Friday, August 31, 2007

Galapagos Tortoises

Here's a two minute video of some tortoises. Don't blink or you may miss some of the action!!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Photos on Picasa

Hi Folks,
I uploaded just over 100 photos from the trip to the Galapagos to a public album on Picasa, Google's photo organizing site. You can take a look at them at

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Video of the beach outside Casa de Marita

Blogger just added a feature that allows me to upload video, so I made a very short video of my favorite place in the Galapagos. This is the first time I've done this, and I'm better with a still camera than a video camera, so I hope you enjoy it.

Scenes from Isabela Island

Isabela Island is my favorite of the islands we visited while in the Galapagos. The sand on the beach was the texture of baby powder, and the water was warm. The tide pool at the beach just outside the hotel had damsel fish and small puffer fish in it.

We stayed at Casa de Marita which was a great place right on the beach.

While on Isabela we also took taxis to the highlands to see several volcanos. Danielle, (the woman on the left in this photo) and I were in the back of a taxi that had room for a couple of more people so we were joined by these two guys. I think the older guy in the middle said his name was Calvin. They seemed a bit odd, and both Danielle and I were relieved when they took a different taxi back at the end of the day.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Galapagos Sea Lions


The sea lion is one of the animals one first notices in the Galapagos. The young ones are especially curious and playful. They often approached us when we were snorkeling, and pulled at our fins. On one occasion a pup bit several people in the class while we were swimming. This endemic seal lion is most closely related to the California sea lion. The Galapagos sea lion is smaller than the California sea lion, but males can still weight as much as 250 kilograms (550 pounds). Females are smaller, and by comparing the photos below, you should be able to see other obvious differences.

Sea lions eat fish and squid, and may travel far out to sea to hunt. Sea lions also spend a good amount of time resting on sandy beaches.
Females typically give birth to one pup, and may still be caring for an older pup when the newest is born. There is competition between the two, and sometimes the younger one dies.
Sea lions breed annually, but gestation is only 9 months. Implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus is delayed. About three weeks after giving birth, the female is ready to breed again, but the fertilized egg only divides a few times, then stops development and does not implant in the uterus for two months or so.
Female sea lions live about 20 years, and males a bit less. Males compete with each other for sandy beach territories, and the beach master does not feed while defending his territory. Because of this, any given male is not a beach master for longer than a couple of months. Compare the female in the picture above, with the male below. What differences do you see?

The beach master mates with the females that choose to use his beach, but females are free to move from his territory to another if they find him unsuitable. Males are much more aggressive than the females and defend their territories vigorously by first barking above and below the water. I was warned away from a territory in this manner while snorkeling and quickly swam away. No need to argue with a 500 pound animal.:)
El Nino events have had a negative impact on the populations of Galapagos sea lions. During the El Nino event of 1997-98 their population numbers feel 48%. Some simply left, but there was also high mortality. 90% of those born in 1997 died, and 67% of the dominant males died of starvation. In 1979 there were about 50,000 sea lions in the Galapagos. A survey done in 2001, found an estimated 14,000-16,000 animals. Since then some recovery has occurred, with a more recent survey finding an estimated 16,000-18,000.
For more information about sea lions, and other Galapagos organisms you can visit the website of the Darwin Foundation at:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blue Footed Boobies

While I have a real affinity for the land iguanas, and the penguins are cute, these birds are just so much fun to watch I have decided they are my favorite Galapagos animal. It’s an amazing site to see 200 or more of these birds dive in unison into very shallow water from as high as 45 feet in the air, then quickly pop up to the surface as if their bodies are made of cork. The blue footed booby can dive into water as shallow as one half a meter.

The air sacs in the skull of boobies in general help to cushion the impact of these high speed controlled crashes into the water. They can also close their nostrils to keep out the sea water.

Like many birds, the females are larger than the males, and the pupils in the eyes of the females are larger than those of the males as well. Our guide Javier, told us many eventually go blind as they age due to damage to the eyes from the impact into the water.

The name booby is derived from the Spanish word “bobo” which means fool or clown. During courtship they do appear clownish as they walk around raising one, then the other blue foot in the air.

Blue footed boobies breed when resources are available. The female lays up to four eggs, about 3-5 days apart. This is not an uncommon strategy among birds. If food resources are limited usually the oldest chick will survive, if there is plenty of food the younger ones may as well. They eggs are incubated on the feet of the adults, and a guano nest is made when hatching occurs after about 40 days of incubation.
One of the instructors of the class (a herpetologist by the way) and I had an ongoing discussion about birds being just a branch of the reptiles. While I understand the relationship between birds and reptiles, I maintained birds are deserving of their own class since they are different from reptiles in important anatomical and physiological ways. However, that chick looks a bit reptilian even to me.

Galapagos Blue

Angela, one of the instructors of the class, called the color of the water in the ocean around the islands Galapagos Blue. I think this photo demonstrates what she meant.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Land Iguanas

Ah, now these big boys are Lizards! Land iguanas can get as large as one meter long and weigh as much as 13 kg. The marine iguanas may be specialized for an ocean going lifestyle, but for some reason these lizards capture my interest more. Look at the scale patterns on the faces of the males in the photos below. I think they are just beautiful.

In the photo below you can see the marked sexual dimorphism between the male and females. The female is darker and smaller than the male.
There are two species of land iguanas endemic to the Galapagos. One species ( Conolophus pallidus) is only found on the island of Santa Fe, and the other, ( Conolophus subcristatus), is more widespread.

The adults eat the cactus pads of the Opuntia cactus, and juveniles eat insects, and even finch nestlings. The normal lifespan for these iguanas is over 60 years.

When Darwin arrived in 1835 he remarked that he had trouble pitching a tent because there were so many iguana burrows. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. There may be as many as 10,000 individuals of C. subcristatus left in the Galapagos. Introduced animals such as cats, dogs, rats, and pigs along with human activity have taken a toll on these large lizards.

Marine Iguanas

An odd condition on the Galapagos is that reptiles are more common than mammals. This is not the case in most areas of the world. The ancestors of the reptiles found today on the Galapagos were hardy enough to make it across 600 miles of ocean from the South American mainland aboard rafts of vegetation. Mammals and amphibians for the most part did not survive such direct exposure to the sun, and could not survive as reptiles did, with out water for weeks on end.

Perhaps the ancestor of the land and marine iguanas was similar to this green iguana found in Ecuador.

Marine iguanas forage on red and green algae. Young iguanas and females don’t venture too far off the rocky coast, but males can forage to depths of 10 meters. Being ectotherms they walk a tight rope between feeding the in cold water and staying warm enough to actively feed and digest their algae salads. The body temperature of the male iguanas can drop as much as 10 degrees Celsius while they are foraging. They are much larger than the females, with some males weighing as much as 10kg.

The animals I saw spent a great deal of time basking in the sun. The young iguanas like those below clustered in areas away from the adults.

These iguanas are the only ones in the world who forage in the ocean, and as you can imagine they consume a great deal of salt in their diet. To rid their bodies of this salt they blow it out their nose from salt glands behind their eyes. They have the most efficient salt glad of any reptile, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the salt gland found in ocean going birds was more advanced. :) Take a look at the nostrils of the iguana in the photo below. The slight tube shape helps them expel the salt. The sneezing noise they make as they excrete salt is the only noise these lizards make.

Their dark color helps them absorb heat, and is great camouflage. There are numerous marine iguanas in the photo below. How many do you see?

El Nino events can raise the water temperature from a normal temperature of 18 to 32 degrees Celsius. This kills the algae upon which these iguanas feed, and can cause their populations to crash. During times of extreme starvation these animals can reabsorb bone and actually shrink in size to survive.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More Galapagos Birds

I photographed both of these birds on the Island of Floreana. Late in the afternoon while walking along a trail to the Loberia, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a whirlwind of bird activity. The yellow warblers and Galapagos flycatchers were so close I had to back up to get these photographs.

Galapagos Penguins

These penguins are endemic to the Galapagos, which means they are only found in the Galapagos. These small penguins are the northern most penguins and have adapted to warmer land temperatures than their more southerly relatives.

These penguins were photographed on the island of Isabela. Sadly, in a census done in 2006 there were only about 2,100 of these unique birds found. They are the only penguin listed as endangered. Their population was drastically reduced by the impact of the El Nino in 1997-98.

For more information on this amazing species of bird go to and click on Galapagos penguins.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Circle of Friends

We found this pictograph near Escalante Utah after one of my camping buddies saw a T-shirt with the image of this rock art on the shirt. He asked if it was from the area, and where it was. After an unsuccessful search at first, we asked again and with some luck and patience found it. The spots next to it are thumb and finger prints. I am not sure at all which culture may have produced it, but a day or so later we were talking with a Navajo man who said he thought rock art of people in a circle represented family members. This is not my photograph since I couldn't find any memory cards, and thought I had left them at home. Finally, at the end of the trip I found them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sin Palabras- No words

There are no words to adequately describe the Grand Canyon, or the feelings it evoked as I stood on the edge, no barrier separating me from the Canyon. There are no words to describe the sunset we saw from Cape Royal. We spent the last two nights of our trip at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon sleeping outside under the stars made brighter by moonless nights.

There are also no words to describe the absolute silence we found along the Hole in the Rock road outside of Escalante as we returned from hiking in Spooky Canyon , Peek a Boo, and the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch. Silence. No buzzing insects, certainly no cars or planes, not even the wind was blowing.

It's for moments like these that we humans need wild places.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Off to Utah

Alright! I am off, along with two, and later three, friends to the wilds of Utah. Into the land of Turkey Vultures, and Peregrines, and maybe once again this year California Condors? Into Spooky Gulch, Brimstone Canyon, the Devils Playground, Calf Creek, Death Hollow, and of course the red rock canyon of the Escalante River. I'll think of you all as I'm laying on a sandy beach of the river looking up at the Escalante Arch and inside a nearby alcove a structure built when? 1,000 years ago? Who knows?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Darwin's Finches

Ahhh! I should be getting ready for the camping trip, but I can't stay away from these photos. OK, these are the last ones until I get back from Utah. These are both Darwin's finches, but two different species. One is the small ground finch, and the other is the medium ground finch. Can you tell which is which? They are similar in size and plumage. Check out the beaks.

Dos Mas

The tropic bird photo was taken from the top of a cliff of lava on San Cristobal Island. They were gliding by almost at eye level. In the same area there were blue footed boobies, swallow tailed gulls, and frigate birds. On the walk out to the area we walked by marine iguanas.

On North Seymour Island we saw nesting frigate birds and blue footed boobies. This frigate bird chick has to be one of the fuzziest living things I have ever seen. It looks like someone went nuts with a glue gun and cotton balls.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The group

It occurred to me, some of you might like to see the group of students I was with in the Galapagos. Here's a group picture taken the last night we were in Ecuador.

One more photo

This photo was taken on San Cristobal near the hotel were we stayed. The birds are Darwin's finches, and I think there are both medium and small ground finches on the sign.