As we travel between islands overnight, we never know what we will see when we wake up. Each island has its own shape and vegetation; sometimes barren, sometimes green. This morning’s view is of Isla Genovesa, one of the most the north-easterly islands. We crossed the Equator overnight, and although we were offered the chance to go to the bridge and photograph the instruments showing 0.00 latitude, no-one did. As always, there are other boats nearby — four this morning, and all fairly close. Some are familiar by now — the elegant Grace, Nemo with its furled sail and the large G-Adventure. I relish the tranquility of the early morning, when the only sounds are the calls of sea-lions or the cries of frigate birds and gulls, and the light changes as the sun rises.
Genovesa is known as “Bird Island” because of the numerous and varied bird species that nest there. I am not much of a bird watcher — usually I find the process frustrating as I peer through branches looking for whatever feathered creature is making the appealing noise.
But this is different. When we land at Darwin Beach, there are birds everywhere — calling, dancing and sitting on eggs; red-footed and Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds. There are gulls on the beach and the rocks and boobies in the trees; males, females, fuzzy chicks, and juveniles — each with their own distinctive plumage. We also see our first Magnificent Frigatebirds with their puffed out red chest. This is no quiet walk around the cove, as the cries of the birds are cacophonous. Like the other wildlife we have seen, they seem oblivious as we approach, cameras and lenses in overdrive.
At the end of the walk is a bay, which could easily be in Northern Australia, except for the colour of the rocks. I have never thought of myself as particularly patriotic, and I am surprised to find myself saying “in Australia” as often as I do.
We return to the beach where a sea-lion spends several minutes posing for us, readjusting his position slightly each time, until he slides down to the water to swim.
It was now time to snorkel. The Canadians were keen to see hammerhead sharks, and they finally got their wish. I only saw them briefly. They are very shy, and if they sense you or detect your legs kicking, they quickly disappear. I was far more impressed by a school of manta rays which floated under us several times as they passed forward, then back, then forward again. There was also a school of large fish with white tipped fins, and other brightly coloured fish, including a couple of my favourite blue chin parrot fish.
This was the only time we saw rain — only a light shower, but enough for Jonathon, one of the crew, to don his bright yellow raincoat and sou-wester as he kept watch over us. For our position in the water, he seemed over-protected. He hopes to be a ship”s captain one day, so maybe he was imagining himself on the bridge in a heavy storm.
After lunch we got back into the zodiacs to head for Prince Philips’s steps. The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Galapagos in 1965, and again in 1981. As we passed the lava cliffs we saw various birds and our only sighting of fur seals. These are smaller than sea lions, with shorter noses. We climbed the steep stairs to the plateau above where there were colonies of nazcar and red-footed boobies and ostentatious magnificent frigate birds. This part of the island was like a moonscape, almost devoid of vegetation, with birds sheltering from the heat under the few scrubby Palo Santo trees.
These look dead, but in the wet season they are covered with green leaves. Other birds were in the open, their necks panting in a silent ululation as they tried to keep themselves and their chicks cool. For me this was the hottest afternoon walk, but the birds and their newborn chicks were our reward.
At the edge of the plateau was a large expanse of brown lava rocks, home of the elusive short-eared owl, almost impossible to see in the distance as it is camouflaged against the rocks. Like everywhere else on the islands, visitors are asked to keep to central tracks, so there was no opportunity to get closer. I was prepared to take its presence as a given and return to the cool of the boat, but the keen birders were determined. First they saw one — see that little brown spot on that big brown rock — then another, then several more. My cheap binoculars didn’t reveal much, but then someone passed me their powerful set. I couldn’t believe the beauty of the golden feathers of the owl, highlighted by the afternoon sun, against the brown.
By the time we returned to the steps, and descended to the boats, it was almost sunset, and we made quick progress back to Daphne and dinner, saddened by the knowledge we have only one more full day ahead.