Sunday, May 9, 2010

An Afternoon at Prince Philip’s Steps

April 12, 2010
After lunch and a bit of a rest we boarded the pangas for our afternoon, a dry landing at Prince Philip’s Steps followed by more adventures on Genovesa Island.

While on the panga, we passed Fur Sea Lions. This is a second species of sea lions around the islands. Unlike the Galapagos Sea Lions, these are nocturnal hunters, spending their days in the shade of crevices along the ocean.

We landed on the steps, built with Prince Philip’s moneys after he fell off the original landing, which was simply lava rock. I have to admit, it was nice to have an even surface to walk up, even if it’s rough hewn.

We walked through a grove of Palo Santo (Holy Stick) trees. There were no leaves on the trees and the branches were a grey color, supposedly from a lichen. Ivan showed us how these trees survive, in spite of their being leafless for most of the year – their branches are photosynthetic.

As before, there were nesting Red-footed Boobies and Frigatebirds. We also saw our first group of Red-billed Tropicbirds flying along the coastline. They are in impressive bird, with their long tail feather and bright red bills.

A new creature we came across was the Galapagos Flightless Grasshopper. Once again, adaptation had reared its interesting head, changing a previously winged insect into one that no longer needs its wings, so has put its energy into other resources.

The true quest on this island was the one for Short-eared Owls, the top of the food chain in these parts. The Owls mostly feed on Storm-petrels that nest on the cliffs.

We found no Owls. However, we did find evidence of their nesting:
and their meals:

Apparently, the Owl nips the wings off the Storm Petrel before eating it. It seemed to us this was an interrupted meal, since most of the body is intact.

The hunt for the Owls took place on a lava bed with no shade. This was combined with hot afternoon temperatures (up to 102 degrees) and equatorial sun. The large numbers of carcasses and bones added to the atmosphere.

Add to this the fact I didn’t pay attention to my water intake. By the time we were approaching the end of the trail and the pangas people were beginning to comment how sunburned my face was. I knew this couldn’t be true, since I had put on strong sunscreen and was wearing a hat. But my face was feeling very hot. A few minutes later, my body began to feel a bit weak.

We got into the pangas and I drank water. But, by the time we arrived at the yacht I felt like I was going to faint. I rushed to our room, yanked off my boots and jumped into a cold shower, clothing and all.

I cooled down and started to feel a little bit better. But it was fair warning that drinking my water was going to be an important part of our hikes, especially the afternoon ones.

The afternoon bird list (in no particular order):

Red-footed Booby
Nazca Booby
Great Frigatebird
Wedge-tailed Storm Petrel
Red-billed Tropicbird
Galapagos Shearwater
Brown Pelican
Galapagos Mockingbird

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