Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A WINGS Week in the Galápagos Islands

Just a week ago I came home from my fifth trip to the Galápagos Islands. And already I’m headed out for my next tour, a private tour to Mato Grosso, Brazil.

Everything about the Galapagos is photogenic and easy to photograph, so I came home with lots of photos. Much of the week I spent organizing and labeling them, and here are just a few from the trip.

This was the first time WINGS has chartered the Nemo III, a catamaran with eight very nice cabins. Everyone in the group gave the boat a big thumbs up.

We were on the boat for seven nights, on this particular boat’s set itinerary in the central and southeastern part of the archipelago. One of the group’s favorite activities was sitting on the bench on the bow, overlooking the ocean as we motored between islands

This is a Small Ground-Finch, the most abundant and widespread of the currently recognized 15 species of “Darwin’s finches” (they are really tanagers) in the Galapagos. Recent genetic evidence has led one group of ornithologists to recommend splitting some of the six ground-finches (genus Geospiza), making them eight species. Others have looked at the same data and recommend lumping all into one species of Geospiza with various “ecomorphs.” The problem with the first is that it doesn’t give enough thought to how much hybridization and back-crossing must go on among some forms, making a lot of the birds intermediate and impossible to identify. The second school ignores some clear cases of strongly assortative mating and complete allopatry – distinctions that are obscured if you’re not a birder in the field and obsess in a lab over numbers and letters.

These finches react to pishing by coming in close, but their reaction is very different from the noisy mobbing and scolding response you see in our sparrows, warblers, and chickadees at home They mostly don’t call, and the just fly in, perch near you, look confused, and then soon lose interest and start feeding. They don’t tend not to hop around rapidly, act agitated, or say much. Once one landed on my tripod while I was carrying it on my shoulder.

One of the more distinctive of the finches is Vegetarian Finch, though I don’t know how much hybridization it experiences. It’s currently the only member of its genus, Platyspiza, and we actually got to watch this one consume a large portion of this fern frond.

This is Española Mockingbird, one of four species of mockingbird we saw (which is all that are currently recognized). They are all quite tame, but this single-island species borders on psychotically curious.

Maybe because of worries about El Niño we had two cabins unoccupied just a couple weeks before the cruise, so WINGS offered them to any leaders who had the time free; here is Steve Howell getting friendly with an Española Mockingbird.

When I called out to Steve to pose for the above photo, a Nazca Booby flew in and displaced the mockingbird, all within about 3 feet of Steve.

Even the Yellow Warblers (an endemic subspecies) are fearless here – while they chip more and act like our birds at home, a simple pishing can bring them to your feet, such as this immature bird that I’m looking down on.

Elliot's Storm-Petrel is almost always present around the boats, whether we are between islands or anchored right offshore, but they are constantly moving and difficult to photograph.

We walked through a few different seabird colonies, and it didn’t look like the recent very strong El Niño was having much of an effect any more – water temps had returned to normal (or even a little below normal) by early April, according to, and  maybe the were able to respond immediately. This and many other Great Frigatebirds were already tending older chicks.

Blue-footed Booby displaying.

We saw 23 Galapagos Penguins one day. The island of Bartolomé is apparently now completely rat-free, and the birds seem to be having greater nesting success here.

We even caught two in the act of mating; maybe they’ve noticed an uptick in food with the dropping water temperatures.

The Waved Albatross colony on Española was doing well, with many birds incubating and some even still reaffirming their pair bonds with their fabulous, complex displays.

This close-up on the waved pattern on the side of the breast shows where the species gets its most accepted English name. (Galapagos Albatross would have been a good name too, as all but about four pairs nest on this one small island.)

Swallow-tailed Gulls were also in full breeding mode. This one may have had something stuck in its gullet, or this was a repeated yawn display that I hadn’t seen before.

We saw so much more than just birds. Snorkeling is always a major part of a Galapagos cruise, and we had five different opportunities, identifying over 50 species. For the first time I had a camera I could take underwater, but even putting it on the automatic underwater mode, my results were very mixed.

Aetobatus narinari, Spotted Eagle Ray

Holacanthus passer, King Angelfish

Lepidonectes corallicola, Galapagos Triplefin Blenny

Many islands have their own endemic lava lizard, and we saw four species. This is Microlophus delanonis, Española Lava Lizard.

There are four endemic snakes, and this Pseudalsophis biserialis, Galapagos Snake is the only common one; I had seen it twice before.

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is now considered to comprise 17 species, five of which are extinct. This is Chelonoidis nigrita, Santa Cruz Giant Tortoise on a private ranch where a over a dozen were lounging and feeding.

This Scinax quinquefasciatus, Fowler's Snouted Treefrog appears to be common in the moister highlands of Santa Cruz. There was one in our bathroom in the hotel, and two were on the keyboard of the piano in the restaurant when I lifted its cover. It is introduced, and who knows what effects it has had on the ecosystem.

It’s amazing how fearless the animals are. On Santa Fé, we chose a spot well away from the Galapagos Sea Lions to put our shoes on. Then this one came on the beach and insisted on walking right through our group, as if we were merely bushes in the way.

One of my participants was a moth enthusiast (with a yard list in England of a couple hundred species). So it was fun to find two endemics, however tiny. This is Aetole galapagoensis, Galapagos Saltbush Moth, with it’s highly modified third pair of legs.

This colorful one is Atteva hysginiella, Galapagos Bitterbush Moth.

New for me was this tiny grasshopper, Sphingonotus fuscoirroratus, an endemic band-winged grasshopper. I’ve now seen half of the eight grasshoppers here, all endemic.

Dennis Paulson identified this Erythemis vesiculosa, Great Pondhawk for me which was on the farm with the tortoises; it was the first one I’ve seen here, and I’ve seen it also in southern Florida and NE Brazil – obviously a very wide-ranging species.

There are several endemic darkling beetles in the genus Blapstinus, which I think this one is, probably requiring microscopic inspection to identify to species.

Argiope argentata, Silver Garden Spider is a very widespread species. Spiders that spread on gossamer threads can populate even most remote islands around the globe.

This small orbweaver with a tubular house in the middle of its web is Metepeira desenderi Baert 1987, an endemic. I contacted Baert himself to get confirmation on some of my spider IDs.

This is Selenops mexicanus, Mexican Flatty, apparently introduced, and only recently reclassified as this species (originally thought to be an endemic).

One of two endemic scorpions and still the only one I’ve seen, this is Hadruroides galapagoensis, Galapagos Scorpion.

The introduced pest Polistes versicolor, Yellow Paper Wasp.

Many plants are endemic: Lecocarpus pinnatifidus, Wing-fruited Lecocarpus.

Opuntia echios var. echios, Giant Prickly Pear (this variety only on Santa Fé, where it presumably has extra tall trunks to avoid predation by the long-necked tortoises, which are sadly long extinct.)

Passiflora colinvauxii, Colinvaux's Passion Flower

Others are more widespread, found on the nearby dry coasts of southern Ecuador and Peru or even Central America. Maytenus octogona, Leatherleaf (family Celastraceae).

I would like to get to know the ferns better, as there are many species here, though not many endemic (12 out of 131). I was glad to have figured out this Phlebodium pseudoaureum, Blue Rabbit's Foot Fern, as it’s the species that the Vegetarian Finch was eating on our first day.

No comments:

Post a Comment