Saturday, April 24

Paula: Every now and then, each of us experiences a moment that we know we will remember forever - today we were all blessed with one of these occasions.

During the night our ship had traveled back to our original starting point in San Cristobal, as some passengers were leaving and others joining the cruise. While on San Cristobal, we had an opportunity to view the island's highlands. After a 40 minute bus ride, we climbed for about 5-10 minutes to the summit of a volcano which defined San Cristobal Island. The collapsed crater has become a lake (called "El Junco") and in fact is the only fresh water lake in all of the Galapagos Islands. We enjoyed a pleasant walk around the lake observing some of the endemic plants like the maconia bush. Our naturalist explained that the blackberry bushes that we saw were introduced by people who are living in the islands and that their invasive nature is a huge concern. They were originally planted on farms, but have now been spread by birds into multiple locations. As we left the crater, a large group of local volunteers were hiking up with knives and shovels preparing to work on removing blackberry bushes from the landscape.

The lake is much smaller than the volcanic lake we saw by the Cotacachi Volcano in Ecuador's highlands, and has a depth of only 1-6 meters. Frigate birds circled the lake and periodically skimmed across the water. We thought they were fishing but our guide explained that they were actually bathing themselves to get rid of the salt water. We discovered that the lake is relatively new (only 50,000 years old), and has been filled over thousands of years with rain water. Recently a scientist dug down 16 meters into the sediment and identified many endemic plants which are now extinct. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world still come here and to many places in the Galapagos Islands to continue Darwin's work.

In the afternoon as the ship cruised toward the other side of San Cristobal, we had an opportunity to view a famous landmark called "The Sleeping Lion"or "Kicker Island". This island is actually composed of two large cliff-like rocks and is home to many species of birds.

We disembarked later in the afternoon at Cerro Brujo Beach. This long, white sand beach is striking when viewed against the blue sky and aqua waters that line its shores. Several colonies of sea lions basked along the shores and we also saw boobies, frigate birds and oyster catchers. We quickly donned our snorkeling gear and plunged into the water in hopes of spotting more of the marine life here. Unfortunately, the water was a bit cloudy making it difficult to visualize the fish. We decided to get out and walk along this long beach, when suddenly we saw a sea lion swimming with a snorkeler just off the shore. We quickly ran back to get our masks and fins, suited up and jumped right in.

This playful juvenile sea lion seemed overjoyed to have our company. He literally came up and touched our masks with his nose to check each of us out on several occasions. His big eyes and long whiskers were amazing. He swam under us, around us and even splashed us with his flippers. He looked to be almost intentionally showing off has he somersaulted repeatedly directly in front of us. Sometimes he would disappear for a moment, and then all of a sudden we'd see him swimming directly at us, veering out of the way only at the last instant. We drifted in the water playing with this delightful sea lion for 20-30 minutes and got out of the water only when the naturalists told us that we needed to return to the ship. Even as we walked along the beach, preparing to leave on the zodiac, he followed us closely. As we prepared to leave, he swam up to shore, poked up his head, and looked at us as if to say, "Can't you stay and play a bit longer!" The entire experience left us in awe, and is one we'll certainly never forget.

Tomorrow we get back to the "regular" schedule of two daily activities. In the morning, we'll hike and snorkel at Bartholomew Island which is supposed to have some amazing volcanic formations and also some fantastic marine life. In the afternoon, we'll snorkel and hike on nearby Santiago Island.



















David's Daily Dump: Frigate birds. Throughout our stay here in the Galapagos, we have seen many colonies of Frigate birds in the middle of courtship season. Ever time we see them we are amazed, amused, and fascinated. It's so cool to see the males blow up their red pouches, shake their wings, and gobble like a turkey while they try to attract mates. All our guides say that we are extremely lucky to see this and that it is one of the best things to see on the archipelago.

Yesterday on Genovasa Island, we walked through a huge frigate bird colony which was our first real encounter with these magnificent birds. There must have been over 100 birds circling over the nesting site, and 50 others on the ground either sleeping or calling for mates. Most of the males were on the ground with their pouches inflated and the females were flying looking for males that they were impressed with. I can't explain how hilarious it was to watch a group of males suddenly start shaking uncontrollably as a female flew overhead. They would point their beaks up to the sky, spread out their wings, start gobbling, and puff up their red pouches until they were about to burst. It was like "the wave" at a baseball game. We never saw a female come down to greet a male, and most of the time we just thought that they were harassing them.

Although we didn't see any pairs being made, we did see many males with mates. The ones with mates all had a proud look on their face as if to say "I am more impressive than all of you." Some of the males even had their wings spread out over their female! It looked like the male was shading the female from the sun while she took a nap. It was really cute, and everyone always ahhhhhhhed when they saw it. I loved following the females (easily recognizable because of their white chest) through the air, and listening for the gobbling from the ground.

The Galapagos Islands are home to the Magnificent Frigate and the Great Frigate bird (2 out of the 5 on earth). These birds are considered robbers because of their thief-like habits. They are known to make boobies regurgitate their catch and evacuate their nests for their own use. The frigate birds are not solely dependant on other birds for food. In fact, they also fish out in the open seas in addition to stealing from boobies. They are masters of the sky and can glide for a long period of time without flapping their wings.

Seeing the remarkable birds during the mating season is truly a marvelous sight. It's unbelievable to see the males with their sacks blown up to the size of a partly-filled soccer ball, while searching the sky for females. It was an experience that I will never forget.












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