Today we continue to explore Isabela Island, visiting Elizabeth Bay and Urbina Bay. At Elizabeth Bay, we take a dinghy ride along the shore in search of sea turtles, Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants.
At Urbina Bay, we explore this volcanic, black sand beach in search of more Galapagos wildlife. Depending on the season, we may even spot some Galapagos tortoises!
This morning, we have another panga ride! “Yeah!” says lazy, and getting lazier, me! Though it is hard to take pictures form the panga, today’s ride took us into quiet coves among the mangroves. We were on the hunt for sea turtles and birds and we were richly rewarded. Our first sightings were a pair of Galapagos penguins. These cute little birds are the only penguins north of Antarctica, and you have to wonder at the evolution that caused them to arrive and thrive here. Naturally, we saw pelicans – though I will always remain surprised to see them perching in trees!
We saw cormorants, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and great blue herons, too.
The most special and unforgettable sight for me was a chevron of golden rays! It was a group of immature rays, as they were quite small, but they lined up in a stealth bomber array and gliding colorfully over the bottom of the mangrove-ringed cove. Apparently, adult golden rays do the exact same thing – what a sight that must be!
We saw lots of sea turtles, too. And everything was “up close and personal.” There was lots of time for the guide to explain about the different animals we saw and to answer questions. It was a great format!
Here is another slideshow of all the birds and animals we saw. Pay particular attention to the golden rays – they were a highlight of this trip for me.
We saw mangroves – including a several story high black mangrove, a magnificent tree. Truly, the plants are as interesting as the animals (at least to me).
In the afternoon, we visited Urbina Bay (still Isabela island), an area created by an uplifting of the sea floor in 1954. (Think back to my explanation of the ongoing volcanic activity in this part of the world). You can see the fossils of sea creatures in the lava.
It was really hot. Our walk took us inland away from the beach to see giant tortoises and the land iguanas (our first and only opportunity to see them in the wild).
We got to see both, but by now I was really having trouble focusing my camera, and it was virtually impossible for me to get shots of the animals when there was anything between me and them (like branches of bushes – of which there were myriad – these animals don’t just hang out in the hot sun any more than we do!)
Actually, the hot walk was torture and it was so refreshing to get back to the beach, proof being the number of our fellow passengers who immediately donned their snorkel gear and dove into the water. I chose to walk the beach, looking for animals, birds and plants to add to my catalog.
A short bit later, we were all surprised by the temerity of a pelican to fish right where everyone was swimming! We were watching it fly overhead, when suddenly it folded its wings and dive bombed right into the midst of the swimmers! We were horrified that it would land right on someone’s head! And not just once, either. It kept at it, sometimes evidencing its success by visibly gobbling up its catch. Linda, one of our friends who was in the near circle where it was fishing, said she had noticed all the tiny fish swimming around her even before “lightning struck.”
(Tap on these pictures to see them larger.)
As I have mentioned before in this journal, the paradise one finds in Galapagos has its dark side, too. Survival of the fittest is not a joke here. Humans do not interfere to change the course of nature. And so, sometimes we would see incredibly sad sights like this one. A sea turtle, come on shore to lay her eggs, and she doesn’t make it back to sea. Who knows why? Was she old, or inexperienced? Sick? Diseased? Trapped by a receding tide and left to bake in the hot sun?
Sad too is that the “adorable baby sea turtles” are lucky to make it to the water, much less actually grow up. Perhaps 1-5 in a hundred will survive. Not only can they get picked off the beach by predators as they flop their tiny bodies towards the waves, but crabs and birds will attack the nests and eat the “turtlettes” before they even hatch.
Perhaps in all this is a lesson we humans need to learn. We cannot forget that Nature can be and is cruel, in our eyes, but always for a reason – the survival of those best equipped to reproduce and continue the species. We humans tend to romanticize Nature, and particularly to anthropomorphize animals. I think we need to resist that temptation. We cannot, nor should we try, to save every unfortunate animal we see, especially wild animals.
And, so another day in Galapagos ends. We are tired and satisfied; we have learned and seen, and we are thankful for the new friends and the memories we are making on this trip. Keep reading…