Friday, November 27, 2009

Galapagos Day Five, Isabela and Fernandina

We were told the night before that this would probably be the roughest waves on our cruise, and I think they were right! We were headed north, then west, to the westernmost edge of the islands, and close to open waters. Mark and I ended up going to bed not long after dinner because the boat was going side to side, and even with our scopalamine patches for seasickness, I was starting to feel woozy. The boat rocked back and forth through the night, but we were able to sleep well, considering. We crossed the Equator northward during the night, so we were back in the northern hemisphere at daybreak. Here is our beautiful early morning sky!
We were whale watching in the morning hours, because we were in the area of the Cromwell current, which brings cool sea temperatures, which can attract whales and dolphins to the region. We did not get lucky with the whales on this trip, however. They were the only thing I think we missed though! While whale watching, we saw incredible shorelines. Here is a picture of what I think is Roca Redondo.
Once we reached the western edge, we started back southward, and again crossed the Equator, this time during daylight hours. The crew made a big production of this, inviting us all into the Bridge to watch the GPS system switch from North to South. We yelled and cheered, our one and only child on board blew the ship's horn, then we danced a limbo dance. Here's the northern GPS...
Then the southern reading....we were also issued certificates for having crossed the Equator in a ship, apparently that is cooler than just having crossed it in air.
This is along the coastline of Isabela, in the area of the Volcano Ecuador, which is a shield volcano.

More is an area where half of a volcano just dropped off into the sea. Pretty spectacular!
We were able to take panga rides in the Zodiacs along the coastline here, and later snorkel. Mark had borrowed an underwater camera for our trip, and he took some great underwater pictures, but unfortunately, I didn't save them by date when I uploaded them, so I'm unsure of which pictures came from which location. I'm just going to do another blog entry of the snorkeling pictures, since they are too cool to skip out on!
Here is a noddy tern as seen from the Zodiac.
And this was another blue footed booby.
Here is a geologic shift, where the lava came up under the land and pushed the land up. The lava is black, the older land mass is the sand colored area.
Nap time!
These are flightless cormorants. They are in the midst of a courting dance, two males vying for the one female. One of the males is giving her a twig, which is how the males win mates, by bringing them gifts. These birds could fly at one time, but found ways to eat without flight once they came to the islands, and have lost the ability to fly. Their wings are short stubby thing, incapable of any flight at all.
Here's a flightless cormorant in the water. Check out his very cool eye color!
Marine iguana going after food, or heading back to shore...
Here is that same geologic shift, with our ship off to the right.
Sally Lightfoot crab
Marine iguana, posing perfectly for me.
After the panga ride, we were allowed to snorkel for awhile off of the Zodiac. The snorkeling was great, with penguins, sea lions, and all types of fish in the water. We headed back to the ship, had a wonderful lunch buffet, siesta, then a hike along an irregular lava flow on Punta Espinoza on the island of Fernandina. Fernandina is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and had an impressive eruption just this past April. This afternoon hike as over mostly lava and sand. There were large groups of iguanas gathering in the late afternoon sun to huddle together for warmth through the night. Here is one group that I photographed just "hanging out."
Here is some of the lava shoreline. It was beautiful!
Another lazy sea lion.
I'm not sure what this guy with the red feet was...
More shoreline, with the marine iguanas in the foreground.

Here's a flightless cormorant drying and warming his wings after swimming.
This guy is ready to dive off into the ocean.
These three sea lions were greeting each other.
Here's some of the lava flows on Fernandina. It is hard rock, but still has it's liquid shape.
Once you get back from the coastline, there are acres and acres, if not miles and miles, of nothing but sharp lava rocks.
Here's a baby Sally Lightfoot crab. They are black when they are born (probably for camouflage) but turn orange as they get older. This guy's body was probably about the size of a quarter.
Here was a small sheltered salt water area. The "rocks" on the edge are not rocks, but sea turtles resting.
Here is Ximena, standing next to a whale skeleton. We learned that the skeleton was actually placed there by park officials, but it was still impressive to see!
Baby sea lion close to shore.
A Galapagos hawk watching closely for dinner.
Sunset, day five.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Galapagos Day Four, Santa Cruz

A map of our route on the cruise.

Day four started out with a leisurely 7AM breakfast, before heading out to the island of Santa Cruz, and specifically the town of Puerto Ayora, which is the largest settlement in the Galapagos. This town has a population of approximately 16,000 and houses the Charles Darwin Research Station, as well as the headquarters for the Galapagos National Park Service. This island has the highest elevation and has several vegetation zones. We started the day by landing on the docks in town and taking a short (uphill!) hike to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here's the picturesque town dock... Welcome sign for the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Once there Gilda gave us a short talk on their research and mission. They focus on teaching the townspeople conservation, and work towards preserving the unique environment of the Galapagos.Included in the tour was this display of tortoise shells from the various tortoise species in the region. The Research Station has a breeding program for the giant tortoises, and keeps the hatchlings for four years, until they are old enough to survive on their own. Here is a four year old hatchling eating his lunch. He is so little compared to his adult relatives!Here is a poster board with the story of Lonesome George. George was found in 1972 amid a region devastated by goats on one of the islands. He was brought to the Research Station and considered to be the last of his species until DNA testing found some closely related females on another island. Sadly, tortoises were hunted, and carried from island to island for meat and trade in earlier times, so these females had been removed from their home island and found somewhere else. They were brought in to live with Lonesome George, and after 18 years, eggs were laid this spring. I will be closely watching the website to see if the eggs hatch!
Here's Lonesome George, on the right, eyeing one of his girlfriends to the left.
We weren't able to enter Lonesome George's enclosure, but there were other tortoises who were in an open area where we could walk. We couldn't resist this picture pose!
After the visit to the Research Station we were given time to walk downtown and roam around amid the shops and public areas. This was an open area fish market next to the docks. Note that this smart sea lion has found his perfect hangout, just like a stray dog begging for food!

After our walk, we met back at the docks for a bus to take us up to the highlands of the island. This is one the few islands with enough elevation to get rainfall, so it is not totally desert. At the top of the bus ride we were given the option of hiking through this lava tunnel, which is a quarter mile hike underground. Here is our naturalist Paul, at the entrance to the lava tunnel. A lava tunnel is formed when hot flowing lava hardens on the outside, but continues flowing on the inside, until it has emptied itself out. It is cave like, but not formed in the same way at all!
And here is the exit.
At the top of the lava tunnel was a restaurant, where we had a bountiful buffet of food awaiting us, with an open air view of the area. After lunch, this was one day we weren't allowed a siesta! We piled into the buses for a short ride to an area where tortoises had recently been seen. Boy, we weren't disappointed! There was a small pond, and in the area surrounding the pond were probably thirty or more tortoises. We walked around, amazed, watching these giant beasts go about their daily routines. We also found a wide array of the Darwin finches, some who were not at all camera shy! I had a blast taking pictures of all the surroundings, and just hanging out with these wonderful beings.
Here's one of the funkier Darwin finches...check out that beak!

Every island has its own version of a lave lizard, different species on each island. Here's one of the Santa Cruz variety lava lizard. Galapagos is definitely a place where the reptiles have flourished!
Another Darwin finch.
This guy really seemed to enjoy the spotlight....

Dr. Jane Barker, Mark's friend/mentor from his days at The Jackson Lab, and happily one of mine now as well. Jane was checking out the tortoises that were all around. I think this is a wonderful picture of Jane! Jane is another MPS researcher who gave many years and countless hours towards researching for a cure. Now she is enjoying her retirement years!
A random assortment of tortoises near the pond. This looks like an hibiscus, but I'm not sure if it is a native, or an invasive species on Santa Cruz. Invasive species were brought in for hundreds of years by sailors who hunted turtles for their meat. Conservation work is being done to remove invasive species, such as the goats, where possible, and to encourage education of all visitors.

Our last group outing of the day was to visit several sinkholes, which were volcano craters many thousands of years ago. Here's a picture of one of them. We hiked around the rims, and did more birdwatching on the hike.