Day Six: Encounters on Espanola

| January 18, 2011 | 2 Comments
This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Exploring the Galapagos

December 24: Espanola. Wet landing at Gardner Bay, home to a Coral white-sand beach with sea lions and mockingbirds. A good place for swimming and snorkeling, a beautiful beach is complemented by inviting turquoise waters. Home to Waved Albatross. Afternoon to Punta Suarez. On this island, lava rocks dot the trails, along with nests of blue-footed boobies and Nazca-masked boobies. Here we’ll visit colonies of marine iguanas (endemic to the Island), waved albatrosses and a geologic blow hole carved out of the lava rock. Sea lions, Galapagos doves and three species of Darwin’s finches may be spotted here. The nearby small island of Champion offers great snorkeling with sea lions. Evening to Floreana.

Espanola is the oldest of the Galapagos Islands. Once home to thousands of tortoises, the island’s population had been depleted to three males and 12 females by 1970. When the captive breeding program began, these tortoises had been so widely dispersed that no mating in the wild was occurring. They were then brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station at Santa Cruz in 1971 for captive breeding. In the ensuing 38 years, these 15 tortoises gave rise to over 1,200 offspring, which were then released back onto Espanola, where they have since resumed reproducing naturally.

snorkelling from panga Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
Snorkeling from a panga.

In the morning, we depart for Gardner Bay. As we arrive we’re met by a bevy of female sea lions and their consorts. We walk the length of the bay and identify the Galapagos Mockingbird and the Galapagos Hawk. Donning our wetsuits, we snorkel the bay, heading out to a rock outcrop in the middle of the bay. Here we spot ‘spotted eagle rays’ and the odd sea lion or two below the surface.

galapagos hawk Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
Galapagos Hawk at Gardner Bay.

Later, we take our pangas further out to the head of the bay and snorkel a rock head that sports a cave- it’s here that we happen upon an injured sea lion in the water, its tail lacerated by the bite of a shark. Eagle rays and sea urchins round out the morning and we return to the boat for lunch. We cruise in toward a couple of small islets (eroded spatter cones) in the middle of the bay and drop anchor. As we eat and enjoy a few cold beverages, we are able to take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful bay. On shore, we hear the bull sea lions barking to defend their territory from other males.

espanola Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
Espanola Island.

The cruise to Punta Suarez from Gardner Bay only takes about half an hour. We are delightfully surprised by the turquoise water and the white coralline sand beach that reaches around the point a kilometer away. We see a herd of sea lions all lined up basking in the sun along the beach—our welcome party!

red tailed tropicbird Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
Red-tailed Tropicbird.

At Punta Suarez, we are met by the obligatory sea lions and the most unique of the marine iguanas we’ve seen yet—red with turquoise spines—and the iguanas are surfing into the rocks, clambering from the surf. On this island, however, it’s the shorebirds that are the highlight. No sooner than we had landed, we were met with a Waved Albatross. Waved Albatrosses are found only on Espanola—where they congregate in two major colonies. Like other birds that primarily glide, the Waved Albatross relies on strong headwinds to be able to take off—and Espanola has them in abundance.

natural blowhole espanola Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
A natural blowhole shooting water 20m into the air!

Also known as the Galapagos Albatross, the Waved Albatross is the largest of the Galapagos birds with a massive wingspan of 7–8 ft and weighing 7–11 lbs. They can grow to measure 86 34 inches in length. On the ground they walk with a waddle and appear to be very clumsy, but in the air they are extremely graceful. Waved Albatross are extremely loyal birds to each other whereby when a male finds a female mating partner, they will stay together and raise their chicks until one of them dies.

juvenile waved albatross Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
Juvenile Waved Albatross at Punta Suarez.

Although late, these birds have recently enjoyed an excellent breeding season and were still present on Espanola in December to tend to their young. The young dot the nesting grounds in various states of growth, having shed their juvenile down—their heads still covered in fuzzy down—looking rather comical.

waved albatross galapagos islands Day Six: Encounters on Espanola
Waved Albatross in flight at Punta Suarez.

The adults swoop overhead, playing in the thermals off of Espanola’s cliffs. Just beyond the Albatross colony is a blow hole through which the waves force water to spout about 20m into the air, covering a portion of the island in salty mist. Boobies and Red-tailed Tropicbirds round out the offerings and mockingbirds follow us along the rather rocky trails. We return to the dock and await the panga for our return to the Millennium.

In the afternoon, we snorkel the small crater island of Champion. Off the coast of Floreana, Champion is one of the top snorkeling spots in the Galapagos islands—along with nearby Devil’s Crown. Although landings are not permitted on the island, it provides a fun area for snorkeling. Sea lions rule the area and appear as we entered the water, accompanying us the whole time. Among the coral, we encountered large numbers of sea turtles resting, Pacific sea horses, long nose hawkfish and coral hawkfish. We return to the Millenium tired but nontheless satisfied with all we had seen through the course of the day.

Disclosure: At Two Go Round-The-World, we value the conversation that exists between us and our readers—and the trust on which that relationship is based. Here we’re committed to creating an environment informed by that trust. In the interests of full disclosure, we travelled with Gap Adventures, with whom Daniel works. That being said, his opinions should not be construed as representing those of his employer. For more information on disclosures and relationships, please check our ‘About Us‘ page.

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

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  1. Rebecca says:

    Great picture of the hawk!

  2. Christopher says:

    This is soo cool! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for your photos!

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