Natural history

Murky, rainy day…so this photo is from one year ago, on a much sunnier day…although you can’t quite tell that. Trust me.

I just read a NYTimes article reporting that bears rub up against trees so that the tree-bark resin/sap gets in their fur and acts as a tick repellant. These bears are I’m not sure where, but it seems rather northern, like Poland, and the trees include beech trees.

I hypothesize this model doesn’t work for southern bears, as leaning against southern trees (e.g., pines) is a good way to get chiggers. Now chiggers are not ticks, but, personally, I’ll take neither…critter infestations of the skin are…ick, yuck, and no thanks.

Article: “Bears May Rub Against Trees for Protection From Parasites” by Rebecca Dzombak, dated 1 Feb 2023.

Dinosaur removed

Somehow, an anole got into our bathroom. I managed to herd (I use that word loosely; anoles not only run, but hop and jump) the anole into this bucket. Then, I took the bucket to the balcony and let it go.

I decided not to think about how it got into the bathroom. Total mystery.

I’m also trying not to think too much about the early returns on today’s vote. Also rather a mystery.


I looked out the window just after I arose this morning and saw we had browsing visitors…I usually don’t spot them this close to the house. [I admit; I got up later than normal. But….]

Later, at a potluck dinner with attendees representing five households, I heard unanimous agreement that all were spotting deer grazing closer to the house the last several days. Not sure if the raininess is a factor in this; mostly I think it’s the looming arrival of winter snow. [Meat and veggie enchiladas made with whole wheat tortillas, plus kale salad. All yum yum yum. We contributed appetizer, not shown.]

Many sandhills

Sandhill trio

Among the deer assembled to graze, a flock of Canada geese, and these three sandhills. The one on the right is a wee bit smaller than the others, I’m thinking a juvenile. Moments later I heard calls from the field behind me, probably a pair I saw several nights back. That makes even more sandhills nearby than I had hoped!

Guessing game

I’m going with juvenile magnificent frigatebird. Love the delicate blue of the bill.

Another in my Remembering Galápagos series.

Regulating w/o thermal

When I’m not focused on something, my mind drifts back to the Galápagos, including marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)…

…and Galápagos land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus).

Both do lots of thermoregulating and basking.

My body is finally starting to get used to being here. The relatively brief overnight flight Sun/Mon is what messed me up, I’m pretty sure. Last night I was asleep shortly after 8:30pm, and I slept over nine hours.

And tonight—hey, I’m still awake. 😎


Pre-dawn. The colors are ripening.

Left for a wee panga tour of Caleta Tortuga Negra, called Black Turtle Cove in our literature, on the north side of Santa Crúz island. We left at 6am, or dawn. First up: cattle egrets, still in overnight positions at 6:07am.

Less than thirty seconds later: the exodus begins. They fly way inland to feed all day.

About two minutes later; heading deeper in the cove. Sky color still eye-catching.

I could see the napping shark here with my eyes, but my otherwise talented camera could not. This cove is a shark nursery. We saw several young reef sharks and more adults in this cove.

Ducking to get deeper in the cove.

Sea turtle? Can’t remember.

We returned to the larger, outer cove in time to see a feeding frenzy. What you can’t see is that a shark (or perhaps two) came at a school of larger fish, which turned tail and scooted the only safe direction: up. And the birds could see this happening, and hunted the school from above. Carnivores.

Great egrets. Sleeping in compared to the cattle egrets. This was twenty-seven minutes after the cattle egret shots.

Heron, pretty sure, but don’t remember which one.

Rounding the Grace’s stern just before 7am, ending our last wildlife adventure.

We breakfasted while the captain moved Grace into position for us to disembark for the last time. Our breakfast assortment included tamale with a fat sliver of yummy cheese. The maize flour has far more flavor than boring MaSeCa.

The dock we’re headed to is behind that fancy sailing ship.

It’s our final panga ride, of course wearing our life-jackets, with one of these dangling on either side. Despite temptation, I never pulled one. 😎

Waiting for our plane to arrive; it was a little late. We left through Gate 3. While waiting a pair of finches were flying hither and yon beneath this high ceiling and far below that giant fan. One briefly landed on my hat as I sat quietly pondering our terrific trip. Of all things.

Our final steps on Galápagos were on Baltra Island, headed for our ride. Seats 5A and 5B.

Our bland, large, corporate hotel room near the Quito airport NNE of Quito in the next valley. We are clearly no longer on the Grace.

Renaming ahead?

Another glorious sunrise.

Clockwise: husband coffee, wife coffee, husband batman oreos. Actual breakfast followed.

Commonly described as resembling a “Chinese coolie” hat, feast your eyes on Sombrero Chino, the destination of our immediately-after-breakfast walk. [When will this island be renamed for PC reasons?]

It began with a panga tour along a section of the lava-liscious coast, searching for wildlife.

Aha! Close view of a Galápagos hawk. Truly special to see it like this.

Wet landing, then part of the walk was on coral bits. This is the first time we’ve seen concentrations of coral like this.

Lava flow, cooled in place on its gravity-fed descent.

Water meets lava.

We spent some time watching the land iguanas emerging from this space between rocks where they had huddled together for warmth through the night (it was still early). They would stop almost immediately, perhaps doing internal iguana-yawns. Here are two adults and two young.

Back aboard we had lunch followed by our check-out briefing. Sad to contemplate the end of our fabulous excursion in the eastern Galápagos, the part with the older islands—older geologically, so more soil development in general, enabling more diverse plant life.

Afternoon dry landing on Cerro Dragón. This beach had teeny shells and sea urchin spines. Those are the fat tubes in Gustavo-the-Guide’s hand. He said his father and his contemporaries used those spine chunks on slate in school, and thus the common name is pencil sea urchin.

The tide was out a bit, exposing a sandy area with many hermit crabs, mostly not seen. They did leave evidence, not only their burrows, but also these sand balls. They take in the sand, filter all the organic matter that’s in it, then spit out the sand in these little balls.

Sleeping/resting dragon.

Brackish pond.

Stilt? Already forgot.

It took Gustavo’s sharp and well-trained eyes to spot this katydid, right by the trail.

Mature male land iguana. “Doing what they do best,” as Gustavo said.

Mature male iguana in “our” trail. Burrow nearby. Linear patterns in the sand are tail drag marks.


View to sea.

Bartender Javier’s preparations are underway for the goodbye meet-up and toasts with the crew. Scarlett the Cruise Director once again went along the crew line-up, detailing their responsibilities and names. [This also helped us with tipping before we disembarked.] Several of us short-timers made a little speech of thanks. I did one in Spanish on behalf of all of us; my Spanish, although still stilted, has come back relatively rapidly after, what?, perhaps twenty-five years of disuse. Good for my brain.

Best tomato soup I’ve ever had. I am not a Campbell’s fan. This has no cream, and includes potatoes. The crew kindly used Google translate to make and print a recipe for several interested guests. The first ingredient was a certain amount of “dad.” Someone among us was clever enough to realize this was a translation of “papa.” While, of course, not an incorrect translation, it was the wrong one here. Papa means papa/dad, the Pope (as in Father), as well as potatoes.

North and west

We traveled overnight, and boarded pangas starting at 6am to walk on North Seymour Island. The park regulations say that no one can be on land between 8pm and 8am. They require overnight ship passengers are only on land until 10am and after 3pm. The day-trippers get the hot, bright hours in between when many of the animals are far less active. I checked and this photo was at 6:07am, just after we started walking. Pretty sure these are frigate birds.

Sofia is discussing rat problems. The trap has low-level sulfur in it, enough to kill the rat after a time, and not enough that a hawk will sicken from eating it. Rats are of course introduced, and a problem along with goats, dogs, cats, and at least one insect, all causing significant problems.

Call this a frigate bird condo. Frigate birds don’t need much personal space, as you can tell, so the gents try to build their nests in the best trees, to catch a lady frigate bird. The red sacs take perhaps twenty minutes to inflate or deflate. They attract lady frigates to check out nest quality. If the latter meets spec, they will stay and mate.

Frigates pairing up.

Beautiful morning rainbow omen.

If I have it right, the Galápagos islands were stripped of this lichen at one time, to sell for making a purple dye. Lichens are of course slow-growing, so it has taken many decades for them to return.

Land iguana.

Posing bird. I’m anthropomorphizing.

See the two islands? Those are the Daphnes, with Daphne Major to the left, and Daphne Minor to the right. The famous forty-year study of finches by the Grants was on Daphne Major. Others have continued studies. Check out “The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time” by Jonathan Weiner if you’re interested.

On land you can see pairs of white stakes. We only walk between them.

When the booby parent comes back from fishing, the booby baby (technical naturalist term), bangs beaks with the parent. This eventually stimulates the parental bird to regurgitate. The chick sticks its head down the parental throat to get the food.

Aren’t you glad this isn’t the human style.

Back aboard, the Grace got underway and we had breakfast, then most of us watched two very well-made videos, one on Darwin and Wallace, and one on von Humboldt. The latter was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, and probably the first person you could consider a modern naturalist, at least in the Western world. I’m going to hunt up a copy of Wulf’s “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” to read up on this fascinating man and how he laid the groundwork for his successors.

Next, we had a lovely snorkel followed by a late lunch, if I have it right. Or perhaps the snorkel was after lunch? I forgot to record some details.

Our late-day panga trip located, tada!, penguins. The only tropical penguins. Soooo wonderful.

This is a dry landing on Bartolomé. Many other ships in this area.

Bartolomé has a boardwalk, only it’s mostly steps. It goes to the top. We made many photos in the late-day sun.

Note the many cinder cones. Sooooo different from every other island we’ve visited.

When we return after our afternoon excursions, we are greeted by a critter. I think this is a towel owl, a short-eared owl, yet, oddly wearing (my) spectacles. Teehee. John says its a baby Yoda.

Enough iguanas?

There’s no such thing as too many beautiful sunrises.

Juice every morning, and every morning a different fruit. This may be what everyone called tree tomato. I just checked the internet, and in New Zealand it’s called tamarillo. It’s in the Solanaceae family, and is Solanum betaceum. Now I know.

Right after breakfast, we had a wet landing on Santa Fe Island. The sea lions were just becoming active.

This was a short walk to see these giant-size opuntias. The pads are not tasty to humans, but are the favorite of land iguanas.

Right on schedule, here’s a large male land iguana.

And another.

Back on the Grace, the crew lowered kayaks and the pangas took us to a good kayaking spot.

After that, we changed into wet suits for a snorkeling expedition. Again, no photos of these two activities. Salt water, you know.

After lunch, I spotted this hitchhiker. Another came and ousted it.

Dry landing on South Plaza island, and a slow 90-minute loop. Nocturnal gull.

Marine iguana. Note longer narrow tail, used as a paddle in the water. Also, the land iguana’s tails are more rounded on the bottom, a good tip if you find their tracks.

A finch busy looking for…seeds, I think.

Little lava lizard…little compared to the iguanas. On the “trunk” of one of the tall opuntias.

Land iguana profile. Those neck spikes draw my eye every time.

The iguanas have so aggressively dined on the opuntias on the west end of South Plaza that the park folk have planted new ones, with these protective cages. Still, they have had to replant and replant, as the small opuntias are easier for the iguanas to climb and access the pads, as you might guess. Even with the protective cages.

Sun is cruising down, although it’s still an hour and a half to sunset.

Sous Chef Washington’s tiramisu was a resounding success. Several of us thought it the best we’d ever had.

Did you catch that we did a walk, a kayak ride, and a snorkeling expedition all before lunch? I have never changed my clothing so many times day after day in my life.