Thursday, 30 April 2015

Galápagos Day 14 (afternoon) - Kicker Rock and Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal

Kicker Rock is an uplifted rock towering more than 150 metres out of the sea, approximately 5 kilometres off the central north coast of Isla San Cristóbal. Nearby Cerro Brujo is an eroded tuff cone with a small golden sand beach to its south. These were our destinations for the afternoon and evening.

The first activity was snorkelling around Kicker Rock. I declined to go on this expedition but stayed on board the boat to try and photograph the dolphins that were spotted nearby (they never came close enough to be photographed) and the rock.

Panga heading for Kicker Rock, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 10mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/4000

I took several shots of the rock but the most satisfying was this one looking into the sun, which, to my eye, works better in black and white than colour.

Kicker Rock, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 13mm, ISO 400, f/29, 1/160

Once the snorkelers had returned, showered and changed, we headed for the beach at Cerro Brujo. As soon as we landed, I spotted some small wading birds on the rocks a few hundred metres down the beach so I put the 300mm lens on the camera and wandered down the beach for a closer look. However, I quickly got distracted by a Magnificent Frigatebird harassing a Blue-footed Booby that was fishing just off the beach.

Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/4000
Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/4000

The booby did a good job of fighting back.

Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/4000
Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/4000

The next bird I came across was this Lava Gull - a backlit grey bird on grey rock. These are such rare birds that I wanted to grab a shot before I looked for a better angle. 

Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/4000

Unfortunately, the gull flew away before I could try so to avoid the same problem with the waders, still about a hundred metres away, I took to wading myself, walking out into thigh deep water to go around the sea-side of the rocks so I would have the sun at my back. Well, mostly...this Least Sandpiper snuck in behind me so the light wasn't perfect but it was too close to not photograph.

Least Sandpiper, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/1000

A Sanderling ran along the beach and across the rocks, 

Sanderling, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/3200

stopping just in front of me.

Sanderling, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/5.6 1/800

Meanwhile, the small flock of birds I'd initially spotted on these rocks turned out to be Semi-palmated Plovers and they cooperated nicely for some close-ups.

Semi-palmated Plover, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4, 1/1000
Semi-palmated Plover, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1600
Semi-palmated Plover, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1000

Marine Iguanas provided a foreground for a shot back along the beach to Cerro Brujo.

Marine Iguana, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 13mm, ISO 400, f/29, 1/160

As I walked back along the beach, Ghost Crabs scuttled back into their holes but I managed to get this one before it disappeared completely.

Ghost Crab, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/400

Blue-footed Boobies were fishing offshore. One dived right in front of me before I had a chance to change the camera settings so I ended up with this silhouette.

Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/8000

When I looked back down the beach, more boobies were diving closer to shore, much to the delight of the watching paparazzi.

Photographing diving boobies, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/800

As I was debating with myself whether to walk back down the beach to join the throng or stay and hope 'my bird' continued to fish nearer to my present location, a frigatebird made up my mind for me by repeating the performance we'd witnessed on arrival.

Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/200
Magnificent Frigatebird + Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/250

The final activity of the day was to photograph Kicker Rock at sunset and, as the sun was closing on the western horizon,  we were rounded up to leave. I squeezed out one more shot of a distant booby perched on rocks and backlit by a sparkling ocean (which ended up better in black and white)

Blue-footed Booby, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/8000

before clambering aboard the panga 

Boarding the pangas, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

and heading for the boat, which was anchored just offshore.

Tip Top III, Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/3200

As I looked back at Cerro Brujo, I couldn't help but think of Charles Darwin climbing to the top of this hill to enjoy the view.

Cerro Brujo, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/3200

The Captain took us back to Kicker Rock and circumnavigated the rock several times as the sun set giving us some spectacular views from the top deck of the boat.

Kicker Rock, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 20mm, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/640
Sunset from Kicker Rock, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 14mm, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/500

Luckily, the boat was still enough about 20 minutes later for this blue-light shot looking back at Kicker Rock with the rising moon.

Kicker Rock, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 16mm, ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/15

Tomorrow - our last day


Galápagos Day 14 (morning) - Tortoise Reserve, San Cristóbal

This morning we arrived at the pretty town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galápagos province, located on Isla San Cristóbal.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

It turned out that last evening was not to be our last sea lion encounter. As we were docking we noticed several sea lions lounging around the dock.

Galápagos Sea Lion, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen
Apparently they have all but taken over the port - boats anchored in the harbour have barbed wire and netting over them to try and prevent sea lion incursion and a swimming pool and slide built near the harbourside has been closed because it was taken over by sea lions.

Having negotiated the sea lion greeting parties, we took a short bus ride inland to visit the San Cristóbal Tortoise breeding centre and reserve.  Within metres of walking through the front gate we were met by a tortoise right beside the trail

San Cristóbal Tortoise, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 20mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/125

and then another blocking our way.

San Cristóbal Tortoise, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/250

We waited for it to move on then continued up the path to the breeding centre where there is a range of enclosures housing juvenile tortoises of various ages. The first year tortoises are vulnerable to predation from birds so are in covered cages.

San Cristóbal Tortoise (juvenile: <1 year old),
Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/100

The older ones are in open, fenced enclosures, separated according to age.

Juvenile (2-3 years old) tortoise enclosure, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

While looking like miniature versions of adults, the resemblance stops there. Unlike their ponderous, lumbering parents these youngsters are highly active, (relatively) nimble and social...in short, seriously cute!

San Cristóbal Tortoise, (juvenile: 1-2 years old) Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/320
San Cristóbal Tortoise (juvenile: 1-2 years old), Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/400
San Cristóbal Tortoise (juvenile: 2-3 years old) Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/500
San Cristóbal Tortoise (juvenile: 3-5 years old), Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 180mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/500

A San Cristóbal Mockingbird was hanging around the breeding centre, calling loudly. Eventually it came down and stood on the rock wall just beside me. There are four species of mockingbirds on the Galápagos. Española, Floreana and San Cristobal have unique species, while all the other islands share the Galápagos Mockingbird. It was the mockingbirds, not the finches (as is popularly believed), that inspired Charles Darwin's thoughts on speciation and geographic isolation during his time on the Galápagos. We saw plenty of the Galápagos Mockingbird on other islands but missed them on Floreana and Española so I was very pleased to see at least the San Cristóbal species here.

San Cristóbal Mockingbird, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/200

We continued along the loop trail through the reserve and came across more mockingbirds

San Cristóbal Mockingbird, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/160
San Cristóbal Mockingbird,
Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/160
Photographing Mockingbirds, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

and an occupied mud hole.

San Cristóbal Tortoise, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/100

A Yellow Warbler flitted about in the trees near the mud hole.

Yellow Warbler, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/80
Yellow Warbler, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/200

As we were gathering to depart, three large adult tortoises were feeding next to the path (obviously the centre puts food here regularly...) so there was one last photo frenzy,

Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 13mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/1600
Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 10mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/1600

which I was quick to join

San Cristóbal Tortoise, Tortoise Reserve and Breeding Centre, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 20mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/320

and, for the first time on this trip, I switched to video to capture not just the action but the sound of this giant crunching through its food.

video


We were then back in the bus to return to town for a short shopping spree.

Shopping, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

then on to Kicker Rock for snorkelling and Cerro Brujo for a last walk on a sandy beach.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Galápagos Day 13 (afternoon) - Gardner Bay, Isla Española

After this morning's rain drenched albatross experience, the sun broke out as we headed for Gardner Bay on the north-east coast of Española. This was our last guaranteed spot for sea lions and it did not disappoint.

Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 20mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/2000

Jo, Tui and I spent most of our time sitting beside a small tidal lagoon just behind the beach, where we found a handful of sea lion pups playing 'keepings-off' with sticks.

Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/4, 1/400
Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/4, 1/500
Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/4, 1/500

while the adult females lazed around on the beach,

Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 20mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/250

some feeding young as big as themselves.

Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 13mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/1000

As evening approached, the pups took to the sea and continued their frolicking there.

Galápagos Sea Lion, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 13mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/800

A pair of White-cheeked Pintails flew in and landed on rocks in the lagoon.

White-cheeked Pintail, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/8, 1/250

The female remained in the background but the male posed for a few portraits.

White-cheeked Pintail, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/8, 1/160
White-cheeked Pintail, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/8, 1/400

I love ducks - they seem to have such personality - but this will be an everlasting memory of Galápagos...

Photographing Galápagos Sea Lions, Gardner Bay, Isla Española, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

Tomorrow - San Cristóbal

Birding and Natural History Blogs - Australia

Birding Blogs - Worldwide