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Red-billed Tropicbird - Cindy Marple

Trip Report: GALAPAGOS Wildlife Photo Tour

Green Sea Turtle - Mary Ann McDonald

Swallow-tailed Gull - Angus Fraser


As we usually do at the end of a Photo Tour, we do a Participants' Portfolio Slide Show. For this trip report I've decided to showcase just some of the incredible images our participants made. Not only do these images deserve greater public exposure and recognition, but also these images clearly illustrate what a group of talented, enthusiastic, non-pro photographers can do in the Galapagos! The images are inspiring, and I hope motivational, and I hope that we'll see YOU on our next Galapagos Photo Tour in 2020!

Unfortunately not everyone added their name in the xmp metadata for these images, so I cannot credit every shot. If not credited specifically, the images will belong to
Bob Zakrison, Randy Gebhardt, Mary Ann McDonald, Angus Fraser, Cindy Marple, Bill Sailer, Pete Hudson, John McLaughlin, or David Young.
Thank you, everyone, for making such a wonderful portfolio!

fFor wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts, the Galapagos Islands are one of THE bucket list destinations. Made famous as one of the keystones to understanding evolution, the wildlife of the Galapagos is unbelievably tame and trusting as the residents here have been isolated for thousands or even millions of years from all land-based predators. This is certainly one of the islands' major appeals, as visitors can walk within pecking distance of Boobies and Frigatebirds, must walk around nonchalant Galapagos Sea Lions and Marine Iguanas, and swim with Penguins and Marine Cormorants and ... sharks!

oLeft: American Oystercater by Bob Zakrison
Unfortunately, some nature photographers dismiss the islands as just a place for birds and reptiles, and they are not 'into' those species. While it is true the main attractions are the variety of birds and unique reptiles, I must say that the entire experience, the Eden-like atmosphere of trust and co-existence, nearly eclipses the actual photography. On this trip, seasoned travelers repeatedly told me how they can't believe it took them this long to travel here, how incredible it was and how much more productive and exciting it was, far exceeding their expectations.

I think this portfolio will give you some idea of this, and for those on the trip, will refresh great memories. Honestly, for Mary and I, we thought this would be our last trip here (we did another in 2016, and several way back in the film days), but we no sooner finished the trip when we began our plans for our next Photo Tour here, in 2020. We hope you'll join us to this truly incredible wildlife location!

Here's the report:

Day 1. Quito

Everyone arrived safely and on time in Quito. Several of us, including John, David, Mary, and  me, were finishing up our Ecuador Hummingbird and bird photography tour, while Cindy, Bob, and Kate, had arrived a day earlier to visit some birding locations. We met everyone for dinner and made our plans for an early departure the following day for our flight to the Galapagos.

Day 2. Quito to Baltra and Santa Cruz

We left the hotel at 6, for our 9AM flight, arriving in the  late morning in Baltra, the small island off of Santa Cruz where, in the 1940’s, the US built an airfield during the war. After meeting our guide and taking a short bus ride to the port, we boarded our boat, the Nemo II, to begin our trip.

American Flamingo - Randy Gebhardt

fLeft: Mary Ann McDonald
Our first landing was at Bachas Beach, on Santa Cruz, where our guide suggested snorkeling after a short walk, but we opted instead to spend our first afternoon solely photographing. Good choice. Although our initial subjects, while exciting for first-timers, were novel, with Sally Lightfoot Crabs, a few Marine Iguanas, diving Blue-footed Boobies and Brown Pelicans, it was our walk to a small lagoon that was truly rewarding. We had six Greater Flamingos in the lagoon, and in the course of several hours we had the birds quite close. At one point, purely by chance, one of the birds took off, running across the water and passing beside me, while I was shooting slow-motion video!
We also had a great Black-winged Stilt feeding along the shoreline and later, along the beach surfline, a Yellow Warbler.

Day 3. South Plaza

We had a 6AM  breakfast, and a landing at 7AM. Sourh Plaza is notable for its Land Iguanas and nesting Swallow-tailed Gulls, the world’s only nocturnal feeding gull. Gulls were nesting, and two pairs had half-grown chicks while another, on top of the ridge, had a chick still young enough to have an egg-tooth. We spent a lot of time with that pair, as one adult regurgitated a small bit of food while another, the female we think, tried feeding the tiny chick a partially digested squid larger than the chick. After several attempts the bird re-swallowed the offering. Oddly, the adult appeared to also be incubating a seed bud of an Opuntia cactus which it must have mistaken for an egg.

Red-billed Tropicbirds -- top row - Angus Fraser;
second row - Bob Zakrison, John McLaughlin

Land Iguanas and Lava Lizards provided other subjects, but the most challenging were the flying Red-billed Tropicbirds that soared along the cliff face. Cindy got some great shots as birds flew in, presumably to reach cliff-side nests. Autofocus was challenging, as the sea caught the sensors more frequently than the birds.
At 9:30, with a hot, intense sun and parched, dehydrated bodies, we headed back to the ship to depart to our next destination, Santa Fe.

Swallow-tailed Gull chick - Cindy Marple

PM. Santa Fe

bLeft: Brown Pelican - Angus Fraser
Mary and I did a two-man kayak in a bay where we normally snorkel, but a shark attack a few weeks earlier closed the bay to swimming. We had multiple Green Sea Turtles and Spotted Eagle Rays, and with me paddling and Mary videoing, we may have got something. Nonetheless, it was physical and fun. The rest of the group did a zodiac cruise around isolated rocks and the island shoreline where they photographed Lava Herons, Brown Pelicans, Boobies, and Sea Lions.

Afterwards, we landed on a beach on Santa Fe where we spent the first hour photographing a large haul out of Galapagos Sealions. When we had exhausted that subject we continued on the trail, photographing the endemic Santa Fe Land Iguana, Lava Lizards, Cactus Finches, Galapagos Doves, and Mockingbirds. We returned to the ship at 6PM.

Day 4. Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock (left - Randy Gebhardt)
We circled this iconic landmark at sunrise, obtaining silhouettes and full-color views of this huge rock. Later, we snorkeled between the two islands in this channel.

At 6AM we were scheduled to do a deep water snorkel excursion, but instead I had us circumnavigate a spectacular rocky island formation, Kicker Rock,  where we shot shafts of golden light poking through the various sea caves and massive crevice that defines the rock. Afterwards we did our snorkeling, where we had a few Sea Turtles and, for those who dove deeper, some very colorful fish.

bLeft: Angus Fraser
At 9:30 we headed to Cerro Brujo Beach, which at first glance looked very unimpressive, but, as usual, turned out to be filled with surprises. Last time we were here we had multiple diving Blue-footed Boobies and Brown Pelicans, but this time that shooting was limited. Still, several folks, including Angus and Cindy and Randy, got some great dives. Randy also shot a Wimbrel, a fairly rare long-billed shorebird here.
A few Marine Iguanas basked along the black lava rocks, and the largest, a big one, had waves crashing over his back.

A Sally Lightfoot Crab leaps across open water. Moray eels may lurk among the rocks, and by keeping out of the water the crabs have a greater degree of safety.

Left: Crab pile-up - Angus Fraser
The highlight, however, was the migration of Sally Lightfoot Crabs, who were departing from the lava rocks before the high tide covered the rocks.
Crabs tried to avoid crossing open water – actually little more than wet sand – by jumping from rock to rock, with leaps that were well over their body length. In slow motion I could see their legs quivering, setting themselves up for a big leap, just as a cat might square off its hind legs before a big pounce.
I did video, and I'll be posting the edited version soon!

sLeft: Sealion - Randy Gebhardt
After lunch we snorkeled off Isla Lobos where John, Randy, Pete, Angus, and Mary and I played with extremely curious Sealions. On several occasions a Sealion would bite our cameras, all in play, and Randy and Mary had great fun spinning in the water, with Sealions circling by, often spinning as well. At the very end of the dive I found a great Sea Turtle, but stupidly I only had a 4GB card in my camera and ran out of card space just as the turtle settled and grazed in fairly shallow water. Angus dove down and got some great shots.
We ended the day on the small island, Isla Lobos, where there was so much activity and tranquility that this small island was the favorite for Kate of all that we have visited so far! Kate also remarked that she’s never seen a photo tour’s participants work so well. This was particularly evident when everyone crowded together to pho1tograph a Blue-footed Booby with a tiny chick, and another – a hatchling just breaking out of  the shell! Some of us were on our bellies, some squatting, and some standing, with tripod legs intertwined and sometimes poking between people’s legs.

Blue-footed Booby - Angus Fraser

That shoot was spectacular, but we also photographed the Blue-footed’s dance, as well as a mother feeding a chick, a pair mating, another fighting, and great portraits. Frigatebirds were circling, with their red throat pouch inflated, and I found one male close to the trail, with pouch inflated, but unfortunately not doing its warbling vocal display and wing shake. We finished at 5:50 and returned to our boat.
Blue-footed Booby - Angus Fraser; Randy Gebhardt

Day 5, Espanola or Hood Island

This, the oldest island in the archipelago at 8.5 million years old, is also one of our all-time favorites. The island is home to the only Waved Albatross colony in the  world, and two weeks ago our guide said that none had yet arrived, which was quite late. I wasn’t too worried … by this date there should be birds.
Waved Albatross shaking - Mary Ann McDonald

We left the boat at 6:30AM, and soon after coming to shore we photographed the most colorful variety of Marine Iguanas in the Galapagos. Although mostly black, many had patches of a dull brick red, and a few were practically a light blue. These, I think, were all males, for we saw several females digging nests in the cobblestone-like beach, and these were a dull tannish gray. At one nest two females squared off, first bobbing their heads and then crabbing sideways, rearing up on their legs to present a more intimidating profile. The pairs would then face each other and attempt to bite, but no contact was made.
lNazca Boobies, formerly classified as Masked Boobies, nested along the cliff tops, and we paused in our journey to the Albatrosses to film multiple adults, sometimes surrounded by Marine Iguanas.

Left: Galapagos Mockingbird and Marine Iguanas - Pete Hudson
These lizards were everywhere, and we also shot them lying beside Galapagos Sea Lions and Fur Seals (sealions, too). At the end of our hike we overlooked a large tidal pool where Iguanas swam, sometimes submerging to eat algae, while others swam across on their way to the sea. At the shoreline, like Rockhopper Penguins in the Falklands, lizards would be pummeled by waves and swept to sea, while others clung to the rocks and continued to feed. We filmed many as they swam through the surf, all eventually disappearing in the whitewater of crashing waves before, occasionally, reappearing on a rock.

Marine Iguanas feeding, and pounded by the waves - Pete Hudson

aLeft: Waved Albatross - Mary Ann McDonald
Our focus were the Waved Albatrosses, and luckily we found several pairs a considerable distance from the main colony as Bob, with destroyed hips, had a lot of trouble walking on the boulder-strewn path. He did extremely well with those birds, while the rest of us continued on to the end, where along with the Iguanas we photographed Albatrosses and Galapagos Hawks as they soared passed. Boobies did so as well, but the difference in flight speed between the two was remarkable – the bigger birds really moved.
By 10:30 the light was high and we’d spent4.5 hours on the island, now rather crowded with tourists who, incredibly, were still landing for a very long, hot walk.
After lunch we did another snorkel dive, and Kate, Dave,  John, Angus, Pete, Randy, and Mary and I participated. I had a massive hamstring cramp before the dive, catapulting me out of bed from a fitful nap, and during the swim both legs cramped. During the last ten minutes of the swim I moved about using only my arms, and my enthusiasm was dampened. We did well, though, with Sealions that played around us, and Angus found a well-camouflaged fish that several swimmers photographed. I could not, my legs weren’t functioning well-enough to kick the few feet required to reach the resting, nearly invisible fish.


sLeft: Galapagos Sealion - Mary Ann McDonald
In the afternoon we landed on Gardiner Island, a beautiful white sand beach with plenty of Sealions, one American Oystercatcher, and little else. By 4:30 we were finished, as nearly 100 people landed, or were in the process of doing so, and we headed on towards our next destination. Everyone welcomed the rest, and leaving the crowds.

Day 6. Santa Cruz

We headed to the island at 8AM for a thirty minute bus ride into the highlands, to one of several private tortoise reserves. We visited this reserve two years ago and found it productive, and we were not disappointed this year. Although there are ttwo ponds in the area I couldn’t remember where the larger of the two were, and so missed out on some of the waterbirds. However, at the smaller pond three different Giant Tortoises visited and, after nearly a 1.5 hour wait, Mary and Bill shot a Tortoise as it lumbered down the bank and entered the muddy pool.

Left: Tortoise - Pete Hudson
Pete, Angus, and I found a large Tortoise by a trail which eventually walked out and down the path, while Cindy, and Randy and Larry, both had Tortoises feeding on the fallen guava fruit. Yellow Warblers and various finches were common,
Unfortunately, as I packed up to leave I must have set the bottom half of my Hoodman bracket, so essential for video, on a table and left it behind. I didn’t discover the loss until the following day – which really ruined the morning for me!

tLeft: Mating Tortoises - Angus Fraser
The size difference between the two sexes is huge. Although there is a definite difference between the two sexes, in this case the male may have been attempting to mate with a female that is not yet sexually mature. Still, he tried!

In the afternoon we visited the Darwin Center where Tortoises from the various islands are bred, and the young reared until old enough to be safe from rats or other introduced species, Afterwards we spent our last few hours at a Happy Hour, 3 drinks for 3 for 10 dollars and the group must have dropped $60 on rounds. Getting to the boat was a bit of a challenge!

Day 7. Floreana

sLeft: Sealion - Randy Gebhardt
At 6AM we did a zodiac ride around Champion Island, the home to the fourth and rarest species of Galapagos Mockingbird. We spotted several, most high on the hills on top of cacti, but one closer to shre for a much better look. In the crisp dawn light we photographed Brown Noddy terns on the lava ledges, Brown Pelicans, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and Galapagos Shearwaters. At 7 we stopped, to have breakfast and still have plenty of time for an onshore landing. In one alcove, over 20 Sealions swam towards us, and we hoped we’d have luck with them later in the morning. Randy got a great shot of a Sealion sniffing a Sally Lightfoot Crab, that snapped at the Sealion before scrambling away.

Spotted Eagle Ray, top. Stingray, bottom. Photos by Angus Fraser
Angus waded out into the surf and used a polarizing filter to cut through the water to clearly reveal the rays. Later, I joined Angus and did some shots, but my polarizer was back on the boat! Duh!!!!

By 9 we were back on Floreana, on a beach that originally looked quite dull and unpromising. As usual, first impressions were deceiving. We headed inland to the large lagoon where perhaps as many as 20 American Flamingos were in several clumps. One group of three walked within yards of us, while the two larger flocks performed their ‘parade,’ walking in unison and flipping their heads left-and-right in synchrony. Occasionally several would flap, flashing their wings, as part of their display.
We continued to the beach where we found scores of sea turtle depressions but no turtles, but a surfline filled with Leopard Rays and Stingrays. Angus, Pete, and I waded into the surf to photograph the rays as they passed by, sometimes literally floating over our feet. Angus nearly stepped on one, and I watched as it darted away, just inches from where he planted his foot. A small black-tipped reef shark swam between my legs.
Afterwards we snorkeled, in deep water that was quite clear and filled with fish, and then in the alcove which was now, sadly, of Sealions and was quite murky and dull. We moved back into deeper water but the dive was rather disappointing.
Green Sea Turtle - Randy Gebhardt

In the  afternoon we visited Post Office Bay, where Angus fooled Mary by posting a postcard to mutual friends, Steve and Sue from Pennsylvania. When Mary found the postcard she was excited, until she read the postcard and saw Angus’s name. We all laughed!
We snorkeled next, and had the best Sea Turtle experience we’ve ever had. Mary did stills while I did video, and although the water was a bit murky, close-up the turtles stood out wonderfully.

Day 8. Mexican Hat, and Bartolome Island

pLeft: Galapagos Penguins braying - Randy Gebhardt
We had a 7AM breakfast before our 8AM panga ride along the coastline of Mexican Hat, a conical-shaped island that resembles its namesake. We were hoping to find Galapagos Penguins and we were lucky, finding two very cooperative birds perched on a shoreline rock that never moved as we repeatedly repositioned our panga for better shots.We saw several other Penguins swimming, but our morning also included nesting Noddy Terns (one with a chick), Swallow-tailed Gulls, Pelicans, and Sealions. We returned to the boat, where Frigatebirds cruised overhead and Storm Petrels danced upon the calm waters at the boat’s stern.
Next, we did a very long snorkel excursion, where we had a few more Penguins and plenty of fish. Nothing too exceptional.
In the afternoon we did what was scheduled to be a very long snorkel trip, but because of our subjects – very cooperative Galapagos Penguins and White-tipped Reef Sharks, we only completed half the journey, as our time was eaten up by the great photo opportunities we had.

Randy Gebhardt photographed the middle penguin and the shark. Randy was hoping to get a front-on view of a shark and, diving deep, he got his shot!

Randy, Pete, and Angus lucked into three Penguins that provided an incredible show, lasting perhaps twenty minutes or more, where the  birds fished below them and surfaced nearby. Randy got one  shot of Angus where, as he was about to shoot, a penguin surfaced within his arms, giving the appearance that Angus was about to hug the Penguin. Meanwhile, Angus often dove deep, and from close to the bottom had shots of Penguins chasing fish, at the bird’s level. All three got incredible shots.
Meanwhile, this lunkhead (me) had, in the second of only two opportunities, set my camera to super closeup, so the Penguin that swam beside me, just feet away, was completely out of focus. Fortunately I did have another chance earlier where a bird swirled below me, darting in various directions with incredible speed, snapping fish that didn’t have a chance.
We had several passes with White-tipped Reef Sharks, and although the ‘normal’ response might be to race out of the water, we were, of course, kicking like mad to keep up with the shark as it coursed along the rock walls, investigating caves and skimming the rocks just inches below the surface. It was an incredible afternoon.
We ended with a hike up to the top lookout at Bartolome Island, overlooking the iconic spire that characterizes this harbor. In addition to shots of the bay and the rocks, we took our group photo here, and a video where everyone in the group circled in a ‘Chicken Dance’ polka at the end of the day.

Day 9. Santa Cruz

After a 7AM breakfast we motored, via our panga, into a large mangrove lagoon, Stupidly, although I had intended to bring along my underwater camera I forgot to do so, and really regretted that mistake. Shortly after entering the bay we had a dozen or so Golden Eagle Rays, swimming along the surface and swimming quite close to our panga, sometimes going directly underneath it. Bob, with a Polarizer, got a great headshot, showing the open eye of the Rayas it swam past. Later, we had at least a dozen Green Sea Turtles swimming about, often quite close, and young, three-foot long sharks.

Green Sea Turtles
Left: Mary Ann McDonald; Right: Bob Zakrison

Towards the end of the panga ride we encountered a Lava Heron perched on red mangrove roots, where it fished successfully repeatedly, grabbing tiny minnows that passed beneath. Cindy got a great shot, at 1/500th sec., with a fish between the bird’s open bill in mid-swallow.
We headed to Baltra to restocked, then on to a cliff face along Santa Cruz where we snorkeled, hoping to find Hammerhead Sharks. Pete saw one, but we had several Black-tipped Reef Sharks, one  Turtle we couldn’t shoot, and several great fish.

Lava Heron: Cindy Marple

bLeft: Blue-footed Booby - Angus Fraser
At 4PM we landed on Seymore Island, home now to the only race of the otherwise extinct Baltra Island Land Iguana, and an excellent colony of Frigatebirds. Birds swooped about, some with their scarlet red throat pouch inflated, while many others displayed from their nests. A pair of Blue-footed Boobies performed, with another male arriving that caught the eye of the female, and caused the male to peck at her in annoyance. Finally, the intruding male flew off, and so did the female, leaving the male alone, on a rock, displaying in futility.

Land Iguana and Blue-footed Booby

Day 10. Santa Cruz

It was paperwork day for the Captain and Crew, and for several of our participants, too. We spent the morning at a new Tortoise Reserve, far better than the one we visited a few days ago.This one had a large lake, with White-cheeked Pintails floating among the Giant Tortoises soaking in the water. Several times ducks floated by, and one walked right beside a Tortoise’s head, who ducked in a flinch.
I explored the forest and while there I heard a periodic growl-like call, almost reminiscent of a chain saw starting. I guessed it was a Tortoise mating, but I wasn’t quite sure until Angus confirmed it, finding a huge male mounted on what barely passed as a subadult female. The difference in size was enormous, and eventually the female scooted from beneath the male and dashed (relatively speaking) away. At the pond another big male approached a smaller Tortoise – sex unknown – but the smaller Tortoise moved quickly into the water, scrambling to get away. The male didn’t follow.

Giant Tortoise - Angus Fraser

Bill got some shots of two males fighting, snapping at one another, and several of us did tortoise-in-landscape shots that were quite nice. At 11:15 we headed back to the town, boarding our panga to drop off gear before having lunch in town, and giving everyone time to answer emails and attend to business.
At 6PM we headed south, to round Isabella Island for a 11 hour cruise to reach our next destination. The seas, at times as we started, were rough, with the boat banging hard occasionally, but otherwise, the catamaran is remarkably stable and offers little issue for seasickness.

Day 11. Isabella Island

lava cactusLeft: Lava Cactus - Angus Fraser
This, the largest and longest of the Galapagos Islands, was formed from the eventual merging of lava flows from six different volcanoes. We motored through the night in relatively calm seas, arriving close to 7AM. After breakfast we explored a rope-lava field, with the intention of visiting distant salt ponds that ‘might’ hold Flamingos. The walking was difficult and I was worried about someone tripping, and with the razor-sharp lava edges, cuts would be inevitable. After a short visit, and walk to one tide pool where we saw huge Puffer fish and three large Sharks, momentarily stranded in a pool as the tide dropped, we headed back, for our major mission – Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins.
At 9:30 we took our panga to the coastline where scores of Marine Iguanas sunned themselves, and nearby – and in the same photo frame – three Galapagos Penguins came ashore to rest. Shooting this in every way possible we continued for Cormorants, and almost immediately had a pair, in great light, preening on some rocks. Later we had another – a very challenging exposure, backlighted and against black rocks, and towards the end of the ride a Cormorant on a nest.
Green Sea Turtle - Mary Ann McDonald

We snorkeled next, with perhaps the greatest abundance of Green Sea Turtles. As we’d photograph one another would swim by, and sometimes two or three would be visible in a frame at the same time. Pete saw a Flightless Cormorant zip by, coming towards Angus and me, but we missed it. Randy saw another, carrying seaweed for a nest, and followed the bird as it returned to shore and met its mate. Most of us saw and shot another Cormorant on the shoreline, approached from under the water. Sea Urchins – black, spikey pincushions, dotted rock crevices, and with our getting banged about in the surf as we photographed Sea Turtles its amazing no one was impaled by a barb. The dive ranks as one of the two or three best we’ve had.
Flightless Cormorant - Left, Right - Randy Gebhardt; Middle - Bob Zakrison

PM. We had intended to snorkel but a couple of Bryde’s Whales distracted us. Most sightings were from a distance but our last had a Whale swim towards the boat, blowing and diving in front of our bow. That extra time shortened what would have been snorkel time, but with clouds over the highlands we decided to pass on the snorkeling and get to the beach early, while we still had light. It was a good choice.
We headed to a beach where, after a short walk, we expected to find Land Iguanas. We just started walking when we found a huge Giant Tortoise walking down the path, and minutes later found three more wallowing in a mud hole. Two of the largest Tortoises pushed at each other in a show of dominance, biting occasionally, and eventually one of the three moved off.

A dome-shelled Giant Tortoise lumbered down a path, too fast for us to photograph. Angus then recreated the reptile's journey to provide everyone with some practice!

The trail did provide the colorful Isabella subspecies Land Iguana, a yellow-orange, but all were lying on the trail, rather inertly. As we passed one it decided to start eating leaves – but by then most everyone had continued down the trail.
Three different varieties of Galapagos Finches, Lava Lizards, and a Hermit Crab improbably perched at the end of a stick, and a pair of Mockingbirds building a nest completed the day.

Day 12, Isabella Island and Ferdanina Island

At 8AM we did a panga ride along the cliff face of Tagus Cove, Isabella Island. Graffiti, some dating back to the early 1800’s but most pre-1980s, marred the cliffs, but the wildlife didn’t mind. We opted out of doing a hike to an overlook of a salt-water lake, which we did last time and found a waste of time, and instead went for a very productive boat ride.
cLeft: Flightless Cormorant -
Randy Gebhardt

Sometimes as many as 6 Galapagos Penguins swam around us, diving for fish and often surfacing nearby. We had a Flightless Cormorant almost immediately on shore, giving those who missed yesterday’s cormorants a chance, but later we had several on the rock shores, including one fanning its wings to dry, casting interesting shadows while doing so. At another point we had six Cormorants, with two on nests, with one tiny ‘snake baby’ popping its head up periodically.
The Penguins and Cormorants were outstanding, and we were anxious to snorkel and try for water shots. At 10 we swam, and at first the seas were empty. By the end of the dive, however, we were surrounded by Penguins, and Cormorants. Once, when I tried swimming beneath one, a different Cormorant above me and unseen, dove down, and banged into my snorkel by doing so. The jar to my head was surprisingly strong. We did stills and videos of both Penguins and Cormorants swimming and catching fish, amazing all of us by their speed and dexterity.

Galapagos Penguin and White-tipped Reef Shark - Randy Gebhardt

The dive concluded when Mary spotted a large shark, perhaps 12 feet long (we had a large Stingray earlier) that, in her excitement, she yelled ‘Whale!’ Our captain literally pulled Randy so that he could see the shark, and he dove down deep to get a dark image of what we suspect was a Bull Shark. Our guide called us out of the water at that point.

PM. Ferdanina

At 1:30PM we did our second and most anticipated snorkel dive, where we hoped to swim with Marine Iguanas. We succeeded, in spades! Soon after entering the water we had Iguanas, underwater, scraping at algae, sometimes close enough to the surface that I could anchor myself with one hand on a rock – I was wearing a diving glove – and photograph or video with the other hand. Some Iguanas continued to feed, moving from rock to rock, while others swam off to soon surface. Green Sea Turtles seemed to be everywhere, and often quite tame, and when we weren’t photographing Iguanas we had Turtles.

Marine Iguana - Mary Ann McDonald

At one point Pete backed off from one Iguana to suddenly find another Marine Iguana clambering on his head! I had a Flightless Cormorant surface beside me (in the morning this happened often, with birds literally bumping in to us as they swam by), which I followed down, doing video, as it hunted for fish.
The water clarity was good, the water cold, and the activity incredible.


Marine Iguana feeding underwater - upper left - Mary Ann McDonald
bottom - Randy Gebhardt

Check out the 1 minute 30 sec. video I made on the Marine Iguanas!

At 3:30 we headed to land, to Punta Espanola, where Marine Iguanas haul out by the hundreds. We spent considerable time at several locations trying to capture an Iguana as it spit (snorted, actually) salt in a long jet. One very promising Iguana did so three times for me, once as I was just tightening up my ballhead, another after I stopped filming, and a third right before I started. Obviously, I missed all three!

Marine Iguana snorting out salt - Randy Gebhardt

We did succeed in getting a lot of great shots, and in video, catching the action. A Lava Lizard cooperated, too, by climbing onto the head of a couple Iguanas, and several Sally Lightfoot Crabs clambered over lizards, picking dead or about to be shed skin from their black hides. Several Green Sea Turtles basked on the shoreline at the edge of the tide, the  first time I’ve seen Sea Turtles on land.
At 5:30, with the light failing and a long cruise ahead of us, we left the island – one of the best afternoons I’ve ever had in the Galapagos.

Day 13. Santiago Island

We had an early breakfast and arrived on the beach of Puerto Egas by 6:30 for a two mile hike along the beach and lava outcrops. We paused often, photographing a variety of birds including Great Blue Herons; American (Galapagos) Oystercatchers – in the process of building a nest; Lava Herons – a juvenile begged from an adult; and Pied Plover, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, and Sanderlings. We found two pairs of Yellow-crowned Night Herons towards the end of the walk, and one sky-pointed, while flaring out its nuptial feathers in a spectacular display. hGalapagos Fur Seals slept in crevices in small grottos, with a few floating in an odd bend where their bodies formed a donut shape. Our last stop had Fur Sealions swirling about in a grotto pool with a small ledge, allowing us to shoot with wide-angle as they continuously circled about.
Left: Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Cindy Marple

Pete, Randy, and Angus snorkeled, and did well with Rays, Sharks, and five Sea Turtles. Our crossing from Ferdanina to here was rough, and Mary and I slept little, and I was just too beat to swim. Instead, we slept a bit of the morning after the walk.
Left: Sea Lion -- Randy Gebhardt

In the afternoon we did a very long snorkel dive. We had some of our best Whitetipped Reef Sharks, and a large Galapagos Shark swam by, slowly enough that I managed a very brief video clip. We had some great schools of fish, big schools in open water just a few feet below the surface, and a few sealions swam by, deep. Once again, both my legs cramped up, and the last 150 yards of the swim were challenging, as I alternated between side-stroke, kicking, and pushing along with my free hand.
Afterwards we cruised along the shoreline of Santiago for scenic, where we had one spectacular display of a Flying Fish sailing for 50 yards or so it seemed, a few jumping Rays, and plenty of seabirds.

Day 14. Rabida Island

With the expectation of nothing particularly exciting we had a 7AM breakfast and an 8AM landing on one of the few tourist sites with a red sand beach. A hike to an overlook reveals this well, but the hike is relatively wildlife-free and instead we elected to stay in the beach area.
Ghost Crab - Cindy Marple

Almost immediately we were ‘swarmed’ by Galapagos Mockingbirds, a family group with several juveniles soliciting food, and all, periodically, hopping close to inspect our shoes. Later, we found a nest, and Pete and Angus watched a Mockingbird harass a Galapagos Racer that crawled by. Other Mockingbirds chased after Lava Lizards, content I’m sure to simply pluck off a tail – an entire adult would be too big for the bird.  A Galapagos Dove preened and hopped about, and we wondered if it was annoyed by ants.
Along the beach we had more American Oystercatchers, a Wandering Tattler, and diving Pelicans, and three Sealions that swirled in the shallows. Ghost Crabs teased us, popping up from their burrows and darting back inside, and every one I tried to shoot from a ground level perspective stayed hidden. One, that I did film, had an incoming tide wave wash over the burrow, which was plugged with sand and remained so. I suspect the crabs remain sheltered until the tide recedes.
We did a snorkel dive next, with some great Sea Turtles, a few Whitetip Reef Sharks, and plenty of fish. The swim was a long one but the water was warm and no one was ready to quit as lunchtime arrived.

sPM. Santiago Island

Left: Cindy Marple
We snorkeled again, starting in what was supposed to be swimming with the current but proved the opposite, and the first five minutes was a real struggle. Afterwards we cleared the current and the water was warm and calm, and we had a small spotted Tiger Eel, huge schools of fish, and at the very end, a Moray Eel in a crevice.
At 4 we headed to the land, starting at a very slick lava rock where I slipped, swung my hand and banged into a tripod that whacked Mary in the lip, cutting it but fortunately not knocking out any teeth! The lava was intriguing, with various patterns and designs, and a wonderful testament to the geologic origin of the islands. Some vents were like heaps of melted candles, reminding me of a Dante’s Inferno painting of hell – tormented was the word that came to mind, while other ropey lava was in layers, showing another older layer below the first. Clouds blew in and dulled the necessary contrast, and at 5:30 we headed back to the boat.
Lava detail - Angus Fraser

Day 15. Genovesa

Formerly known as Tower, this is the most northeasterly of the islands, and one of the more isolated. It is also one of the three prime destinations. We landed at 6:30, climbing Prince Phillips steps – now complete with concrete steps and a hand railing, but still a challenging ascent for some. At the top we were greeted by nesting Nacza and Red-footed Boobies, with Frigatebirds claiming nests in surrounding shrubs. The birds were literally just feet away, and we spent our first tforty minutes right there.
Left: Tropicbird-Cindy Marple
We moved on, passing more tree-nesting Red-footed Boobies, with one perhaps abandoned nest the site for a neighbor’s constant stealing of branches. The bird would alight nearby, then flap into the nest, tug and pull at a stick until freed, then fly in a wide circle before landing on its own nest just a few feet away. Meanwhile, a Red-billed Tropicbird circled us continuously, and we wondered if it had a nest on the rocks nearby. Between everyone, we probably shot 2000 pictures!

oLeft: Short-eared Owl - John McLaughlin
Mary spotted a Short eared owl, perched on a rock on the edge of a crevice. It was a silhouette only, so I raced ahead to get the sun behind me, and had just set up when it flew off. A few people got some flight shots. We moved on, and our guide found another, this one perched in a crevice but by some gymnastics all of us managed some shots. David got the bird with its eyes wide open, but for the rest of us the eyes were closed to mere slits. We did a couple of rounds, taking turns at the only position, and at the last, the bird flexed its wings and walked! But still kept its eyes closed.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of storm petrel swirled about, and at the second owl we found its larder where, again quite literally, scores or perhaps hundreds of petrel wings littered a ledge where the bird dined. The petrels were circling as they investigated crevices in rocks for nesting, and only there, when they landed or slowed, was it possible to get a shot. We finished with more nesting Nacza Boobies, a few perched nicely against the skyline.

Blue-footed Booby - Pete Hudson
The white ring is guano, and squirting the waste in a circle may provide some measure of 'insecticide' as a barrier to insects that might be harmful to hatchlings.

Although it was nearing lunch we did another snorkel dive where we hoped to find Hammerhead Sharks. Pete saw as many as 6 soon after we entered the water, and all of us saw at least one, materializing out of the murk, a brown shadow that finally took form as a shark. They were somewhat shy, and our encounters were brief. A large Dive Galapagos Shark swam passed, probably a 7 or 8 footer, but it too disappeared quickly. Unfortunately the water clarity was poor, but in one way it added to the magic, especially when Golden Rays suddenly appeared, wraith-like forms that started as a lighter shade of yellow in the brown gloom, then transformed into slowly flapping Rays, all swimming together, circling back as we approached. They were magical.


PM – I stayed in to work on our slide show (Images from the slide show are illustrating this Trip Report!) while  Angus,Randy, Pete, David snorkeled a final time. At 4PM we did our final beach landing, and it was a great conclusion to the trip. We had more Frigatebird than ever before, in fact the– best of trip with adults scattered everywhere in low bushes. Soon after landing a pair of swallow-tail gull mated, and along the cliff ledge we found one,YC Night Heron. We had more Boobies, and Mary made a challenge   to catch glowing, back-lighted feet of Red-footed Boobies as they took off or landed. We stayed on the beach until sunset.
Tonight the crew dressed in whites and delivered their formal thank you and served drinks, and we followed with our tip envelope and expression of deep gratitude for a job well done. We followed that with a spectacular slide show of the Participants’ work, and concluded the evening with frantic packing for the departure tomorrow.
Red-footed Booby carrying a stick to the nest

Day 16. Baltra to Quayaquil and Quito

We left the boat around 9, and met a huge backed up line at the ticket counter for our flight to the mainland. All of the flights were late so the long line didn’t affect anyone, but while in line one group discovered their Guayaquil to Quito flight was cancelled. That caused some concern … if only we knew!
When we arrived in Guayaquil, after that city’s passengers departed, we were told everyone had to deplane. Our flight to Quito was cancelled. We received no information for nearly an hour, then were told to collect our luggage and rebook. After another long line we found our airline’s seats were sold out, but we were transferred to Tame Airlines, and made a 7:30 connection. By the time we arrived and got to bed it was 11:30. Pete and John and David had luggage at our hotel, and had to make a quick trip to the hotel to collect luggage, then turn back immediately to the airport. Fortunately our hotel shuttle provided free transportation for the three both ways. Bill and Cindy remained at the airport and we said our goodbyes there.

Day 17. Quito

Randy and Angus departed on a four day exploration of Ecuador, while Bob, Kate, and Larry relaxed at the hotel. Mary and I headed out for a recon to a new area for a half-day visit, and had great Giant Hummingbirds (world’s largest), and the Great gSapphirewing Hummingbird (the second largest), as well as three other species. We toured high country where we did quite well with Carunculated Caracara, a mountain species, as well as Andean Ibis, Andean Plover, Andean Coot, Condors, and several songbirds. We returned back at 2, took a nap, and finished with Mary frantically packing gear from five weeks in Ecuador, including all of the flash equipment needed for the hummingbirds we did earlier.
I finished the day using Camera Remote and photographing a Sparkling Violetear Hummingbird’s nest with two half-grown chicks. With my cellphone I could  control the exposure and record video whenever the bird returned to feed. It was a great way to end.
That evening, prior  to boarding our flight, we gorged on a Johnny Rocket hamburger and shake, and as I write this, Mary and I are in danger of bursting as we wait for our flight home, and the final chapter of our great time in Ecuador.

We will be offering the Galapagos Wildlife Photo Tour in 2020.
The exact dates and prices are not yet set, but the Galapagos tour
will be in late April-early May, or the first few weeks in May.

If you want to be on this trip, CONTACT our office ASAP. We will put you on our 'first contact' list. I anticipate this trip will fill quickly, so get on this list!

See the brochure.

Read about our 2016 trip too - the Trip Report!


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