March 10th, 2010

Frigate

A delightful trip to the Galapagos

Here starts a series of posts about our trip to the Galapagos last week. We were on the Eric for 7 nights, a 20 passenger boat (there were 19 of us), and cruised around many of the islands. We usually stopped twice a day with a short hike and/or some snorkeling. We had two excellent naturalists, Alexis and Fatima, so we always divided into two groups. They explained lots of stuff while we were out as well as on the boat before and afterwards. I took lots of pictures, none underwater but I have a DVD of Alexis' pictures so I'll be able to include a few of them as well.

We saw lots of sea lions, penguins, cormorants, marine iguanas, and many types of fish including sharks (no-one was eaten or even bitten), land iguanas, frigates, red and blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, mocking birds, finches, turtles, tortoises (including Lonesome George - the last living specimen of his type) + many other birds.

The boat was nice with good food, and the crew was excellent. There were some swells that made sleeping slightly difficult at times, a couple of people were seasick but we were fine. The weather was good, lots of sunscreen prevented serious sun damage. We used wet suits for snorkeling - the water was warm enough but they make you more buoyant and protect against jelly fish (I saw one).

We've wanted to do this for a long time. The Chilean earthquake delayed our Miami to Guyaquil (EC) flight but had no other effect although the day before we started the boat spent a bit of extra time at sea riding out the potential but non-arriving tsunami. We were supposed to go to Machu Picchu after this trip but the mudslides in late January prevented it, so it'll be back to South America for that in November with a possible trip to Easter Island afterwards.

Although there was no dancing on this trip almost all of the group were dancers, one couple we knew from the Africa trip and one person from local dances. It was a most excellent trip.

Frigate

The Great Frigate Bird

We saw many Great Frigate birds. They are magnificent black birds with forked tails that obtain food by diving and grabbing fish or other things. They are also kleptoparasites and can be seen harassing other flying birds such that they drop their prey and then the frigate swoops down and catches the prey itself. They are huge with a wingspan up to 90 inches. The male frigate bird has this red pouch that he can puff up and rests on a branch or the ground attempting to catch a mate. They have some lovely purpleish/green iridescent feathers, too. At one point on the boat there was a frigate just hovering effortlessly 30 feet above the top deck keeping up with the travel. It just adjusted its wings slightly to keep on course and did this for at least ten minutes. They supposedly have the largest wing area/body mass ratio of any bird.