December 2023

December 2023 : Walks around Parkside, Cleator Moor, Cumbria

Dec 2023 : This month has been a bit of a poor birding month, due to very bad weather and having just returned from the Galapagos and needing to work I didnt manage to get out very much, the short days and dark evenings didnt help either !

Despite the lack of trips out we did manage to enjoy the Redwings, Fieldfare and Starlings all of which enjoyed the last of the Hawthorn berries in the fields. The pond is starting to get busy again, with two Swans, lots of Greylag Geese, Teal, Mallard and the odd Golden eye.

Fingers crossed Janauary will be  a better birding month !

 

 

 

November 2023 : Galapagos - Santa Fe from Santa Cruz

16/11/23 : Day ten on the Islands -Boat trip To Santa Fe island from Finch Bay on Santa Cruz, and the last tick off the list, the Galapagos Hawk

 

16/11/23 : Day ten on the Islands - Boat trip on Finch Bays boat the "Sea lion" to Santa Fe island
The Last day of excursions in the Galapagos and we cant believe how fast this once in a lifetime trip has gone, but no time to dwell as we are heading to the island of Santa Fe onboard the Sea lion. A quick power boat trip to the yacht and we are underway, this is a long trip taking an hour and half to arrive at the island, and another 30 mins into the bay to moor up before another power boat and a wet landing on the beach.
Leaving the boat we were told to be careful not to tread on any sharks ! There were 5 or 6 White Tipped Sharks swimming just off the beach, luckily they are of no danger to humans but having already accidentally kicked on on Isabela island I was careful to pick my way between them as I headed for the beach.
Santa Fe is a small island and home to a Sea Lion colony, its own species of endemic Land Iguana and most excitedly for me home to the Galapagos Hawk, the only endemic bird of prey ( although there are Barn Owl, but these are not endemic ). The Hawk was the last bird on my wish list I had left to see, there were other bird species which we had not seen due to the time of year and some island closures due to bird flu, but there was a slim chance of see the Hawk on Santa Fe. I had been told not to expect to see one as we were only allowed on the island for an hour due to National Park restrictions and the hawk were not usually seen in this area.
Upon leaving the boat however, I saw something in the distance behaving like a raptor and so ignored the Sharks and Sea Lions and made my way up the beach for a closer look. Just as I raised my camera, our guide rushed up to me shouting Hawk! At first two of them were circling high in the distance, but slowly one of them approach closer and I managed to get a few photos. This made my day, and as I made my way back to the beach and Tracey, we happily set off on a short walk looking for Iguanas. 
The island is of course volcanic and the path was rough so we made slow progress through the Cactus trees, before see a few Iguanas basking in the sun to recharge their batteries. Along the path we also spotted Galapagos Mocking birds, Galapagos Doves, Sea lions, Lava Herons and Semipalmated Plovers, before heading back to the boat for our lunch. On the way back we did a quick detour in the power boat to the edge of the bay to watch the Blue Footed Boobies roosting on the rocks, the perfect way to end our time on Santa Fe.
After lunch the rest of those onboard went for a snorkel in the bay to watch the Sea lions, but having done a lot of snorkelling and swimming with Sea Lions we decided to stay on the boat deck, watching surfing Sea Lions and fishing Lava Herons in the distance. A perfect way to end our last trip on the Galapagos Islands, before the long trip back to Finch Bay on roughish seas. We finished the day with a superb meal in the restaurant, and packed our bags ready to leave in the morning.
On the morning of the 17th we headed by water taxi to town, a land taxi to the North of the Island, another water taxi to Baltra, a bus to the airport, a flight to Guaygil, another flight to Amsterdam, and quick flight to Newcastle and a two hour drive to Cumbria and home. A long journey over 24 hours and we arrived somewhat jet lagged but so happy, this may have been a trip of a lifetime but we both said we would return to the Galapagos islands again, it is simply the most perfect wildlife destination in the world.
 

November 2023 : Galapagos - Santa Cruz to South Plaza island

15/11/23 : Day nine on the Islands - Bus to the North of Santa cruz to board the Sea lion boat to cruise to South Plaza Island

15/11/23 : Day nine on the Islands - Bus to the North of Santa cruz to board the Sea lion boat to cruise to South Plaza Island

An early start, as we had an hours taxi ride across the island to the Baltra port to pick up the boat that would take us on our day trip to South Plaza island. After a short speed boat ride from the port to the boat, we set off on our all day tour which would eventualy take us back to the hotel at Finch Bay.

First stop was a secluded bay on the North of Santa Cruz, at the bottom of some cliffs in clear water, we moored here for an hour while some of the guests on the boat went for a snorkel, having already done a lot of this, we decided to spend the time on the upper deck watching the bird life on the cliffs. Roosting on the waters edge were Brown Pelicans, Frigate birds and Galapagos Petrels, so the time in the sun flew by quickly.

Once everyone was back on board we headed off from Santa Cruz heading toward the Plaza Islands , we were mooring between North and South Plaza, but heading to South Plaza for a trip onland to watch the Swallow-tailed Gulls and the endemic Yellow land Iguanas.

As soon as we landed we  were greeted by Sealions bathing on the rocks, and Swallow tailed gulls everywhere. The gulls nest on the ground and were not even remotley bothered by us walking past them closely, we had to watch our feet however, as the eggs and the young chicks would be very easy to squash underfoot.

As we crossed the island it became clear that there was as many Yellow Land Iguanas as there were gulls! the males are brighlty coloured and the females less so , being mainly grey. These large lizards were everywhere , looking for mates in the good weather and 20 minutes soon went by as we watched them. Arriving at the other side of the island, we were greeted with the sight of five Sea turtles, fighting in the water for the right to mate with the lone female, while this was going on above the Red-billed Tropic birds , Frigate birds and Swallow tailed gulls were swooping  around the cliff edge. They moved very quickly so it took a lot of photos to try and get them in focus.

You are only allowed to be on the island for one hour, and you have to stick to the paths, here the wildlife is king and we have to fit in around it. An hour is plenty though as the island is teaming with life, and we marveled as we headed back to the boat for a late lunch onboard, before heading back on the long journey back to Finch Bay for our evening meal. We arrived somewhat windswept and tired but happy. 

Tommorow would be our last full day on the island with a trip to Sante Fe island and our last chance to see a Galapagos Hawk, a bird which had eluded us so far.

November 2023 : Galapagos - Santa Cruz  Puerto Ayora, Darwin Research Centre & Las Grietas lava tunnels

14/11/23 : Day Eight on the Islands - Water taxi to Puerto Ayora , the Darwin Research Centre and then an afternoon trip along the coast to Las Grietas lava tunnels for snorkling and a beach walk

14/11/23 : Water taxi to Puerto Ayora from Finch Bay Hotel to  the Darwin Research Centre and then an afternoon trip along the coast to Las Grietas lava tunnels for snorkelling and a beach walk.
We started the day with breakfast looking over the hotel swimming pool, watching the Pintail ducks, Lava Gulls and a Blue Heron relaxing around the pool edges! then it was a ten minute walk to the water taxi and a five minute boat ride to Peurto Ayora. Here we took a taxi to the Darwin Research Centre. The centre does great work on protecting the Galapagos endemic species and righting the wrongs done by past island visitors, who decimated the Tortoise population and brought disease and pests that threaten so many other species like the Vermillion Flycatcher we saw on Isabela island. Its mani work though is breeding and releasing Giant Tortoises.
Its most famous Tortoise was Lonesome George, a single male Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, who when found was the only remaining one of his species, all the rest having been driven to extinction by sailors hunting them for their meat. They spent nearly 40 years looking after George and trying to find him a mate to breed with. Sadly this proved impossible and George died without ever finding a mate, and with him the Pinta Tortoise breed died forever. Such was his story, that on his death his body was taken to the USA to be preserved, and it was then returned to Santa Cruz to serve as a reminder of just how stupid and destructive the human race can be without even thinking about it. We visited George in his climate controlled tomb and it was a very sombre moment, but we also felt honoured to have met him, all be it after his death.
From here we walked back along the harbour front, stopping off at the local fish market where Brown Pelicans, Blue Herons, Lava Gulls and Sea lions all wait to be fed by the fishermen ( see the videos below). This was an amazing place to see so many rare endemic breeds happily coexisting with the humans on the islands.
We then got the water taxi to the hotel before setting off for a boat trip around the coast , finishing at Las Grietas which are lava tunnels, filled with the tide and home to a vast array of fish. Along the way we watched the Red Billed Tropicbirds and Blue footed boobies on the coast line.
A great short island day, with fantastic wildlife and a little rest before a full day boat trip tomorrow to South Plaza island.

November 2023 : Galapagos - Santa Cruz from Isabela via Baltra

13/11/23 : Day seven on the Islands - Isabela Island to Baltra, then boat trip  across to Santa Cruz and the trip across the island to our hotel, stopping at a Tortoise sanctuary, Lava tunnels and Collapsed lava chamber on the way.

13/11/23 : Leaving Isabela island and flying to Santa Cruz via Baltra island


 We left Isabela early in the morning, traveling to the third of our Islands of Santa Cruz. We flew in a small twin prop plane, seating six people,  to the island of Baltra which is an small island just off the coast of Santa Cruz, and the site of an old American airforce base which now serves as the main airport for Santa Cruz.  The flight took about 40 minutes and the plane so small Tracey sat in the co pilots seat while I was squeezed into the back!  The views were amazing and we landed safely without incident, grabbed our bags, met our guid and headed off for our ferry to Santa Cruz

This is the most populated island on the Galapagos with a population of 18,000 people 90% of which are in the main town of Puerto Ayora. The majority of the island like all of the islands is set to National Park and heavliy restricted, in order to protect the wildlife and environment, we were staying at the Finch Bay hotel which is just outside of Puerto Ayora and reached only by the hotels water taxi from the town. In order to get there however we got  a ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz ( a 5 minute trip) then drove across the island for an hour, but along the way we stopped at Los Gemelos, some lava tube tunnels and a Tortoise sanctuary.

Los Gemelos was out first stop, this is the site of two twin collapsed lava chambers which have left behind enormouse caverns, filled with rain forest and Scalsia trees. The wildlife here was mainly birds, Darwin Finches, Galapagos Doves, Flycatchers and Warblers. The walk took about 40 minutes and was like being in some prehistric landscape.

Leaving here we stopped for lunch at a Tortoise Sanctuary and large estate with grounds were the Tortoises roamed free, the road into the centre was a few miles long and everywhere you look these enormouse creatures were roaming free, we stopped counting a 100 but the was easily double that. Cattle Egrets were roaming with the Tortoises, along with the Warblers, Darwin Finches, Mocking birds and flycatchers.

After lunch we headed off to the hotel, but we stopped briefly to explore some lava tunnels hoping to see the Barn Owls that lived in them, sadly they were not to be found , so we left for Puerto Ayora counting more Tortoises as we went !

Once at the town, it had a different fel to the other islands we had been too, although only a small town in real terms it felt more commercial and busier than the others, but once we got our water taxi to the hotel the normal Galapagos returned and the walk to the hotel was through volcnic mangroves, with Marine Iguanas, Lava lizards and Lava Herons alnog the way. Great White Egrets were flying overhead and by the pool were six Lava Gulls ( one of the rarest birds on Earth). 

The hotels is right on the beach and in true Galapagos style was teaming in wildlife which was welcomed. The pool had Lava Gulls, Pintails and Herons in it and an American Oyster catcher sat by the bar next to a few Lava lizards. We settled into the total luxury that the hotel provided, had a superb meal and went to bed early to be ready for our expedition the next day which was to be a trip to the Darwin Reseach Centre followed by a trip around the coast, finishing with a snorkle trip in the Lava tunnels. 

November 2023 : Galapagos - Isabela island

12/11/23 : Day six on the Islands - Isabela Island

Morning trek up the Sierria Negra Volcano and afternoon exploring Las Tintoreras Islet