Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution Oct 16—25, 2009

Posted by Paul Greenfield

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Paul Greenfield

Paul Greenfield grew up near New York City and became interested in birds as a child. He received his B.F.A. from Temple University where he was an art major at the Tyler S...

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Our October 2009 Galapagos Cruise turned out to be as complete a wildlife experience as one could ask for. From the moment we stepped off the plane on San Cristóbal Island we began to puzzle over our first confusing finches and enjoy a few lava lizards. As we arrived at the port of Baquerizo Moreno, Galapagos sea lions began to show themselves, napping on the dock, on dingies, and on nearby yachts, and White-vented Storm-Petrels skirted around our ship, the M/V Evolution, as we boarded!

We began our exploration of these "Islas Encantadas" with a late afternoon bus ride to the highlands, with precious little time to find the only bird species endemic to this island. We came upon an onslaught of finches—Medium and Small ground-finches, recorded our first Small Tree-Finches, and even enjoyed decent views of the enigmatic Woodpecker Finch, along with the ever-present Galapagos version of the Mangrove/Yellow Warbler. Suddenly, a brief melodious song drew our attention to the presence of our prize, the San Cristóbal Mockingbird, and in keeping with the "legend" of this magical wonderland, the bird proceeded to come towards us…closer…and closer…and closer, followed by a barrage of camera clicks—the first of millions to come!

The extent and variety of Galapagos experiences that followed are just too many and too personalized to enumerate or delve into. Each of our varied expectations were met in so many different ways—whether through snorkeling with playful sea lions, curious penguins, strange Flightless Cormorants, green sea turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, huge manta rays, or spectacular tropical fish; savoring eye-to-eye encounters with Blue-footed, Nazca, or Red-footed boobies, a crazy-looking baby Waved Albatross, primeval marine and land iguanas, or lazy Galapagos fur sea lions; witnessing mating displays of ballooning frigatebirds or exquisite and delicate Swallow-tailed Gulls; doting over a variety of adorable and often goofy-looking seabird chicks; analyzing beak after beak of those terribly confusing Darwin's finches; being followed around by mischievous mockingbirds; contemplating the Albatross "B52" launch pad; walking over recent lava flows; mooring our ship where pirates and buccaneers hung out once upon a time; or simply relaxing on deck after a day full of adventure. Just relishing the good fortune of having this opportunity to appreciate what Charles Darwin must have experienced and puzzled over as he was slowly enlightened to formulate his theory on the "Origin of the Species" is a sentiment that seemed to fill the air every day.

This cruise brought with it unique opportunities to watch and compare pelagic sea birds—often at surprisingly close quarters, admire whales and sharks, interact with dolphins and sea lions, learn about a variety of natural processes (biological and geological), and witness the uncanny behavior of so many species that collectively are unmoved by our presence as they live all aspects of their daily lives as naturally as they would if we were not there. Each location we visited offered a new and different experience—often the same plant species, but with different adaptations, differently colored sandy beaches, distinctly formed lava flows, and, of course, the similar looking finches with differently adapted bill shapes and sizes, different sets of nesting seabirds, slightly different-looking marine iguanas and lava lizards, the mockingbirds—variations on a theme, and the Galapagos Dove…who could its ancestors be, and how did it evolve that way? Be careful, don't step on it!

Our days were filled with wonder, laughter, admiration, surprise, and adventure. This is the Galapagos—simply put, you've got to see it to believe it!

I especially enjoyed sharing these experiences with all of you, and having the distinct privilege to work with Kevin Zimmer at this uniquely special destination.