Day 4: Our species logs are growing quickly now. We arrived at Genovesa Island, awakening in the midst of Darwin Bay – a huge caldera whose ring of cliffs extended about 300 degrees around us. The dinghies took us along the cliff face, where we saw fur seals, masked boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and a heron (striated or yellow-crowned, I now can’t recall).
Then, landing on the beach, we were greeted by the sight of a sea lion with her two- or three-day-old pup. All hearts immediately melted. We watched them squirm and scrape themselves along the sand, honking and hooting. At one point they flopped down and the mother stroked her pup with a flipper. Our guide Edgar drew pictures in the sand to demonstrate the difference between sea lions and seals, and the mother came over to check out his handiwork. Edgar then tried to focus our attention on some juvenile red-footed boobies, but it was a long time before we could fully tear away.
Along the path we saw a large cactus finch, and red mangrove trees filled with red-footed boobies, some nesting. The chicks ranged from round white balls of fluff, the size of a large egg, to bigger cousins perhaps a foot high. Dozens of red-footed and masked boobies sat in a small field like so many sparrows.
We lapped around to the beach and there the sea lions continued to put on a display for us, including a bout of sibling rivalry between the infant and a slightly older juvenile. There was also a second mother and infant pair, who lay close by but seemed to keep themselves uninvolved in their neighbors’ affairs. I stood for quite a while with my group-mate Tona, watching the mother and child nuzzle in their patch of shade. Took a refreshing dip in the water, though again, not much to see there.
In the afternoon, took a dinghy back to the island, passing some sea lions and fur seals lying together on the cliff. We had a wet landing onto a small stone platform, from which we immediately ascended Prince Philipe Steps (El Barranco): basically a series of stairs carved out of the rock face. At the top we had many more close-up encounters with boobies, mostly masked, some red-footed, They sat around in a stone clearing as if waiting for the next visitors, and along the way were simply everywhere – in fields, in holy trees (palo santos), on the edge of the path.
It’s amazing how quickly you become accustomed to walking straight up to a huge goose-sized bird, waiting for the perfect shot, and then snapping your photo. None of the usual hustle for everyone to get a glimpse, or sad resignation that only the first upon an animal will get the photo. For any given bird, iguana or seal of interest, you can just take your time getting your shot (or four, or five), move off to the side and let the next tourist idle up. It’s astounding how soon that begins to feel normal, and you need to keep reminding yourself that you’ll never photograph a chickadee with the ease that you framed that photo of a Galapagos finch.
We walked through a small grove of holy trees, then out onto an open hill-top. The boobies clustered in the field to our left. To our right, we watched wedge-rumped storm petrels wheel overhead, eating insects, where the island met the sea. One of our group spotted a short-eared owl perched in a crevice in the ground, sitting about four feet down, and wearing a bit of a “who, me?” expression as he surveyed the discarded petrel parts around him.
Took a short swim straight off the boat with Tona and Judy, and saw a roughly foot long grey fish sashay back and forth next to the steel hull.