Galapagos Cruise Nov 03—14, 2005
Posted by Paul Greenfield
Ecuador is truly the country of diversity and contrasts! Although this trip was billed as a Galapagos Cruise, our two-and-a-half-days of mainland birding not only gave us the opportunity to see some of this country’s distinct ecosystems, it also set the stage and gave us a wonderful basis for comparison between one of the world’s most renowned, intriguing, and stark natural laboratories of evolution, and one of the earth’s richest mega-diversity hot spots.
Our adventure began on a broad plateau of páramo grassland in the Antisana Ecological Reserve at around 12,500 feet of altitude. With the thermal air currents rising as the morning began to heat up (a little), we watched soaring Variable Hawks, Carunculated Caracaras, and?lo and behold?a pair of Andean Condors floating gracefully along. This was just the beginning of an exciting day with Black-faced Ibis, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, Silvery Grebe, wonderful close-ups of Ecuadorian Hillstar, a spectacular pair of Aplomado Falcons, and a hunting Cinereous Harrier, along with a whole host of other high Andean specialties. The authentic traditional Ecuadorian luncheon of Locro de Papas and Tamales that we enjoyed at Hacienda Antisana completed this wonderful first day.
On day two, we headed westward into the cloud forests of the outer slopes of Volcán Pichincha?and boy was it cloudy; actually, the dense fog made part of the day’s birding quite challenging! We still managed to find some of the very special Chocó-Andean endemics so prized in this area. White-tailed Hillstar, Toucan Barbet, Turquoise Jay, and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager were among the highlights and, in a final attempt while time was running out, we came upon a superb pair of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans perched right in front of us at about eye level. What a thrill! We ended the afternoon with a shower of no less than 18 species of hummingbirds in the Tandayapa Valley.
Leaving many memorable sights and sounds behind us, we headed out to the Galapagos Islands on day three, and this truly unique week-long circuit began with a bang right from the “get-go.” Upon clearing the island’s Customs and Immigration, we headed straight to the highlands for a short but productive birding foray to find the San Cristóbal (Chatham) Mockingbird, and for our initial orientation into the world of Darwin’s finches. By the time we finally boarded our yacht about an hour later, we had seen six of these very confusing and challenging little devils, including several Woodpecker Finches. Some of the “Enchanted Island’s” magic became evident immediately, as our first mockingbirds came right towards us—instead of the typical goose-chase birders are often all too familiar with.
The days that followed brought so many different experiences?terrestrial, aerial, aquatic, and submarine?as we moved from site to site on island to island, and I am sure that each and every member of our party holds their very own special moments that they will cherish forever. This unique and intriguing archipelago which, more often than not, appears barren and inhospitable, while giving constant testimony to its violent volcanic origins and its mysterious and still unresolved biological past, offered us an endless supply of stimuli for our collective senses. There were so many close encounters with wildlife (“tamelife” might be a better term!) of all kinds, that we all began to become pretty blasé as we stepped over or around a pile of basking marine iguanas, sleeping sea lions, or a feeding Galapagos tortoise. Sitting alongside a group of Waved Albatross, the Mangrove Warbler that came to lunch, and coming upon that “Charles” Mockingbird from our Zodiac, stand out in my mind. Sharing all of this, not only with each other, but with Charles Darwin himself and all of those who follow in his footsteps in the pursuit of trying to figure out just exactly how our natural world came to be, was truly fascinating.