In Association with:
The Galagagos Islands and Ecuador 3rd October - 18th October 2002
Day 1 3rd Oct
It was early in the morning at Heathrow and our entire group met in time to be the first to check-in for the first leg of our journey which was to Madrid. The plane left on time and after a short flight we arrived in Spain. The short connection time meant it wasn't long before we were aboard our second plane and commencing the long flight to Quito in Ecuador. After several movies and meals, the odd book and a little snoring we eventually arrived at this high altitude city - around 8,000ft. The city was back dropped by some wonderful scenery which included spectacular snow capped mountains and rainforest. Once through the riggers of immigration we were met by our ground agents, and my good friend and guide Kevin Easley. Straight onto our coach and then after a short trip we were at our hotel where we were to stay for the night. We were all tired so having eaten our evening meal we then retired to our rooms.
Day 2 4th Oct
Next morning a few of the group ventured out of the hotel and some of them saw a Great Thrush which was singing in a nearby tree. Breakfast over with, we boarded our coach and set off to the airport. Along the way the keen eyed managed to see Eared Doves and an American Kestrel.
At last we were aboard the plane which was going to take us to the mythical islands of the Galapagos. After a couple of hours we arrived on the small remote runway on the island of Baltra. Formalities seemed to take ages as we got our entry permits and eventually got to the bus which took us down to the small harbour where our boat awaited us, sat out on a glorious turquoise-blue sea.
We had already seen Medium Ground Finch and Smooth-billed Ani along the way, but as we waited with our resident naturalist guide Ivan - pronounced 'Evan' we couldn't help getting excited by all the birds flying around in front of us - Common Noddies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Blue-footed Boobies and huge Brown Pelicans. One of our boats Dinghy's then arrived and in two groups we were ferried across to 'The Fregata' our home for the next 10 days. As we were shown to our compact en-suite cabins, some of the group spotted a single Lava Gull sat on the beach and the first of what was to be many Elliot's Storm Petrels and Pacific Green Turtles. It wasn't long before we hauled anchor and set off towards our first stop at Bachus Beach on Santa Cruz.
Once here we were soon whisked ashore via two quick trips in the dinghy's and here we experienced our first 'wet landing', a beach landing where we had to get out in just a foot deep water.
Once ashore we were soon attracted by sight of many Sally Lightfoot Crabs which were sat on the rocks. Here also was our first Marine Iguana an all black individual who blended in very well with the black lava rock.
A quick look around found a Great Blue Heron while Brown Pelicans posed on a rock and Magnificent Frigatebirds circled overhead. We walked along the beautiful golden sandy beach to another small bay and here we watched as dozens of Blue-footed Boobies dived for fish just off shore. Several Mangrove Warblers flitted around low in the scrubby bushes, while a nearby pool held four Greater Flamingos, Black-necked Stilts and a Semi-palmated Plover. A couple of Medium Ground Finches were then found and later we all got good views of several Small Ground Finches.
There were many shallow depressions in the sand showing where turtles had dug out their nests and laid their eggs. A few shorebirds fed around the rocks including an obliging Wandering Tattler, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderling, while nearby an adult and juvenile Lava Gull showed very well. As we slowly walked back more Medium and Small Ground Finches were seen and a few of the group got to see a pair of Galapagos Mockingbirds fly past. We then sat on the beach soaking in the sun and atmosphere before being taken back to our boat. Now on board with us were two Lava Gulls while over the sea flew Elliot's Storm Petrels, and Magnificent Frigatebirds glided lazily overhead. After a little relaxation we met up in the lounge of our vessel and here Ivan introduced our seven man crew with a toast after which we enjoyed a very welcome and enjoyable evening meal. Finishing the day with our first roll call we felt contented and ready for bed.
Day 3 5th Oct
Our boat sailed through the night to arrive at the island of Genovesa (tower) by dawn. Several people on early morning look out soon got to see Great Frigatebirds including a male with his bright red throat pouch inflated. Then there were Red-footed Boobies, stunning Swallow-tailed Gulls, Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels, and superb Red-billed Tropicbirds.
We soon got incredibly close views of adult and juvenile Swallow-tailed Gulls, followed by Nazca Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies and a few Red-footed Boobies. An immature Lava Heron was spotted trying to catch Sally Lightfoot Crabs while Galapagos Mockingbirds hopped about on the black lava rocks. Moving slowly along we passed a sleeping Galapagos Sea lion and then we got views of Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels, Audubon's Shearwaters and the occasional Galapagos Dove flying high overhead. We eventually came to some steps cut out in the rocks (Philip's Steps) and here we got out of our boats and made our way up to the top, where it was flat and covered with scrub. Here we were greeted by our first good views of Galapagos Dove, Warbler Finch and Sharp-billed Ground-finch while sat all around us in the small trees and on the ground were Nazca Boobies, Red-footed Boobies and Great Frigatebirds. As we walked on through the low scrub photographing every bird we saw, lots of Galapagos Mockingbirds and our first Large Ground Finch appeared.
Just a little further on looking over a flat area of lava rock we watched as thousands of Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels flew around, some birds coming to within just a few feet of us.
Ivan then spotted a Short-eared Owl sat amongst the petrel colony, we set our scopes on this bird and enjoyed fabulous views. At the end of the trail we were greeted by our most obliging Galapagos Mockingbirds yet! - they
walked around our feet and came to within inches of our hands. We also got to see Large Ground, Large Cactus, Sharp-billed Ground and Warbler Finch all very close to each other allowing us good comparisons of their beaks and other structural differences.
Turning around we headed back towards 'Philips steps' and our awaiting dinghies. After some lunch and a rest on board our boat we then headed ashore to the picturesque beach of Darwin's Bay. Once all ashore we got to see several Galapagos Sea lions lazing on the golden sand as well as very confiding Swallow-tailed Gulls. In the next small bay we found a Marbled Godwit, Wandering Tattler, Semi-palmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstones and later a Willet.
Walking past the mangroves gave us excellent opportunities to look at Red-footed Boobies, including several rarer 'white morph' birds.
A Yellow-crowned Night-heron showed well and several Warbler and Large Cactus Finch were found. Continuing along the cliff-top we looked down into the sea and in a small sandy area underwater we could see four Spotted Eagle Rays, while above them Audubon's Shearwaters flew back and forth. Further along we got excellent views of a male Great Frigatebird with his pouch half inflated and down on the rocks an adult Lava Heron was watched chasing crabs. As we returned Swallow-tailed Gulls kept begging to be photographed as did a Large Ground Finch. We got back to the beach and awaited our dinghies. Lots of Audubon's Shearwaters were flying around the bay and several Spotted Eagle Rays were swimming very close to shore. Soon back on board our boat a welcoming snack awaited us. Later, after our evening meal and roll-call the captain set sail for the island of Bartolome, once again arriving the following morning.
DAY 4 6th Oct
We awoke to a new island "Bartolome". Those up early saw several Elliot's Storm Petrels, and four Galapagos Penguins were watched sat on the rocks before seen swimming around. What a good start! After breakfast a Galapagos Hawk was spotted sat right on top of a pinnacle rock. We then boarded the dinghies and cruised along the edge of the rocky bay. Here we got views of Lava Heron, Blue-footed Booby, several different types of Sea Urchin and on the beach there were lots of Ghost Crabs. Another lone penguin allowed us to get good views before we headed to the rocky jetty. Landing on Bartolome we then took a slow walk to the top of this 'new' island. Along the way we found lots of Lava Lizards plus a couple of Galapagos Hawks which were watched circling around. At the very top the views were spectacular and we could see islands in all directions. Below us in a sandy cove up to ten White-tipped Reef-sharks could be seen only a few feet from the shore. Making our way back down we boarded our boat and set off towards James Island. Along the way we watched from the upper sun deck and soon found ourselves amongst hundreds of Audubon's Shearwaters and many Elliot's Storm Petrels. Several flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes then appeared amongst which a few larger, paler Grey Phalaropes were spotted. John saw a Sperm Whale blow! But in all the excitement we never heard him shout. We then found some distant Bottle-nosed Dolphins, a Manta Ray jumped clean out of the water and so did a large unidentified fish.
Further on three Waved Albatrosses were seen flying, but unfortunately they headed away from us. Arriving at James Bay we later went ashore and were greeted once again by a group of lazy Sea lions. A short walk into the scrub soon had us looking at a Dark-billed Cuckoo, and then further on by the shore we found hundreds of huge Marine Iguanas. Amongst the shorebirds were seven Wandering Tattlers, Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Turnstone and four Least Sandpipers. At the end of the trail several Fur Seals were seen and far out at sea a single Dark-rumped Petrel was just out of range to be positively identified. Walking back through the scrub and short trees where the sound of Mockingbirds was constant, we eventually saw a couple of Galapagos Flycatchers - the last one by the beach showing particularly well. Also here were Medium Ground Finch and in the bay amongst a group of feeding Common Noddies was a single Arctic Tern, a very rare bird here! Back on board we set off towards our next morning's destination of Fernandina. Just thirty minutes offshore we had spotted the first of 25 or more Dark-rumped Petrels. These beautiful 'Pterodromas' gave fantastic close views and ended another superb day.
DAY 5 7th Oct
We woke to see the island of Fernandina and after scanning the sea our first Flightless Cormorant was spotted. An early morning visit ashore soon had land on the black lava where a Striated Heron, showed well, Spotted Sandpiper was found and a Galapagos Hawk called from a tree just ten feet above our heads.
We walked to the end of the beach and here a few Flightless Cormorants were seen either sat on their nests or stood nearby drying their short stubby wings. A young Galapagos Hawk landed on the rocks here and showed well again after which we made a short walk into the Mangroves. There was very little here, although another Striated Heron was nice. The Lava formations were exceptional and scenery yet again superb.
We headed back to the shore and while we waited for our dinghies to arrive we found a few shorebirds that included a single Grey Plover. Back on board our boat, the breakfast was very welcome, after which we set off towards our next stop at Tagus Cove. Along the way we had our normal entourage of Elliot's Storm-petrels, Audubon's Shearwaters, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Blue-footed Boobies. A single Dark-rumped Petrel was spotted and then a super Waved Albatross sat on the water. Arriving in Tagus Cove we got into the dinghies and searched the shoreline and nearby sea cliffs. We got very close to several Galapagos Penguins and Blue-footed Boobies while in the water we saw White, Green and Pencil-spined, Sea Urchins, Cushion Stars, Pufferfish and a Manta Ray.
We returned to our boat and after lunch and a rest we set off towards shore and a 'dry landing'. We then walked up through the woods until we overlooked a large crater filled with water. Scanning the lake we managed to find about seven White-cheeked Pintail although they were a little distant. In the woods Small and Medium Ground Finch were found along with Galapagos Flycatcher, Dark-billed Cuckoo and the tracks of Land Iguanas. At the end of the trail only the first in the group got to see Small Tree Finch, but later on everyone got good close views of a Woodpecker Finch.
As we returned we got to see another Woodpecker Finch but this one showed us the fascinating way it used small sticks as tools to try and excavate grubs from certain trees. Returning back to our boat we had our dinner and soon retired, looking forward to whatever tomorrow would bring.
DAY 6 8th Oct
Before breakfast we went ashore on Black Beach with the chance to search a smallish patch of Mangrove. Walking the edge of this impenetrable wood we listened and watched. Large, Medium and Small Ground Finches were found as well as the usual Mangrove Warblers and Galapagos Mockingbirds. In a very small mangrove pool a pair of White-cheeked Pintail were seen well, despite them trying to hide. Shallow depressions in the sand were evidence of recent turtles nests and we noted quite a few dragonflies here. Leaving the mangrove and beach behind us we returned to the boat for our breakfast. With this over we set off for Urvina Bay. Sat on the sun deck we saw plenty of Audubon's Shearwaters, Elliot's Storm-petrels and one Dark-rumped Petrel. As we arrived, a shout from Phil had us strain to look overland where a pair of very distant but nether-the-less endemic Galapagos Martins were seen flying around some far away hills. Taking our dinghies ashore we then proceeded to walk through the low dry scrub that appeared to cover this island. It wasn't long before we found our first Galapagos Tortoise shortly followed by many huge and colourful Land Iguanas. Another enormous Tortoise was then found plus several interesting butterflies and flowers. Back beside the beach as we watched Brown Pelicans fishing while awaiting our ferry service to our boat, a group of Spotted Eagle Rays were seen playing near the surface. On the boat we had our lunch and then set off across the huge bay towards Puerto Moreno. This took about two and a half hours and gave us the chance to see hundreds of seabirds. In addition to the seabirds we were now used to seeing were another Dark-rumped Petrel, lots of Grey Phalaropes and at least twelve Waved Albatross. Our approach to Puerto Moreno was greeted by huge numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters, Grey Phalaropes a few Common Terns and Common Noddies. We then took our dinghies ashore to an area rarely seen by the average visitor. Manoeuvring through the mangroves our boatmen found the hidden jetty, first passing by a group of Flightless Cormorants and some nesting Brown Pelicans.
Once ashore we found ourselves amongst the most amazing landscape of endless lava and scattered Candelabra Cactus. Walking across the many different formations of lava we came to some brackish pools and here we found a Moorhen, Mangrove Warblers, four Flamingos and then a pair of Cactus Finch. As we returned across this 'black' desert we saw lots of Lava Cactus and then the incredible sight of groups of Audubon's Shearwaters flying far inland towards their nesting site.
Back on the boat we had our evening meal as the sun set, after which we headed through the night towards our next stop of Puerto Villamil.
DAY 7 9th Oct
After an early breakfast we each collected a picnic lunch and then went ashore. Two vehicles awaited us and then taxied us up into the highlands. Unfortunately it was a bit misty and the views were not very good. About a mile from our stop everyone got off and took a slow walk.
We soon reached our stop and this is where some of us were given a horse while the others remained to birdwatch the area or return back to the town and its nearby lagoon. I took the group on horses and accompanied by a guide we set off to visit the rim of the volcano about an hour away.
A few species were noted along the way including more Vermillion Flycatchers, Small and Medium Ground Finches, Small Tree Finch and lots of Mangrove Warblers. At the top it was still misty but within minutes it started to lift and then cleared completely giving us excellent views down into and across the 10 kilometre crater. Looking across the island in the other direction we then found several Galapagos Martins flying around; we had some very good views of these birds and eventually counted as many as twenty. After eating our picnic lunches and trying the best we could to look and act like cowboys and cowgirls, we mounted our horses and set off back down the mountain. It became misty again before we reached our stop where Kevin was waiting with his group. He then took to a spot where he had found Vegetarian Finch and after getting good views of male Small Tree Finch, Warbler Finches and Woodpecker Finches we then had very close views of a male Vegetarian Finch. With the vehicles on their way back up to meet us, we slowly walked down. The same species as already seen were found so we got into our vehicles and headed back towards town and the Tortoise breeding station. Here we could see many Tortoises of varying size including some which were absolutely enormous. In the bushes we found a couple of Dark-billed Cuckoos, Medium Ground and a Cactus Finch. Walking a trail through the woods and passing some small lagoons we eventually reached the edge of town. All the previously seen finches seemed to be present during our walk as well as many Mangrove Warblers, Galapagos Mockingbirds and Smooth-billed Ani.
In the lagoons were Moorhen, White-cheeked Pintail, Flamingo, Great Blue Heron, Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrel and Semi-palmated Plovers. Stopping in the town we had an ice-cream and then walked back to the jetty where our dinghies took us back to the boat. We set of on our way and within the hour of daylight left we managed to see several Dark-rumped Petrels, a Waved Albatross and lots of Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes.
DAY 8 10th Oct
We awoke today in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, moored in the bay beside the Charles Darwin Research Centre. There were many other boats here and the town looked busy with people, something we had not seen anywhere else. After breakfast we went ashore and took a walk through the town until we reached the Charles Darwin Research Station.
A few souvenirs were purchased and then several birds were looked at including Cactus Finches, Galapagos Flycatcher and a very confiding Woodpecker Finch which was watched trying to prise grubs out of rotten branches by using a three inch long needle like stick. Just amazing!
A little time was then spent looking around the town before we headed back to the boat for lunch. Later in the afternoon most of the group went ashore to visit the highlands. A bus collected us and drove out of town and then up a muddy dirt track as far as it could go. From here we then walked one kilometre up a very muddy slippery track. The view looking back over Puerto Ayora was spectacular.
We followed a stream up into the highlands until a small grass fringed pool was found. We hadn't been here more than a minute or two when I heard a call that seemed worth investigating. Quietly looking into the damp scrubby cover just up from this pool I then spotted two tiny Galapagos Rails
Just three feet away. Everyone came quietly up to me and the birds performed fantastically quite unconcerned by our presence. On occasions they must have been only one to two feet away - just superb! Three birds were seen here and several others heard calling nearby. As we returned down the hill a few of us saw another Galapagos Rail right out in the open bathing in the edge of a stream. We worked our way carefully through the mud back to the bus and then drove downhill until we found a suitable looking forest. Here a Short-eared Owl flew past and landed on a post, while dozens of finches had us searching until Kevin eventually found a male and female Large Tree Finch, both birds showing extremely well. Happy with this we returned to the town which was now very busy, and then we took our dinghies back to the boat.
DAY 9 11th Oct
This morning when we woke up we were still travelling towards our destination of Floreana. By breakfast time we were there anchored in the small bay beside a tiny navy settlement. With breakfast over we went ashore and took a 'bus' or should I say truck! up into the highlands. We needed to get above 300 metres as this was the lower limit of Medium Tree Finch, and this is the only island we could possibly find it on. We stopped at an altitude of 400 metres and here we left the 'bus' while we searched the woods. A nice open track led through prime habitat and here we soon started seeing finches. Small and Medium Ground Finches were common as was Small Tree Finch. We then found our quarry as a couple of Medium Tree Finches showed extremely well and close. The subtle differences could be seen by everyone and this was helped enormously by the fact that both Small and Large Tree Finch were nearby for comparison. A Galapagos Flycatcher was also seen and later a Dark-billed Cuckoo showed briefly.
There were some nice looking plants and grasses here and several Galapagos Blue Butterflies were also found. Returning to the main road 'track' we found our transport had disappeared! It arrived later and we were soon back on the jetty and then in the dinghies heading back to the boat. We then set off to visit another area of the island called Cormorant Point. Once here we went ashore where Ghost Crabs were found running up and down the beach.
Following the trail we soon came to a large lagoon where forty or more Flamingos were seen. There were also twenty White-cheeked Pintail, a few Least Sandpipers and four Western Sandpipers. Walking the trail further we came out onto a beautiful golden sandy beach where a Pacific Green Turtle was watched swimming a few yards offshore and then a couple of Stingrays were seen as well as a 5ft long White-tipped Reef Shark. "all very exciting". We returned to our boat and had lunch before setting off for the short trip to the tiny Islet of Champion.
As we approached this rocky island a huge Manta Ray was spotted beside the boat. We then drifted as close as we could to try and see the very restricted Charles Mockingbird. It just shows how very vulnerable certain species are, and nowhere brings it home more than this tiny little island. After skilfully drifting around the whole island we then got distant views of one or two birds sat on the top of some high Cactus. Other species here included very good views of Red-billed Tropicbirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Blue-footed Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds. We eventually got some reasonably close views of several Charles Mockingbirds where the birds distinct features could be seen through binoculars and even a scope we had set up on the sun deck. Leaving here we then cruised around another nearby Islet seeing many nesting Nazca Boobies as well as a large colony of Great Frigatebirds. We then went towards the shore, dropped anchor and had our evening meal, after which we set off on our night crossing towards the island of Espanola (Hood).
DAY 10 12th Oct
This morning we went ashore on the island of Espanola or Hood as it is most often called. Arriving before breakfast and before any other boats it was a bit of a difficult landing as there was quite a swell and we had to make a 'wet landing' on the slippery rocks. Once ashore we hadn't gone more than ten yards before being confronted by a female Sea lion and her newly born calf. We had no choice but to go onto the rocks again and walk around them. Setting off on the nearby trail we first crossed a small beach where a pair of American Oystercatchers beckoned to be photographed as they displayed to each other. Then we came across many Sea lions and lots of pairs of Blue-footed Boobies including birds displaying and others stood over their eggs. As we moved on Espanola Lava Lizards were found and then nesting Nazca Boobies. Hood Mockingbirds had already showed themselves and were ridiculously tame. After passing Large Cactus Finch and Warbler Finch we came to the famed 'blow hole' which was exactly that, a hole in the rocks where the sea was forced to blow out into a huge column of spray. Further along we got to a sheer cliff and from the top we watched as huge Waved Albatrosses glided effortlessly by. Just in front of us an adult sat with its large and somewhat ugly chick with another chick nearby.
As we took the return track we came across more albatross including a pair that were displaying and sword fighting with their enormous bills. Another albatross was then watched making its way to its 'air strip', and this bird walked right passed us only a foot or two away. Continuing on we passed many Blue-footed Boobies and Galapagos Doves, and on a small sandy beach a Baird's Sandpiper flew in and landed for a few minutes before taking off and flying away. Back on the boat we enjoyed a very welcome breakfast.
We then set sail for San Cristobel Island about four and a half hours away. From the sun deck we kept a look out seeing Elliot's and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Waved Albatross, Audubon's Shearwater, 15 plus Dark-rumped Petrels and then several Short-finned Pilot Whales and some distant unidentified dolphins.
A little later we saw at least two and possibly four Band-rumped Petrels and an all dark petrel which was too far away to be positively identified as either Markham's or Black Storm Petrel. As we neared our destination more Pilot Whales and about forty Bottle-nosed Dolphins were spotted by a few of the group. Once ashore we boarded our bus and drove out of town and began to climb in altitude. We came to a police border gate and as we waited to be let through a Chatham Mockingbird was suddenly spotted so we jumped off the bus and with the police guards beside us doing their best imitations of the call, we all watched as a pair of these birds sat in a nearby tree.
Continuing on in the bus a couple of Barn Swallows were seen on some wires, and then we got out and had a look in a small tract of wood. More Chatham Mockingbirds were seen as well as lots of Mangrove Warblers, Warbler Finches and both Small and Large Tree Finch. Leaving here we headed back to the main town where some souvenir shopping was done before returning to our boat. After our final evening meal aboard we set off towards our last destination of North Seymour.
DAY 11 13th Oct
We visited the island before breakfast and took a short walk amongst many adult and young Blue-footed Boobies. Our main target however was soon found when several stunning male Magnificent Frigatebirds were seen with fully inflated red throat pouches. We then took a walk around one of the trails where most of us used these superb birds as a good excuse to get our last bird photographs from these fantastic islands. The sight of these birds, the Blue-footed Boobies and our last Marine Iguanas will long be remembered as an epitome of what is 'Galapagos'.
Returning to our boat we had breakfast and then cruised into the harbour at Baltra. We then said our farewells to the wonderful staff of our boat, whose ever courteous and helpful manner, plus the chefs incredible skills at producing such varied and fine cuisine made for the most enjoyable of stays. Soon we were shipped ashore with our luggage and then transferred to the small airport for our flight to Quito.
On arrival at Quito we were met by our local Ecuadorian bird guide Juan who showed us to our bus where we began our drive to the Tandayapa valley and Bellavista lodge. We missed the best scenery as it was dark and after negotiating the last twenty minutes up a bumpy dirt track where we became stuck briefly on a slippery corner, we eventually arrived at our rustic and secluded lodge. After settling into our rooms we went out side where a Northern Potoo was seen sat on a dead tree, a nice welcome to the start of some rainforest birding.
Ecuador 14th 18th Oct
Species Lists for the Galapagos and Ecuador