The Oates family John, Christine and their 9 year old daughter Katy toured the Galapagos Islands with us on the Angelito yacht in July 2014 on an 11 day cruise with a stay beforehand at the Finch Bay Hotel on Santa Cruz. During their trip they took such beautiful photos that we asked them if they would share their top 10 Galapagos shots with other guests on our blog.
The results are below and we hope they inspire you as much as they did us! We particularly love the Iguana shots.
We spent a while choosing the best itinerary for Oates family as they were keen to include Isabella and Fernandina islands along with the beautiful Espanola island on their trip. The Angelito 11-day option came as a clear winner to give them the chance to see all the wildlife that they dreamed of seeing – and photographing!
1. Lava Gull
The Lava Gull is the rarest gull in the world and fortunately it is easy to see around Puerto Ayora. They were always present around the swimming pool at the Finch Bay Eco Hotel, where we saw up to eight at one time.
This one is a very confident juvenile. One enterprising individual with an injured wing regularly swam around the hotel pool at night, collecting moths and other nocturnal insects that had landed on the water.
2. Small Ground Finch
Galapagos wildlife tends to be very tame! This Small Ground Finch spent a fair amount of time investigating my toes while I confirmed the identification features in my field guide. This was one of five species of Darwin’s Finch we saw around the Finch Bay Eco Hotel, including the scarce Vegetarian Finch. (Photo by Chris Oates).
3. Flightless Cormorant
Of all the endemic birds on the islands, this is the one I wanted to see most. It is only found on Fernandina and Isabela, so it was a major factor when planning our trip. We had fabulous views on both islands. We saw them underwater while we were snorkelling and several birds were seen in the classic wing open posture. Best of all was a male bringing a gift of sea weed to his mate, only feet from where we were sat. At this close distance, we could really appreciate the intense jewel-like colour of the eye – somewhere between an emerald and a sapphire.
4. Giant Tortoise
Our trip coincided with good numbers of these incredible reptiles congregating in the highlands of Santa Cruz. We made two trips to different private ranches, where trails led us around their feeding areas. They were very confident and some were very big! This one is a rather small individual that we came across near the entrance to a lava tunnel. We also saw one at Urvina Bay on Isabela – a brilliant spot by our guide Maja as it was sheltering in the shade of a bush.
5. Marine Iguana
These creatures are the stars of the Galapagos. They are completely unafraid of people and don’t seem to be aware that a clumsy human is quite heavy and it will hurt if they get trodden on by one! They frequently look as though they have fallen out of the sky, with their bodies flattened against the ground and legs splayed! They were common on just about every island we visited, but the best place was Punta Espinosa on Fernandina, where hundreds could be seen basking in tight groups and taking turns to sneeze salt. It really was an incredible experience.
6. Galapagos Sea Lion
Swimming with the sea lions was amazing and we were lucky enough to do it three times. The sea lions played with us and showed off their wonderful fish-like skills. It was extremely hard to keep up with them. They were diving, doing underwater somersaults and just playing around. After we got out we wanted to do it all again and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. This one was at Devil’s Crown near Floreana.
(Katy Oates, age 9)
7. Waved Albatross
During one or two of the longer crossings we had some good views of albatrosses at sea, but the visit to the breeding area at Punta Suarez on Espanola was one of the holiday highlights. We saw lots! One even weaved its way through the group, while we watched this pair displaying to one another from the trail. It’s a very tough choice, but this was probably my favourite of all the places we visited, due to the views along the cliffs and all the incredible bird activity. It was also the only place we saw the famous Blue-footed Booby dance!
8. Creole Fish
Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands is wonderful! As well as the sea lions described by Katy, we also had close encounters with many turtles, incredibly fast and agile penguins and even a few sharks! It was great fun each night going through the field guides, trying to work out which species we’d seen. Our photos helped tremendously with this. One of the most impressive things was the huge number of fish in some places. There was a massive, dense shoal of Yellow-tailed Surgeonfish at North Seymour and this less dense, but never ending shoal of Creole Fish at Devil’s Crown.
9. Land Iguana
One of the most interesting aspects of Galapagos wildlife is the way the animals survive in such hostile environments. This Land Iguana was on South Plaza, where it hadn’t rained in a long time and the only food we could see was Prickly Pear cactus. Because the iguanas can’t climb, they have to wait until a piece falls to the ground. They have to scrape off the spines before they can eat it and almost certainly have to defend their prize from other hungry iguanas.
We were very lucky to see this happen during our visit and it was the only time we saw iguanas (of any species) move at speed!
10. Elliot’s Storm Petrel
This little sea bird was very common during our trip and it was an almost constant companion during crossings, along with smaller numbers of its larger relative, the Wedge-Rumped Storm Petrel. We also saw it regularly close in-shore in harbours, such as Puerto Ayora. There are thought to be about 10,000 pairs breeding on the islands, but remarkably no nests have ever been found! That would make an interesting project for somebody.