Day 2: Surprising species behavior on land and sea around South Plazas Island

On our trip to Plazas Island we were able to see numerous interesting species and their unique behaviors from meeting a land iguana to snorkeling with schools of fish.

After everyone’s presentations last Friday on the species living in the Galápagos, today seemed so amazing and surreal as we meet many of them during our trip to South Plazas Island.

The morning began with a filling breakfast provided by our hotel, and our first interaction of the day with a couple of Medium Ground Finches. There was one male in the group who obviously claimed the territory of the hotel as his own when we saw him chase of the other males who came into the area. No natural selection was in effect for these birds as they scavenged any that may have dropped from the tables.

Hybrid Marine and Land Iguana

Hybrid Marine and Land Iguana

After breakfast we gathered our gear, snorkels included, and headed out to the buses and meet our tour guides for the day. Greg headed off with Camilla, Emilie, and Kristen to North Seymour Island, while the rest of the group met Graciela. She took us on a short tour through town of Port Ayora during which we picked up our chef for the day Felix and the captain Santiago of our chartered boat the Galápagos Shark II. Felix brought with him some fresh fish purchased at the market down next to the pier that would eventually become our lunch for the day.

We traveled back along the main road that connects Port Ayora with the dock on the north end of Santa Cruz near Baltra. We passed through the farmlands again we saw the Escalacea Tree, some cattle, and the twin craters that originated from draining magma chambers. The escalacea tree is found on different islands on the Galápagos and is surprisingly a relative of sunflowers. Graciela told us about that 70% of the Santa Cruz population is some how connected with the tourism industry by way of tour guides, hotel owners, shop owners, fishermen, and many more.

Once began our day cruise to South Plazas on the Galápagos Shark II we saw many amazing animal behaviors from jumping manta rays to nursing sea lions. For a large portion of the trip a Great Frigatebird glided around our boat. Symme told me that this behavior is highly common as well as the origin of their name. They would hover around frigates begging for food, much like the one we saw. We could tell it was a Great Frigatebird because when it dipped low enough we could see green feathers on the back of its torso.

There were many feeding frenzies as well, where large flocks of birds, including both the Storm and Galápagos Petrels, were flying around sections of the ocean trying to catch fish. When we arrived on the island there were many sea lions to greet us near the stone pier. We could see many pups playing in the water as the bull, or single male head of the beach harem, watched over them. There were many separated harems of sea lions along the lava rock shores. They were happily splashing in the tide while Sally-Lightfoot Crabs skittered about. One of the most surprising sites of the day was a rare hybrid iguana, which occur when land and marine iguanas mate.

As we walked up the desert like island it seemed that each land iguana had its own prickly pear cactus to rest and cool off under.

Yellow land iguana.

Yellow land iguana.

Once we got to the westward side of the island the shallow sloped land covered in cacti, land iguanas, and salty sea grass, the land dropped off forming a rocky cliff. Storm Petrels were making circular arcs all along the cliff face, back and forth directly in front of us. Graciela said they did this in order to land in their exact nest locations with the strong winds and dangerous rocks.

Some Blue-Footed Boobies were also seeming to call the cliff face home, or at least a momentary refuge. Towards the end of the cliff face it was surprising to sea some sea lions away from the shoreline up on the edge bathing in the sun.

Students checking out the seabirds on the cliffs of South Plaza

Students checking out the seabirds on the cliffs of South Plaza

When we got back to the boat we enjoyed a fantastic meal cooked by Felix including Wahoo fish, purple cabbage with pickled plums, mashed potatoes, and cucumbers. I ate every last bite. Following lunch there was another short ride to our snorkeling site where everyone jumped in to swim with the abundant marine life.

A lot of people were having issues with their goggles fogging up, but that did not stop anyone from enjoying their first swim in the Galápagos. Rosa and Becca were lucky enough to see a sea turtle and shark respectively, but they quickly swam away before the group could enjoy the sights. We did see many Razor Surgeonfish feeding on the algae, some Sunset Wrasse and Bicolor Parrotfish, and large schools of Silverfish.

It was fantastic being able to swim with all of these species as they went about their daily activities. Soon enough it was time to get out and dry off and head back to Port Ayora. Almost everyone took a well-deserved nap on the way back from a long and fun day of Galápagos adventures.