Cormorant
Ecuador

Birds of the Galapagos

Here’s the problem: for nature photography, the Galapagos islands represent the ultimate cheat mode. In Africa, you need patience, an excellent spotter, and a lens the size of a bazooka. In the Galapagos you practically stumble over the birds and can place the lens directly on the tip of their beak for stabilization. Under the water, the sea lions swim up to you, curious why such a hopelessly uncoordinated swimmer would ever venture into the water. Green sea turtles as big as coffee tables seem totally unconcerned about the heavy breathing above them as they munch algae under the waves. Back on land, iguanas luxuriate on the rocks, more concerned about temperature regulation than anything else. The giant tortoises seem to care a little more about the proximity of tourists, but their tolerance is still quite high and of course they are too slow to run away.

Which is to say, we have a lot of pictures and it is difficult to choose amongst them. So I’ll cheat and make two posts, one for the birds and one for the reptiles and a few undersea critters.

Above, a flightless cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi), also known as the Galapagos cormorant, eyes the cameraman warily between dives. A few hours later when I was snorkeling off the beach, I felt something pinch my butt. I spun around in the water thinking I might have to reprimand a fellow traveller and instead found myself face to face with the sharp beak of a cormorant! I was glad to have goggles on because that thing could poke your eye out. The Galapagos cormorant is unique in that it is the only cormorant to have lost the ability to fly, the consequence of having evolved on an island free of predators. Once endangered, their population has recently stabilized around 2000 individuals, making it one of the rarest birds in the world.

The Galapagos Penguin lives farther north than any other penguin due to the Humboldt Current, which originates in Antarctica and pushes cold water and nutrients up the western coast of South America before swinging out towards the Galapagos. This nutrient-rich current is what allows for such a tremendous concentration of biomass in the waters of the Galapagos and were likely responsible for carrying the first tortoises, iguanas, and a few disoriented penguins to the archipelago millions of years ago.
The Galapagos Penguin lives farther north than any other penguin due to the Humboldt Current, which originates in Antarctica and pushes cold water and nutrients up the western coast of South America before swinging out towards the Galapagos. This nutrient-rich current is what allows for such a tremendous concentration of biomass in the waters of the Galapagos and were likely responsible for carrying the first tortoises, iguanas, and a few disoriented penguins to the archipelago millions of years ago.
Sean Pont
The brown noddy or common noddy (Anous stolidus) is the largest of the noddies. It can be found throughout the tropics, from the Caribbean to Hawaii and all the way to Australia. There are four subspecies; this one is, unsurprisingly, called galapagensis.
The brown noddy or common noddy (Anous stolidus) is the largest of the noddies. It can be found throughout the tropics, from the Caribbean to Hawaii and all the way to Australia. There are four subspecies; this one is, unsurprisingly, called galapagensis.
Sean Pont
Two frigatebirds glide effortlessly above our boat, surfing on the invisible wave of air displaced by the hull of our catamaran. Two species of frigatebirds can be found in the Galapagos: the Great and the Magnificent. They are difficult to differentiate, though based on their names it is clear which one is better. Both species have large ranges and healthy populations.
Two frigatebirds glide effortlessly above our boat, surfing on the invisible wave of air displaced by the hull of our catamaran. Two species of frigatebirds can be found in the Galapagos: the Great and the Magnificent. They are difficult to differentiate, though based on their names it is clear which one is better. Both species have large ranges and healthy populations.
Sean Pont
Female frigatebirds are larger than the males, a quality known as sexual dimorphism. They also have a white throat and breast whereas males are mostly black.
Female frigatebirds are larger than the males, a quality known as sexual dimorphism. They also have a white throat and breast whereas males are mostly black.
Sean Pont
During the mating season, male frigatebirds distend their red gular sac to attract the ladies. The most common pickup line among frigatebirds, "is that an inflated gular sac under your throat or are you just happy to see me?", is usually dismissed as tacky and derivative.
During the mating season, male frigatebirds distend their red gular sac to attract the ladies. The most common pickup line among frigatebirds, "is that an inflated gular sac under your throat or are you just happy to see me?", is usually dismissed as tacky and derivative.
Sean Pont
Baby frigatebirds are cute.
Baby frigatebirds are cute.
Sean Pont
Yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Sean Pont
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Sean Pont
The Nazca booby (Sula granti) is one of four species of boobies found in the Galapagos. Boobies dive for fish from a great height and pursue their prey underwater, occasionally reaching depths of 90 meters! Facial air sacs under their skin cushion the impact with the water.
The Nazca booby (Sula granti) is one of four species of boobies found in the Galapagos. Boobies dive for fish from a great height and pursue their prey underwater, occasionally reaching depths of 90 meters! Facial air sacs under their skin cushion the impact with the water.
Sean Pont
Nazca boobies nest on bare rock next to cliffs. During incubation, boobies use their heavily vascularized feet to warm the egg, unlike other birds which use a bare patch of skin on their breast .
Nazca boobies nest on bare rock next to cliffs. During incubation, boobies use their heavily vascularized feet to warm the egg, unlike other birds which use a bare patch of skin on their breast .
Sean Pont
Both male and female Nazca boobies care for their young. It isn't easy. During the nesting period, their metabolic activity is thrown into overdrive and they suffer loss of weight and a depressed immune system. Here, a nesting pair exchanges greetings during a changing of the guard.
Both male and female Nazca boobies care for their young. It isn't easy. During the nesting period, their metabolic activity is thrown into overdrive and they suffer loss of weight and a depressed immune system. Here, a nesting pair exchanges greetings during a changing of the guard.
Sean Pont
The red-footed booby (Sula sula) are characterized by, you guessed it, red feet. They are much smaller than the Nazca boobies and can perch and nest in the trees. Curiously, the color of their plumage varies after they reach maturity. 9 out of 10 are brown (like the one in the background) while 1 in 10 is white. The different morphs breed together and don't seem to show a preference for one color or the other.
The red-footed booby (Sula sula) are characterized by, you guessed it, red feet. They are much smaller than the Nazca boobies and can perch and nest in the trees. Curiously, the color of their plumage varies after they reach maturity. 9 out of 10 are brown (like the one in the background) while 1 in 10 is white. The different morphs breed together and don't seem to show a preference for one color or the other.
Sean Pont
A brown morph red-footed booby preens, eyes closed in bliss.
A brown morph red-footed booby preens, eyes closed in bliss.
Sean Pont
Blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) are characterized by their bright blue feet, which is a sexually selected trait. The unusual color is acquired from carotenoid pigments in their fish diet. It fades with age and brightens when they are healthy and well-fed, which means that the shine of their shoes is an excellent indicator of their overall health.
Blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) are characterized by their bright blue feet, which is a sexually selected trait. The unusual color is acquired from carotenoid pigments in their fish diet. It fades with age and brightens when they are healthy and well-fed, which means that the shine of their shoes is an excellent indicator of their overall health.
Sean Pont
Male blue-footed boobies court females by flaunting their blue feet, dancing, and presenting nest materials. They are typically monogamous.
Male blue-footed boobies court females by flaunting their blue feet, dancing, and presenting nest materials. They are typically monogamous.
Sean Pont
Swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus). Interestingly, it is the only fully nocturnal gull and seabird in the world, preying on squid and small fish which rise to the surface at night to feed on plankton.
Swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus). Interestingly, it is the only fully nocturnal gull and seabird in the world, preying on squid and small fish which rise to the surface at night to feed on plankton.
An American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) tends her eggs. I prefer mine a little more well done.
An American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) tends her eggs. I prefer mine a little more well done.
Sean Pont
Though not a great shot, I had to include a picture of the red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) for my godparents Bob and Ann. Hello!
Though not a great shot, I had to include a picture of the red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) for my godparents Bob and Ann. Hello!
Sean Pont
Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis). They are now extinct on a number of islands and the species is currently listed as vulnerable -- only 150 mating pairs remain.
Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis). They are now extinct on a number of islands and the species is currently listed as vulnerable -- only 150 mating pairs remain.
Sean Pont
Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis)
Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis)
Sean Pont
A well-camouflaged short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) yawns as he emerges from his home within the lava.
A well-camouflaged short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) yawns as he emerges from his home within the lava.
Sean Pont
Large-billed Galapagos Flycatcher (Myiarchus magnirostris). Thanks to Ann Coulston for the identification!
Large-billed Galapagos Flycatcher (Myiarchus magnirostris). Thanks to Ann Coulston for the identification!
Sean Pont
Sean Pont

Full-resolution images (and a few more birds): https://photos.app.goo.gl/gJiCbYPGSMikoDk23