First – the scar. We were out on a day boat-trip to North Seymour Island – of which more shortly. Said our guide – “Plans have changed – we’re going over there” – pointing to Mosquera, a low island with a white sand beach.
On with the togs, and into the Zodiac. As soon as we came near, a couple of pups were grabbing and pulling on the trailing end of a rope, for all the world like young dogs.
Onto the beach – and into the water. Impossible to count how many pups were there under the sole charge of the bull. But with a bunch of new human playmates ready to join the fun, it was game on. They barrel-rolled and flipped and porpoised, pausing occasionally to look quizzically at us as if to say “Come on, try this move”.
I tried. I tried. I channelled my inner synchronised swimmer. I spun and rolled in an ungainly approximation of the routine. And every way my head ended up, there was a whiskery nose close to mine, or a big brown eye assessing my readiness for the next move.
Trouble was … like puppies, they wanted to keep playing long after my energy had worn out. A quiet snorkel off to see if I could watch any fish (not many hanging around there for obvious reasons) was interrupted first by a whiskering on my feet, then a little nip on my toes. Play more! Ignoring that request won the nip on my arm. Then the guardian bull sea-lion lumbered into the water – my excuse for a strategic timeout. But what a souvenir! And never fear – I’d had my tetanus booster and a splash of peroxide back on the boat was all that was needed. Another of our party got well-toothed too. He claimed his bite was from the tiger shark we’d seen earlier. Yeh, right.
Back to North Seymour Island. We’d cruised one coast earlier in the day, awestruck by the geology. The whole Galapagos group is largely volcanic, in many different forms. North Seymour though is a seismically uplifted flat arid island, with its history of submarine lava layers visible in the sea-cliffs.
Such excitement to see the first one, cameras clicking flat tack, trying to get a line through the branches of the almost leafless Palo Santo trees. Then as we walked mad-dogs-and-Englishmen style in the noon-day Equatorial sun, they were everywhere, nesting on thrown-together twigs, and displaying those astonishing gulars.
We had been well-schooled by guide Luiz about sticking to the paths and not getting closer than 2 metres – and the birds were simply right there! It is (of course) the males doing the displaying – from what we saw, to welcome the female back to the nest and to protect their territory, but mostly, to attract a female.
There’s an awful lot of competition, since the frigate’s habit of the female raising the chick for many months takes her out of the breeding cycle every alternate year. Half the females not available … no wonder the chaps need some pretty spectacular “look at ME” gear.
Then there are the Blue-footed Boobies. Ground-nesters, their scrape of a nest is surrounded by a star-blaze of squirted guano. They only raise a single chick each year, from three eggs, on a ‘survival of the fittest’ principle. The male booby hangs around just for a while, so the female alone can gather enough fish for only one chick.
That might be partly the frigates’ fault. The Magnificent Frigates like co-habiting with the Boobies. The frigates’ glossy plumage is not water-proof – a bit of a design fault for a sea-bird, so they’ve evolved a behaviour to compensate. The frigates wait till the boobies have dived into the ocean and caught a fish. They then monster them in flight until the boobies throw up their meal, and use their wide-span swoop-power to catch the fish before it re-enters the ocean, without getting their feet, or feathers, wet.
Another clever fisher is the white gull.
Its red eye rim and feet are luminescent at night. Squid are attracted to light. Therefore…
“Well I never, here comes dinner!”
North Seymour now has a land iguana population too, from a group relocated from neighbouring Balta Island in the 1930s, when it was clear they were threatened there. They actually went extinct on Balta in the 1950s. The introduced North Seymour population then provided the stock to repopulate Balta in the 1990’s. They’re doing OK back home. Round of applause for the Darwin Research Station. More on them when I write about the giant tortoises. Sometime tortoise-soon. Anyway, Luiz got a North Seymour resident iguana to demonstrate how to eat a cactus fruit. First you roll it round in the scoria to remove the prickles. Voila – safe to scoff.
It’s been a long post. Thanks for coming and staying with me.