There is a population of about 400 - 500 flamingos on the Galapagos Islands. They can mainly be seen on Floreana (Punta Cormorant), Isla Isabela (Villamil), Isla Santa Cruz (Las Bachas Beach), Santiago and Isla Rábida.
When I visited Floreana on the cruise with Cachalote there was only one flamingo in the lagoon at Punta Cormorant. That was a disappointment, as there usually are many more to be seen. However, I got the chance to see the flamingos again when I visited Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela after the cruise. There is a lagoon in the middle of Villamil where you can see flamingos and another lagoon with flamingos just outside Villamil, by the boardwalk to Crianza de Tortugas. A good time to see the flamingos is towards the evening when you can see them come flying in to the lagoon.
The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) is a big wading bird with a bright pink plumage. The legs and neck are long and it has a big curved bill. It can be up to 120 cm tall and the wingspan is about 140 cm. The flamingo flies with its neck extended and then you can see that it is black under the wings.
Flamingos feed on crustaceans, algae and small water plants. It is actually the pigment carotenoid which is found in the crustaceans that gives the flamingo its pink colour. When the flamingo is young the feathers are white/light grey. The flamingo feeds in shallow coastal lagoons and because their feet are webbed they can walk in the mud without sinking to deep. When the flamingos eat they move their head upside down under water and filter the mud and water. If you have taken photos of flamingos you have probably, like me, been waiting long for them to lift their head above the water surface. It seems they can keep their head under water for ages.
Volcán Sierra Negra on Isla Isabela is situated 27km northwest of Puerto Villamil. The volcano is 1490 metres high and has got the second largest volcano crater in the world, the caldera is 10km in diameter. Volcán Sierra Negra is an active volcano and it had its latest eruption in 2005, an eruption with lava flows that lasted for a week (wish I had seen that). Even if it is clear in Villamil it is often foggy around Sierra Negra, especially during the garúa season, which is between June-December. Even if it is foggy on Volcán Sierra Negra it often clears up when you follow the trail north towards Volcán Chico, a subcrater to Sierra Negra.
I visited Volcán Sierra Negra and Volcán Chico on a daytour from Puerto Villamil. I booked the tour the night before and paid $35 (July 2011). In the morning I was driven from Hostal La Jungla at 7.30 to meet up with other people outside another hotel. We were eight tourists in the group and one guide.
In Puerto Villamil it was grey and raining so we knew what was waiting in the highlands. At Volcán Sierra Negra it had rained the whole night and the trail was very muddy. There was a fine drizzle and it was difficult to take photos. When we reached the crater we could not see it, but further north along the path we could see a little glimpse of it. The trail is following the east side of the crater. North of the crater it stopped raining and was not so foggy anymore, but still cloudy. As we approached Volcán Chico the landscape changed to an amazing lava landscape, at some places colourful with red and yellow colours. There are several interesting formations, like lava tunnels, and very thin lava straws ”Devil’s hair”. You can clearly see the difference of the more reddish lava, maybe 5000 years old, and the more recent black lava stream from 1979. At one place there is a big yellow area in the distance and you can easily think it is the sun shining on the ground, but it is not. It is heat and sulphur.
Our group walked all the way to a view point in the end of the trail from where we could see Isla Fernandina, even if it was not a very clear day. There were four groups visiting Volcán Sierra Negra, but two of them did not walk the trail to the end, but turned around when the lava landscape begun. I’m glad I wasn’t in one of these groups as it was a very interesting part to walk to Volcán Chico.
After visiting the view point in the end of the trail we walked back the same way we had arrived. Along the way we stopped at a picnic spot under some tall trees to eat our packed lunch (included in the price of the tour). The trail from the starting point to the view point on Volcán Chico is 8km.
On Volcán Chico the lava landscape is bare, even if there are some vegetation, but around Volcán Sierra Negra crater the vegetation is more dense and here you will probably also see several kinds of birds. Among others we saw the Vermilion Flycatcher, Ground Finches, Woodpecker Finch, Yellow Warbler and Smooth Billed Anis. We also saw a wild cat and along the path a rat without its head. Was it the cat that had taken the rat’s head?
Don’t forget to use sun block, even if it is foggy or cloudy. The sun is strong!
In the morning of my last day on Isla Isabela I took a walk along the road that runs parallel to the sea west of Puerto Villamil. I came to an information board about Comlejo de Humedales y Muro de Las Lagrimas and saw that it was another 5km to Muro de Las Lagrimas. It was too far as I didn’t have much water with me, so I decided to go back to Puerto Villamil, snorkel, have lunch and then rent a bike and come back.
I rented the bike at a hotel which is situated on the road leading west from the south corner of the plaza. To rent a bike was $2.50 per hour (July 2011), and the bike was okay to use on the bumpy dirt road to Muro de Las Lagrimas. There are several places of interest to stop at along the way and the best is to see them on the way to Muro de Las Lagrimas as it is more uphill that way.
There was no lock on the bike but I was told it didn’t matter as no one would steal it anyway, it’s safe on Isla Isabela.
I used the bike for a bit more than 3 hours and was charged for three hours, so I paid $7.50.
There are no paved roads on Isla Isabela and not too many roads either.
If you see a small bright yellow bird on the Galápagos Islands it will be a Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia). The Yellow Warbler can be found all over Galápagos Islands and in all habitats.
The male has a bright yellow breast with reddish streaks, and the upper part is more yellow-green. On top of the head there is a reddish patch. The females are usually paler than the males and they don’t have the reddish patch on the head. Juveniles are greyer and only have a little yellow in their plumage.
The Yellow Warbler feeds on insects which it finds in vegetation or on ground. It is nesting between December - May.
When I was on the Volcán Sierra Negra tour and we had stopped at one of the picnic areas, the Yellow Warbler in the first photo stayed close to us for long and I tried to take many photos, but as soon as I pressed the button he moved and the photo got blurred. The Yellow Warbler is not sill for long.
The Black-neck Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) is a graceful wader which can be seen in shallow pools of saline water or freshwater. It can be found on several of the Galapagos islands, in the lowlands near the coasts. The Black-necked stilt is also found in many other parts of America, from California and Florida in the north to Peru in the south.
The male and female look very much alike. The length is around 35-40 cm. The wings and back are black as well as the crown and the back of the neck. There is a white patch above the eyes and the underparts and tails are also white. The bill is black, long and thin. The pink/red legs are very long. I wish I had seen one flying as it looks beautiful with the long legs stretched out behind it.
The Black-necked Stilt feeds in shallow water where it finds aquatic insects, small fish, crustaceans and molluscs to eat.
The Black-necked Stilts in the photos are walking around in small pools of water just outside Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela.
The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) can be seen on most big islands of the Galapagos (you can also see them in the West Indies and North- and Central America). The Great Blue Heron is a wader and when you see one it will probably be near shallow water, where they are often seen standing still waiting for prey. They feed on fish, crabs, young marine iguanas, lava lizards, small birds and insects.
With their tall legs and neck the Great Blue Heron looks majestic. The feathers are blue-grey and the head is white with a black strip. The beak is long, sharp and yellow. An adult Great Blue Heron can have a wingspan of over 2 metres and it can be over 1.30 metres tall. They are beautiful birds.
I saw Great Blue Herons on Floreana, Isla Isabela and on Isla Santa Cruz. The one on the photo is from Las Tintorers, just off Isla Isabela.
When Charles Darwin visited Galapagos Islands in 1835 he noticed that the Mockingbirds looked a bit different on different islands, and that is something that influenced his thoughts of evolution.
There are four different species of Mockingbirds and they are all endemic. One is the Charles (Floreana) Mockingbird an endangered species that can only be found on the two small islands Champion and Gardner just off Floreana. Then there is the Chatham (San Cristóbal) Mockingbird that lives on Isla San Cristóbal and it is quite uncommon. On Isla Española the Hood Mockingbird is common, and common on the other islands is the Galapagos Mockingbird.
The mockingbirds have a grey and brown plumage with a white belly, and their length is 25-28cm. The bill is long, thin and black.
Mockingbirds can be found in dry forests- and shrubland areas. They are omnivours and often prey on seabird eggs, insects, young finches or small Lava Lizards.
The Mockingbird in the photos is a Galapagos Mockingbird that I saw near Muro de las Lagrimas on Isla Isabela. The Galapagos Mockingbird has a darker brown colour than the other Mockingbird species on the Galapagos Islands and it has a quite broad white collar. There are six subspecies of the Galapagos Mockingbird and the one on Isla Isabela is called Nesomimus parvulus parvulus. The same subspecies can also be seen on Fernandina, Santa Cruz, Seymour and Daphne.
The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is common in Galapagos Islands, but it is a migrant bird that prefers breading in the colder northern climates of North America, Europe and Asia. In the Galapagos it can often be found along sandy beaches, by lagoons and tidal pools.
The Whimbrel is a large wader with a long curved bill. The females have a longer bill than the males. The legs and neck are long and the plumage is grey-brown with a paler underpart than upperpart.
Whimbrels eat small crustaceans and marine worms they pick up from the muddy surface they walk over, and they eat small fish and insects.
The Whimbrel in the two photos was walking on the beach west of Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela.
With their bright red colour against the intense green vegetation the Vermilion Flycatchers are very beautiful. It is the male who has got this bright red colour. There is a black mask over the eyes, and also the back and tail are black. The birds are rather small with a lengths of 13-14 cm and a weight of 11-14 grams.
The Vermilion Flycatcher feed on flies and other insects, and it can catch them out of the air.
On Galapagos you usually find the Vermilion Flycatcher in the highland areas. I’m happy that I saw two during the hike to Volcán Sierra Negra.
The Galapagos Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus wollebaeki) is an endemic subspecies. It is common, and there is a population of about 50 000 Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands. They can be seen in many places near the shores, on beaches, on the rocks or even in the towns (for example on a porch in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and at the Fish Market in Puerto Ayora). Don’t be surprised if you get surrounded by playful sea lions while snorkelling. It is absolutely fantastic!
The male Sea Lion becomes very large, up to 230cm in length, with a weigh up to 250kg. They have a dark brown fur, which almost looks black when wet and they have a thick neck.
The females are smaller and weigh up to 120kg. They have lighter brown fur, which looks dark brown when wet. There are many more females as only one tenth of the Sea Lion pups are males.
The Galapagos Sea Lions feed during the day and they mostly eat Sardines. They can be away at sea for days to hunt for fish. Sharks are natural predators of the Sea Lions.
The Galapagos Sea Lions form colonies which consist of a dominant male (bull) and up to 30 females (cows) with their pups. The bull protects its territory against other males and sometimes there are fights. As it is difficult for a male to be away feeding while protecting his territory he becomes weaker and he will then be replaced by a stronger male after a while. Males without a territory form bachelor colonies.
The females give birth to one pup each year, which they nurse for up to three years. Sometimes you can see two pups of different age suckling milk from their mother. When they are around five months the pups can start fishing for themselves though. The mother and child can recognise each other’s bark and thus find each other among the other Sea Lions in the colony.
The Sea Lions in the first photo are lying on a small beach on Las Tintoreras, and the Sea Lion in the second photo is lying on the boardwalk between the harbour in Puerto Villamil and Concha de Perla.
The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is endemic to Galapagos Islands and it is also the only penguin that can be found here. They are not very common, but there are only around a thousand couples. After El Niño years the population become smaller though as food supply decreases. The Galapagos Penguin can mostly be found around Isla Fernandina, the west coast of Isla Isabela, on Isla San Bartolomé and sometimes on Floreana.
Males and females look the same, but the males are usually a little larger. The penguins become around 50cm long. The flippers, back and face are black. From the eyes, round the cheeks, there is a curved white line. The breast is white with a black line across the throat.
The penguins can’t fly. They dive in the water for food and usually feed on small fish like sardines and mullets. They are very fast under the water. While snorkelling at Sullivan Bay I saw one penguin shooting through the water like an arrow.
The Galapagos Penguins are monogamous. They breed throughout the year if food availability is good. They lay 1-2 eggs near the shore in crevices and holes to protect the eggs from sunlight and overheating. The incubation time is 40 days and both parents take turns in looking after the nest.
The penguins in the photo was standing on a small lava rock that the boat passed on the way from Puerto Villamil to Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela.
On Galapagos Islands you will find an endemic subspecies of the White-cheeked Pintail, also called Galapagos Pintail (Ana bahamensis galapagensis). It is quite common and it can be found both in highland pools and lowland lagoons and mangrove swamps.
The White-cheeked Pintail is a medium sized duck that becomes around 46 cm long. It has mainly got brown feathers, with patterns of light and dark brown. The cheeks and throat are white and the bill is very characteristic with a blue and red colour. The legs and webbed feet are grey. Males and females look very similar, but the male is slightly larger and has a longer tail.
The White-cheeked Pintail feeds on small aquatic plants and small animals in the water. It mainly gets the food by dabbling at the surface, but it can also dive in deeper water.
If the conditions are good the White-cheeked Pintail can breed throughout the year, and they build their nest near the water, on the ground, protected by vegetation.
When I visited Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela I saw several White-cheeked Pintails in the lagoons in and outside Villamil, and that is where the photos are taken.
Long ago whalers and pirates hunted tortoises to keep on board their ships as the tortoises could survive a long time without food and water. In this way the sailors had access to fresh meat while they were at sea. Hunting continued after the islands got populated. Not only hunting reduced the population significantly but also predation by introduced animals. Especially baby tortoises who have a soft shell are vulnerable. Now there are a few breeding centres for tortoises on the Galapagos Islands with good programs for restoring the population of the Giant Tortoises. The largest one is Crianza de Tortugas (Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre) just outside Puerto Villamil.
At Crianza de Tortugas around 850 tortoises are kept in separate enclosures and you can see different subspecies from the island. The youngest ones are kept in corrals covered with a metal net to protect them. Tortoises are born and brought up at the breeding centre to eventually return to their natural habitat. There are many information boards around the centre where you can read about how they work at the centre and about the tortoises. There is also a small information centre. If you are in Puerto Villamil you should definitely make a visit here!
I booked the Bay Tour at Hostal La Jungla the evening before going on the tour and it was $25 (July 2011). At 9 o’clock in the morning I was picked up at the hostel and in Puerto Villamil we picked up four other tourists. At the harbour we were met by a guide and went aboard a boat.
Las Tintoreras is a small volcanic island just off the coast from Puerto Villamil. On the way there we saw a couple of penguins, a Blue-footed Booby and Sally Lightfoot Crabs on some lava rocks. At Las Tintoreras there is trail around the island which we walked together with the guide.
On the southern side of many lava rocks on Las Tintoreras you can see different kind of lichen. The lichen are found mainly on the south side of the rocks as the moist prevailing winds are coming from the south and the lichen can take up the moisture from the air.
There are lots and lots of Marine Iguanas on Las Tintoreras. There is a nesting area and we saw many juvenile iguanas. Visiting Las Tintoreras there is also a good chance that you will see White Tipped Reef Sharks. In the calm waters between the rooks the sharks rest at the bottom during the day. There were several sharks there when we walked passed. There were also some sea lions playing at the water edge at a white sandy beach. It was restricted area though and we could only watch them from the trail. Just by the trail we also saw a Great Blue Heron.
After visiting Las Tintoreras we went snorkelling in the bay for an hour. It was a good place for snorkelling and the equipment was good as well. We saw a lot of Sergeant Mayors, small wrasses and tiny box fishes. At one place there were 8-10 big turtles laying on the sandy bottom (I wish I had brought my disposable camera). It was also fun to see many big Marine Iguanas swimming near us at the surface.
Coming back to the harbour I walked back to Puerto Villamil and Hostal La Jungla and then went out to eat lunch. The Bay Tour is a half-day tour.
The brown Pelican can be found in many areas along the American Pacific and Atlantic coasts, but on Galapagos Islands you will find the endemic subspecies Pelecanus occidentalis urinator. They can be found by the coast on most islands.
The Brown Pelicans are large birds with a length of 105-152cm and a wingspan of 203-228cm. They have very long bills with an elastic pouch which they use when catching fish. The male and female look alike, but females are usually a little smaller. They have a greyish-brown plumage and they have a chestnut and white marking on neck and head when breeding. When not breeding the neck is more greyish. The juveniles have the same greyish-brown colour, but a paler/white belly. The feet are webbed.
The Brown Pelican feeds on fish and crustaceans and they can often be seen plunge-diving from the air into the sea to catch their prey. Under the water they fill their bill with water and fish, and then filters the water and swallow the fish.
The Galapagos Brown Pelican usually nest in mangroves and low bushes. They nest in colonies or individually. The female lay 2-3 eggs and they are incubated by both parents for about a month. They breed throughout the year.
The pelicans can live as long as 30 years.
On the beach west of Puerto Villamil, on Isla Isabela, there were many Brown Pelicans.