Saturday, March 19, 2016

Day 8 Santa Cruz Island and North Seymour Galapagos / Epilogue

My last day before leaving tomorrow from the Galapagos did not disappoint.  I decided to provide a map of Santa Cruz to give you an idea of my travels today. The town that I'm stationed at is called Puerto Ayora which is on the south side of the island.  If you follow the road line up into the highlands, where I was yesterday and then follow the road line up to and through South Seymour, that was the bus trip I took this morning in order to visit North Seymour by boat.  I also like this map because if gives you an idea of the terratine and how it changes at different elevations; thus effecting geology and nature.

You are also welcome to visit my classroom website at:  Mr B's Classroom Website

Once at the tip of South Seymour, I took a small boat to a larger one that would take me to North Seymour. Overall, the waters were calm and the trip (~45 mins) was relaxing,  When we arrived at N. Seymour island we disembarked onto a smaller boat in order to come ashore on the island.  Interestingly, just before boarding the dinghy, I saw a large Galapagos shark circling the boats... neat! The terrain was rocky with ancient lava, hot coral rich sand, crashing waves, and low bushy vegetation. Despite the extreme heat and sun it became clear why this place was a naturalist's paradise.

One of the popular attractions is the fact that this island is a breeding and nesting area for several large populations of blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds (also swallow-tailed gulls and common noddies). As I walked along the rocky path, I witnessed a yellow land iguana, several baby sea lions (note: all sea lions that I've been seeing are California Sea Lions), and many many birds.

The blue-footed boobies had nest on the ground.  Only one time did I see their eggs.  I should also mention that these birds nest only on the ground. These birds will typically lay 2-3 eggs; however, whichever chick hatches first, it will kill the other(s) to survive; this is called, siblicide. It's still unclear by scientists why their feet at maturity are blue. It is known that it's some type of pigment and when the bird dies - the blue from the feet fades away according to my guide. I did see a few times the male boobie "dance" to attract a mate by simply lifting his feet up and down in a "soft" march.  The red-footed boobie is only found on Isabella island and the masked-boobie is found on a nearby island and on the north part of San Cristobal island that I was not able to go to today.

The frigatebirds were equally entertaining.  The males with their red pouches made sounds to announce their breeding intentions to females. I also saw several juveniles waiting for their parent(s) to return to feed them while they stayed in their nest.  A few stood up to practice their flying abilities, too.  They typically lay only 1 egg in which their nest are up off the ground in a bush.

Nevertheless, there were 100's of birds on the island and it was extraordinary to see them in their natural habitat in which humans can literally stand inches from the animals without the birds being afraid.

After a nice lunch on the boat... I took some time to visit a white sandy beach for about an hour (sorry decided to make my last visit to a Galapagos beach camera free).  However, while swimming in the surf, I was being watched by a few sea turtles that seemed as interested in me as I was of them.  Along the beach, rangers had placed several warning signs where sea turtles had laid their eggs recently.  Lastly I saw a marine iguana swimming in the shallow water along the beach towards a layer of lava rocks - it was a nice ending to a wonderful experience on the Galapagos Islands!

Galapagos Shark

An idea of the terrain on the island with a blue-footed boobie grooming himself.

Several juvenile frigatebirds sitting on their nest in this hot and bushy terrain.

Close up of one of the juvenile frigates 

I believe this to be a male Boobie.  Both genders have yellow eyes; however, males have a smaller pupil and females have larger pupils. Fun fact, they get their name from the Spanish word, "bobo" which means fool or clown.  Early Europeans probably noticed their clumsiness on the ground which characterized them as looking stupid. 

Common Noddy with egg nestled in the cliffs 

Male Frigatebirds (ones with the red pouch) courting a female.  Listen to the sound they make towards the end of the video,

Blue-footed boobie with eggs. These birds have also been know to use their electric blue feet to warm their eggs since blood flows threw their feet.

Swallow-Tailed Gull with chick noticed while patrolling the side of the island in a dinghy

Male boobie performing his "strutting march" to attract a female... seemly successfully I would say 


Having witnessed several of the same plants and animals (and geology) that Darwin noticed, documented, and collected has only made me appreciate and accept natural selection and the evolutionary process even more.  To deny that these processes do not occur only inhibits ones understanding of biology and the wonders of nature and time.  Evolution is one of nature's most greatest accomplishments,  To be able to share my Galapagos adventure with my students (colleagues, friends, and the community) via this blog reminds me of why I love teaching.  Having the opportunity to teach topics that interest me; such as, natural selection and evolution, allows me to share my passion of biology with others. I am convinced that having had the opportunity to experience such wonders as the Galapagos, more substantial discussions, meaningful activities, and passion for the life sciences will resonate from my students for years to come. 

A great explorer and naturalists once wrote... 

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change. 
On the Origin of Species, November 24, 1859

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 7 Santa Cruz Island Galapagos

I have not said too much about the food here.  I will say that I've eaten a lot fish (mostly tuna and swordfish) and drank a lot of different juices (watermelon, papaya, guava, "tree tomato" - not a tomato like you're thinking).  All pretty much as fresh as you could ever want.  :-)

The day today started with a trip up to the top of another extinct volcano.  The mountain top wasn't as big as the one yesterday; however, once at the top, one could see pretty much the entire island of Santa Cruz including the town I am staying, coastlines, and boarders of the national park.  I was also able to see a giant sinkhole about in the middle of the island that was to be my next stop.  Nearly 97-98% of the Galapagos is national park land which is quite impressive.

In order to see not just one sinkhole but a few, I had to enter the park's gate.  While driving to the park, I noticed a few giant tortoises crossing signs which I thought was unique; probably will never see those any place other than the Galapagos.

A small hike took me to a giant sinkhole.  Sinkholes are created when the ceilings of lava tubes/tunnels under the ground give way, creating sometimes small or in this case large holes.  The guide also pointed out how the black raspberry (an invasive species) has taken over the land.  This was mentioned to me before a few days ago. Also, cedar trees that grew tall around the hole (crater only for volcanoes)  and elsewhere on the island where introduced and causing problems with the acidity levels in the soil.  We went on to find another sinkhole that was created in the same way; however, one could notice that it was really two sinkholes that had merged together.  Along the sides of the holes, you could see lava tube openings.

After the trip to the sinkholes, passing a banana farm, and dodging a herd of cows being prodded by a farm hand down a dirt road, I ventured into a park that advertised giant land tortoises and lava tube explorations. Once in the park, I hiked along a field to find several giant dome-shaped tortoise eating and taking mud bathes.  It's interesting in that the animals are free to roam anywhere which meant the farmers or property owners must allow enough room under their fences to allow tortoises to pass; I caught one doing just that.

After viewing the tortoises I went down into a lava tube that was created by a flowing stream of hot lava surrounded by cooler lava millions of years ago.  You could easily see the markings and traces of ancient lava flows while exploring the tube. It's a reminder that the Earth once was, still is, and always will be... on the move.

The day ended with a boat trip around the bay where pelicans were diving for fish only a few feet away and blue footed boobies were nesting only a few yards away along cliff sides.  My guide talked about the history and culture of the island as we went along the side of the bay and harbor.  We ended up going ashore and hiking a couple miles inland to see mangrove trees where egrets from the highland would come to roost every night. The mangroves also provided excellent sea turtle nurseries.  As I walked along a small beach, areas were roped off to give privacy and care to areas where iguanas had laid their eggs.  I ended the hike near a long fissure where some local people were swimming and then on top of a cliff overlooking the bay and harbor that I just patrolled around in earlier.  

So the day was quite full and adventurous as usually... can't believe that tomorrow is my last full day here.

360 of Santa Cruz on top of a small extincted volcano

One of a few sinkholes... the vegetation at the bottom is mainly blackberries (invasive and non-usable for human consumption - (no or poor tastes unlike the ones you know of))

Bananas hanging down from a banana tree

Male Dome Tortoise 

Male Dome Tortoise having had a mud bath

 A day at the spa with friends

Nice and cozy

Male tortoise walking about very slowly

(picture provided by

Anatomy of a tortoise shell.  I wanted to provide this to you to help explain that the age of tortoise can be somewhat determined by rings within the hexagonal plates on the upper shell or carapace.  As the plates grow, the rings go away making it harder to determine the age of the animal. 

Dream come true to visit and see giant land tortoises in the Galapagos... just another day with a tourist for the tortoise

Land dome-shelled tortoise on the move

Lamps illuminating a path through a lava tube

Blue Footed Boobie along the cliff side during my excursion around the harbor

Iguana Nest

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 6 Santa Cruz Island Galapagos

Good day... at about 9am Galapagos time, I arrived by boat to Santa Cruz Island. Along the way, I passed a small island called Santa Fe Island which I believe has no inhabitants. Once on Santa Cruz, I found the bed and breakfast that was reserved called, Captain Max. I am convinced that the weather on Santa Cruz is hotter than the last island. You know, when Darwin came to visit the Galapagos in 1835 during Sept and Oct, it would have been during the dry season. No wonder he called this place hell on Earth... because of the heat, harsh landscape, and odd creatures. Evolutionary wise, it's a naturalist's paradise, but I wouldn't necessarily consider it a luxury vacation spot. I will say that the people again have been very hospitable, sadly many seem to be concerned about the alleged corrupt government, the years of recession, and freedoms that we take for granted in the USA. They are a very very proud people, but living on the Galapagos seems to be as much as a challenge as surviving as an animal or plant on these islands.

Well, after checking into the bed and breakfast, I went immediately to the Darwin Research Center only a few miles away. At the center they invite scientists from around the world to help maintain animal and plant life on the Galapagos by using captive breeding methods, genetic research, and various conservation methods.

At the research center (est. 1959), the two major attractions were the Galapagos Tortoises (saddle-back (smaller) and dome (larger ~500 lbs) as well as the land iguanas. The idea is to help restock the wild population. These slow moving animals were easy prey for pirates and colonists who used them for food and money which led to a decline in the late 1970's. Even Darwin's ship took on the animals for food; however, Darwin didn't think about saving any shells prior to them being tossed overboard after the animal meat was eaten. Many of the tortoises are now hybrids from other species from other islands. This was because in the earlier days of the center, all tortoises (m/f) were put into the same area. Many of these animals came to the center as once pets from the local people. The government ordered that all tortoise pets were to be given to the center. As a result the tortoises are hybrids of various species. Having learned the mistake, researchers are trying to now isolate the animals to regain some level of original speciation.

Lonesome George was probably one of the most famous subspecies having lived on Pinta Island; however despite numerous tries, he produced no offspring with the females (not of his species). He died in 2012

They still do have a tortoises named, Super Diego who was found in California and returned to the Galapagos in 1977. The EspaƱola tortoises were in critical danger in the 1960’s. As of right now, he helped to repopulate his species by fathering 1000's... hence his name :-) It's a big guess that he may be about 130 years old. Fun fact, the younger animals will have rings within their hexicon plates; but when the animal gets older, the rings disappear. That's why it's really hard to tell the age of older tortoises. Fun fact, did you know that male tortoise has his sex organ in his long tail in order to reach the female... That's one way to tell a m/f tortoises is by looking at their tail

The center also housed a yellow land iguana (2 males and 1 female) to help with their breeding program. The Galapagos has also the Santa Fe (tanish) and a newly found... Pink iguana found on Isabela (northern part). Genetic evidence seems to prove that the original iguana that came to the islands millions of years ago may have first branched into the Pink which may have have been able to skip from the older islands like San Cristobal to end up on an island that is one of the newest. The pink hue may have been caused by choice in diet.

Well, I've returned back to the bed and breakfast for a rest and will venture out later.... perhaps some sightseeing along the coastal region of this town. I was told that I might be able to see eagle rays and even sharks along the pier :-)

Update: Went to a nice restaurant and then did take a walk along the pier.  It was true about seeing rays and sharks.  The rays swam in schools around the pier and I did see about 3-4 medium size sharks.

I also went to a small fish market.  Fishermen would bring their catch to the pier where people would prepare them for market.  Curiously, the "garbage disposals" were pelicans and sea lions that would wait for any table scraps that the butchers would throw to the grown - quite efficient method of clean-up I would say.

Goodbye to San Cristobal

Speeding by Santa Fe (small island before getting to Santa Cruz)

Saddle-Back Shell (aka Super Diego)

"The notch is meant for the animal to research high vegetation - an evolutionary advantage if you live in the dry lowlands of certain Galapagos islands with high vegetation (ie Prickly Pear)"

With my favorite type of land tortoises, the "saddleback"

Dome Shelled Male
"Again, an evolutionary advantage if you live on islands with low vegetation"

Yellow Land Iguana

Darwin Research Center Entrance

Fish Market

Black-tipped sharks probably attracted to the fish from the fish market around the pier at night.

Sting rays patrolling the pier as a group

Natural selection even at the fish market, watch what happens to the poor seal's dinner when the butcher throws the scraps to the floor.  The seals (and birds) looked like house pets begging for food at the dinner table.
(video courtesy of my daughter)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Day 5 San Cristobal Island Galapagos

Today, I had the opportunity to visit a place called Kicker Rock about an hour boat ride off San Cristobal to go snorkeling around the rock edges in a Pacific Ocean.  The "rock" is about 140 meters high and nesting grounds for several birds including the Blue Footed Booby.

After spending about 1 1/2 hours on a sandy beach island I went snorkeling with the group.  The beach was interesting in that you could witness the Blue Footed Boobies diving for their food along with a few Pelicans. You also saw your occasional iguanas and sea lions.  I did spot a bird that I had not seen before here, the guide told me it was an American Oystercatcher which are a little rare to see.

Ok... so off to snorkeling along Kicker Rock.  The first dive proved to be an excellent showcase of sea life including: spiny sea urchins, green sea urchins, bubble-head fish, 2-3 varieties of starfish, miniature sardines, a school of puffer fish, lots of corals, and floating barnacle larva (prior to them making their shells that attached onto everything),  I also was privileged to see 4-5 sea turtles within a couple arms reach away and ..... a white-tipped shark that I followed for about 30 seconds.  So.... that was really cool :-)

On the second dive, the excitement started right away.  As soon as I jumped from the boat, I landed in a small school of Eagle Rays.  Took me by surprize to have gotten so close to them.  I counted about 5-8 of them total; but again, only an arms length away.  During that dive I noticed fish (no idea of the type) in a small feeding frenzy.  I looked very closely and noticed that they were eating very very small squid about 1-2 cm long.  Saw a couple more sea turtles and another shark for just a brief time.  The shark could have been another white-tip or another popular shark, the Galapagos shark.  I guess Hammerhead sharks, which are popular too, were too deep for snorkeling. During the dive it was neat to have swam with a sea lion who seems curious of why I was invading his home.  The encounter with the playful sea lion lasted for about 2-3 minutes. Nevertheless, the snorkeling was well worth the trip.

Tomorrow I head to a different island called, Santa Cruz where I plan to visit the Darwin Center first thing. More to come....

American Oystercatcher

Kicker Rock 
"where I did the snorkeling"

White Tipped Sharks
"photo from internet"

Small island on our way to Kicker Rock with nesting Frigatebirds 

Passing by Kicker Rock to the beach first

Sea Lion flollicing in the surf on the beach I was at prior to snorkeling around Kicker Rock... thought it was cute

American Oystercatcher in action...

Caught 3 Blue Footed Boobies diving for dinner while on the beach prior to snorkeling.  Hard to see their feet since they are tucked up under their feathers.

Caught a mass of small tuna fish surfacing off the boat just prior to snorkeling providing food for sea birds.  

Thought I'd shoot an idea of what the snorkeling conditions were like near Kicker Rock.  Wasn't as bad as you might think since you float/ride with the waves as you swim.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 4 San Cristobal Island Galapagos

Well, today was interesting in that it had it's highs and lows.  One of the places I went to was built in the 1960's called El Ceibo, a small tree house in the city of El Progreso. The tree, called a Sable, is one of three that size on the island, It had running water and electricity but quite small - different.

The other high today was an opportunity to hike up an extinct volcano called El Junco, to visit the only fresh water lake on the island. The lake, Laguna El Junco is in the middle of the highlands (wetter and more green vegitation) and because of the amount of clay deposits, the water stays within the caldera.

After walking around the rim of the volcano, I then was able to visit a breeding and conservation facility for "intermediate domed" tortoises.  So the first land tortoise I saw on the hike to the facility was a female :-) Later, I saw breeding areas for newly born tortoises from about 1 month up to about 3-4 years.  They release the tortoises into the wild in the northern part of the island. They had nearly 100 tortoises roaming around the facility seemly content in their dry and hot environment. Also, they had native to the island "poison apples" which were ok for the animals to eat.. but very very bad for humans - milky sap came from their stems.  This plant soulded a lot like a similar plant that I saw at the Botanical Gardens in Hawaii. 

Lastly, I went to a sandy beach to relax for about an hour (... my low (geologically speaking) point of the day :-p )  I did witness some blue-footed boobie diving from the air to catch fish.  I was told that they don't get their blue feet until adult and that they are the only birds on this island that catch fish this way.  Frigatebirds are more like pirates in that they take food from others and don't fish on their own. 

Tomorrow, plan to do some more snorkeling in an area known for its sharks - I'll let you know how it goes. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Day 3 San Cristobal Island Galapagos

Good day.... boy it's hot here :-p  So today just outside the city I visited a cultural center that explained and presented some of the history of the Galapagos including the geology, nature, and people.  After the center, I walked about 2-3 miles amongst some native vegetation to a couple of outlooks up along some cliffs.  After a few moments taking in the cool breeze from the ocean and the spectacular scenery; I did some more snorkeling along a very rocky bay.  Hoping to see some sharks, I was left with just some parrot fish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and a lot of brightly colored fish. Near the rock bay, there was a very prominent statue honoring Darwin. On the way back to the center I witnessed some warblers, fly-catcher, and finishes; along with some more prickly-pear trees.

Ok, so I'm taking off to do some kayaking along a bay and perhaps some swimming.

Update, got back from kayaking in the ocean.... did see a sea turtle head pop up :-)

Cotton Flower - notice how the pollen takes on the form of a pineapple. Now the red petals that you see in the center will actually dominate the white and the full bloom of the flower will be red. 

Flycatcher Bird - but what was interesting about him was that he looked dead on the trail.... I mean his wing was misplaced and his beak was open; however, when I got closer... he took off. Guessing he was playing "opossum" as a defence mechanism. 

A tribute to Darwin along the trail today.

Below the statue to Darwin was the area I snorkeled for about an hour today

Red lava crab scattered all over the beaches here

Female Frigatebird - you can tell by the white band around the neck... males will have a reddish pouch under their necks.

Galapagos lizard - I've seen them all around looking light with black strips. I was told that the ones on Santa Cruz is darker with black bumps,

From one of the view points from my hike today.  The place where I snorkeled would have been down and to the left (not seen in this photo).  This coastline is along the northern side of the island

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Day 2 San Cristobal Island Galapagos

Finding the internet may be a little tougher than I thought here on the islands... but I'll try to do my best.  I'm sitting near an ice cream shop now that was kind enough to give me their pw "sealion100" :-) - may have to buy some ice cream though - it's worth it. The town that I'm at right now is called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island Galapagos which has a population of about 8,000 people - of those that I have met they seem to be very friendly. All of Galapagos has about 20,000 +/-

"May I Introduce to You, the "Galapagos"" 

Today was a wondrous day... a day that I've been waiting a long time to witness.  The best part about this adventure is going to be the fact that I can now experience and relate to what I've been teaching about evolution in the classroom; can't wait to share the enthusiasm when I get back. Nearly a few hours after I got here... I went to a nearby beach and observed the iguanas, prickly-pear trees, frigatebirds and a few different species of finches.  Also did some snorkeling and observed several types of fish, sea urchins, and a ray similar to a sting-ray called an "eagle ray".  Overall, the first main day on the islands has been a hit. The weather is very warm and humid.  Oh, the lava rocks along the coast made it a little difficult to walk but it was worth getting some pics of the iguanas and black crabs.  Oh, almost forgot... so many sea-lions - 100's...  Ill try uploading pics when the internet is better

Lizards come to the shelter of the bushes along the beach during the night.  They leave it to feed on algae under water in the morning and afternoon.

Notice how well they blend into the rocks for protection.  They will also sunbathe to energize themselves since they are ectothermic.  Also these guys can hold their breath af or about 15-20 min in search of food (algae). They typically live for about 10-12 years; unlike their land cousins that can live almost 2x longer (due to a better variety of diet I've been told)

Sea Lion basking in the sun.  This was one of several on the beach that day. Again, you could literally touch them if  you wanted, but again... highly highly not recommended.  In fact, I noticed a park ranger off to the side under a tree to keep an eye out for those that violate the island's law.

The first marine iguana I saw ..... excellent !

Friday, March 11, 2016

Day 1b Touring Guayaquil, Ecuador South America

Toured the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador today.  Had the opportunity to visit land iguana park,  444 steps up to a lighthouse (and then 50 steps up into the light house), river promenade park/walk, fish and fruit market, flower market, open market and shops, and had dinner at local restaurant that was named after the city. With only about 4 hrs of sleep the night before - not too bad. Anyways... flying to the Galapagos in the morning... ~ 1 1/2 hour trip.

Fruit Market

Fish Market Left Overs - Used as Bait for Next Day

Housing in Guayaquil

Flower Market

Islands of Water Hyacinths from the main land drift out to see.  Told similar patches of debris may have helped ancestors of the Galapagos get to the islands millions of years ago. 

Lizards hanging out with the pigeons... different I must say