Scouting the Skies and Combing the Beaches in the Galapagos Islands

Candice Gaukel Andrews November 20, 2014 13
Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock (or “León Dormido”), off the west coast of San Cristóbal Island, is one of the most spectacular landmarks of the Galapagos Islands. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Ever since the Galapagos Islands first appeared in an atlas in 1570, people have been curious about the archipelago and the unique animals and flora that abound there. Pirates, scientists, “royalty,” whalers, and even novelists have played in a role in the colorful human history that now is now forever a part of the “enchanted isles.”

Situated in the Pacific Ocean about six hundred miles west of the coast of Ecuador, the thirteen major islands and more than a hundred smaller islets that make up the Galapagos were among the original twelve locations to be listed as World Heritage sites in 1978 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). For many, a trip to the Galapagos Islands is a lifetime favorite.

In January 2012, I traveled to the Galapagos on a story assignment. While I had heard tales about encountering wildlife that has no fear of humans and that allows close encounters such as you can’t get anywhere else — which turned out to be true — I wasn’t prepared for the paints of the Pacific skies or the flowing-with-life, clacking, calling, and crashing shorelines.

Below are some of my photos from that trip. I hope they inspire Galapagos wanderings of your own, or travels to the places that pique your own curiosity.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

Male blue-footed boobies enjoy showing off their feet during mating rituals, often going into a high-stepping dance. Females seem to think that the bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Male blue-footed boobies enjoy showing off their feet during mating rituals, often going into a high-stepping dance. Females seem to think that the bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The westernmost island in the Galápagos is Fernandina. The third largest and youngest of the islands, it is less than one million years old and is the most volcanically active. It sits at the center of the hot spot that created the archipelago. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The westernmost island in the Galapagos is Fernandina. The third largest and youngest of the islands, it is less than one million years old and is the most volcanically active. It sits at the center of the hot spot that created the archipelago. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

seal

Numbering about 50,000, Galapagos sea lions are one of the most conspicuous and numerous marine mammals on the islands. Still, they are very heavily protected. One of their biggest threats is El Niño, which can kill large numbers of them or cause females not to mate or to abandon their offspring. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Sally Lightfoot crab

Agile and quick, Sally Lightfoot Crabs live among the rocks on turbulent, windy shores, just above the limit of the sea spray. They are one of the few saltwater crab species that inhabits the Galapagos Islands. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Brown pelican

Brown pelicans are found throughout the Galapagos Islands. Graceful fliers, their plunge-diving into the ocean is somewhat shallow and sloppy. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Rainbow over Isabella

Isabela Island was formed by the joining of six shield volcanoes: Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf. All of the volcanoes except Ecuador are still active. The island is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands combined, with a separate species on each volcano. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Giant tortoise

The longest-lived of all vertebrates, giant tortoises average more than 100 years. The oldest on record lived to be 152. It’s estimated that pirates, merchants, and whalers during the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries killed more than 100,000 of them for food. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

land iguana

Land iguanas live in the drier areas of the islands. In the mornings, you can find them sprawled beneath the hot, equatorial sun. To escape midday’s heat, they seek the shade of cacti, rocks, trees, or other vegetation. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

lava lizard

Like all reptiles, lava lizards rely on the sun for their internal heat. Their morning begins with basking on a warm rock for about half an hour. Then, they begin to actively hunt, but they retreat to a shady spot during the heat of day. Their markings are generally adapted to blend in with the substrate upon which they live. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Galapagos light

Fernandina is the most pristine of the Galapagos Islands. This island and Genovesa are the only larger islands that have never had introduced mammals. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Galapagos hawk

High on the food chain, the Galapagos hawk is a versatile predator, feeding on invertebrates, small lizards, snakes, rodents, hatchling tortoises, sea turtles, and marine iguanas. It is one of the islands’ most important endemic scavengers. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Firgatebird

The breeding behavior of the frigatebird is unusual — and dramatic. During courtship, the males gather in groups of various sizes; inflate their red, gular pouches; clatter their bills; vibrate their outstretched wings; and call to attract females flying overhead. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, the swallow-tailed gull is the only nocturnal gull in the world. Its night-adapted eyes allow it to feed miles from shore on fish and squid it captures from the surface of the ocean. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, the swallow-tailed gull is the only nocturnal gull in the world. Its night-adapted eyes allow it to feed miles from shore on fish and squid it captures from the surface of the ocean. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

In the Galápagos Islands, species of endemic prickly pear cactus (Opuntia galapageia) are one of the principal sources of food for animals occupying the arid lowlands. Land iguanas and tortoises eat the pads; doves, iguanas, and mockingbirds eat the fruit; and finches eat the flowers, fruits and seeds, and obtain water from the pads. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

In the Galapagos Islands, species of endemic prickly pear cactus (Opuntia galapageia) are one of the principal sources of food for animals occupying the arid lowlands. Land iguanas and tortoises eat the pads; doves, iguanas, and mockingbirds eat the fruit; and finches eat the flowers, fruits and seeds, and obtain water from the pads. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Yellow-crowned night heron

When it matures, the yellow-crowned night heron turns blue-gray and sports a yellow crown. In the Galapagos, the night heron isn’t just a night-feeding bird as elsewhere, but active both night and day. It eats crabs and insects found on the rocky shores and in the mangroves. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Galapagos seal

Inquisitive and playful in the water, Galapagos sea lions regularly engage in bodysurfing, often in large waves. They sometimes like to interact with snorkeling travelers. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Red-footed booby

Of the three main types of boobies in the Galapagos Islands, the red-footed are the most numerous. The smallest of the boobies found here, it is the only one to construct twig nests in trees and shrubs. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Nazca booby

The Nazca booby is the largest in the Galapagos Islands, with a wingspan of more than five feet. These birds are one of the few in the world to practice siblicide, the killing of a sibling regardless of the food supply. After they are hatched, the chicks compete for food, and the strongest (usually the oldest) shoves the youngest out of the nest. While still in eyesight of the mother, unfed, and being scorched by the equatorial sun, the weakest chick dies. If the older one dies, the younger one will then survive. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Bartolome Island

I had heard about the islands’ approachable wildlife, but I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the paints of their Pacific skies. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

San Cristobal

The Galapagos Islands have evolved species of animals and plants that are found nowhere else on Earth. While the archipelago faces serious environmental threats, ecotourism remains the only practical way of supporting the Galapagos National Park. The model of low-impact tourism developed here has served the islands well. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

 

13 Comments »

  1. Thomas Sawyer March 2, 2015 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I want your job!

  2. Lorraine Dumas November 28, 2014 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Thanks again Candice for a memorable ‘trip’.

  3. Jim Litts November 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Nice piece. Beautiful pictures of the sea, sky, land and wildlife!!

  4. Ahmad Mahdavi November 23, 2014 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Dear Candice:
    Being an entomologist and going to the depth of evolution during my PhD studies and also later I always loved to visit the Galapagos.

  5. Shinann Earnshaw November 23, 2014 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    I was in the Galapagos for the second time last January for an Earthwatch project, studying the Darwin finches. Yes, the islands are uniquely beautiful and interesting. But certain islands, like Santa Cruz, where we were located for the study, is suffering from overpopulation–of both Ecuadoreans and foreign tourists, and the overdevelopment that comes with intensive tourism. I sincerely hope that both those who visit and the Ecuador government continue their efforts to protect these islands and their unique wildlife.

  6. Ravindra November 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Exciting coverage and lovely photographs took me to almost live journey of the little known island

  7. Gemechu Fanta November 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    magnificent views, thanks

  8. David November 21, 2014 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Amazing photos! What type of camera and lenses were you using?

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews November 24, 2014 at 3:21 pm - Reply

      David,

      I was using a Canon 50D camera and a Canon 18-135 mm lens. Thanks for your comment and question. — C.G.A.

  9. Alison Braun November 21, 2014 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Beautiful photography!

  10. Joan November 20, 2014 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Candy, There’s a fascinating episode of the public radio show Radiolab that you HAVE to listen to. It’s also available as a podcast. Look here:
    http://www.radiolab.org/story/galapagos/

  11. Bob Gettman November 20, 2014 at 11:36 am - Reply

    So very nice !! Thank you, Candice.

  12. Travis November 20, 2014 at 9:35 am - Reply

    These are so good…

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