3.5 meters/yards. . . . Every afternoon when we’re in the open sea the naturalists gather at the back of the ship for wildlife spotting. . . . There were plenty of petrels, and I saw an albatross, one in the distance, than a Royal Albatross rather close (white body, black wings), which is the largest kind of albatross. Once I saw my albatross, I’d had it for the day and went inside.


This is a picture of a Great albatross, specifically a Royal albatross in flight (Photo by Brocken Inaglory). It's among the largest albatrosses. On the days we saw petrels and albatrosses, they'd often be flying much further in the distance than this, but the naturalists identified them, and differentiated them, either as petrels or as albatrosses.


I question the advisability of anyone running all the way down to Española just to see a waved albatross, which I list as too distant, and I feel I'm OK in the albatross department.


Red-Footed Booby    Believe it or not, in addition to the blue-footed booby found in so many places, there's also a red-footed booby (Photo by Joseph C Boone). Like the other hard to reach birds listed here, it's also limited in scope, found primarily on Genovesa Island, where this online picture was taken (see map). While the blue-footed booby averages 81 cm (32 in), the red-footed booby is the smallest of all boobies at about 70 cm (28 in). I'm more than satisfied having seen the blue-footed boobies, especially in their mating dance, so this one for me is too distant.


My philosophy on this extended fauna is that I can intellectually appreciate that these birds are unique to the Galápagos, but I still don't have to track every last one of them down in person.


Puerto Ayora    I strongly wanted to go to the Galápagos because of the Darwin/Beagle story, but that's not really too valid a reason for going. I'd fully researched, and was fully aware of, and intellectually appreciated that story before I went, just as anyone having read these accounts. In other words, mission accomplished before even leaving. There's nothing to see there connected with the visit, no "Darwin house" or anything like that. They named the main street after him, and there's a new statue of him that I love, but that's still no reason for going. So I had to put that reason for going on the back burner.


It then comes down to my other reason, the wildlife, and we've discussed that. It was very fulfilling to see the wildlife I saw, although hard work. Visiting the Galápagos is not for weaklings. It was more rigorous and more vigorous than any other of my wildlife trips, or any others, actually. Of course, a lot of people who go use it as their vacation time in addition to see the wildlife, but I rarely do vacationing—I travel.


And then came the big surprise, a reason to have gone I didn't expect: living for a week in Puerto Ayora was a delight. I have no plans to re-do any wildlife trip as I re-do other trips, but if you promise me another week in Puerto Ayora, you might twist my arm. As for the wildlife, I would have already done it, and once is enough. Well, maybe we should forget it. It's still too hard to get there.


Other than some sailors having been shipwrecked there in 1905, Puerto Ayora itself was founded in 1926 by a small group of Norwegians (!!!) who had first tried settling in Floreana to the south, but unsuccessfully. In what became Puerto Ayora, they built some houses, a wharf, and a fish cannery, and thus the town and port were founded. While the Norwegians didn't flourish here, either, they did build the foundations for what became the largest and richest town in the Galápagos. But it's still not so big, just 12,000, yet that's almost half of the population of the islands, 25,000.


But until the early 1970s, there were only a couple of hundred people in town, and very little infrastructure for visitors. Now there are hotels and restaurants and other needs for locals and visitors. And Galápagos Province enjoys a higher standard of living than any other province in Ecuador. There's a relaxed atmosphere in town, with visitors strolling along the waterfront, browsing in shops selling T-shirts showing blue-footed boobies or giant tortoises, with the former as popular as the latter. At Fisherman's Wharf there's always activity, including crowds of brown pelicans nesting in the mangroves.


Isidro Ayora was President of Ecuador from 1926 to1931, and Puerto (Port) Ayora was named for him—again, it was founded right then, in 1926. In 2014, Ecuador issued a postage stamp in his name as part of a presidential series. I'm showing this stamp both for that reason and to confirm that it's issued in US currency, 0.25 US$, which, as we know, is Ecuador's national currency.


We need to discuss in the next posting how and why additional decisions were made and how I worked it out to stay in Puerto Ayora for the week on the islands, but for now let's just say I arranged for a package based on which hotel I chose from a selection offered, and all island tours were included with that. I chose a mid-range hotel called the Fernandina, named after the island to the west, and I'd checked out pictures of the hotel in advance. It turned out to be a good choice. To get oriented, we need this map:


Let's start at the lower left with the inset map of Santa Cruz Island (click), although we'll talk more about that later. Do not let this inset confuse you, since it looks like some big (nonexistent) island in the bay. At the top is North Seymour, then Baltra (South Seymour) with the airport. Across the Itabaca Channel with its ferry is the road to Puerto Ayora. On the east coast are the Plaza Islands, including South Plaza. You'll note how Puerto Ayora faces southeast onto Bahía Academia/Academy Bay. Now look at the main map of the town.


Just concentrate on the waterfront along the bay, since that's the whole center of this beautiful world. You'll see from end to end it's Avenida (Avenue) Charles Darwin, an honor to him I'm glad to see for the main road. One end reaches well into the green area. This is the Estación Científica Charles Darwin (Ch D Scientific Station), known in English as the Ch D Research Station. Many find it easier to call the Darwin Center, which I shall do. But you'll find on the map the most interesting part, the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Gigantes, (Giant Tortoise Breeding Center). Notice for now the very long walkway from here to the entrance, where there's a cemetery shown by a cross. This distance will be important later.


From the cemetery, go one block, turn right for two blocks, then turn left. Mid-block here, on the north side, is the Hotel Fernandina, on a nice, quiet side street. You've now walked my route between the hotel and the Darwin Center.


Continue to the corner, then turn left for two blocks back to Avenida Darwin. One block to the right and you're at the Monumento a La Tortuga, the Tortoise Monument. We'll talk about the nearby Muelle Pescador (Muelle de los Pescadores) in a moment. You've just traced my route from the hotel into town, and to the restaurants. It's all really neat.


On occasion I had to walk beyond here to the end of the street, so let's do it now. Darwin continues quietly for about another fifteen minutes among restaurants and shops, to where it ends at the City Park and at the malecón, reaching out into the bay. We said in Guayaquil that a malecón was an embankment, but it also can apparently have perpendicular piers attached, as is the case here, so here, the malecón is a pier, or a dock. You have now toured the heart of this town.


There are three peripheral locations of note on the left of the map. (1) The dark brown road connecting to the northwest is Avenida Baltra. As the name tells you, it leads up to the ferry to the airport on Baltra, as we saw on the Santa Cruz inset map. Since Darwin is one-way southbound, a back-street zig-zag route is necessary to reach the Fernandina on the east side, and other places in town. (2) Below that is the long boardwalk going out to Bahía Tortuga/Tortuga Bay, discussed later. (3) Further below that, south of downtown, is a peninsula we'll mention in connection with the harbor tour. Now let's go back to the two core areas of Puerto Ayora for me, the hotel and downtown.


Hotel Fernandina    The Fernandina is a mid-range hotel I chose from the list suggested in the package I was getting. Some others in the mid-to-upper range cost half again as much to close to double, and I didn't see the value in going that route. This was a small town, and I wanted a simple, small-town atmosphere. Unlike many other visitors, I was not vacationing and did not need resort accouterments—I didn't even use the swimming pool in the Fernandina annex across the street. I reviewed online comments describing it as a friendly, family-run hotel that feels pleasantly secluded, with rooms surrounded by a nicely landscaped garden. The below online pictures also confirmed I'd chosen well:


The first picture above is the façade as seen from the quiet street. The room to the left of the entrance is the reception desk, with a peek at the garden on the extreme left. The interesting area to the right is something typical of warm climates, the outdoor lobby, where you'd wait in the mornings for your day trips, as in the second picture. Note the extensive greenery.


The third picture looks back toward the street, with the reception desk area off to the left. This is part of the garden—note the cactus and palm tree--seen from upstairs (I was below on the garden level right below the camera). Note the empty tortoise shells. The fourth picture is perpendicular to the last one, looking, as chance would have it, at the maid making up my room, #5. The chairs in the garden are plastic, necessary with all the rain, but very comfortable, and those wooden tables are quite distinctive, and were also in all the rooms, and the lobby area. Unfortunately, the bulk of the garden with the mangrove and croton is on the right, but cut off in this view.


Probably my favorite tropical plant is the croton (Photo by Louise Wolff), native to the East Indies, and I was delighted to see a couple of croton shrubs in the Fernandina garden. It's a shrub growing to about one meter/yard in height, with large, thick, leathery, shiny evergreen leaves. The Wikipedia entry tells me what I already know: "In tropical climates, crotons make attractive hedges and potted patio specimens, valued for their striking foliage." I know this, because I've seen croton in the Caribbean, and I knew to recognize it there when I finally got to see it because of James Michener. I remember clearly that the very first chapter of his 1989 Caribbean is called A Hedge of Croton, and that right off, his first character is observing the croton hedge she'd planted around her home. Her croton "produced in its big, broad leaves a variety of colors that was bedazzling. There were reds, yellows, blues, purple, deep brown and four or five other colors, all dusted with iridescent specks of gold." And so it is.


Downtown Puerto Ayora    Oddly, there was also a mangrove tree in the garden, almost overwhelming its planter with its huge set of roots. But we'll talk about mangroves when we get into town. It's late in the afternoon and cooling off. And we want to get moving while it's still daylight. It gets dark quickly down here, because the sun doesn't go down at a steep angle. Closer to the equator, t drops into the ocean like a rock, and darkness comes quickly. Of course, Puerto Ayora doesn't face west, so we won't get to see the sunset, only the rather quick approach of darkness. Check the town map, and let's meet at the tortoise monument.


It's only three and a half blocks, so we're there soon. We've been coming down Darwin, and at the monument it bends to the left. The Monumento de la Tortuga is in a nice, shaded mini-park. You can see how narrow Darwin gets, which is why it's one way, southbound, in this direction. The bicycle path, though, is two-way. Right ahead of us is to me the most interesting location in town, and it spans Darwin. On the right, there's an upstairs restaurant, my favorite, and you can see its outdoor staircase over the tortoise's neck. But on the left, that big pavilion is the Muelle de los Pescadores, which we mentioned earlier.


I learned the Spanish word muelle (MWÉ.yé) years ago, before I learned the English equivalent, mole. Now we're not talking about the burrowing animal, nor the facial blemish. I knew pretty much what it was, but I had to look up the precise definition: "A large solid structure serving as a pier or breakwater; also the harbor protected by a mole." Therefore, Muelle de los Pescadores (or Muelle Pescador), slavishly translated, is the Fishermen's Mole. But we can't leave it at that. Let's take a hint from the famous location in San Francisco and call it the Fisherman's Wharf. We now turn to the left on that previous picture and see this:


If you check the town map again, you'll see that where we're standing as we look across the street is the only block where Darwin actually borders directly on Academy Bay, right at the muelle, so we're looking outward into the Bay. Where the bay comes in close is called—I think just unofficially—Pelican Bay, and you already see some pelicans on the roof, with one at bottom center. The fishermen dock here and prepare their catch on tables over on the right. There's also some sort of a local restaurant you're looking at, over to the left, which I never quite figured out. Apparently in the morning, when the catch first comes in, the pelicans, and even sea lions, are scrambling all around the people preparing fish, but in the late afternoon, I've only seen some pelicans. Actually, most of the pelicans I've seen here are nesting for the evening in the extensive groves of mangroves to the left and right—you can see the one on the right. But "my" restaurant is behind us, and if you picture this view from one flight up, you'll know how nice the view from the restaurant is over the bay.


Now we're actually standing on the muelle and have turned to the right (south), with the bay now on our left. Workers are preparing fish, and pelicans—I never actually saw sea lions here—are waiting for tidbits. On the left, you can see the edge of the muelle and how the fishermen's boats come right up to it. Up ahead is a boardwalk that comes out from Darwin and around the mangroves—you can see how extensive the mangroves are. While we're here on the muelle, let's watch this YouTube video (1:45) of the Muelle de los Pescadores, which starts out with the muelle located to the right.


We'll leave now and walk via Darwin out onto the boardwalk.


We are now out on the boardwalk, with mangroves in front of us and behind us, looking inland at the concrete muelle, and you can see how the boats dock here. And so, we're ready to turn our attention to the mangrove forest next to us (Photo by Boricuaeddie), which is what a group of mangroves is called, even here in town. These trees grow in the tropics in coastal sediment in tidal salt water. Their most notable feature is the extensive and complex root system that is partially underwater (providing a safe habitat for marine life) but also extensively exposed over the water's surface. (You can picture how these roots looked in the hotel garden.) They are used to living in harsh conditions, and can cope with wave action, salt water, and the low oxygen conditions of waterlogged mud. This map shows the mangrove forests of the world (Map by ChandraGiri). Click to see that the Galápagos are definitely included.


As I said, late in the afternoon, these mangroves in the center of town are filled with nesting pelicans, getting ready for the night. This YouTube video (0:22) shows brown pelicans roosting in a mangrove forest, although the one in Puerto Ayora is only about half the length of this one shown in Florida.


Pelican View Restaurant    OK, it's time for dinner now, and dinner with a view. I dined in four restaurants over the seven nights I was in Puerto Ayora, all located on Darwin, and all of them very good. But once I found the restaurant across the street from the muelle, I was hooked, and went there for three dinners. I can't decide which of two pictures to show, so I'll show both:


As you see, it's named—in English—the Pelican View. The first time I walked past it, I thought the name was just generic, until I realized the pelicans and mangroves were just across the street. The souvenir shop on the street level, and the whole building, for that matter, is highly typical of how the streetscape along Darwin looks. The first picture shows people going up the outside staircase we saw earlier over the tortoise's neck. Being upstairs gives a better view, but best of all is the balcony. It has two tables for two, and each night I got my regular seat on the balcony, watching the streetscape, the bay, the muelle the pelicans. Day became night—rapidly—around 6:00 PM or so. It was an idyllic way to enjoy Puerto Ayora.


Living in Puerto Ayora for a week, with free days, is as close as I get to vacationing when I travel. The only recent parallel was living in friend Allan's house in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia for a week last year (2014/20).


The same polite 20-ish young man waited on me each night. He was very solicitous and helpful. As a matter of fact, the second night, when he saw me coming down the street, he recognized me and waved for me to come up, which I was about to do anyway.


I asked him his name the first night, and it was Hugo (OO.go), and I gave him my name. And this exchange of names resulted in a very pleasant memory. Each evening as I left, he said goodbye with ¡Buenas noches, don Vicente! (é). I don't know if everyone gets the full import of his using the honorific don. It shows respect. It was obvious that his mama raised him right on how to address his elders. There's no way he would have used my first name without the honorific, and hearing him use it gave me a great feeling. This sort of thing is one of the great pleasures of blending language with travel.


There was a quirk about the Pelican View and at least one other restaurant—they had happy hour all the way until 11:00 PM. That meant that any cocktail before dinner is automatically followed by a free second one. I managed to do that for the first two nights, which pleasantly oiled the view and the appreciation of Hugo's respect. But it got to be too much, and the third night, I just had a beer with dinner.


I did have a bit of an array of Ecuadorian foods along with international fare both here and on the mainland. One was the fritters and similar items served free in the Club Room at the Sheraton Guayaquil. But by far the most memorable was locro de papas. I'm trying to remember if I had it four or five times over the 16 nights in Ecuador. It's a specialty of Quito and the highlands, and I had it there, and once on the train going there, but the first 2-3 times I had it was in Puerto Ayora, and one of them was in the Pelican View.


I found out what it was because some of the restaurants had signboards on the street with pictures and explanations. While papas are potatoes, locro doesn't translate well. It comes from the Quechua word ruqru, so you know we're going back to the Incas here. It apparently comes in different varieties across South America, where the best translation would be "stew". But locro de papas (Photo by Emilio Mondragón) is not a stew, it's much closer to a soup. I don't want to call it potato soup, which conjures up other images. Let's just say it's potato locro.


It's a hearty potato soup, with chunks of potatoes in it. But the big surprise is the quarter avocado you'll always find in it. You can see that these chunky ingredients make it stew-like, but that's not an accurate designation in this case. Never pass one by.


Finally, let's look further out from Puerto Ayora onto the water that gives it a protected location, and take a closer look at its natural harbor, Academy Bay:


It's Bahía de la Academia, but some maps will call it Bahía Academy. The reason the English name can be persistent is that it was named for the California Academy of Sciences, which sent an expedition here in 1905. You'll recall that that was when some sailors were stranded here (they didn't bump into each other), but long before the town was founded in 1926. If you've followed the layout on the map, it's all easily seen here. The green area on the right is the Darwin Center, with its long entryway. Right where the houses start would be the Hotel Fernandina, and the deepest inlet would be Pelican Bay with the muelle and restaurant. After that in-town peninsula, you can actually see the malecón reaching out into the bay. You can see in the bay local fishing boats, private yachts, and yachts that give tours of the islands. The amount of wildlife that can be seen just on a simple harbor tour--we'll do that in the next posting—is absolutely remarkable, and belies the claim that you have to go far afield to see a good selection of wildlife.

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