The white sandy beach at Gardner Bay, Española (fka Hood Island) is one of the few 'free' areas where, so long as you stay within defined areas you can wander at your own speed.
Families can build sandcastles or paddle without having to worry about keeping up with the group. There are lots of female and young Galápagos Sea Lions Zalophus wollebacki on the beach, and they tolerate a very close approach.
The general rule on the Galápagos is to back away if an animal or bird gets within one metre of you. However, two metres is the recommended distance for the territorial 'beachmaster' Sea Lion bulls.
In reading up for the trip, I learned a new word - thigmotactic, which means 'craving bodily contact', the word referring to Sea Lions, females of which can be found in groups or pairs cuddled together.
Behind the beach are saltbush, palo verde, acacia and mesquite bushes which hold several birds including the extremely tame Hood Mockingbird (Nesomimus macdonaldi), the largest of the four endemic Mockingbirds.
These birds come so close, the problem is trying to get them all into the frame and to get them in focus. While I was trying to sort out some finches, one climbed on my camera bag, and when I tried to focus on it, it hopped onto my shoulder then onto my head: characteristic behaviour, apparently.
Where were the other photographers in the group?
AWOL, of course!
Hood Mockingbird chick
There is also a variety of finches in the bushes. Darwin's Finches are very tricky, but this is one of the easiest ones because of the lower mandible pattern and shape. It is the nominate subspecies of the Large Cactus Finch, Geospiza conirostris conirostris, which is endemic to Española.
NB: Of course the pictures are not to scale!!!
Also in the same area I found some of the endemic Española Lava Lizards (Microphalus delanonis).
The lava Lizards would be very difficult to identify if it weren't for the fact that you don't get two species on any one island: a welcome help!
This is a female; a bit more colourful than the male.
The Galápagos Dove (Zenaida galapagoensis) is another endemic, which seems often to be found on the ground, and like so many other Galápagos species it is very tame.
In the right light, you can see a stunning bronzey-green patch on the sides of its neck.
Punta Suarez (Española 2)
> Gardner Bay
Post Office Bay
P. Baquerizo Moreno
Giant Prickly Pear
Farewell dinner '05
Life on Board '04
Farewell dinner '04
La Ronda '04
Seen en route