Saturday, October 22, 2016

Galapagos: Genovesa (Part 2 of 2)

In the afternoon of May 14th we rode the zodiacs to Prince Philip's Steps, a staircase that climbs 25 meters (82 feet) to the top of the cliffs along the eastern arm of Darwin Bay. A trail led inland, passing into a thin palo santo forest.
The name 'palo santo' translates to "holy wood." The oil from the tree can be used for incense, and is traditionally associated with healing and purification. Vanessa gave us some insights into this tree.
Birds were flying all around us. Some nest in the cliffs, and some atop the plateau.
We soon encountered the nesting sites of nazca boobies, which were everywhere in this neighborhood.
A closeup of the shaded chick.
Another booby had gathered or tossed everything within reach of its beak, creating a cleared ring around its nest.
Here two eggs were sheltered in the shade of the parent.
This cannot be a happy family, however; the boobies practice obligate siblicide. Only about 60% of booby eggs hatch, so the second egg, typically younger by several days, is an "insurance egg." If the older egg fails to hatch, the second egg is there. If both eggs hatch, there won't be sufficient food resources to support them both, so the older sibling automatically pecks, pushes, and ultimately kills the younger and smaller one. Other species, in situations where the food supply is variable, may have two or more siblings coexisting unless food becomes too scarce, in which case fighting will break out. That's called facultative siblicide.

One last photo of a booby chick, out in the sun.
Frigatebirds in the palo santo.
Mockingbird at my feet.
One of the many famous species of finch in the Galapagos.
A frigatebird from behind. Looks awkward, doesn't it? As if he's carrying a big valentine.
The feathers on the inflatable sac remind me of decorative pennants. Or indicators of the airflow direction, for streamlining purposes.
The bird Joan and I most hoped to see on Genovesa was the short-eared owl. We are owl fans; they are in the top tier of our favorite birds. As our group walked along, we left the palo santo behind and entered a sere, rocky landscape.
The camouflage of the short-eared owl is superb; there's one in the above photo. (Click on the image to enlarge.) We were thrilled when our guide pointed it out, and were glued to our binoculars for a while. If only it weren't so far away!

We continued on, and there was another, closer short-eared owl. Their territories aren't that large.
They hunt by patience, noting when a petrel enters its burrow, and waiting for it to re-emerge. Then they pounce. In this photo, the owl is checking out some event on its right.
Another owl shot, this time with droopy eyelids.
Here we see a ravine, a fracture in the clifftop,
and what's inside the shaded zone?
The erect posture of the owl clinging to the rocks makes it seem larger than its brethren, but it's not.

It was now time to begin our return, and we passed many clusters of boobies and frigates, some in shadow, some illuminated by the lowering sun.
We arrived at the top of Prince Philip's Steps, and saw the zodiacs coming to fetch us.
As we cast off in the zodiacs we were granted another first sighting, another treat, Galapagos fur seals, another endemic, lounging in the cliffs.
With the low light and bobbing zodiac I took over a dozen photos trying to snag an in-focus closeup. Here's the best of the lot!

What a complete day it had been. We capped it off with the captain's farewell dinner, and then returned to our cabins to (boo!) pack for departure early tomorrow. At least for Joan, Rick, and me the journey wasn't quite over yet; we'd be visiting Quito on our way home.