Isabela: Elizabeth Bay by Panga

Tuesday, 10 July
Temps: 84F (29C) / 72F (22C)

They say the early bird gets the worm.  No thanks, but I’ll take a colorful sunrise, please.

Only a few of us crazy photographers are up to enjoy the sunrise from the ship’s bow.

The gorgeous sunrise wasn’t the only great part of the dawning day.  There were whales in the bay, too.  Three of them came up for air next to the ship to give us a thrill.  Even better, Mui and I got to enjoy their company by ourselves :-)  No photos, I’m afraid; there just wasn’t enough light to take pictures of them.  Nor was an ID possible.  We recorded the sightings in our ‘gray cells’ and just enjoyed being at one with nature on a quiet morning in the Galápagos.

Once the sun is up, the scenery at our anchorage becomes visible.
the Mariela islets are straight ahead; no visitors allowed, I’m afraid.

Having briefly crossed into the northern hemisphere overnight to round the top of the island, the Xpedition was now south of the Equator, anchored off the west coast of Isabela (Albemarle to the British).  Shaped like a seahorse, this is the largest of the islands in the archipelago; and one of the few inhabited ones.  Formed by the joining of six shield volcanoes, Isabela is also one of the youngest islands of the Galápagos.

The arrow points to the site of our morning landing.
[map courtesy of the website]

Everyone did the same thing for this morning’s excursion — a 1½-hour zodiac ride at Elizabeth Bay.  Since there is a limit of three zodiacs at this site, there were two options offered — 8:00a or 10:00a; we had no problems getting seats for the earlier outing.  Hanging back, we were in the last zodiac of the early group with just 10 people, which made moving around when we were taking photographs easier.  No one seemed to want the bow position, so I sat down on the steps and worked from there.

Zodiacs are not great for photography, but we’ve managed to get some decent shots from these unstable platforms on past trips.  This morning, it was a bit more challenging than usual as our driver was having trouble keeping us situated in front of the wildlife.  To be sure, it’s not an easy feat to keep a zodiac steady, but it’s doable by gunning the engine just enough to counteract the current.  Oh well; we did the best we could under the circumstances.

En route to the lagoon at Elizabeth Bay, we made a brief stop at a rocky islet for our first close encounter with blue-footed boobies and flightless cormorants, the latter an endemic species.

One part of the name of the blue-footed booby comes from the Spanish term bobo,
which means fool or clown, and is in reference to their clumsy and awkward
movements on land.  The other part of the name needs no explanation.

Blue-footed boobies have excellent binocular vision, which aids in the
underwater pursuit of their prey.

The foot color of the male is a secondary sexual characteristic.  The coloration is
extremely sensitive, with changes perceivable by the females within a 48-hour period.

I watched this bird carefully, hoping it would make a meal of the crab i n front of it;
I was doomed to be disappointed.

The male blue-footed booby has more yellow on its iris than the female.

With a population of approx. 1,600 adults, the Flightless Cormorant is a species
endemic to Isabela and the neighboring island of Fernandina.  These cormorants
were all too busy preening, and didn’t cooperate for their photo-op.

With no predators to worry about, the ability to swim was more important for these
cormorants.  Over time, their wings became short stubs and they lost their ability to fly.

Here’s a picture of a flightless cormorant drying out his short,
stubby wings as a blue-footed booby looks on.
[photo courtesy of a naturalist.]

As the panga moved closer to the mangrove habitat that was the focus of today’s ride, we came across another bird that we just had to stop for.

This Galápagos Hawk perched patiently while we all clicked away with our cameras.

Landings are not allowed in the mangroves that surround the lagoon.  Our naturalist said snorkeling and swimming are prohibited, too; but that’s contradicted by the Galápagos Conservancy website.  Perhaps he was just trying to discourage people from taking the plunge.  It's also possible that while water activities are allowed in the bay outside they are prohibited in the lagoon.  In any event, I can see how the clear, shallow water with all kinds of underwater life could have been a temptation for the snorkelers amongst us — ooops; sorry, Mr Naturalist, I fell in :-)

As we rode around in the zodiac, we saw many a sea turtle swimming both in and outside the lagoon, as well as eagle and golden cownose rays, penguins, and sea lions.

The scenery from the entrance to the mangrove habitat.

The three pangas went into different coves and we only saw the others in passing.

a polarizer would have made for a better picture of the Golden Cownose Rays
(aka hawkrays), but there simply wasn’t time to put it on the lens.  From a distance,
these rays look like giant leaves floating on the water.  Not endemic to the islands,
they can be seen in many places in Central and South America.

The Galápagos Green Turtle is an endemic subspecies of the Green sea turtle.
they are the only ones that nest in the Archipelago.
[photos courtesy of Xpedition Naturalists.]

Of the 18 species of penguins that live in the southern hemisphere,
the endemic Galápagos Penguin is the only one to live this far north.
[photo courtesy of an xpedition naturalist.]

Bookend Brown Pelicans — actually the same bird from different angles.
No brown feathers on the back of the neck makes this a nonbreeding adult.
despite their size, Brown Pelicans can sit on branches that are just finger-thick.

A pair of playful sea lions entertain us for a while, …

… and another one comes close to check us out!

And now for the pièce de résistance of this outing — a juvenile striated heron (aka the mangrove heron) … at least that’s what I think this bird is.  I photographed it thinking it was a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron, but looking at it later, I realized its eyes were the wrong color.  No wonder the naturalists were so excited about this rare sighting.

The Galápagos Diary (by Herman Heinzel and Barnaby Hall) shows a map with sightings of this bird on Isabela Island, so the chances are good that we did indeed see the striated heron.  At the time the book was written (copyright 2000) Heinzel mentions this bird as being a recently known breeder in the islands.  Here’s a small excerpt:

Green Heron — Striated Heron — Lava Heron: Are they three different species or subspecies of a widely distributed small heron?  If so, they should all be lumped as one species, Mangrove Heron.

… Perhaps Striated is only a colour phase of the all-dark slate–coloured Lava Heron, or is it a more recent colonist (at least over a 100 years) and still only found in mangroves.

And therein lies the eternal quest of birders … is it or is not?

only this bird knows for sure what kind of heron it is :-)

On the way back to the ship, we asked if we could swing by the larger of the Marielas islets.  No can do; they are highly protected.  Our naturalist even got his knuckles rapped — virtually — when the bridge noticed us slowing down as we passed by.  Honest, we weren’t going that slow; didn’t even get one decent picture of the blue-footed boobies on the guano-painted rocks.


  1. Oh my goodness! Another great day with spectacular photos. Thank you so much for sharing. Is there any way possible for you to post the contents of your camera bag? I'm wondering what bodies, lenses, laptop, etc. you brought with you. Thanks!

    1. I use Canon camera equipment. 7D DSLR bodies, and 17-55 IS f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 IS II lenses. For most of the wildlife shots, I used a 2x III extender so that with my cropped body sensor, on the long end my 70-200 was 640 mm. I carried a Canon Powershot G12 compact camera for landscapes and left the DSLR with the 17-55 on the ship to reduce the weight I was carrying on walks. As for the laptop; I travel with a 13" Macbook Pro which serves as my first backup for photos and allows me to draft out my blog entries. My camera bag also included a 1 TB external drive - second backup of photos. Hope this is helpful.

    2. Underwater videos were shot using a Canon Powershot S95 P&S still camera w/HD video capability. We bought the underwater casing separately.

    3. Yes, very helpful. Thank you for your generosity in sharing this wonderful adventure. I look forward to each new post :)

  2. What a hoot those boobies are. I have NEVER seen anything like them.
    Another outstanding post. You two are sure blessed to be able to visit this gorgeous part of the world.

  3. gorgeous photos did a fine the sunrise and the blue footed boobies!!!

  4. Magnificent collection. Isn't zodiac cruising just the greatest.

  5. Gün doğuşunu her zaman için gün batımına tercih ederim. Ayaklarının fotosunu da koysaydın kuşların yanına :))

    1. Translation for Sis's comment: "I always prefer sunrise to sunset. You should have put the picture of your feet next to the birds."

      For those who don't know what the latter part of her comment refers to ... link.

  6. Never thought I would see a Blue-Footed Booby. Thanks for the pictures - they are amazing.

  7. I am LOVING this trip of yours! Other than the feet, the blue-footed booby looks nothing like I imagined. Who would have thought-a wingless cormorant? Love the picture of the two of them. I think the booby is thinking, "Are you kidding with those tiny wings?" Thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures.

    1. Yeah -- nice to have a long-winged and a stubby-winged bird together:-)))