note: if sources aren't given for photos, they were taken by me or by JG.
First landing! This is the vessel we used to for landings. In US English it would be called a Zodiac; in Ecuador all these sorts of small, outboard powered vessels are called pangas.
click to enpanganate
The panga is up on divots because we will be leaving the harbor; that's how it is stowed while we are underway. The man in the photo is cleaning the bottom of the panga; it is carefully cleaned between each island landing to prevent the transmission of spores, seeds and other intrusions between islands. The green mat on the front of the boat protects the sturdy but still puncturable skin from damage.
Typically the boat is crewed by two: a steersman and a sailor, who stays with the boat, plus the naturalist, who stays with the passengers.
It was a dry landing on North Seymour, which unlike other islands, was formed by seismic uplift, so it's rather flat. In other words, it's a lava shield that was uplifted.
"Dry landing" doesn't mean a dock or jetty, though. The pilot nosed the panga into a flat, rocky area that had been been slightly enlarged with cemented rocks; we hopped from the boat onto the little rocky platform.
North Seymour is a nesting area for blue footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds, and also has land iguanas, sea lions, Galapagos fur seals, and a number of other species.
What did we see first?
Sula nebouxii, that's what. The males' bright blue feet serve to attract the females; the more intense the color, the healthier the male. Males are stressed by mating and their feet fade; so males may mate only every other year. We didn't see any boobies engaging in the famous courting dance, this time (in 1990, we did). The boobies make me ridiculously happy, even if they aren't dancing.
What is making this trail? Looking more closely at the track, I can also see footprints on either side.
The Galapagos land iguana, Conolophus subcristatus. I wish I'd kept better field notes, because the colors varied from quite dark (like this fellow, who I think is a male) to much yellower all over. (Also see AnimalDiversity.) These are pretty big critters, over a meter in length, and The Galapagos Preservation Trust reports that males can reach 13 kilos in weight. They aren't really sociable or cuddly in real life, but that didn't inhibit my imagination.
In 1990, our visit to the Galapagos was during August (the dry season runs from July to December.) Then, there was almost no greenery: the palos santos trees were leafless, there were very few grasses, and almost no groundcover as seen above and below:
click to engrassenate
I didn't find out which species this is, or if it is an endemic species or an introduced species, but you can see the seedheads in various stages of maturity. The finches, of course, are seed-eaters.
Here you can see a male magnificent frigate bird (Fregata magnificens) displaying himself on a salt bush (Cryptocarpus pyriformis) with an opuntia cactus, the unnamed grass, and the palo santos trees (Bursera graveolens) in the foreground. On this trip, the palo santos trees were just starting to lose their leaves.
About the cactus: Wikipedia reports:
In the Galapagos Islands, there are six different species: O. echios, O. galapageia, O. helleri, O. insularis, O. saxicola, O. megasperma. These species are divided into 14 different varieties; most of these are confined to one or a few islands. For this reason, they have been described as "an excellent example of adaptive radiation". On the whole, on islands where there are tall, trunked varieties there are also giant tortoises, and islands lacking tortoises have low or prostrate forms of Opuntia.
I can't tell which one this is, but North Seymour lacks tortoises, accounting for the low form. More detail on later days.
It's an abandoned nest from a Darwin's finch. I also liked the composition, the regular clumps of spines contrasted with the organized, but less ordered form of the nest.
Why is this male frigate bird not inflating his throat pouch (gular sac)?
The sac is inflated to attract a female. He doesn't need to; he's attracted a female; their nest is well-built; she's laid an egg, and he's helping to incubate.
The breeding behaviour of the magnificent frigatebird is highly unusual and dramatic. During courtship (which generally occurs between August and October), the males gather in groups of various sizes, with gular sacs inflated, bills clattering, and wings and heads waving, while making calls to attract females flying overhead. Once a pair decides to mate, they commence construction of a nest, usually in a tree or bush, with the male providing material such as twigs, while the female does the actual building. After mating, a single egg is laid, which is incubated for between 53 and 61 days by both parent birds. The chick, which takes around 22 weeks to fledge, is brooded and fed by both sexes for the first seven to twelve weeks, after which time the male leaves, and the female assumes full responsibility for raising the chick, providing food until fully fledged, and then for a further four to nine months (2). This extended period of parental care exhibited by all frigatebirds is the longest of all birds (4), and means that the female can only breed in alternate years (2). In contrast, by abandoning parental duties relatively early on, the male is able to breed with a new partner each year. Frigatebirds are the only seabirds known in which the sexes breed on cycles of different lengths (2).
The distance walked on North Seymour isn't very long -- less than two miles, but there is plenty to see. Another critter I spotted:
I'm pretty sure this is Schistocerca melanocera, the large painted locust which is endemic to the Galapagos. I wanted to take more of a profile view, but I was afraid he (or she) would hop away if I moved too much. The color contrast was really striking, with the reddish lava rocks and the reddish wing casings.
Isn't she an elegant little creature? (I'm pretty sure it's a she, as the males of the species have sort of armored crests.) She's a Tropidurus albermarlensis. As usual in the Galapagos, there are a number of other species on other, more distant islands. It turns out that the painted locust is a big part of the lava lizard's diet.
With that, we left Seymour (another dry embarkation) and returned to the boat for the evening.
If you would like to know more, here is the Parque National Galápagos page on North Seymour.
As always when returning from an activity away, Raoul met us with a cold beverage and a small snack. I didn't write down Sunday's offerings, but they were typically fruit juice or sweetened lemony tea, with crackers or cookies or even little yuca bread morsels.
Just before dinner, our Naturalist, Morris, called us together to announce the activities for Monday and to give us a short orientation talk. Then another delicious dinner, and relaxation afterwards. Some folk read, some folk played cards, and some folk watched Ecuadorian TV when available. The Ecuador's Got Talent show was quite funny.
After dinner, the captain lifted anchor and we set sail for the next island, Santa Cruz, where we would begin at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the south shore. In other words, we passed down I think the east side of Santa Cruz until we anchored in Puerta Ayora
image source https://gaedex.blogspot.com/
Some people found the passage rather rough, but neither JG nor I did -- we rather enjoyed it.