Monday 25 August 2014

Day 105: The Galápagos Islands Day 6 - Feathered life

A solitary flamingo filter-feeds 
This morning it was time to pay a call on the flamingos in a pool below Dragon Hill (which, if you haven't noticed the pattern of Galapagos Island names yet, is so-called because it looks like the spout of a dragon poised to spurt flame).

Here lay yet another different and beautiful landscape.  If we had seen nothing but the flamingo pool on our short morning hike we would have been satisfied, but the environs also threw in a host of land iguana sightings for good measure - the first time we had seen them in the wild.

Dragon Hill from the flamingo pool
A more elevated view of Dragon Hill
Pelican eyes up crab
Land Iguana near Dragon Hill
The increasingly-familiar pattern of the trip meant that, after the hike, it was time to don bikinis and snorkels.  We swam around a bay decorated with more than its share of starfish and waited for the turtles to join us.  They didn't let us down.  Swimming with turtles has been one of my highlights of the trip and I'm glad we've had several opportunities.  In the water, they are decidedly more graceful than their distant land-based cousins, the lumbering tortoises, as they swim placidly beside you.  It's hard to imagine what you would have to do to ruffle a turtle.  (Actually, given the more aggressive sea life out there, it isn't that hard to imagine, but we'll stick to the image of turtles doing breaststroke in shallow sunny waters for now.)

The more aggressive sea life wasn't far away though.  In the afternoon, while the boat re-fuelled, some of us visited a nearby beach to take yet more sea lion photos.  We were surprised to see a shark jumping clear of the water not far from the shore ("another first," said the guide) and even more surprised that he swam right into the shallows.  Some spotted eagle rays were the next callers, rippling up and down the bay.  With such visitors on hand, we ceased ogling the family of sunbathing sea lions and focused on life in the water.

Heading for Daphne Major in the Pangas
Back on board, with the taint of fuel in the air, we motored out to an island called Daphne Major and circled it a couple of times.  Landing is not allowed but as most of the local inhabitants are feathered and live on the sea cliffs, this isn't really a problem.  Along with the obligatory sea lion sightings, we saw plenty of Swallow-tailed Gulls (with their red, drugged eyes), Notty Turns (are we sure they aren't Naughty?), a third species of boobie (the Nazca Boobie) whose taste in footwear is less colourful than his cousins', and my personal favourite, the Red-billed Tropic Bird, with the delicate feathers of his long white tail trailing behind.

Although the main species on my Galapagos hit-list when I arrived were mammals or reptiles (iguanas, giant tortoises, fur seals, turtles), feathered life turns out to be rather exciting too. After associating bird-watching as a child with wriggling my cold toes in my wellies while staring at a distant speck that could just as well be a paper bag as a gull, I may become a convert to birdwatching after all.

A marine iguana climbs out of the flamingo pool
Heading out to Daphne Major... wot no blokes?
Frigate birds soar on the uplift from the boat
It's not called a "cruise" for no reason!

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