Ecuador – Galapagos Part 3b

These photos are from day 3 of our Galapagos trip back in June.  I didn’t realize I had more photos from the same day, so here is Part 3b.

In the late afternoon, we made our way back onto Espanola island to see boobies and albatrosses.

It was teeming with life and the sounds of life.. though it was very interesting to me that there was not much biodiversity.  But there were large populations of the few species that was saw.  Or maybe that was just my impression as this was in direct contrast to our experience in the Ecuadorian Amazon – where there is incredible biodiversity but only a small number of each plant or animal in any given area.

We were immediately greeted by boobies.  This male nazca booby was making clicking sounds in an attempt to attract a mate.

after maybe a 10 minute walk, we came upon the breeding area of the waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) or the galapagos albatross.

Some of them were nesting, sitting on eggs.

Our guide explained that the albatross is very heavy for a bird and has a giant wingspan, which makes it a super-efficient glider but clumsy when traveling at a low speed.

They spend most of their lives flying, and are generally on land only to breed.

Here’s a photo of some of our tour group who walked ahead while I stared at the giant birds.

The waved albatrosses don’t fly well at low speeds and thus have a hard time landing.  We watched the same birds circle the landing area a number of times and finally make an attempt to land, only to abort the landing at the very last moment.  Here’s one lowering its landing gear:

And this photo shows off their giant wingspan:

It was neat that a bird could look so majestic and goofy at the same time.  We saw a couple of birds perform their complex courtship, which involves a lot of walking in circles and clacking of beaks.  They mate for life.

As we walked back to the dock and boarded our panga, we were treated to a beautiful sunset:

and we had dinner and relaxed.

Ecuador – Galapagos Part 3

We got on the boat, had dinner and then went to bed.  The next morning, I woke up for sunrise as the boat was setting anchor near Espanola Island aka Hood Island.

It was about 6:02am when I took this photo.  I was still super sleepy, so I went back to sleep before breakfast.

We had breakfast around 7 and then after getting dressed, took a panga to the beach.

The first steps onto the island at Gardner Bay were pretty amazing.  there were sea lions everywhere and it felt like we were the only humans on the island.  These are Galapagos sea lions (zalophus wollebaeki).

and here is a very curious Galapagos mockingbird (Mimus parvulus.  I am looking up the genus and species of what I have pictures of in hopes that it will help me learn a bit more!).  These little guys are bold and curious and are crazy attracted to water bottles and shiny things and my girlfriend’s thatchy hat.

Sleepy sea lion:

It was very interesting how there were so many sea lions who were not doing very much, but the entire colony was constantly making noise and in motion.

this one looks like it’s about to be rolled over like a bowling pin.

a marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus).  I did not know until seeing the Wikipedia article that marine iguanas are only found on the Galapagos islands.

We walked from the beach to the rocks and saw a galapagos four-eyed blenny (Dialommus fuscus).  These fish can crawl out of the water and spend a decent amount of time  breathing air.

bashful sea lion:

We went back to the boat for lunch and then back to the island for an afternoon walk.

It didn’t take too long for us to be treated to our first blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) sighting.  This was probably the animal at the galapagos that I was asked most about before and after the trip.  Wikipedia has taught me the following interesting facts about these boobies:

1) “booby” is derived from “bobo” which means “stupid”, “fool”, or “clown”.  those poor clumsy birds!

2) they eat fish!

3) I was hoping to explain why they have blue feet, but I still don’t know.

there are a few other types of boobies on the Galapagos islands.  These are Nazca boobies (Sula granti) and they are doing a courting dance.   they lay two eggs at once, and the older chick basically kills the younger chick.

we still saw plenty of sea lions on the way back to shore.

Ecuador – Galapagos Part 2

We left Galapagos Safari Camp the next morning.  Here’s another photo of their lovely lodge lobby.

We went to the Charles Darwin Research station at Puerto Ayora to see Lonesome George and to learn about some of the work they are doing.  We ran into this researcher catching butterflies.  We were lucky enough to see Lonesome  George a few weeks before he passed away.

We ate lunch at the Angermeyer Point restaurant.  This one was passed out at the bar by lunchtime:

The nice folks at Galapagos Safari Camp recommended that we try the ice cream at the Galapagos Deli.  Definitely a nice place to visit and have a pre-dinner ice cream.  I liked this guy:

I think we got the coffee ice cream:


There were balloons from a celebration the day before:

Ecuador – Galapagos Part 1


From Baltra on the island of Santa Cruz, the Galapagos looked completely different than what I’d expected.   I expected a habitat teeming with unique wildlife but saw this instead:


It was humid and cloudy, but the landscape looked dry.  I was happy to be back at sea-level after spending a day in Quito.  After taking a short ferry ride and hopping in a van, however, the views changed rapidly as we gained elevation on Santa Cruz Island.  Lunch was served at Narwhal Restaurant.  This part of the island was a very lush green – though many of the plants were invasive species that thrived with the lack of adequate competition.

table set for lunch

We eventually headed down to Puerto Ayora to our hotel but first took a walk and water taxi around.

the docks at night in puerto ayora Water taxis at the Puerto Ayora pier.

We walked up Avenida Baltra to check out the town.  I wandered into a recreational center and stumbled across some people playing Ecuavolley .  I would have been intrigued watching a good traditional volleyball game, but this was captivating.  The net is higher and they play with a soccer ball (ouch!).  As a result, there is a lot less hitting and most points result from someone “setting” the ball over the net.  I use quotes because most of the sets would be considered carries in traditional volleyball… but it’s not surprising since they use a much heavier and harder ball.




This kid was running around as we walked back out to the street: running child




The next day, we walked around before rejoining the group.

Here’s a Galapagos brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) that was hanging out near the boardwalk.

a galapagos brown pelican


We visited Galapagos Safari Camp – where one can stay in an eco-luxury tent if they choose to spend time on land in the Galapagos rather than on a boat.  It’s a beautiful place that was delgihtfully designed and arranged.  Here’s the main dining table in their lobby:


galapagos safari camp


and one of the tents:

galapagos safari camp tent

 complete with hot shower, air conditioning, and a real flushing toilet.  this is glamping at its best.


We set out to see the giant tortoises that the Galapagos is so well-known for.  Our tour group stopped by a private farm where the giant tortoises are known to hang out.

galapagos tortoise

 we saw three tortoises that day.  Apparently the number that you see can vary from none at all to dozens.

We also stopped into a lava tube.  The one we visited was some of the caves or caverns in the national parks in the US – where people have decided to run electricity in and add steps and railings and so on.  that was fine with me.  Our guide explained that the tubes form when a large river of lava cools and hardens on the outside before the inside can harden.  The lava on the inside eventually vacates the interior of the flow leaving a hollow tube.  I took this photo while looking back at the entrance of the tube:

lava tube


Last days in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Carlos weaves palm leaves

Our last two days in the Ecuadorian Amazon consisted of more day and night hikes and canopy tower visits.

Carlos weaves palm leavesCarlos showed us how the woven thatch roofs of the cabins are made.


Railing grows a leafI was really surprised to see new growth on branches that had obviously been cut a while back.  This branch was used as a hand-rail but still had a few fresh leaves.  Is it the humidity that permits this?


Amazon wood lizard - "Man of the Forest" aka "Sacharuna"I think this is the Amazon Wood Lizard (Enyalioides laticeps) aka aka “”Guichenot’s Dwarf Iguana” aka “Sacha runa”


Perhaps the bluntheaded tree snakeI think this was a blunthead tree snake (Imantodes cenchoa)


The market in Cocamotorbike at the market in Coca


palmetto weevil grubsPalm weevil grubs (rhynchophorus palmarum?) aka Grugru with yucca.  The larvae eat palm hearts.  The grubs were covered with some type of sauce and then grilled.


palmetto weevil grubI thought they were kind of gross.  The sauce gave it a sausage-y flavor.  The skin had a sort of tough texture and the inside was kind of mushy.  The head was crunchy.


coca colaA photo of Coca Cola stockpiles that I took while waiting for our ride to the airport.


schoolgirls in cocaschool girls in Coca


the ecuadorian amazon: an owl, monkeys, piranhas, and a night hike with insects and snakes

atop the wooden tower at sacha lodge

Back to the Ecuador photos from the Ecuadorian Amazon:

atop the wooden tower at sacha lodge

We  climbed the wooden tower at the Sacha Lodge to see more birds and wildlife.  The tower is built around a giant Kapok tree that is teeming with epiphytes, especially at the top.  You spiral around the giant trunk as you climb the tower’s steps.

ruby poison dart frog

Our guide found a ruby poison dart frog (ameerega parvula).  It was seriously impressive how adept he was at finding wildlife.  It’s poisonous enough to kill a bunch of people.

crested owl

A crested owl (lophostrix cristata).  It reminded me of one of those reverse-perspective optical illusions where a face always appears to be staring at you.  The owl would just subtly move its head to look in your direction.

Palm Strings

We took a break for a little demo where Carlos made a string from a palm leaf.

mossy walkway with leafcutter ants

A mossy walkway

leafcutter ants

Leafcutter ants traverse a large exposed root

redeye piranha

We spent an hour in the afternoon fishing.  I was the only person of our group who did not catch a fish.  That’s not to say that there weren’t any fish – there were piranhas everywhere in the water but they cleverly ate the raw chicken off of my hook.  You could feel them bite after less than a second.  I think this was a red-eye piranha (serrasalmus rhombeus).

red howler monkey

 We went out again for an afternoon canoe ride after our little fishing excursion.  This is a female red howler monkey (alouatta) with young attached and what I believe are giant cheek pouches probably full of food.

common squirrel monkey

We continued along our canoe ride and heard a lot of rustling in the trees.  It turns out there was a group of common squirrel monkeys (saimiri sciureus) nearby, moving around and foraging.  We waited in the canoe for maybe half an hour and enjoyed the show.

jumping squirrel monkey

At some point, all of the common squirrel monkeys needed to cross the waterway.  One by one, they jumped across, usually after hesitating for a moment as if they were considering the prospect of falling below.

common squirrel monkeyThis one made it.  They all seemed to be able to jump across pretty well – we didn’t see any monkeys fall but some of them missed their target but were able to grab on to a branch not far below their landing site.


locust moltingAfter dinner, we went out with headlamps for a night hike to see the nocturnal creatures.  Here’s a grasshopper/locust that had just finished molting.


locust laying eggs

And here’s one laying eggs in a dead branch

glass frog on a pole

I believe this little guy was a glass frog (centrolenidae)


bird catching spider

A very large burrowing bird-catching spider (selenotypus plumipes)


red vine snakewe didn’t see as many snakes as we’d hoped, but we did see this red vine snake (siphlophis compressus)


ecuadorian amazon day 2

kichwa girl

We started the day off with a half-hour motorized canoe ride down the Napo river to check out the Yasuni parrot clay lick.  The parrots apparently lick the clay from the cliffs to reduce the toxicity of some of the seeds that they eat.

parrots fleeing the parrot lick

The parrots (mostly green amazon parrots, with some yell0w-headed and blue-headed parrots as well) were clustered around the licks and hanging out in the trees until something scared them all away


the culprit - a short-eared zorroThe culprit – I think this is the short-eared dog (atelocynus microtis) aka the short-eared zorro or short-eared fox looking for a meal.  Apparently it is an elusive canid – many of the other pictures online were triggered by camera traps.


kichwa women dancing

Our next stop was to la comunidad anangu kichwa (also Quechua or Quichua in spanish) in the Yasuni National Park.  Our visit started with watching women perform a dance for tourists.  Interesting side note – there is a small movement among Kichwa speakers to change the spelling from Quechua to Kichwa as a political statement against the Spanish language, which was forced upon their ancestors.  Another interesting aside: there is a lot of untapped oil sitting under the reserve.  The Ecuadorian government is seeking some sort of international agreement to be compensated for not drilling in the national park to make up for lost income from the sale of oil.


kichwa girlKichwa child watching the ceremony.  We watched demonstrations of trapping and hunting methods and then a short traditional cooking demonstration.  We also tried some Chicha, a drink made of fermented yucca.  We tried some – it tasted slightly sour, not very alcoholic and a little milky, starchy and gritty.


pointing out birds from the tower

We returned to Sacha Lodge and climbed the metal canopy tower in the afternoon and looked at birds and monkeys.


canopy walk

The bridge between towers

canopy walk


sunset above the canopyand the view was amazing


into la amazonia – ecuador’s amazon basin

canoe ride

We flew from Quito to Coca (aka Puerto Francisco de Orellana), a small city that serves as a hub for oil companies and tourism activities.  Coca is a 27 minute flight from Quito, and for a while I wondered “Why even fly if it’s such a short trip?”  I learned later that although the distance between the two cities is only about 120 miles as the crow flies, it’s about 180 miles by driving.  The elevation drops from 9350ft to 834ft above sea level and it’s apparently a windy (as in following a curving or twisting course rather than marked by or exposed to strong winds) trip that takes 11 hours by bus.  Our guide also told us that it’s a scary trip.

clouds and water spray over the napo riverClouds.  Our lodge was about a 1.5 hour ride east by motorized canoe on the Napo River, a tributary to the Amazon River.


oil trucks on a barge on the napo river

We were never far from oil company influences.  There were many barges with trucks, tankers, and equipment as well as a number of gas flares that we saw along the way.  Apparently the flares (example here) are for burning off the natural gas that comes out of the oil well.  They haven’t built the infrastructure to capture the natural gas, so it is burnt off as waste.  It’s estimated that this type of flaring accounts for 1.2% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.  Our guide said that locals do not like the practice as it also attracts and kills native insects and birds that are attracted to the lights.  sadface.


hammock at sacha lodge

Our lodge had a back patio with a hammock and chairs.  how nice!


mariposario at sacha lodge

blue morpho butterfly chrysalises (chrysalides?)  in the marioposario


platform at sacha lodge

The sun deck at sacha lodge

canoe ride

Heading out for an evening canoe ride


stars and the milky way

The night was so free of ambient light and the first night so clear that we could see the milky way.



Tarantula hanging out by the shower window