On my 2004 trip, our group left Quito on the early flight to Galápagos and arrived at Baltra mid-morning. After a bus trip to the harbour, boarding the Beluga settling in, having lunch, having our safety briefing and meeting the crew, our first island visit was to North Seymour (Seymour Norte). What an introduction!
North Seymour is a small island which most people visit, since it is so near to Baltra. It was formed by an uplift of its rocky lava base from below sea level, and, as is characteristic of uplifted islands, it slopes, in this case towards the north.
Blue-footed Boobies (Sula nebouzii) are related to our Northern Gannets. Their name comes from the Spanish bobo, meaning 'clown' or 'stupid'. This was no doubt engendered by their comical dance, where they high-step to show off their blue feet to the full - we were too late to see the display.
However, we had clear evidence that they are not stupid, especially on our last morning, when a very early panga ride into the mangroves got us tremendous views of them diving into the shallows to feed - we couldn't believe that they didn't crash into each other. It looked like 'synchronised diving' - fast and furious.
The chicks on North Seymour were mostly pretty well grown. Many of the nests had two chicks: in good years, the parents can rear three young. Although part of the courtship display consists of offerings of twigs, Blue-footed Boobies don't build nests, but lay their eggs on scrapes on the ground.
The adults and chicks seem unbothered by human presence: indeed you have to watch where you put your feet as it would be only to easy to step back onto one, even while carefully sticking to the official path (see pic top).
Happily, the Frigatebird display was still going on, though coming to the end of its 'season'. There are two species on Galápagos: Magnificent (Fregata magnificens) and Great (Fregata minor).
They have the greatest wingspan to bodyweight ratio of any bird, which makes them fantastically acrobatic in flight. They also soar effortlessly, and often we had a frigatebird accompanying the boat for over an hour at a time.
During the breeding season, the male Frigatebirds find a suitable nesting area then inflate their huge red throat pouches, and when females come past, they go into a frenzy of head-shaking and vibrating their pouch, all the while emitting a shrill cry.
The Magnificent Frigatebirds have a purple gloss, as opposed to the green gloss of the Greats, but I have to say that the light has to be absolutely right for this to help. With the eye of faith you can just about discern a purple gloss in the plumage of the two birds shown here.
Only one egg is laid, in a very flimsy guano pad of a nest. Apparently it often happens that an egg or chick is lost between gaps in the nest while the parents are changing over. The young birds are dependant on their parents for food for at least a year, so the adults can only breed every other year.
Land Iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) were extirpated from Baltra during WWII when the American military occupied the island, but luckily 72 had been transferred to nearby North Seymour, from which many have since been repatriated to Baltra.
They are vegetarian, very atrracted to the colour yellow (they love eating the yellow cactus flowers) and large males can reach over a metre in length and weigh up to 13kg.
More Land Iguanas
There are seven species of Lava Lizards endemic to the Galapagos, six being confined to only one island each, but the seventh, the Galápagos Lava Lizard Microlophus (Tropidurus) albemarlensis, of which this is a male, is found on ten islands. They feed on anthropods like centipedes, scorpions, locusts and flies. They often actively hunt for flies near sea lions or carcasses.
Lava lizards are preyed upon by most of the islands' predators. They scuttle about constantly, and I was surprised not to see a lot of squashed corpses on the paths: it would have been more than easy to tramp on one accidentally - they must have fast reactions to be able to run from falling feet.
Post Office Bay
P. Baquerizo Moreno
Giant Prickly Pear
> North Seymour
Life on Board
Farewell dinner '05
Seen en route