Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fernandina Island: Punta Espinoza

April 13, 2010

The rhythm of the day was being set. At 7 a.m. music came over the speaker in our room followed by a gentle wakeup "call" by Fatima. Breakfast was at 7:30 and we were aboard the pangas by 8:15 for our ride over to Fernandina Island's Punta Espinoza. We had a dry landing during low tide and had to scramble over wet rocks slippery with algae.

The trail was mostly over lava since Marine Iguana nests were under the soft sand nearby. As if punctuating that fact, there were large Marine Iguanas lying everywhere and we had to be careful where we stepped. They weren't about to move out of the way and you could easily trip over one if you weren't paying attention to what was at your feet.

The dominant plants along the first part of the walk were Red and White Mangroves, a plant well adapted to growing near salt water. The scenery also offered numerous tide pools with colorful marine life, including a few varieties of sea urchin.

Sally Lightfoot crabs are probably the most incredibly colorful creatures on these Islands, and they were everywhere as well. The young are a cryptic black with small spots to blend in with the lava. The adults are the brightest of oranges and yellows, scrambling over the lava rocks in search of food (and mates?).

At one point a Galapagos Hawk flew in, landing on a Mangrove nearby, with its meal of a smallish Marine Iguana. As we approached the Hawk remained on its perch, totally nonplussed by our presence. It was almost as if he was pleased to have all our attention and cameras focused on him. After a few minutes, though it seemed much longer, it flew off to a snag farther away to enjoy its meal.

We noticed there were large numbers of bones in the various crevices in the lava all along the trail. There’s always visible indications of just how difficult life is for the animals and plants on these islands. Yet ongoing adaptations allow them to continue living here successfully.

Toward the end of our walk we came across a large, virtually intact skeleton of a whale sitting on the lava. The stark contrast of the bones against the dark rock was striking.

We were also able to see quite a few non-endemic bird species, such as Ruddy Turnstone, Wandering Tattler, and even a Striated Heron (a close cousin of the Lava Heron).

Since it was Sea Turtle breeding season, there were several of them visible in the water. I assume we didn’t walk near their nesting sites.

What we didn’t see, though they were there, were any Darwin’s Finches. We were still quite excited about the prospect of their presence and they seemed to be just out of our reach.

We returned to the yacht. Every time we got back our waiter/bartender Jairo had juice and a quick snack available on the middle deck. Then, before lunch, several of us put on our swimsuits and swam a bit in the water off the back of the boat, while the kids on the trip were busy climbing up to the top deck and jumping off.

While we ate lunch, the Captain set sail for nearby Isabela. During our trip we passed a large school of fish being actively chased by Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

There were three options for the afternoon:
1. Hike up 130 steps at Tagus Cove
2. Deep sea snorkeling off the pangas
3. Using the glass-bottom kayaks

This would be followed by a panga ride along the coastline to see the wildlife and geography of the area.

List of birds (in no particular order):

Flightless Cormorant
Galapagos Hawk
Wandering Tattler
Ruddy Turnstone
Yellow Warbler
Elliot’s Storm Petrel
Brown Noddy
Brown Pelican
Frigatebird (sp.)
Striated Heron

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