You may have read my post from last spring in which I described a wonderful trip I took to the Galápagos Islands in March 2010.  Along with my colleague Sarah Gibbs, we took a class of 24 Colby students to those wonderful islands.  I was able to visit two islands that I had not visited earlier.

We flew from Quito to the airport on San Cristóbal.  The immigration line extended out of the small terminal.  That wait allowed us to watch a pair of Cactus Finches building a nest in a large cactus adjacent to the terminal.  The Cactus Finch is one of 13 species of Darwin’s finches, found only in the Galápagos.

We took a bus ride into Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main town on San Cristóbal, and checked into our hotel.  A Chatham Mockingbird was perched on the windowsill of my room.   Four endemic mockingbirds occur on the Galápagos and the Chatham Mockingbird is only known from San Cristóbal.

That afternoon, we took a long hike along the coast to some highlands.  Both Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds were nesting near the tops of some cliffs.  Small Ground Finches and Medium Ground Finches were common.  Along the shore, we saw Lava Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Striated Herons, Ruddy Turnstones, hundreds of Galápagos Sea Lions and many Marine Iguanas.

The next morning, we boarded a couple of boats for the two-hour crossing to the islands of Santa Cruz.  Along the way, Galápagos Shearwaters and Eliot’s Storm-Petrels were common.

Our first stop on Santa Cruz was the Charles Darwin Research Station where captive breeding of Galápagos tortoises is ensuring the survival of these behemoths.  On the grounds, we saw Large Ground Finches, Small Ground Finches, Galápagos Flycatchers and Galápagos Mockingbirds (this mockingbird is found on a number of the Galápagos Islands).

After lunch, we visited Los Gemelos (the twins), two massive depressions at higher altitude.  We were treated to several gorgeous Galápagos Doves, Warbler Finches and a fly-by Dark-billed Cuckoo.   We had a look at a perched cuckoo and a Smooth-billed Ani later in the day when we visited some lava tunnels tall enough to easily walk through.

We had an early start the next day for a cruise to the extremely arid island of Bartholomé.  The sea was calm and the day was sunny.  From the boat, we saw Eliot’s Storm-Petrels, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Nazca Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Noddies and massive flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes.  We saw several Swallow-tailed Gulls perched on the cliffs of Daphne Major when we sailed close by this small island. Manta Rays occasionally jumped out of the water for memorable views.

On Bartholomé, we saw Lava Herons, American Oystercatchers and lots of Blue-footed Boobies.  A Galápagos Hawk soared over the island and was later perched at the pinnacle of the island.  Snorkeling provided views of a diversity of fish as well as sea turtles.

We returned to Santa Cruz, exhausted but exhilarated.  The following morning we were back on boats to the island of Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago.  Approaching from the south, this island had a distinctly different feel.  The sand was white, not gray as we had seen on other islands.  Mangroves ringed the shoreline and the water was a beautiful blue-green.  I could have been convinced I was in the Caribbean except for the fact there were Galápagos Penguins swimming around the boat and dock!   We later got to see a number of penguins and Blue-footed Boobies up close and personal.

A bus excursion that afternoon included a stop at a large lagoon where American Flamingoes, White-cheeked Pintails and Common Moorhens were feeding.  The flamingoes were magnificent!

The next morning we boarded an open-air bus to the trail head for Cerro Negro, one of the five major volcanoes on Isabela.  Cerro Negro was last active in 2005.   Our ultimate goal was to climb Volcán Chico, a parasitic volcano on the side of Cierro Negro.  The hike was a round-trip of 12 miles.

The views of the caldera of Cerro Negro were amazing; the caldera is about seven miles across and we could see where the lava from the 2005 eruption had killed some of the vegetation in the caldera.

Small Tree-Finches and Large Tree-Finches were seen along the hike to Cerro Negro.  Vermilion Flycatchers cooperated nicely for everyone in the class.  A few of us got to see Galápagos Martins, hawking insects over the caldera.

For more details and pictures from our trip, please visit our blog: http://web.colby.edu/galapagos/2011/

[First published on April 3, 2011]