THE GALAPAGOS

Thursday 23rd May - Tuesday 4th June 2013

Andy Swash

Galapagos Short-eared Owl (Andy Swash)

Galapagos Short-eared Owl (Andy Swash)

Any visit to Galápagos, the aptly named ‘Enchanted Islands’ is guaranteed to be a wonderful wildlife experience, particularly if it involves a cruise around the archipelago in a specially chartered luxury motor yacht. And so it proved with the highly successful and enjoyable Birdquest / Wild Images tour this year, during which we had fantastic views of all 33 of the endemic and near-endemic Galápagos birds (based on the latest taxonomic changes) that it is possible to see. But it was the amazing creatures of Galápagos and their total lack of fear of humans that made the tour such a magical experience, allowing us intimate encounters with some of the most fascinating birds, mammals, reptiles and, for those who wished to snorkel, fish on our beautiful planet. And the photographic opportunities were endless...

Our itinerary involved a 10-night cruise aboard the well-appointed and extremely comfortable and stable Tip Top IV and took us to ten of the islands, providing a unique opportunity to see all of the ‘available’ endemic birds. Due to restrictions imposed by the Galápagos National Park Service, it is no longer possible to land at either of the two sites where the Critically Endangered and declining Mangrove Finch is still known to occur, so we had to content ourselves with trying to find all the other species. We also saw virtually all of the endemic mammals and reptiles, as well as a wide range of the islands’ more notable invertebrates and plant life. Although our bird list of 65 species was not particularly exceptional (mid-summer is not the best time of year for a large bird list, since most of the North American shorebirds only occur in Galápagos during the northern winter), the views we managed to obtain of virtually all the other species were incredible, including 11 of the 12 species that are currently categorized as globally threatened.

There were very many highlights during the tour, but special mention should be made of the wonderful morning spent admiring Waved Albatrosses on Española, where we even had to step aside for birds making their way to their nests. We also saw a very close Galápagos Crake (or Rail) in the highlands of Isabela, and had excellent views of Floreana (Charles) Mockingbirds with recently fledged young at close quarters during a panga (dinghy) ride along the coast of the tiny island of Champion. Medium Tree Finches (also now categorized as Critically Endangered) were seen at point-blank range in the highlands of Floreana and we enjoyed the fantastic sight of Flightless Cormorants displaying off the north-west coast of Isabela. The evening gathering of Galápagos Petrels off Santiago (another of the Critically Endangered breeding endemics) was also a memorable experience, as were the encounters we had while walking amongst breeding colonies of Blue-footed, Nazca and Red-footed Boobies and displaying Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds. But for many of the participants the ‘bird sighting of the tour’ was the prolonged and very close views we were privileged to obtain of a Woodpecker Finch repeatedly breaking off twigs and using them to search for grubs – truly amazing!

Galapagos Penguin (Andy Swash)

Galapagos Penguin (Andy Swash)

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