Isla Santa Cruz Things to Do

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    Darwin Finches

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Darwin Finch on Isla Santa Cruz
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    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 at Hacienda Mariposa, along the path to Tortuga Bay (photo 2 and 3), at Los Gemelos and at Rancho Primicias.

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    Blue-footed Booby

    by MalenaN Written Mar 17, 2012

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    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.

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    Santa Cruz Highlands, Hacienda Mariposa

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 6, 2014

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    The vegetation in the highlands is very different to the coast. It is wetter, with green pastures and forests. There are many places of interest to visit in the Santa Cruz Highlands, like the Lava Tunnels, Los Gemelos, Cerro Crocker and El Chato Tortoise Reserve.

    The only place In Santa Cruz Highlands that I visited in 2011 was Hacienda Mariposa, a cattle farm owned by Steve Divine. It is situated between Bellavista and Santa Rosa, near El Chato Tortoise Reserve. In the green pastures of Hacienda Mariposa you can see Giant Tortoises in the wild. It is only during the dry season that the tortoises are present though, because during the wet season, when it is breeding season, the tortoises move the arid zone.

    It was on the first day of the cruise with M/S Cachalote, before we even went to the boat, that we visited the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz and Hacienda Mariposa.

    Before we started our walk around the farm to look for tortoises we heard that there was a Barn Owl in a small shed by the house. 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 the Galapagos!

    We went for a short walk to look for Giant Tortoises and luckily we saw one, a juvenile, as it wasn’t that big. Then we went back to the farm and got some juice to drink and took photos of the shell from a very big tortoise. Besides the Barn Owl and its chick we saw Cattle Egrets, Smooth-billed Anis, a Yellow Warbler and a Darwin Finch during our visit. I don’t know which Darwin Finch it was as it was the first one I saw, the photo is very dark and I have only written Darwin Finch in my notebook. When we left the farm we saw a Short-eared Owl sitting on a pole next to the road. That was good luck! Now we had seen both species of owls that occur on the Galapagos Islands even before we had got to the boat.

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    Galapagos Flightless Grasshopper

    by MalenaN Written Feb 2, 2012

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    Galapagos Flightless Grasshopper

    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.

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    Whimbrel

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Whimbrel near Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz
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    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 first photos was seen at a small lagoon along the trail at Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz, and the Whimbrel in photo 3 and 4 was walking around at the shore by the pier in Puerto Ayora.

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    Galapagos Barn Owl

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Galapagos Barn Owl
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    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!

    The Barn Owl in picture 2 was siting in the roof of a lava tunnel at Rancho Chato 2, a place we visited on the first day the second time I did a cruise with Cachalote.

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    Short-eared Owl

    by MalenaN Written Jan 15, 2012

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    Short-eared Owl, Isla Santa Cruz
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    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.

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    Galapagos Sea Lion

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    A Sea Lion at the Fish Market
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    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.
    _____________________
    Update 2013: I visited Galapagos Islands again and from this time I have got several photos of Sea Lions lying on benches on the pier in Puerto Ayora, and more from the fish market.

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    Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 5, 2014

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    Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands
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    Las Grietas is a long fissure in the lava rock. Here freshwater filtered down from the highlands meet salty water entering from the sea, making the water in the ravine brackish. It is a very nice place for swimming and snorkelling. The water is very clear, but can be a bit cold. Some people dive or make somersaults from the high cliffs. When you swim you can continue longer than you think, but you will have to walk over a few rooks and then you can continue the swim around the corner. I think it is a very beautiful place!

    In the afternoon, I have heard, tour groups come here, so if you want tranquillity you should come early. It is easy to go here on your own from Puerto Ayora. Just take a water taxi ($0.60) from the pier over to Angemeyer Point and than follow the trail. After passing Finch Bay Hotel the trail becomes more rocky, so good shoes can be good to wear. Along the path there are several small lagoons were you might see migratory and coastal birds (for example I saw a Great Blue Heron here).

    The first time I visited Las Grietas I hadn’t brought swimwear or snorkel equipment with me, so I came back the next day. I rented the snorkel equipment at Cabo Mar, near the harbour. It was $5 (July 2011) for the whole day and the equipment was good.
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    I visited Las Grietas only once during my visit in June/July 2013. I didn't bring my camera that time as I didn't want to leave it unattended while I went swimming and snorkeling.

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    Black Turtle Cove (Caleta Tortuga Negra)

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 6, 2014

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    Turtle at Black Turtle Cove
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    Before going to the airport on the last day of the cruise with Cachalote (2011) we visited Black Turtle Cove very early in the morning, even before breakfast. The sun was just rising and the light was beautiful . It was a very calm and peaceful morning.

    Black Turtle Cove is a shallow inlet surrounded by mangrove vegetation, situated on the north coast of Isla Santa Cruz. There is no landing site and it is only visited with a panga (dinghy). When we arrived into the cove we saw lots of Cattle Egrets sitting in the mangroves and as we came closer they all took off. It was a lovely thing to see. The Cattle Egrets come down from the highlands to spend the night at Black Turtle Cove, where it is warmer during the night than in the highlands. We also saw many pelicans and smaller birds following the pelicans in case it would drop a fish they could catch. In the water there were turtles, Golden Rays and also a few White-tipped Reef Sharks. The sharks were resting on the bottom and a bit difficult to see, but to my surprise you could see them better with sunglasses on.

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    Exploring a lava tunnel

    by toonsarah Written Dec 22, 2012

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    Inside the lava tunnel
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    A short drive from the Giant Tortoise reserve is one of a number of lava tunnels that can be found here in the highlands of Santa Cruz. These tunnels or tubes are formed when the exterior portion of a pahoehoe lava flow cools and hardens while the hotter interior lava continues to flow. Eventually the lava flow diminishes and there is not enough lava left to fill the tube, which is left hollow as a result. We had seen very small tubes on Santiago, but here on Santa Cruz some of them are large enough to enter. This particular one is accessed down a short flight of rocky steps, with a slightly rickety handrail. These lead you to the tunnel’s entrance, which is actually in the middle of it, as it has in the past collapsed at this point leaving one half exposed and easy to walk into, and the other half more or less buried in rubble (see photo four). More steps took us down to the bottom of the tunnel (photo three), which at this point was fairly smooth and easy to walk on. It even had electric lighting! If you didn’t know otherwise you would think that this were a man-mad tunnel, maybe dug as part of a mine or underground transport system. But no – this was all created by the power of volcanic activity.

    After about 100 metres of walking we came to a point where the tunnel roof has crumbled in places and made the going a little harder. Eventually that roof becomes so low that it is necessary to crawl. We had the option at this point of continuing with Fabian or returning to the minibus. About five or six of us, me included, chose the latter – there was no way with a dodgy knee that I felt like crawling on stony ground! But Chris and some of the others opted to finish the walk through the tunnel, though he later told me that apart from the satisfaction of having done it I hadn’t missed much. In the event they had not so much crawled, as the ground was not only stony but also wet in places, but rather had gone on hands and feet, their backs almost scraping the roof!

    Meanwhile I and my companions took a leisurely walk back through the tunnel, stopping to take more photos as we did so. Once we were in the minibus we drove the sort distance to meet the others, who had already emerged from the tunnel and were waiting by the side of the road. I confess I was relieved to see them, as it had occurred to me that if the tunnel had collapsed in the past it could do so again! But there had been no mishaps, and we all settled down in the minibus to return to Puerto Ayora and to the Angelito.

    This was our last visit on Santa Cruz on this day, but we were able to see another side of the island on our final morning when we took a short panga ride in Black Turtle Cove.

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    Charles Darwin Research Centre

    by toonsarah Written Dec 22, 2012

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    Super Diego
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    The Charles Darwin Research Centre was set up in 1960 in order to promote research, conservation, and education in the archipelago. A visit here is included in just about every cruise, and it was the first place we visited on Santa Cruz, having transferred directly to the centre’s own jetty in the pangas straight after breakfast.

    Fabian gave us a tour of the different pens used for the successful Giant tortoise breeding programme for which the centre is best known. We saw a group of male tortoises in one, females in another, and elsewhere met “Super Diego”, considered to be the centre’s most sexually active male (and therefore very useful to the breeding programme!) The latter is a Saddleback Tortoise, and Fabian pointed out how his shell shape differs from that of his cousins – a feature that demonstrates admirably Darwin’s theory of evolution. On the larger islands, such as here on Santa Cruz, the Giant Tortoises thrive in the highlands where there is plentiful ground vegetation. Here the domed shell is the norm. But on some of the smaller islands, where most vegetation is above ground and harder to reach, the tortoises have evolved to have this cut-away area of their shell, behind their heads, which enables them to stretch upwards to reach food.

    As with all such places, the centre offers you a chance to get close to wildlife. However, after five days visiting the islands it was clear to us that, given how comfortable the animals and birds are around their human visitors, “getting close” is much less of a bonus here than elsewhere! But we did learn a lot about the Giant Tortoises, and I was also able to get a nice little video of one on the move.

    One inhabitant we did not see however was Lonesome George, arguably at one time the most famous tortoise in the world. Sadly he had died a few months before our visit, in June 2012.

    After seeing the adult tortoises we went on to visit the rearing house, where hatchlings are cared for, and the adaptation centre, where young tortoises are gradually accustomed to the conditions they will find on release to their home islands, which happens at about four years of age. Nearly 2,000 young tortoises have been released so far!

    Here our tour with Fabian ended and we all went our separate ways, free to explore on our own. Chris and I walked back through the grounds, stopping to look at the various plants – the centre also maintains a native plant garden of species endemic to the Santa Cruz arid and coastal zones. We watched a Cactus Finch at close quarters in one of the Opuntias and then had a brief look inside the Van Straelen Exhibition Centre which has displays about the Galápagos Islands and the work of the Research Station. Near here we met up with another from our group, Ian, and decided to walk with him into Puerto Ayora

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    Tortuga Bay (Turtle Bay)

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 6, 2014

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    Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands
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    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.
    ________________________________________________________________
    Update 2013: I visited in June/July again and this year the vegetation along the trail to Tortuga Bay was drier than two years previously. Probably it had rained less in 2013 than in 2011.

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    Charles Darwin Research Station

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 6, 2014

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    Tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station
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    Charles Darwin Research Station is situated in the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, at the east end of Avenida Charles Darwin. It was established in 1964 and it is the headquarters of the Charles Darwin Foundation. Here more than 100 scientists, students and volunteers are working with research and conservation projects to protect the Galapagos ecosystem and endangered species.

    At Charles Darwin Research Station there is a museum and information centre where you can learn much about the wildlife and ecology of the Galapagos Islands. There is a breeding centre and a house where baby-tortoises are incubated. The young tortoises are taken care of until they are old enough to be taken to their home islands and natural habitat. In the Galapagos Islands there are 11 different subspecies of the Giant Tortoise, and at Charles Darwin Research Station you can see several of them. The most famous tortoise here is Lonesome George. He is the only surviving Tortoise of the subspecies from Isla Pinta. Many attempts have been made to mate him with closely related females, but without success.

    There are several enclosures with adult Giant Tortoises and in one of them you can go down to come close to the tortoises. There are also enclosures with Land Iguanas.

    I visited Charles Darwin Research Station on the first day of the Cruise with M/S Cachalote (2011), so we got a very good guided walk around the area. However, it is easy to visit on your own. It is only a 15 minutes walk from central Puerto Ayora and around the Research Station there are several trails and information boards. It is free to visit.

    Update June 2012: Lonesome George died on the 24th of June 2012. He was found dead in the morning by his caretaker and it is believed that he died because his heart stopped and because of old age. Lonesome George was between 90 -107 years.

    In July 2013 I visited Charles Darwin Research Station a second time when I made another cruise with Cachalote (different Itinerary).

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    Great Blue Heron

    by MalenaN Written Oct 18, 2011

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    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 photos is from Tortuga Bay, just outside Puerto Ayora.

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