From the National Geographic Endeavour in Galápagos, July 4, 2010
July is a wonderful month in the Galápagos Islands, for several reasons. One is the privilege of traveling with so many families and children, contagious in their enthusiasm and excitement in discovering this unique world. Another is that both water and land temperatures start cooling down, which heralds the arrival of rich nutrients that sustain the marine-based web of life. It seems that all creatures dependent on the sea are rejoicing at this time, with courtship displays, eggs and chicks wherever one looks – everywhere the exuberance of life at its fullest.
Española is at its very best this time of year. We disembarked at Punta Suarez after an early breakfast, and spent about three hours walking the rocky trail of this old island. Sea lions, the colourful, red-and-black marine iguanas and brilliantly-orange Sally Lightfoot crabs greeted us as we disembarked on the rocky shoreline and walked through a couple of small organic beaches. The trail then led us along spectacular cliffs, where pounding waves exploded in white foam, and powerful blowholes sent plumes up into the sky.
Along the edge of the cliffs we came across many species of sea birds, including the endemic swallow-tailed gulls with their red eye rings, red-billed tropic birds trailing their streaming tails behind them and the dazzlingly-white Nazca boobies beginning to form their pair bonds. Further inland, hundreds of blue-footed boobies delighted us with their displays to one another: chests swelled, tails pointing up and deliberately showing off their unbelievably turquoise feet. Several had begun to nest, with eggs visible under the parent birds, at the center of the guano rings.
Further on still, we came across the magnificent waved albatrosses, returning to the island after many months away to find their mates and begin their unforgettably hilarious courtship dances and subsequent mating. Several were incubating eggs, and we even came across a handful of adorable grey, fluffy chicks being looked after by a proud parent. One particular pair of birds seemed so enamored of their newly-hatched progeny that neither of the parents could bring themselves to take to the skies! We admired several of these enormous birds, so clumsy and comical on land, as they launched themselves off the cliffs and became airborne, majestic in their true element.
Returning inland to the landing spot, Galápagos hawks, with their powerful beaks and talons, were everywhere to be seen, as were all three finch species that inhabit this island, Galápagos doves, Española mockingbirds and Española lava lizards – a truly unforgettable morning.
We repositioned over lunch, to spend the afternoon off undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, at Gardner Bay. Activities involved snorkelling, swimming in the clear blue waters, strolling and playing along the fine white sandy beach among hundreds of Galápagos sea lions. The young sea lions seemed as overjoyed as the young humans to find new playmates, and we got to admire yet again how in this magical, pure and innocent place the curious interaction between animals and humans becomes possible, a lesson that everyone who visits the Galápagos Islands will carry within them for ever.
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