So we were up at the lovely hour of 6:15 a.m. for a bit of wake up coffee (or tea in my case). It seems that Harry loves the early hour so it seems that it will be early to bed and early to rise on this trip. Anyway, once we had all lathered up with sun screen, we were back in the zodiacs for a short trip to Darwin Bay on the island of Genovesa.
As we approached the shore in the brilliant early morning sun,I could see that we were once again being greeted by sea lions lazing on the beach. And there were a number of little baby sea lions trying to keep up with their mommies and feed at the same time. These little ones were very persistent and eventually moms gave up, rolled over and let the babies feed.
And while the sea lions were a treat, the real stars of the show were the too numerous to count red footed boobies, nazca boobies, and frigates. There were fuzzy little nazca babies in nests on the ground and red footed baby boobies perched in the trees. And it was a title surprising
to me to see the nazca babies out in the open in nests on the ground, but Harry quickly explained that the nazca boobies do not have any natural preditors so the babies are safe on the ground.
As we wandered along a sandy path lined with cactus, lava rock and scrub brush, we saw more blue footed boobies and nazca boobies and even a male frigate in full on mating display. And how did we know this. Well as Harry explained when the frigate is looking for a mate, the red waddle underneath the bird’s skin blows up like a balloon. And fortunately Harry spotted a frigate in mating mode in the trees off in the distance.
It took just over an hour to do the complete circuit of the beach area and by this point, I was very happy that we had left the boat so early. It was becoming increasingly hot and am sure that the visit
would have been less enjoyable had we left the boat any later. Score one for Harry.
Once we completed the circuit we began the trek back down to the beach. One the way, we passed a yellow crowned night heron trying to get some shuteye while balanced on one leg. And at the same time, a sea lion hopped along and into a small pool of water. Now I don’t want to say the sea lions are now the norm, but we were a little less excited when the sea lion passed us by.
Anyway, once back on the ship we met at the front of the boat to be fitted with wet suits, fins and masks for our first snorkeling adventure. By 9:30 we were back in zodiacs and heading towards some cliffs where the snorkeling was supposed to terrific. Once at the spot, we jumped into the Pacific one by one and then we were off. And no sooner were we in the water when we spotted a hammerhead shark swimming below us. Yikes. Now I happen to think sharks are pretty amazing creatures, but I like to view them with a plate of glass separating us. Fortunately, the hammerhead drifted away and we were back floating amongst colourful schools of fish. And while the fish were very pretty, I was a little surprised that there were so few colourful fish.
As I moved amongst the fish, we spotted another hammerhead. Ugh, but I persisted despite the overwhelming feeling that the shark was going to come up behind me and chomp on my legs despite the fact that Harry assured us that hammerheads stay clear of humans. Uh if you say so.
Now, interesting story about the hammerheads on this dive. Turns out Luten stayed in one spot and watched the fish pass him by. Luten was also apparently a little leery about the shark bite, but like me he persevered only Luten’s experience with the hammerheads was on steroids. As he videotaped one hammerhead passing by, a whole school came into view and one after another swam below him. I am including Luten’s video because it is simply amazing. (Thanks Luten for being so generous in sharing this amazing video with all of us and to James for sending it on.)
Anyways, after about an hour in the water, I started to get tired so I headed back to the zodiac with a couple other folks. On the way, we spotted six yellow rays swimming below us (similar in size to sting rays). The group moved gracefully through the water and were gone before we could alert the others.
Once back on the ship, we stripped off the wet suits and had some lunch. We had about an hour to relax before we were back in the zodiacs and heading towards the cliffs on Genovesa where we were going to hike amongst the lava rocks on top of the cliffs. As we motored along, we were serenaded by the red footed boobies, tropic birds and a variety of terns squawking overhead. As we road past the massive basaltic walls (covered in bird poop), we periodically spotted nests of birds built into the crevices of the stone and the occasional sea lion lounging on the rocks in the sun.
We eventually reached our landing point where we had to climb the Prince Phillip steps, 45 very steep steps. Once we reached the top of the cliffs we were about 100 feet above the water and began our trek along a very well marked lava rock path, which took us through the dwarf incense trees. Now this forest of trees looks like a jumble of dead branches, but as Harry told us the trees are only dormant and come alive when it rains. Since there was not a cloud in the sky, despite being in the middle of the rainy season, the trees remained dormant.
And as we walked along the trail, we encountered red footed boobies, nazca boobies, red footed lancers and storm petrols (similar to a gull). There were also a lot of baby chicks of different species still shedding their feather down layer while hanging out in the underside of the dwarf incense trees.
Eventually we left the “forest” of dwarf incense trees and walked along areas where lava had once flowed. There were crevasses and lava tunnels everywhere we looked. And while all of this was interesting, Harry had us on the lookout for the short eared owl, which is not nocturnal but instead hunts for its prey, the storm petrol, during daylight hours.
All of us strained to find an owl and just when we thought it wasn’t going to happen, James spotted an owl eating a recent kill. We all took a seat and watched the owl enjoy an early storm petrol dinner. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the owl picked up the kill and flews a short distance closer to us. The owl did not seem at all perturbed by our presence and instead stared back at our cameras.
We eventually moved on to the end of the trail and were just about to turn around when another owl was spotted sleeping in a crevasse. And this one did not budge. It looked like the owl had just finished eating and was into a nice nap.
By now, the sun was starting to go down so we began the walk back to the Prince Phillip steps. Somehow, the hike back seemed to go a lot faster. Once at the bottom of the steps, we climbed into zodiacs and were shuttled back to the boat.
It has been a long day, but the sights we saw today were simply incredible.