From the National Geographic Endeavour in Galapagos

Nov 16, 2012 - National Geographic Endeavour

Frigatebird harassing a red-footed booby
Red-footed booby with landing gear down

Isla Genovesa

The flooded caldera of an ancient volcano formed an unusual harbor for our ship this morning as we entered a narrow cut in the encircling walls of Isla Genovesa. As we anchored in Darwin's Bay, we could see hundreds of birds flying above the island's cliffs. For our outings this morning, some walkers headed to a white sand beach composed of broken coral. Others ascended the cliffs at a special access point, known as Prince Philip's Steps, where a precipitous trail winds up a fissure in the rock to reach the flatter upper parts of the island.

Onshore we found innumerable delights. Genovesa is a nesting island for many species of seabirds, most prominently the red-footed and Nazca boobies. In the Galápagos Islands, the red-footed booby is the only species of booby that nests in trees, and at this season we found some nests with a single large chick, some being preened by their attentive parent. There were also many Nazca boobies in residence on the island - some with eggs, others with a small chick, and some still involved in courtship and ceremonial nest building. On the rocky shores around the beach area were many swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal gull species in the world. And watching from high above were the ever-present frigatebirds. The great frigatebird is another species of seabird that nests in large numbers on Genovesa, and we saw fluffy frigatebird chicks sitting patiently waiting for one of their parents to return and feed them.

While many individual frigatebirds make an "honest living" plucking fish and squid off the surface of the ocean, other individuals tend to focus on stealing food from boobies, tropicbirds, and the gulls. The curious term for this behavior is "kleptoparasitism," and throughout the day we could hear the occasional squawking of boobies being harassed in flight by the frigatebirds. Frigatebirds are spectacular fliers, easily out-maneuvering the other birds they chase, often grabbing a booby by the wing or tail to help encourage them to disgorge any food they're bringing back to the island for their chick.

In addition to the vast numbers of seabirds, we also enjoyed watching the resident Galápagos mockingbirds, various species of Darwin's finches, and dozing yellow-crowned night-herons. During the midday, there were opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking along the edges of the steep cliffs. In the shade of rocky grottos beneath the cliffs we found several Galápagos fur seals resting. The final special sightings of the trip, for some, were amazingly close-up views of the island's resident short-eared owls perching on the reddish lava rock on the windward side of the island. We eventually gathered in the ship's lounge for the captain's farewell cocktail party, accompanied by a slide show of guest's photos, all reminding us of the many joyful experiences we've shared during this memorable voyage together in the Galápagos.

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About the Author

Jack Swenson

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Jack is a Seattle-based guide, wildlife biologist and professional photographer. For the past thirty years his photographs have appeared in prominent magazines, calendars and books including publications by Smithsonian, Audubon, and National Geographic. He has co-authored a photographic book on Baja California, and also a photo identification guide to the killer whales of Southeast Alaska.

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