At Tortuga Bay there is a beautiful long white sandy beach (Playa Brava). There are strong currents in the sea so this beach is not for swimming, but some people are surfing, kayaking and sunbathing. If you want to swim there is a smaller protected beach (Playa Mansa) in the end of Tortuga Bay. At Tortuga Bay you will probably see Marine Iguanas and different birds like the Brown Pelican, The Great Blue Heron and Sanderlings. You are not allowed to walk on the dunes above the beach as that is a nesting area for the marine green turtle. In the end of Tortuga Bay there is an area with lots of Opuntia cactus, a cactus that on Galapagos Islands grows like a tree.
From Puerto Ayora there is a 2.5km long paved trail leading to Tortuga Bay. It is a beautiful walk past green vegetation, among other plants many Opuntia cactuses. You might see Ground Finches and Cactus Finches along the walk.
At the starting point of the trail you must register at an office, and you must do so when you return too. The office is open between 6-18.
The Cattle Egret (Bulbulcus ibis) is now resident on Galapagos Islands, but it was first recorded as late as 1964. It is often seen in the highlands around agricultural areas, where it feeds on invertebrates stirred up by livestock or tortoises.
The Cattle Egret is a medium sized heron which is around 50cm long. It is quite compact with a short neck. The bill is yellow and the legs and feet are dark green. When breeding the plumage changes and orange-buff plumes are developed on the crown, back and upper breast. For a short while the legs become red.
The Cattle Egrets nest in colonies and build their nest in mangrove bushes or trees near the coast.
The last morning on the cruise with M/S Cachalote we visited Turtle Cove very early in the morning. In the mangroves there were lots of Cattle Egrets. They come down from the highlands to Turtle Cove to spend the night there. When we came closer they all started to fly, a lovely sight!
The Blue-footed Boobies are funny looking birds, but also amazing with their bright blue feet and their special mating ritual. The Blue-footed Booby on Galapagos Islands is an endemic subspecies (Sula nebouxii excisa) and it is a common, with around 10 000 pairs.
As the name indicate the Blue-footed Boobies have bright blue webbed feet. The bill is greyish blue and the head brown and white. The under parts are white and the wings and upper parts are brown.
Males and females look alike, but males are slightly smaller than the females and the pupil of the females looks larger than the pupil of the males.
The Blue-footed Boobies feed on fish which they plunge dive into the Ocean for. When I snorkelled at Sullivan Bay (Santiago) one dived into the water just in front of me. They are really quick!
The Blue-footed Boobies have a very interesting mating ritual. The male make a dance in front of the female, where he raises one blue foot at a time. He then points the bill to the sky and spread out his wings. The male makes a whistle sound, and the female who has joined in with the movements answers with a more guttural honk. They than offer each another sticks and twigs, for a future nest. I was very happy to see this courtship ritual on Isla Española and I have a video of it both on my Isla Española page and on my Galapagos Islands page.
The Blue-footed Boobies form monogamous pairs and make their nest on the ground. The female lay 2-3 eggs, which both parents help to incubate. To keep the eggs warm they use their feet. After about 45 days the eggs hatch. If food supply is scarce the youngest and smallest chicks will be kicked out of the nest and only the biggest chick will be fed and survive.
The name Booby is believed to come from the Spanish word bobo, which means stupid.
The photo is from the visitor site Cerro Dragon on Isla Santa Cruz. There are Blue-footed Boobies on the rocks and out at sea is the boat M/S Cachalote which I made a one-week cruise with.
The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is an introduced bird to the Galapagos Islands. It occurs in the highlands of Floreana, Isla Santa Cruz, Santiago and Isla Isabela and it can often be seen in open and semi-open landscapes.
The Smooth-billed Ani belongs to the cuckoo family. It is around 35cm long and it has a black plumage and a big black bill. The tail is long and gets broader towards the end.
It was not until the 1960s that the Smooth-billed Ani was introduced to Galapagos Islands. As they are not very good flyers of long distances over water they were probably introduced by humans. It is believed the Smooth-billed Anis were brought to the islands because they remove parasites and ticks from livestock. As they are introduced birds they compete for resources with the endemic and native birds.
The Smooth-billed Ani also feed on larger insects and Lava Lizards.
The same nest is used by several pairs and they share incubation and feeding. The nest is built in trees.
The Smooth-billed Anis in the photo was seen in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz.
There are 13 species of Darwin Finches in Galapagos Islands, and they are all endemic. The Finches are famous because the role they played in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution . When Charles Darwin visited Galapagos Islands in 1835 during his voyage with the Beagle he didn’t pay much attention to the finches, but more to the Mockingbirds which he noticed differences in, between the islands. He collected finches but didn’t record from which islands. It was not until he came home and talked to an ornithologist and others who had collected finches during the visit that he understood the significance of them.
All 13 Darwin Finches in Galapagos Islands have evolved from a species of finch found on the South American Pacific coast. When they came to Galapagos Islands they adopted to different habitats and food available there. The beaks have evolved to be suitable to the food they eat. To be able to specialize in feeding is good when food is scarce and there is more competition for what is available.
Interesting to know is that the Woodpecker Finch can use thorns or twigs as tools when they search for larva or other insects in small crevices. Ground Finches eat skin parasites from Tortoises, Land Iguanas and Marine Iguanas, and the Sharp-beaked Ground Finch on Wolf and Darwin is also called Vampire Finch as they feed on blood they peck from Nazca Boobies.
The Darwin Finches have a length of 10 - 16cm. Their plumage is mottled grey, brown, black or olive coloured. Some species are not difficult to distinguish, while others are more difficult to identify. Not only are some species looking alike, but there are variations within a species and there are also hybrids.
The Darwin Finches in the photos were seen in Santa Cruz Highlands and on the path to Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz.
The Sanderling (Calidris Alba) is a small wader that is common in the Galapagos Islands. It is a migrant bird and breeds in the Arctic areas. In the Galapagos Islands it can be found in the coastal zone, mostly on sandy beaches.
The Sanderlings in the photos have got a non-breeding plumage. It is light grey on back, head and tail, and the belly is white. When in breeding plumage the upperparts are mottled in brown/rusty-red. The bill is quite long and black, and also the legs are black.
In the soft sand at the tidal line you can see the Sanderling running around and plunging its bill into the sand looking for prey. They feed on invertebrates buried in the sand.
The Sanderlings in the photos were running fast on the beach at Tortuga Bay; Isla Santa Cruz. They were never still so it was difficult to get a good photo.
The Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) is a small plover that is quite common in the Galapagos Islands. It is a migrant bird, but it can be seen year round on the islands. It mostly occurs in the shore zone, on sandy beaches or by small lagoons, but it can also be seen by freshwater pools in the highlands.
The Semipalmated Plover has brown upperparts with a white collar and a white forehead. The underparts are white with a dark breast-band. When breeding the breast-band is black and the bill orange and black. When not breeding the breast-band is brown and the bill is darker.
The Semipalmated Plover feed on crustaceans, insects and worms.
The Semipalmated Plover in the photo was walking at the water edge of a small lagoon by the path near Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz.
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 seen at a small lagoon along the trail at Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz.
There is not a great number of insect species in the Galapagos Islands, but only something over a thousand. There are 22 species of grasshoppers and one of them is the endemic Galapagos Flightless Grasshopper (Halemus robustus), a small grasshopper without wings.
The Galapagos Flightless Grasshoppers are quite widespread on the islands, but their brownish colouring make it very difficult to see them. This Galapagos Flightless Grasshopper was sitting on a flower of a Galapagos Cotton bush so it was easier to spot it against the light yellow background. If it had been sitting on one of the branches instead we would probably have passed without seeing it. The photo is taken along the trail to Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz.
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.
In the photo a Sea Lion is waiting, together with Pelicans, for leftovers at the Fish Market in Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz. Looking through my photos I realise I don’t have any other photos of Sea Lions on Isla Santa Cruz than the ones from the Fish Market, even though I saw several.
The Short-eared Owl in Galapagos Islands is an endemic subspecies, Asio flammeus galapagoensis. It is found on most islands and usually in open land and grassland. There are around 9000 Short-eared Owls in Galapagos.
The name Short-eared Owl comes from the fact that there are tufts of feathers that look like ears on the head. The eyes are large and yellow with a black ring around. The facial disc can be light in colour but also dark brown. The beak is dark and hooked. The plumage is dark brown and mottled. The underparts are lighter with streaks. The Short-eared Owls becomes around 34-43cm long and the female is usually a little larger than the male.
The Short-eared Owls are diurnal, but can mostly be seen hunting in the early morning or late evening. They eat rodents, large insects and small birds.
The Short-eared Owls nest on the ground and they are usually monogamous.
The Short-eared Owl in the photo was sitting on a pole just next to the dirt road near a farm in Santa Cruz highlands. Santa Cruz highlands was the first place we visited during the weeklong cruise with M/S Cachalote. At the farm we had seen a Galapagos Barn Owl, and now when we left we saw the Short-eared Owl. That was good luck, that we got to see both species of owls that occur on the Galapagos Islands, even before we had got to the boat.
Later we saw a Short-eared Owl on Isla Genovesa as well. That one was far away and we looked at it through binoculars. The Short-eared Owls can often be seen on Isla Genovesa were it hunts for storm petrels.
The Barn Owl on Galapagos Islands is an endemic subspecies, Tyto alba punctatissima. It is quite uncommon and there are around 9000 Barn Owls on the islands. They occur both in the lowlands and in the highlands and can be found on Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristóbal, Isla Isabela and Isla Fernandina.
The Barn Owls have a characteristic hart-shaped facial disk with large dark eyes. The facial disc works as a satellite dish and collects sounds to the ears. Around the facial disk there is a brown edge. The under part of the Barn Owl is whitish with black spots and the upper part is golden-brown with black and white spots.
The Barn Owls are nocturnal birds but they can also be seen hunting at dusk and dawn. They have excellent hearing and usually use sound when they look for prey. They eat rodents, reptiles and other birds.
Nests of the Barn Owl can be found in small cavities, in lava tubes, holes in a tree or in old buildings.
The Barn Owls usually don’t live for more than 1-2 years, but they are able to breed when they are about 10 months.
On the first day of the cruise with M/S Cachalote, before we even went to the boat, we visited the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz. That is where we saw the Barn Owl in the picture. It was inside a small shed at the farm we visited. We were allowed to go inside one at a time if we were very quiet, and we were not allowed to take photos using flash. In a corner on the floor, under a chair ,there was a chick, all covered in white down. It made a loud hissing sound “shrreee”. While we went inside the shed one by one, one of the women in the group had gone to the bathroom. She was all excited when she came back and told us there had been an owl in the bathroom too. Welcome to Galapagos!
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.
The White-cheeked Pintails in the photos were seen at a lagoon near Cerro Dragón on Isla Santa Cruz.
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.
The Brown Pelicans in the two first photos are from Turtle Cove and the three others from Puerto Ayora.
The beautiful Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus) can be seen all over the shores of the Galapagos Islands. With its bright orange colour it stands out from the black lava rocks where you often see them. The young ones are dark in colour though, and this make them well camouflaged on the rocks. The adult crabs can be as big as 20cm. Sally Lightfoot crabs eat algae and small animals. Like other crabs they are moving fast and will run away if you come too close.
The Sally Lightfoot crabs are not only found on Galapagos Islands, but can be found along the American Pacific coast from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north.
We saw the Sally Lightfoot crabs in the picture when walking to Charles Darwin Research Station. It was near the road.