Top: Male frigate birds inflate their pouches in a bid to attract a female. The birds gather in large nesting colonies among branches inland from the beach.
Middle: Blue-footed boobies check each other out as potential mates. The uplifted tail feathers are a clue they are on the prowl.
Bottom: A sea lion snoozes among the vegetation close to the beach on North Seymour Island.
Photos by Janet Shedd
Sunday, Day 2 - North Seymour Island
and Rabida Island.
I am a day behind on posting, but Sunday was an amazing day. Up at 6:30 a.m., breakfast and then onto the Zodiacs – inflatable rubber boats that transport us from the ship to the islands – and to North Seymour Island. North Seymour is an uplift island rather than a volcanic island so it is very flat, covered with leafless trees and prickly pear cacti. It’s a favorite of birds – from the moment you set foot on the island you are surrounded by sounds. It’s nesting season, so the birds are seeking a mate. The male frigate birds make a drumming sounds that crescendos to a frenzy when a female flies by…. Blue-footed boobies whistle and honk. It’s a constant overlay of sound, backed by the smell of bird guano that streaks the rocks white. Sea lions loll on the sand or patrol the waters of the coast, while land iguanas slowly move about, eating the cacti. It’s a busy island because birds are set on the business of continuing life.
One of the highlights was watching a blue-footed booby mating dance – the male stepping from side to side with exaggerated care to show off his blue webbed feet, his tail feathers held high. The two tilt their heads back and cross beaks, whistling and honking, as the female decides whether or not to accept the male.
In the frigate bird colony, males inflate a red pouch to size of a small balloon in hopes of attracting females. When a female flies by the crowd of males goes wild, throwing their throats back to show off and making strident drumming sounds. They live in colonies, so the landscape is dotted with puffed red throats. Once a male has found a mate, he deflates his chest and the nest building starts. A very different island from Santa Cruz, but that is the Galapagos. Each island has its own character.
On the way to North Seymour, our guide, Celso, pointed out the small island of Daphne Major where groundbreaking work on evolution by two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, has been going on for years. After reading about it (the Grants are finding that evolution happens so rapidly among the finch population there that you can actually see it happen), it’s a real highlight for me to see the island where that research takes place. After seeing it I have a lot of respect for the Grants and their team – you have to climb cliffs to even get on the island and it is steep-sided and desolate.
In the afternoon, we move to Rabida Island. Tall cliffs tower above gritty, red sand beaches (lots of iron in the rocks that composed the sand), and sea lions hang out on the beaches. Mockingbirds – one of the species that turned the light on for Darwin as he developed his theory of natural selection – fiercely patrol their turf. They are small birds, but they come angrily at their human visitors in defense of their area. We snorkel along the coastline and get a close-up view of a manta ray, a sea turtle, lots of fish, sea urchins, and for some of us (not me, sadly) a white-tipped reef shark! Marine iguanas, the only marine lizard in the world, feed on algae underwater. The water is full of plankton and other nutrients, thanks to a deep water current called the Cromwell Current that rises up as it hits the underwaterGalapagos Platform where the islands sit.
Our guide, Celso, was born in the Galapagos and talked to us about how different life on this island was. There was no electricity and a trade economy. People in the highlands collected water from the garua mists and grew sugar cane, while people in the lowlands fished and raised goats. They would trade resources to survive. As children, Celso said, they could learn about how the natural world worked just by listening, watching and waiting. They learned to use every single sense to interpret and predict what was going on. “As kids,” he said, “we listened. We smelled things, we heard, we walked barefoot. We had an internal gyre – we saw where the sun rose and set and felt where the breeze came from.” Now, he said, people “never listen, we are always talking, always active. We never sit and listen. …. Without talking, we can learn.”
In a Montessori classroom, we try to engage those powers of observation. We ask children to use their eyes, to touch things, to think critically. But sometimes I find I as a teacher get caught up in the "to-do" list mentality -- have you done your math work, have you done your language choice? Celso's words are a good reminder to me of the importance of just sitting, watching and observing. The most important learning happens that way.