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GALAPAGOS

Thursday 22nd May - Tuesday 3rd June 2014

Andy Swash

Swallow-tailed Gull (Andy Swash)

Swallow-tailed Gull (Andy Swash)

Any visit to Galápagos, the aptly named ‘enchanted islands’, is guaranteed to be a wonderful wildlife experience, particularly if it involves a cruise around the archipelago in a specially chartered luxury motor yacht. And so it proved with the highly successful and enjoyable Birdquest / Wild Images tour this year, during which all 33 of the available Galápagos endemic and near-endemic birds (based on the latest taxonomic changes) were seen well. But it was the amazing creatures of Galápagos and their total lack of fear of humans that made the tour such a magical experience, allowing us intimate encounters with some of the most fascinating birds, mammals, reptiles and, for those who wished, fish, on our beautiful planet. And the photographic opportunities were endless...

Our itinerary involved a 10-night cruise aboard the well-appointed and extremely comfortable and stable Tip Top IV and took us to ten of the islands, providing a unique opportunity to see all of the ‘available’ endemic birds. Due to restrictions imposed by the Galápagos National Park Service, it is no longer possible to land at the two sites where the Critically Endangered and declining Mangrove Finch is still known to occur, so we had to content ourselves with trying to find all the other species. We also saw virtually all of the endemic mammals and reptiles, as well as an excellent range of the islands’ more notable invertebrates and plant life. Our total bird list was 69 species – a good tally for mid-summer, which is not the best time of year for most of the North American shorebirds that occur in Galápagos during the northern winter. The views we managed to obtain of virtually all the species, including eleven of the twelve species that are currently categorized as globally threatened, were exceptional. We also found a few rare migrants and vagrant species, adding to the excitement.

There were very many highlights during the tour, but special mention should be made of the wonderful morning spent admiring Waved Albatrosses on Española, where we even had to step carefully to avoid birds nesting on the paths; prolonged views of a preening Galápagos Crake in the highlands of Isabela; excellent views of Charles (Floreana) Mockingbirds during a panga (dinghy) ride along the coast of the tiny island of Champion (landing is not permitted on this island, which is one of only two remaining strongholds for this Critically Endangered species); Medium Tree-finches (also now categorized as Critically Endangered) at point-blank range in the highlands of Floreana; close views of Flightless Cormorants and Galápagos Penguins on Isabela; the evening gathering of Galápagos Petrels off Santiago (another of the Critically Endangered breeding endemics); walking amongst breeding colonies of Blue-footed, Nazca and Red-footed Boobies and displaying Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds; and a pair of breeding Galápagos Barn Owls with two youngsters on Santa Cruz. But for some of the participants the ‘bird sighting of the tour’ was prolonged and very close views of about ten pairs of Galápagos Martins at a breeding site on Isabela, allowing some excellent images to be taken of this very rarely photographed species.

The non-avian highlights included watching those lumbering giants, Galápagos Giant Tortoises, on both Isabela and on Santa Cruz; hordes of basking Marine Iguanas, as well as swimming individuals on many of the islands; Land Iguanas on North Seymour and on Isabela; four species of endemic lava lizards; two endemic snakes; and, for those who opted to go snorkeling, a bewildering array of marine life, including innumerable colourful fishes and playful Galápagos Sea Lions.

Waved Albatrosses (Andy Swash)

Waved Albatrosses (Andy Swash)