From the small beach we took the short loop trail through the Opuntia forest on the headland to the north, overlooking beach and bay. This trail is just 800 metres long and rated easy/moderate.
Santa Fe is known for its own endemic species of Land Iguana, which is larger than those found on the other islands in the archipelago. They are also paler than elsewhere, being beige or milk chocolate in colour, and have more pronounced spines along the back. It is not clear how this species of iguana has evolved, but there are apparently fears that it may be slowly dying out, as it is becoming rarer and rarer to spot a Santa Fe Land Iguana these days. I read on one website, which seemed to be targeted at naturalist guides rather than visitors, “Warn your tourists that they might not see any”. Fabian didn’t give us any such warning, and maybe he knew what he was doing, as we certainly did see some, though not as many as on some other islands.
The trail winds through the extensive Opuntia forest, which has the tallest trees in the archipelago, up to ten metres tall. This is not a coincidence – if the Land Iguanas are larger, the trees must grow taller to keep their fruit out of reach. Such “gigantism”, as it is known, is a well-known feature of remote oceanic islands such as these, most usually attributed to the lack of large mammalian predators. These huge cacti certainly make for a dramatic landscape here, with the sea glimpsed between and below them, and the occasional Land Iguana dozing or eating the prickly pears at the feet of their sturdy trunks, as in photo two.
And after our walk, there was time for some snorkelling in the bay.
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.
When I visited Isla Santa Fe on the cruise with M/S Cachalote we saw Blue-footed Boobies on the lava rocks, on one side of the bay. These were the first Blue-footed Boobies that I have seen.
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.
All five photos are from a Sea Lion colony on a beach on Isla Santa Fe. This is the beach where we went ashore when we visited Isla Santa Fe on the cruise with M/S Cachalote.
This was the first snorkelling opportunity we had during the cruise with M/S Cachalote. We snorkelled for a little bit more than an hour along the shore and then out over the sandy bottom. The visibility was not the best, but not too bad either.
Being the first time I snorkelled in the Galapagos Islands it was also the first time I saw sea lions under water come up close, which is amazing to see. Then there were a lot of fish like Sergeant Major, Parrotfish, Rainbow Wrass, Giant Hawkfish, Cornetfish, Mexican Hogfish, juvenil Damsel Fish (with blue dots), an enormous school of Black Striped Salema and a school of Yellow Fined Surgeon Fish. On the sandy bottom we saw three large marine turtles and there were also a big group of Eagle Rays swimming around, there were at least eight of them.
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.
Unfortunately this photo of the Brown Pelican on Isla Santa Fe is a little blurry. But you can anyway see that it is a breeding adult because of the white and chestnut markings on the head and neck.
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.
In the photo you can see the Sally Lightfoot Crabs walking over the black lava rocks on Isla Santa Fe. The birds above them are Blue-footed Boobies.
The Painted Locust (Schistocerca melanocera) is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and it is common in the lowlands of all islands, except on Isla Española where it is not present. The Painted Locust is the largest insect on the Galapagos Islands and it can be up to 8cm long. The colour is black and bright yellow, red and green. It is a common prey for Lava Lizards and the Galapagos Hawk.
The photo of these two Painted Locusts was taken on Isla Santa Fe.
Lava Lizards are endemic to the Galapagos Islands and there are seven different species. The Galapagos Lava Lizard (Microlophus Albemarlensis) can be seen on several islands, and then there are the Española Lava Lizard, Floreana Lava Lizard, Marchena Lava Lizard, Pinta Lava Lizard, Pinzón Lava Lizard and the San Cristóbal Lava Lizard. There is never more than one species on each island. The Lava Lizards are common in the dry areas near the coasts.
Lava Lizards are between 15 - 30 centimetres long, and it is the Floreana Lava Lizard that is the smallest and the Española Lava Lizard that is the longest. Colour and marking varies between species and the habitat they are living in. And like other lizards they change colour because of temperature or if they feel threatened. But in general one can say that the males are larger than the females, and often have a brighter colour with a distinct pattern. When the males are mature they are brown/black under the throat, while mature females have an orange throat.
Lava Lizards are active during the day. They are omnivores and feed on plants, but mostly eat insects. They can even eat baby lava lizards.
This Lava Lizzard on Isla Santa Fe is a female as you can see on the orange throat.
The Galapagos Dove (Zenaida galapagoensis) is a beautiful bird with its characteristic bright blue ring around the eyes and red legs. The plumage has a reddish-brown colour with black and white markings on the wings. By the ears there are two black lines with a white band in-between. The lengths of the Galapagos Dove is around 18 - 23 centimetres.
The bill is long and curved and the dove use it to pick up seeds from the ground. It mostly feed on seeds from the opuntia cactus, but also eats insect larvae and caterpillars, and cactus pulp. On Isla Genovesa, where the cactus plants (opuntia) have softer spines, is the Galapagos Dove that pollinate their flowers.
The breeding season begins in February and ends in June.
The Galapagos Dove is an endemic species and is quite common on most islands. It is often seen in the drier lowland areas.
In the past the Galapagos Dove was killed for food by sailors.