Sunday, 19 April 2015

Galápagos Day 3 (morning) - Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa

After a long overnight cruise north-east we woke to find ourselves anchored in Great Darwin Bay on Isla Genovesa. This bay is the remnant of a large volcanic caldera where the south west wall has collapsed allowing the ocean to flood in.


Our early morning landing was at Prince Phillip's Steps on the eastern peninsula of the bay. The skies were heavily overcast and it drizzled rain on and off all morning but the birdlife was spectacular. The light remained dull for the whole morning which made for continual juggling of ISO and aperture to get shutter speeds fast enough to capture the birds.

The pangas pulled into a landing at the foot of a cliff which was scaled via a set of "steps"--a combination of steep natural rock steps and cuttings--to the plateau above. Immediately on arriving at the top of the climb, we were scrambling again, this time to assemble camera gear as there were birds everywhere.

Nazca Boobies perched on the rocks at the top of the steps and displaying on the track right in front of us.

Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 82.5mm, ISO 800, f/3.5, 1/200
Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 50mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/200

Gálapagos Mockingbird looked extremely bedraggled but was singing melodically in a nearby tree.

Galápagos Mockingbird, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 800, f/3.5, 1/320

Hundreds of Great Frigatebirds spiralling in the skies above us. All less than ten steps from the edge of the cliff we'd just climbed.

Great Frigatebird, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 800, f/3.5, 1/1000

The walking trail took us across the peninsula to the southern side of the island. There was plenty to keep us occupied on the way - it took over an hour to walk about 1km! It is a National Parks requirement that visitors stick to the trails but this was no impediment to photographing birds with many taking up perching, displaying and nesting sites on or right next to the trail.

Red-footed Boobies prefer to perch in the trees, their prehensile toes able to wrap tightly around the branches.

Red-footed Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/500

Nazca Boobies prefer the ground...

Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 92.5mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/500
Nazca Booby (juvenile), Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/250

so the trail makes a good place for courtship displays,

Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 50mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/800
Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 50mm, ISO 1600, f/4, 1/640

some completely oblivious to the human activity around them. You are not supposed to get closer than two metres to the animals but Jo was watching some other birds in the trees and these two walked out of the bushes and started bill-clapping right next to her. I managed to grab this shot before she realised they were there and could move away.

Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/125

Nazca boobies also 'nest' directly on the ground.

Nazca Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 3200, f/3.5, 1/1000 

Red-footed Boobies build stick nests in the low trees, some right next to the trail.

Red-footed Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/200
Red-footed Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 3200, f/3.5, 1/250
Red-footed Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 3200, f/3.5, 1/250

Red-footed Boobies come in two colour morphs: white and brown and different locations apparently have differing proportions of the two morphs. This colony is mostly brown morphs but we found the 'mixed pair' right beside the trail.

Red-footed Booby, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 160mm, ISO 3200, f/4, 1/320

A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron also sat beside the trail looking miserable (it's hard not to be anthropomorphic sometimes).

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 1/250

Not so, the photographer...despite the rain, this place is paradise! The poncho was used as a camera cover. I can still function (well, mostly) when wet, the camera does less well...

Me on the trail, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

As we approached the south coast we came across Great Frigatebirds nesting.

Great Frigatebird, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 3200, f/3.5, 1/400

Great Frigatebirds can be easily distinguished from Magnificent Frigatebirds by the colour of the iridescence on the males - green in Great, purple in Magnificent - and the eyering colour in females - pinky red in Great, pale blue in Magnificent.

Juvenile Great Frigatebirds have rust coloured patches on head and neck.

Great Frigatebird (juvenile), Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8,  ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/320

The males of both species, develop large throat sacs of bright red skin during the breeding season.

Great Frigatebird, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 3200, f/4, 1/1000

There is a huge colony of Galápagos Storm-petrels on the south coast and we hoped to find Short-eared Owls, which prey on the storm-petrels as the land next to their burrows in the lava tubes and crevices.

Galápagos Storm-petrel colony, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 2000, f/4, 1/3200

It didn't take long before we started spotting owls stalking around on the lava.

Short-eared Owl, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adapter), ISO 1600, f/8, 1/320

and I managed to see two catch and kill their prey. The capture happened too quickly to be photographed but both these birds hung around post-kill allowing photographs of them with their prey trapped in their talons.

Short-eared Owl, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adapter), ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/80
Short-eared Owl, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adapter), ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/200

As we were about to leave I spotted this male Great Frigatebird on a nest with the storm-petrel colony and a few pairs of nesting Nazca Boobies in the background, capturing the essence of the morning.

Great Frigatebird and White-vented Storm-petrel colony, Prince Phillip's Steps, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 22mm, ISO 3200, f/8, 1/250

 It was still raining when we got back to the boat but I spotted this Red-billed Tropicbird flying around the cliffs and a flock of Great Frigatebirds decided that the rigging on the sailing ship anchored nearby made for a good roosting spot so I couldn't resist breaking out the camera again.

Red-billed Tropicbird, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/3200
Great Frigatebird, Isla Genovesa, Galápagos
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 800, f/8, 1/1600


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