Galapagos Diaries - Day 7 & 8 - South Plaza, North Seymour Island & San Cristobal

Posted by Lisa Pagotto

South Plaza Island
South Plaza Island

We spent the morning exploring the small island of South Plaza, a small geological uplift with tall cliffs on one side offering spectacular views, the other side, sliding into the ocean gently and as expected, littered with marine iguanas and sea lions.

Land iguana
Land iguana

This time though, we had a new species to discover. The Land Iguana. As we weaved through a trail of Prickly Pear, Opuntia and Sesuvium trees, we spotted the mustard coloured Land Iguanas dotted beneath almost every tree. Obtaining their moisture from chomping on cactus leaves (ouch), these prehistoric creatures are much larger than the marine iguanas we had encountered previously. Varying from a bright yellow to a dirty, almost yellow rust colour, these fattys feature shorter, rounder tails and not to mention bulging bellys.

Marine iguana
Marine iguana

We watched in anticipation as a dark male marine iguana (who smiled coyly for the camera - above) approached a female land iguana wanting to interbreed. He approached slowly, as we learned that the iguanas mate by the male latching onto the neck of a female with their jaws causing her quite a bit of pain while he does his duties. Once over, the female then seeks revenge to hurt the male in return. We are keen to witness this.

He swaggerd up. She saw him in her peripheral and walked away. He snuck a little closer. She moved further away. This ordeal continued for a few hundred metres until the marine iguana was a little far from the water to continue and gave up. No luck for him.

Land iguana on the move
Land iguana on the move

As we ascended toward the steep cliffs that ran along the back of the island, flocks of shearwater birds flapped in frenzy. There were hundreds of these small black and white birds combined with the odd boobie or frigate. Swallow tailed gulls and red billed tropicbirds also nested in the cliffs.

Schools of yellow tailed king angel fish were visible feeding on the surface of the water below, alongside green mullet.

Watching the birds and fish
Watching the birds and fish

These fish were too large for the birds so there is no threat to them being eaten, the birds swoop and dive into the waters aiming for the smaller fish.

As we walked along the cliff side, we came to a colony of bachelor sea lions. The dominant bulls splayed along these cliffs are all in various stages of recovery from lost battles for prime beach territory (or rejection) from females and have made themselves at home on these high cliff tops while the blasting sun soothes their damaged egos.

Rejected bachelor sea lions
Rejected bachelor sea lions

Following lunch, we had the chance for our last deep water snorkel. Visibility was poor and the water extremely choppy. Some of the group saw a small shark, some others an eel and a ray. We witnessed sea lions playing amongst the snorkellers but not much else.

We then had a dry landing at North Seymour, another small geological uplift. We followed a trail that looked like we were walking onto the set of Jurassic Park. Barron, desolate, sunburnt, eerie.

North Seymour Island
North Seymour Island

Ensuring we didn’t tread on the sea lions as we walked, we witnessed blue footed boobies dotted on the rocks with the turquoise waves barreling in perfect spirals behind them.

Blue Footed Booby
Blue Footed Booby

Tangled dead looking twigs and branches interweave to create a nesting home to many frigate birds and their fluffy white chicks. Magnificent and Great Frigate birds were scattered in the barron shrubs before us.

This was our first sighting of the Magnificent Frigate birds in full swell. A handful of males were puffed up ready to attract a female. It looked quite uncomfortable for them as they battled to turn their heads with this massive red balloon in front of them. Their long beaks have a hook at the end - I wonder if they ever accidentally pop their own balloon? Of course that would be terrible but it definitely looked possible.

Magnificent Frigate bird
Magnificent Frigate bird

Apparently once the males have found a female partner, assuming she sticks around and doesn't search for a better offer, it can take a good few days for his ballooned chest to deflate so they can get to work. Seems like a bit of a nuisance if you ask me.

Wandering on, we again witnessed the endemic land iguanas here, glowing in the late afternoon sun as they basked on the tarnished rocks.

We headed back to the ship for the Captains farewell cocktail party for our last night on board.

Sunset
Sunset

Day 8, back to San Cristobal. Our last day in paradise.

We had a short visit this morning to the interpretation centre where we gain a more complete understanding of the natural and human history of the islands. Did you know that Floreana island used to be a penal colony and that many of the inhabitants of the Galápagos Islands are actually descendants of prisoners much like the convicts in Australia?

Perhaps being a prisoner wasn't so bad seeing as it seems that prisoners were sent to the most exotic locations on earth!

From here it was time to fly back to mainland Ecuador and our time in the enchanted islands was over.

Crooked Compass travelled with Ecoventura on board MY Eric.

Golden skies
Golden skies

Looking for more Animal Encounters or Natural Phenomena to include in your travels? Download and search the Crooked Compass Travel App for inspiration or join our next Galapagos Expedition!