Land Iguanas: Santa Fe Island

Land Iguana, Santa Fe Island, the Galapagos, Ecuador

I posted a panel of Marine Iguanas from Espanola Island in the Galapagos earlier. When we visited Santa Fe Island we encounter our first Land Iguanas. Instead of feeding on alge beds off-shore, the Land Iguanas of the Galapagos feed on the thorny desert plants, and especially the succulents, of the islands. If anything they grow larger than the Marine Iguanas, presumably because they do not have to spend the hours resting in the sun to recover from cold dives…as Marine Iguanas do. On the other hand they might expend more energy foraging over wider areas than the Marine Iguanas, who at least has a concentrated food source. At any rate, some of the Land Iguanas are huge. We encountered this one in the late afternoon light on our way to the sea cliffs on Santa Fe, and managed some eye-level shots. 

Sony Rx10iii. Program Mode. Using the flip out LCD to frame from ground level. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Lava Heron

Lava Heron, Santa Fe, the Galapagos, Ecuador

People will tell you that the wildlife on the Galapagos has no fear of man, but nothing anyone can tell you will prepare you for the utter disregard of most of the Galapagos wildlife the members of our species. This Lava Heron on Santa Fe Island was there to greet us when we got of the boat…or rather he was there busy with his own business of hunting Lave Lizards when we got of the boat, and went on with his business just as though we were not there. The Lava Heron is the equivalent of our Green Heron. In this sequence, he had his eye on a lizard “over there” and the fact that there was a human being standing in his way did not deter him for a moment. He just walked around the obstruction, coming very close to climbing over the human foot. That should put us in our place…don’t you think ­čÖé 

Sony Rx10iii at 370mm equivalent. Program Mode. 1/1000th @ f4 @ ISO 100. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Red-billed Tropicbirds in flight…

Red-billed Tropicbirds, Espanola and South Plaza Islands, the Galápagos

One of the real treats of the Galapagos is the opportunity to shoot Red-billed Tropicbirds in flight from land. I have had a chance to photograph them from a moving boat in Honduras, but shooting from the cliff-tops in the Galapagos is a whole different experience! We worked with the birds on both Espanola and South Plaza. Flight shots do not get any better than Red-billed Tropicbirds in the Galapagos. ­čÖé

Sony Rx10iii at mostly 600mm equivalent. My special Birds in Flight and Action Mode for the Sony. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Sea Lions of the Galapagos 

Sea Lions. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

I am actually surprised that there are not Sea Lions at the airport to greet you when you land in the Galapagos. There are certainly Sea Lions everywhere else! You have to move them (or your guides and boatmen have to move them) off any dock you might want to use and they litter every beach (and many benches). They are also remarkably friendly. You are supposed, according to Park rules, to stay at least 7 feet from them…but we had several pups come up to see if we would play…one nuzzled my bare leg below my shorts before deciding I probably was not his mother, and you see the two in the panel investigating the tripod…though I am certain it was not the first tripod they had seen. They knocked it over, which might have been their version of a joke. Though I did not snorkel, they are famous for playing with people in the water…coming up and blowing Sea Lion bubbles in your face, etc. The only time you have to be careful is when there is Beach-Master present. The big males are not animals you want to mess with…and the Beach-Masters tend to stand on their dignity…even when their pups want to play. 

Sony Rx10iii at various focal lengths. Program Mode, except for the night shot, which was taken in Anti-motion Blur Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Galapagos Hawk

Galapagos Hawk, Espanola Island, the Galapagos, Ecuador

The Galapagos Hawk is the native raptor of the Gal├ípagos Islands in Ecuador. It is, in fact, the only raptor found on the islands. It is a Buteo…like the common Red-tailed Hawk and many others in North America. It sits on high perches (high by Galapagos standards) and hunts lizards and rodents in the lava fields of the islands. In the first picture in the panel, it is sharing the view with a Galapagos Dove. While our guide on the Wildside Tours Galapagos Adventure expected we would see more on other islands, this one, on Espanola, was the only one we saw on our 7 day trip. 

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Flamingos of Floreana

American Flamingos, Floreana Island, the Galapagos, Ecuador

There is a salt lake a half mile inland on Floreana Island in the Galapagos. It is home to a colony of American Flamingos. Flamingos have a uniquely strange beauty…a pink so intense it takes a special effort to capture it with a digital camera…that huge shrimp-strainer bill…odd long legs and neck…and yet the whole is more beautiful than the sum of the parts. 

In the panel you see an HDR shot of the lake from the overlook with its signature Galapagos sky. The flamingos are lower right. Then three classic flamingo poses. 

Sony Rx10iii in-camera HDR and three shots at 600mm equivalent in Program Mode. The flight shot is my special Birds in Flight and Action saved mode. Processed in Polarr on my ipad pro.

Swallow-tailed Gull

Swallow-tailed Gull, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The Swallow-tailed Gull is the most common gull on the Gal├ípagos Islands, or at least was the one we saw most often on our Wildside Nature Tours Galapagos Adventure, and it is also, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful of gulls. So, okay, if you are familiar with gulls at all, you may not think that is a high recommendation…as most people think of gulls as being more annoying than beautiful, but none the less, I think the Swallow-tailed Gull is a beautiful bird. It has the accents, red and white, in all the right places and a pleasing range of gray tones. And it is, as gulls go, an elegantly shaped bird, not hulking like Great Black-backed or Herring, or squat like a Ring-billed…but, well, well proportioned and elegant. On the Galapagos it is also completely unafraid of mankind. You have to walk around them on the lava trails of the islands, and on any dock. 

The panel above illustrates several features. You have the mated pair, the sleeping bird showing its “false eye” which gives preditors the impression that the bird never sleeps, its minimal nest, and its habit of posing on top of rocks. 

Sony Rx10iii at mostly 600mm equivalent (the mated pair is a wilde angle shot, as I did have to walk around them in the trail). Program Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Marine Iguanas: Espanola Island

Marine Iguanas, Espanola Island, Galápagos, Ecuador

All the wildlife I saw on the Galapagos in my Wildside Nature Tours Wildlife and Photo Adventure was completely unafraid of humans. On our first full day, we visited Espanola, a low, slanting, lava table with a large nesting colony of Nacza Boobies and other sea birds. And Marine Iguanas. Lots of Marine Iguanas. Often Marine Iguanas in the trail, where we had to climb around them. Always Marine Iguanas beside the trail. In breeding season, the males develop some interesting colors, though they mostly back or dark grey, which helps these cold-blooded animals to warm themselves in the sun when they are out of the water. They spend most of the day warming themselves. The waters around the Galapagos are cold, and Iguanas feed on algae beds deep under water. A single dive can require several hours of recovery in the sun. Of course…they may just enjoy baking in the hot equatorial sun. 

They sneeze a lot…and their heads are often encrusted with salt from the glands there that excrete the salt from the sea water they drink while feeding. They are big, they grow as big as the food supply allows…and Espanola has some really big Marine Iguanas. 

Sony Rx10iii, mostly at various focal lengths. Program Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

San Cristobal Mockingbird

San Cristobal Mockingbird, San Cristobal Island, the Galapagos, Ecuador.

We transition today from the Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure to the Wildside Nature Tours Wildlife and Photo Adventure in the Galapagos. The Galapagos is on almost every wildlife or nature photographer’s bucket-list, and is a dream destination for anyone interested in natural-history…or even just in travel. There is no where in the world like it. An archipelago of volcanic islands, ranging from quite large with cloud forest above the 2000 foot level, to small lava caps, well off the coast of Ecuador, it is the place, and is home to the wildlife, that inspired Darwin’s most important work. And it is unique in being entirely protected, and operated, as a National Park. You can only visit most of the islands accompanied by a National Park Guide, and in a group of less than 20 people. Visits are limited to 4 hours per licensed tour boat…which means that if your tour is larger than 20 people, you only get a portion of that 4 hours. In addition, any given tour boat can only visit an island once in 4 days. Human traffic on the islands is closely controlled and fully monitored. We did not see more than 2 additional groups on any of the islands we visited, and we were often alone on an island. Because Wildside Nature Tours keeps its groups to less than 20, we always had the full 4 hours to photograph and enjoy the unique landscapes and wildlife of the islands. Kevin Loughlin, who owns Wildside, has visited the Galapagos over 45 times in his tour-leading carrier, so there are few people more experienced, or more qualified, to guide you to the best the Galapagos has to offer. I was wonderfully blessed to be asked along on this trip…a destination that otherwise would have remained on my bucket-list past its expiration date. ­čÖé

This is the San Cristobal Mockingbird. The Galapagos are home to 5 species of Mockingbirds, apparently all descended from a few Mockingbirds that reached the islands sometime in the dim past. The islands are far enough apart, and the seas around them are rough enough, so that travel between islands is limited. That, in theory, has allowed (or forced) single species like the Mockingbird to develop into a complex of closely related species, each restricted to a single island or a small group of islands. The San Cristobal Mockingbird is found only on the island of San Cristobal. San Cristobal was our port of call in the Galapagos…we flew into the airport there…and drove up over the 2000 foot peak of the island and down the other side to a Land Tortoise Breeding Center where the San Cristobal Mockingbird greeted us in the parking lot. One of the unique aspects of the Galapagos is that the wildlife has not developed a fear of man…so the Mockingbirds, as we walked the paths looking for giant land Tortoises, were latterly at our feet, looking for food among the lava chunks. 

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. Processed in Polarr on my iPad Pro. 

Night Monkeys

Night Monkeys (Owl Monkeys), Pacaya-samiria National Reserve, Amazon River, Peru

Our local guides on our last Terra Firma Forest walk in Pacaya-samiria National Reserve on the Amazon River in Peru found us many interesting things…including these Night Monekys high in a huge Rainforest tree. Night Monkeys, or Owl Monkeys as they are alternatively called, are nocturnal monkeys which range from Panama south through the Amazon basin…the only completely nocturnal monkeys in the world. They are also arboreal, living their whole lives above ground in the trees. Our group on the Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure had seen Night Monkeys on the morning when I was too indisposed to go out in the skiffs, and I figured I had just missed out, so I was more than happy when the local guide raised his eyes and pointed up into the canopy and someone said, “Oh, Night Monkeys!” Though they are nocturnal, they were obviously aware of out presence below them, and interested enough to poke their heads out of their hollow tree nest to see what we were up to. 

It was an impossible shot. Too high, straight up, and against bright holes in the canopy that put the small monkeys in semi-silhouette, and left half the frame burned out white. I had to focus manually and hold the camera awakwardly above my head. Still…Night Monkeys! I am surprised I got anything at all…and I have filled in the over-bright background a bit in TouchRetouch so you can focus on the monkeys. 

Night Monkeys are small…about 13 inches long and weighing in the 2.5 pound range. They are declining due to human disruption in their ranges (everything from agricultural deforestation to civil and drug wars) and have some level of protection in most of the countries where they live…though enforcement is difficult and inconsistent. They are also among a very small number of primates that can catch malaria, so they are used in research on the disease. They are the only primate without color vision…but they have exceptionally high resolution grey-scale vision…which may help them hunt insects in the canopy at night. As you can see, the alternative name of “Owl Monkey” is based on those huge eyes. 

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. Plus 1/3 EV. ISO 1600 @ 1/80th @ f4. Manual focus. Processed in Polarr and TouchRetouch on my iPad Pro.