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You are here:7.0 Galapagos Islands

7.0 Galapagos Islands

A guide to find the gaudy, rare and very much sought-after bird species in Ecuador.

By

Lelis Navarrete

Despite the fact that the Galapagos Islands are relatively impoverished in bird species when compared with  Ecuadorian mainland standards, the islands hold more than four times the  endemic bird species that can be encountered on continental Ecuadorian territory. The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the most unique and endangered species of the world and many of them show extremely tame behavior.  These wonderful traits make a visit to the Galapagos Islands obligatory for bird and wildlife lovers.

A total of 152 bird species have been recorded in the Galápagos Islands.   From this number only 61 species are resident, 29 of them endemic to Galápagos and another 15 species represented by endemic subspecies.  The other 91 species are either migrants (25) that could be found in a yearly basis, or vagrants with very few records (66).

 

The total land area of the archipelago is just over 8,000 km2.  This includes 19 major islands and 42 islets and surfacing rocks, spread over about 45,000 square kilometers of sea.   The archipelago extends some 430 Km from Darwin Island, in the northwest, to Española Island in the southeast.   From Point Cristóbal at the southwest of Isabela Island to Genovesa Island in the northeast is 220 km. The archipelago is located at 1,100 kilometers from mainland Ecuador.

There are 7 life or vegetation zones in the islands and these life zones are of primary importance to visit in attempts to encounter all the sought-after birds from Galápagos.

 

Birders must commence visiting the Galapagos Islands from the cities of Guayaquil or Quito, which are the only cities having flights to Baltra airport near Santa Cruz island or to San Cristóbal island.  There are many tour companies and boats with all sorts of tours in the Islands, but none of them specialize in birding or are designed to visit all the needed habitats to have a chance to view all the Galápagos bird endemic species. There are several birding companies, based in Ecuador and elsewhere, which offer birding tours in Galápagos that have special itineraries to find all the endemic bird species. These trips are normally expensive. Because such trips require chartering boats that travel from island to island, the quality and speed of the boat are factors that will determine the cost of the trip and the timeframe for your visit.  A boat that holds a group of 16people is the best alternative because of its maneuverability and speed.  There are opportunities to do independent birding, but the range of action will be limited as you will be confined to fewer islands.

 

To visit any site in within the boundaries of the National Park you must go with a licensed guide. The ultimate plan would be to organize a trip where you arrive at the islands in your own boat, plan your own itinerary, hire a naturalist guide and get a very expensive permit from the Galapagos National Park.   This last idea would be the hardest to undertake, as there is a restriction on the numbers of people visiting each landing site per day.  In addition, with this plan you would be required to pay $300 US per day/per person while visiting the islands aboard your own boat.  Trying to see all the Galápagos endemics bird species by means of taking a regular tour with any company would require you to visit the Galápagos Islands at least twice, or to take a combination of 2 tours in two weeks.

 

The ongoing increase in the number of people visiting the islands each year has forced the National Park service to tighten the rules for visitors.   It is possible that in the future special itineraries, such as the one described below, may not be allowed.   In theory each boat could apply for 7 special itineraries that take them off the normal route they do every week.  Birding companies are taking advantage of these special itineraries, and hire boats that apply for them, so they can visit the right places for an endemic bird quest.

 

This section describes a nice 8-day itinerary which you can start either from Baltra or San Cristóbal airports.   It is designed as a circuit, but because the National Park only allows only one landing on a visitor site per morning or afternoon, there might be restrictions on whether you go a giving morning or afternoon. This fact is related to the number of other boats visiting the same island as your boat, and the number of people at any particular site.

 

1. The ultimate itinerary for birders.

Day 1. Arrival in Baltra (Daphne Minor) or San Cristóbal (Islas Lobos).

Day 2. GenovesaIsland, (El Barranco and the Darwin’s Beach).

Day 3. Isabela Island (Playa Tortuga Negra) and Fernandina Island (Punta Espinosa)

Day 4. Isabela Island (Bahía Elisabeth and Punta Moreno).

Day 5. Santa Cruz Island (Media Luna, Los Gemelos, Rancho Primicias and the Charles Darwin Station)

Day 6. San Cristóbal Island Highlands and Española Island (Punta Suarez)

Day 7. Floreana Island (The Highlands of Floreana, circumnavigation to Champion Islet by Floreana, Punta Cormorant).

Day 8. Return to Baltra Island (Seymour North) or return San Cristóbal Island to visit a site in San Cristóbal before flights.

 

(Click here to download Map. Galápagos Islands Main Map.)

 

Any visit to Galapagos Islands will invariably start at the airports of either Santa Cruz or Cristóbal Islands (there are no other airports in the islands). The birding on these two islands is described on Santa Cruz’s and on San Cristóbal’s subchapters and is of special interest for the birders attempting to do “solo” birding.

 

7.1. Baltra Island and Daphne Minor Island.

Habitats.

Arid zone

 

Logistics.

Baltra and Daphne Minor Islands

The best place to start the optimal birding trip to the Galápagos Islands is the small island of Baltra, where the Galápagos National customs will require you to pay an entry fee of $ 100 US. 

If you have chartered a boat for the special itinerary, you will head to the El Muelle (the dock that has been taken over by the Galapagos Sea Lions) to get onboard your ship.  If you are trying to bird on your own, you will take to the bus across the Itabaca Channel on the way to Puerto Ayora.  Bus rides Baltra-Canal and Baltra Muelle are free.

 

(Click here to download Map of Baltra)

Birding

Baltra Island

Some of the common birds to see when reaching the shore off Baltra include: Brown Pelican (the endemic subspecies urinator), Elliot’s Storm-petrel (the endemic subspecies galapagoensis), Magnificent Frigatebird and Blue-footed Booby (the endemic subspecies exisa), Common Noddy (the endemic subspecies galapagensis). All the above mentioned species are fairly common in the shallow waters of almost all the islands and are a common sight for when visiting the Galápagos Islands.

 

Birds to look for

Baltra Island

Arid   Zone (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common:  Small Ground Finch (e) (AZ, SS), Brown Pelican (SS), Elliot’s Storm-petrel (SS),   Magnificent Frigatebird (endemic   subspecies magnificens) (AZ, SS),   Blue-footed Booby (AZ, SS), Common Noddy (SS).

Uncommon: Galápagos Dove (e) (AZ, SS), Galápagos Mockingbird (e) (AZ, SS).

Rare:   Dark-billed Cuckoo (AZ).

  

Daphne Minor

Daphne Minor is a cylinder-shaped island with sheer cliffs that can be observed from the Baltra airport.

Birding

Daphne Minor Island

A short boat ride to Daphne Minor will offer a chance to look for the rare and very localized Galápagos Martin.   The boat should go to the Northeast side of Daphne Minor.  Look for the martin when the birds make their sallies from the top of the high cliff to look for insects.  During the hot-warm rainy season the martins nest in the crevices at the top of the cliff.

Note: The best site to look for the Galápagos Martin in the islands is the upper rim of the Volcan Sierra Negra. At this volcano the Galápagos Martin is fairly common but the visit to this site will require changing your itinerary or adding an extra day.

 

(Click here to download Map of Daphne Minor)

Birds to look for

Daphne Minor Island

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common:   Red-billed Tropicbird (SS), Blue-footed Booby (the endemic subspecies exisa)   (AZ, SS), Common Noddy (endemic   species galapagensis) (AZ, SS).

Rare: Galápagos Martin (e) (AZ, SS).

 

7.2. Genovesa Island.

Habitats.

Arid zone

 

Logistics.

Genovesa Island

Genovesa is a fairly flat island to the northwest of the Archipelago with a land surface of about 14 square km and a maximum elevation of 75 m.   The central volcano is now a big caldera filled with seawater to a depth of 64 meters.  Darwin Bay (the site where all tour boats anchor), is also a huge collapsed caldera 180 meters deep.   This bay provides access to the two only landing sites on the island.

(Click here to download Map of Genovesa)

 

Birding

Darwin Bay.

The trail starts on a small white coral beach.   The first half of the trail passes inland along the edge of the intertidal zone with some mangrove growth and tide pools. Swallow-tailed Gulls and Great Frigatebirds are numerous along the first part of the trail Sharp-beaked Ground Finch (e) is also frequently seen.

The second part of the trail leaves the beach behind and continues on lava fields that are rough at the beginning.  Soon the trail climbs along the side of the cliff toward the navigation beacons.  Here the ground gets smoother and easier to walk.  The low Opuntia Prickly Pear Cactus stand is probably the best place to look for the Large Cactus Finch (e) from Genovesa. Some of this cactus is also found at the beginning of the trail at the base of the cliff close to the white sandy beach.  The colony of Red-footed Boobies at Darwin Bay is a place of special interest, as many nests will be at close range and eye-level.  The Genovesa form of Large Cactus Finch may represent a different species than the one found on Española, (subspecies conirostris). This is true as there is a very low possibility of contact between the two subspecies.  They have totally different voices and bill shape, which also suggest that they are separate species.  Unfortunately I have no experience with the darwinii race from Darwin and Wolf islands, but further studies and especially the DNA analysis, will throw more light on the evolutionary relationship between these three races. 

Birds to look for

Darwin Bay.

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS),

Common:    Swallow-tailed Gull (SS), Nazca Booby (SS), Red-footed Booby (AZ, SS),   Galápagos Mockingbird (e) (subspecies   bauri) (AZ, SS), Great Frigatebird   (AZ, SS), Large Cactus Finch (e)   (subspecies propingua) (AZ),   Sharp-beaked Ground Finch (e)   (subspecies difficilis) (AZ, SS),   Warbler Finch (e) (subspecies mentalis) (AZ, SS), Yellow Warbler (AZ).

Uncommon: Lava   Heron (e) (AZ, SS), Galápagos Dove   (AZ, SS), Large Ground Finch (e) (AZ,   SS).

 

Birding

Prince Philip’s Steps

After walking up the steep trail it flattens at the top of the island and passes through a Holy Tree, or Palo Santo forest, and heads to the far cliff on the south-east side of the island.  Here, two species of storm-petrels have their nesting colonies in the lava crevices on top of this cliff. Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel, also known as Galápagos Storm-Petrel (endemic subspecies tethys), visit their nests throughout the day. The Band-rumped Storm-petrel arrives nocturnally, and a late afternoon visit to the upper cliff may afford you the chance to see both species..

The Short-eared Owl (endemic subspecies galapagoensis) can also be seen in the area as it hunts for inattentive storm-petrels returning or leaving their colony.

The Band-rumped Storm-Petrel is a pelagic species, searching for food in extremely deep waters.  When sailing to or from Genovesa Island is a great opportunity to see it, but several hours of searching on the ocean may be required.

When navigating towards Isabela Island plan to reach it in the early morning of the next day, you will begin this navigation in the mid-afternoon.  This will get you near Marchena Island in the late afternoon allowing you time to look for the uncommon Galápagos Petrel.

 

Birds to look for

Prince Philip’s Steps

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common:  Swallow-tailed Gull (SS), Red-footed Booby (SS),   Nazca Booby (SS), Great Frigatebird (AZ, SS), Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel (SS),   Galápagos Mockingbird (e) (the   subspecies bauri) (AZ, SS),   Sharp-beaked Ground Finch (e)   (subspecies difficilis) (AZ, SS).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Petrel (e) (SS), Short-eared Owl (AZ, SS), Lava Heron (e) (SS), Large Ground Finch (e) (AZ, SS), Large Cactus Finch (e) (subspecies propingua) (AZ, SS), Warbler Finch (e) (subspecies mentalis)   (AZ, SS), Lava Gull (e) (SS),   Galápagos Dove (e) (AZ, SS),   Yellow Warbler (AZ, SS).

Rare:   Band-rumped Storm-petrel (SS).

 

 

7.3. Fernandina Island

Habitats.

Arid zone

 

Logistics.

Fernandina Island

The youngest of the Galapagos Islands, Fernandina has a land surface of 642 square kilometers and a maximum elevation of 1494 meters.  This island has an active volcano and the only site open to visitors is Punta Espinosa.  You can visit in the same day that you visit the Playa Tortuga Negra site on Isabela Island.   It is preferable to visit Playa Tortuga Negra in the early morning and leave Punta Espinosa for the afternoon.

 

Birding

Punta Espinosa.

It is located on the northeast corner of Fernandina Island, facing the western side of Isabela Island.  It is a low point, jutting out into the Canal de Bolivar. The trail begins in an area of mangroves, but immediately goes out to the open along a sandy stretch.  Please stay on the trail as this sandy area is a nesting site for the Marine Iguanas.   At the end of this little peninsula, the uplifted rocky shore is a nesting ground for the iconic Flightless Cormorant (e). This is the best site to observe the cormorant on their nests, but it is also regularly seen when the birds are looking for food in the shallow waters by the shore of Fernandina and Western Isabela islands. 

The numerous tidal pools and gently shelving shore are great places to look for waders, especially during the northern winter.  The large number of Marine Iguanas attracts the opportunistic Galápagos Hawk (e), which feeds on them.

A few Mangrove Finches have recently been found again along the trail, apparently having dispersed across from Isabela.

(Click here to download Map of Punta Espinosa)

 

Birds to look for

Punta Espinosa.

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common:   Flightless Cormorant (e) (SS),   Galápagos Shearwater (e) (SS),   Elliot’s Storm Petrel (endemic   subspecies galapagoensis) (SS).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Hawk (e) (SS), Whimbrel (SS),   American Oystercatcher (endemic subspecies   galapagensis) (SS), Semipalmated   Plover (SS).

 

7.4. Isabela Island.

Habitats.

Arid zone

 

Logistics.

Isabela Island

The biggest island of the archipelago, Isabela´s land surface is 4.588 square kilometers and highest elevation of 1.707 meters.  This island accounts for half of the archipelago’s total land area.  Isabela is composed of six main volcanoes (Ecuador,Wolf, Darwin, Aledo, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul) and despite its big size and diversity of habitats, all the sites I recommend to visit are right at the shoreline.

The one exception will be the recommendation to visit the Volcan Sierra Negra crater and rim for it is the best place to look for the Galápagos Martin.

 

Birding

Playa Tortuga Negra or Punta Tortuga.

Located on the west coast and slightly north of Tagus Cove, Playa Tortuga Negra is a  dark sand beach with a trail that borders an extensive Mangrove swamp.   This is the best site for the ultra rare Mangrove Finch. A few Mangrove Finches have recently been found again at Punta Espinosa, apparently having dispersed from Fernandina.  The restriction of the Mangrove Finch is to the Playa Tortuga Negra site with its tiny population of no more than a few dozen birds, shows this species to be at great risk.  This is especially true because it is located in an area of great volcanic activity facing lava flows and tectonic uplift, as well as predation by introduced feral cats and Smooth-billed Ani.

(Click here to download Map of Playa Tortuga Negra)

 

Birds to look for

Playa Tortuga Negra (Punta Tortuga).

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS), Mangrove Forest (MF).

Common: Small   Ground-Finch (e) (AZ, SS, MF),   Medium Ground-Finch (e) (AZ, SS,   MF), Galápagos Mockingbird (e)   (subspecies parvulus) (AZ, SS, MF).

Uncommon:   Galapagos Hawk (e) (AZ, SS, MF),   Galápagos Penguin (e) (SS),   Flightless Cormorant (e) (SS),   Smooth-billed Ani (AZ, SS, MF).

Rare: Mangrove   Finch (e) (AZ, MF), Large Ground-Finch   (e) (AZ, MF).

 

Birding

Tagus Cove.

Tagus cove is a small U-shaped cove that is formed by a flooded valley between two large tuff cones.  This is an excellent site for a dingy ride along the coast, as it is deep close to land.  The north side of the cove is flanked by a sheer cliff that is a good place to look for the Galápagos Martin (e).

 

Birds to look for

Tagus Cove.

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common: Common   Noddy (subspecies galapagensis) (SS).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Penguin (e) (SS), Flightless Cormorant   (e) (SS),

Rare: Galápagos   Martin (e) (SS).

 

(Click here to download Map of Tagus Cove.)

 

Birding

Elizabeth Bay.

It is marine site where landing is not allowed. The small Marielas islets in the middle of the bay usually have resting Galápagos Penguins.

 

(Click here to download Map of ElizabethBay)

Birds to look for

Elizabeth Bay.

Arid Zone (AZ), Sea shores (SS), Mangrove Forest (MF).

Common: Brown   Pelican (endemic subspecies urinator) (SS, MF), Galápagos   Mockingbird (e) (subspecies parvulus) (SS, AZ,MF), Yellow Warbler   (SS, AZ,MF).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Penguin (e), Flightless   Cormorant (e), Striated Heron,   Smooth-billed Ani.

 

Birding

Punta Moreno

Located southwest of Elizabeth Bay, Punta Moreno is a unique lunar landscape dominated by the typical pahoehoe lava flow.   At first glance the visitor site looks like a barren lava field, but the place is dotted with many oasis of brackish ponds where the lava surface has collapsed into the lava tubes beneath.  These ponds are particularly attractive to water birds.

Planning to arrive to Santa Cruz in the early morning of the next day will require that you start the navigation in the mid-afternoon.  Then passing around the southernmost corner of Isabela Island, near Cerro Azul volcano, is a great time to be looking for a fly- by of the uncommon Galápagos Petrel and the majestic Waved Albatross.

(Click here to download Map of Punta Moreno)

 

Birds to look for

Punta Moreno

Arid Zone (AZ), Brackish Lagoons (BG), Mangrove Forest   (MF), Sea shores (SS).

Common: Brown Pelican   (endemic subspecies urinator) (SS, MF), Greater Flamingo (endemic subspecies  glyphorhynchus)   (BG), Common Gallinule (BG), White-cheeked Pintail (BG).

Uncommon: Great   Blue Heron (MF, BG), Lava Heron (e)   (BG, MF, SS).

Rare:   Pied-billed Grebe (BG), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (endemic subspecies pauper)   (BG, MF, SS), Galápagos Martin.

 

7.5. Santa Cruz Island.

Habitats.

Arid zone, Transitional Zone, Scalezia Zone, Miconia Zone.

 

Logistics.

Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz is the most populous of the islands on the Galápagos, and has a land surface of 986 square kilometers.  The highest point in the island is 864 m.  The main town of Puerto Ayora is the tourist capital of the archipelago, and for birders the town provides a convenient stop to look for many of the specialties of the island.   By staying in one of the many hotels in town, an independent birder will have access to all the important areas that can be visited on a day trip.  All the organized birding trips to Galápagos make a full day visit to Santa Cruz Island to have time to see the special species found here.

All Galápagos vegetation zones are represented on Santa Cruz, stretching from the littoral zone up to the fern zone at the top to Mount Crocker.  The southeast side of the island is more humid and diversified than the northwest side which is very dry.  A visit to the highlands will require rain gear, and even for the independent birders it is necessary to hire a Galápagos certified Naturalist guide.  Hiring a vehicle is mandatory in order to access all the sites inside the National Park.   Hiring a vehicle is also a must so as to change habitats and save time.

Distances and instructions for the Galápagos Islands are for reference only, as at the time of writing visitors could not rent a vehicle and drive themselves.  There are many buses, pickup, and crew cabs with drivers that know all the tourist sites and who will take you to any desired destination.  Prices will vary from 1 US $ per ride inside the town, regardless of destination and number of people, to an all day rate per vehicle.

Almost all the birds species found in the islands have been observed on Santa Cruz, including eight species of finches and the Galápagos Petrel (e) which nests in the highlands.  

(Click here to download Map of Santa Cruz and Media Luna)

 

Birding

Media Luna

An early morning start is mandatory to plan your visit. Start in Puerto Ayora, 0 Km at the soccer stadium outside the city. The first small town you will get to will be Bellavista at about 5.7 km. At this point you will be facing a street heading left to right. The left exit goes towards Itabaca channel and eventually Baltra Reset you odometer to 0.0 km.

To visit the Miconia forest in Media Luna, turn right in Bellavista to reach the east side of the small park some further 0.1 km or 5.8 km from Puerto Ayora. Turn left and drive north and uphill leaving the town behind. The road goes through agricultural landscape where Paint-billed Crake can be seen just along the road. The bird can be seen as it snakes along the edge of the road. After a further 3.2 km from the park at Bellavista or 9.0 km from Puerto Ayora, you will reach a place where you can park the vehicle.   From this point you will hike 0.4 km, uphill on a dirt trail to reach the Miconia forest, home of the Galápagos Rail (e). Good hiking boots and rain gear are strongly recommended from June to December, during the garua season.   The Rail breeds in the area and they can be heard singing from the wet forest undergrowth.  This site is best place to look for the rail. The Galápagos Rail (e) is the only land bird known to breed in the cold-dry season on the islands.   The near-constant garua turns this habitat into a permanently damp and spongy mass of moss.  Though the bird is shy, the rail can be seen in many areas in the Miconia forest. 

During the wet-warm season the rail concentrates especially along streams and boggy patches where the habitat is more suitable for them since the forest undergrowth is much dryer due the constant sun exposure. The trail inside the Miconia Forest forks at about 1.3 km from the parking place.  The right fork takes you to the park ranger headquarters some 0.3 km after the fork and the left trail continues up the hill to Mount Crocker.

Birds to look for

Media Luna

 Miconia Zone (MZ), Transitional Zone (TZ).

Common: Small   Ground Finch (e) (MZ, TZ), Yellow   Warbler (MZ, TZ).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Rail (e) (MZ), Small   Tree Finch (e) (subspecies parvulus) (MZ, TZ), Warbler Finch (e) (subspecies olivacea) (MZ, TZ), Large Tree Finch (e) (subspecies psittacula)   (TZ).

Rare:   Woodpecker Finch (e) (subspecies pallidus) (TZ).

 

Birding

Rancho Primicias and “Los Gemelos” The Twin Craters.

Once back in Bellavista from the fork as you enter the town 0.0 km, take the road up towards Baltra and Santa Rosa. The stretch of road between Bellavista and Santa Rosa goes through an agricultural zone. Drive for a further 3.4 km from Bellavista or 9.1 km from Puerto Ayora. Here there is a dirt road on your left. Park here and walk the dirt road. As you start descending you will be able to see a long stretch from the road. Search the water potholes and the road edge in the distance for the Paint-billed Crake. The crake is easily found here as well as and many of the island’s eight species of finches.

 

Return to the main highway and keep going towards Santa Rosa. After a further 7.0 km or 10.4 km from Bellavista you will reach the Galápagos National Park check point. Proceed ahead for a further 0.2 km or 10.6 km from Bellavista. At this point there will be a fork in the road. The left road leads through Santa Rosa and the right hand side goes along the main highway and continues up the hill toward Itabaca Channel and Baltra. Reset your odometer to 0.0 km one more time since we will use the Santa Rosa turn off as a new starting point for future reference.

(Click here to downloas Map. Rancho Primicias & Twin Craters)

From the Santa Rosa turn off 0.0 km drive through Santa Rosa toward east-northeast leaving the town behind. Keep on going for a further 1.1 km. At this point there will be a side road down to your left. Take this road and drive for further 2.7 km or 3.8 from the Santa Rosa fork. At this point there will be a fork. The left exit takes you to a well known lava tunnel in a further 0.4 km or 4.2 km from the Santa Rosa turn off. The main road ahead goes to Rancho Primicias a further 0.6 km or 4.4 km from the Santa Rosa turn off.

If heading to the lava tunnel remember that it is illuminated and the access has been improved so visitors can safely step down. Nevertheless you will want to take a flashlight along to look for the Barn Owl (endemic subspecies punctattisima) that sometimes can be seen right at the lava tube entrance.

 

Rancho Primicias is a private property bordering the Galápagos NP by the site known as “El Chato”. This Rancho is one of the popular sites to look for the Giant Tortoises. There is a 3 US $ entrance to visit the ranch. Here the tortoises roam freely around as do many of the Finches, Paint-billed Crake and Galápagos Flycatcher.

 

Returning back to Santa Rosa town fork 0.0 km, drive along the main highway heading toward Itabaca Channel and Baltra for 2.9 km. At this point you are entering the Galápagos NP once again by the Scalezia forest. From this point the summit of the road will be only at a further 1.4 km or 4.3 km from the Santa Rosa fork. The summit of the road is also located between two huge sinkholes that are a very popular tourist site.

This site is known as the “Los Gemelos” or in English, The Twin Craters, and located 20.6 km from Puerto Ayora along the road to Baltra. A few trails wander around the craters, and many land birds can be seen from them including: many of the finches, Galápagos Dove (e), Short-eared Owl (endemic subspecies galapagoensis), Galápagos Flycatcher (e). This is probably the best place on the islands to look for the Vermilion Flycatcher (endemic subspecies nanus). A further 19.3 km along this road or 39.9 km from Puerto Ayora, you will reach to the public dock to get across the Itabaca Channel and onto the Island of Baltra.

 

Birds to look for

Rancho Primicias and “Los Gemelos” The Twin Craters.

 Scalesia Forest Zone (SFZ),   Transitional Zone (TZ).

Common: Cattle Egret (SFZ,TZ), Galápagos Dove (e)   (SFZ,TZ), Smooth-billed Ani (SFZ,TZ), Galápagos Flycatcher (e) (SFZ,TZ), Galápagos Mockingbird (e) (subspecies parvulus) (SFZ,TZ), Small Ground-Finch (e) (SFZ,TZ), Medium Ground Finch (e) (SFZ,TZ), Small Tree Finch (e) (subspecies parvulus)   (SFZ,TZ), Yellow Warbler (SFZ,TZ).

Uncommon: Paint-billed Crake (SFZ,TZ), Barn Owl (SFZ,TZ),   Vermilion Flycatcher (endemic   subspecies nanus) (SFZ,TZ),   Vegetarian Finch (e) (SFZ,TZ),   Large Tree Finch (e) (subspecies psittacula) (SFZ,TZ), Woodpecker Finch   (e) (subspecies pallidus) (SFZ,TZ), Warbler Finch (e) (subspecies olivacea) (SFZ,TZ).

Rare: Galápagos   Rail (e) (SFZ), Short-eared Owl (SFZ,TZ),   Dark-billed Cuckoo (SFZ,TZ).

 

Birding

Charles Darwin Station

One last obligatory stop in Santa Cruz is the Charles Darwin Station and its surrounding dry forest.   The station is located on the ocean front at the main street out of Puerto Ayora town.  In spite of the fact that these places are practically in town they can be quite rewarding for birders.  I recommend visiting these sites in the late afternoon as the heat of the day fades away.

The ocean front in Puerto Ayora is a good place to look for the endemic Lava Gull (e), especially at the fish market when fishermen clean the catch of the day.  The Charles Darwin Station dry forest is probably the best place to look for Common Cactus Finch (e) (subspecies intermedia) and the Large Ground Finch (e).

(Click here to download Map. Charles Darwin Station)

Birds to look for

Charles Darwin Station.

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common: Brown   Pelican (endemic subspecies urinator) (SS), Elliot’s Storm-petrel   (endemic subspecies galapagoensis)   (SS), Magnificent Frigatebird (endemic subspecies magnificens) (AZ, SS).

Uncommon: Lava   Gull (e) (SS), Great Blue Heron   (SS), Cattle Egret (AZ, SS), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (endemic subspecies pauper)   (SS), Lava Heron (e) ( SS), Ruddy   Turnstone ( SS), Semipalmated Plover ( SS), Wandering Tattler ( SS), Common   Cactus Finch (AZ), Large Ground Finch (e)   (AZ).

  

7.6 San Cristobal Island

Habitats.

Arid zone, Transitional Zone, Scalesia Zone, Miconia Zone.

Logistics.

San Cristobal Island

With Puerto Baquerizo Moreno as capital and the administrative center of the archipelago, San Cristóbal has a second airport to enter the Galápagos Islands.  The land surface is 558 square kilometers with the highest elevation 730 m.  San Cristóbal is the home for not only for seven of the Darwin Finches, but also for the Chatham Mockingbird (e) and the Vermilion Flycatcher (endemic race dubius). The Vermilion Flycatcher from San Cristobal has not been seen in the last twenty five years. Should you find this flycatcher, please report it for it would be an important ornithological discovery.

An early morning start will allow the birder to visit the highlands and concentrate on the transitional zone near the cemetery, and the habitat near the “El Junco” lake.

As on Santa Cruz Island, the more adventurous birders will have many opportunities on San Cristóbal.  A visit to the highlands will require rain gear.  A Galápagos certified Naturalist guide is mandatory in order to access to all the sites inside the National Park, even for the independent birder.

Hiring a vehicle enables one to change habitat and save time.  Distances and instructions in the Galapagos Islands are for reference only, as at the moment of writing this book the visitors to Galápagos are not able to rent a vehicle and drive themselves.  However, there are many taxis and pickups with crew cabs with drivers that know all the tourist sites, and will take you to any destination.  Prices will are $1 US per ride inside the town regardless of destination and number of people. To find the cost for renting the vehicle for the day you have to negotiate with the owner.

 

(Click here to download Map of San Cristobal Island)

Birding

San Cristobal Island

The most interesting site is a side road some 3.2 km from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. This dirt road begins heading to the highlands, and just at the entrance there is a parking place which is a good spot to park the vehicle and start looking for Chatham Mockingbird and many of the Darwin Finches.

Walk this side dirt road for some 0.16 km. Here on your right side there is trail that enters the forest; look for the Darwin Finches and especially Vegetarian and Woodpecker Finch. This side road eventually switches back to the main road in some 0.9 km very close to the cemetery which is a good point of reference. The cemetery itself is some 4.0 km from San Cristobal. From this cemetery you carry on for further 1.5 km or 5.5 km from San Cristobal. At this point you reach a fork when entering the small town of “El Progreso”. Here take the right hand road heading toward “El Junco Lake” and “La Tortugera”. Drive for further 0.4 km through town or 5.9 km from San Cristobal. Here the road turns to your right as you leave El Progreso. Reset your odometer to 0.0 for future references. Continue along the main road for 8.9 km from El Progreso or 14.4 km from San Cristóbal. At this point there is a gate on your right. The road beyond this gate heads toward El Junco. Continuing along the main road for 7.7 km or 22.1 km from San Cristobal you will reach to “La Tortuguera”. This is a site of the Galápagos NP where a captive reproduction program for the Giant Tortoises is taking place. At this site the Chatham Mockingbird is not difficult to encounter. Look also here for the Woodpecker Finch.

In order to visit both islands, San Cristóbal and Española, you will need to visit San Cristóbal in the early morning and start the navigation towards Española not later than midday. The boat ride from San Cristobal to Española in the early afternoon will be a great opportunity to look for Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and Galápagos Petrel.

 

Birds to look for

San Cristobal Island

 Miconia Zone (MZ), Transitional Zone (TZ),   Scalesia Forest Zone (SFZ), Lakes (L).

Common: Common   Gallinule (L), Chatham (San Cristóbal) Mockingbird (e) (MZ, SFZ), Small Ground-Finch (e) (MZ, SFZ), Medium Ground Finch (e) (MZ, SFZ), Small Tree Finch (e) (subspecies salvini)   (MZ, SFZ), Yellow Warbler (MZ, SFZ).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Flycatcher (MZ, SFZ), Vegetarian Finch (e) (MZ, SFZ), Woodpecker Finch (e) (subspecies striatipectus)   (MZ, SFZ), Warbler Finch (e)   (subspecies luteola) (MZ, SFZ).

Rare:   Band-rumped Storm-petrel, Galápagos Petrel (e).

Very Rare:   Vermilion Flycatcher (MZ, SFZ).

               

7.7 Española Island.

Habitats.

Arid zone

 

Logistics.

Española Island.

Organized bird tours visit Española Island on the same day as a visit to San Cristóbal.  This is a great way to save time and resources.

Española is the oldest and most eroded Island in the archipelago with a land surface of 61 square kilometers and a maximum elevation of 206 m.

Birding

Punta Suarez

Despite the inhospitable look, Punta Suarez hosts a great variety of sea birds and a few land birds.  The trail takes you from a sheltered beach on the north side of the point, through low scrubby vegetation, past a pebble beach, through a mixed colony of Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies and up to the cliff where the main Waved Albatross (e) colony is located.  The trail is a loop that has a great amount of boulders that makes walking difficult, but not impossible.  It is a good idea to have the extra help of a walking stick.

The Hood Mockingbird (e) is very unobtrusive and easy to see.

The Albatross colony is deserted from January to March while the birds roam the Pacific Oceanoff Ecuador and Peru.  The scrubby area near the blow hole is probably the best place to look for the Large Cactus Finch (e) from Española.  This form of Large Cactus Finch might represent a different species to the one found on Genovesa (subspecies propingua).   There is minimal possibility of contact between the two, and their totally different voices and bill shapes suggest that they are separate species. I have no experience with the darwinii race from Darwin and Wolf islands, but further studies will throw more light on the evolutionary relationships between these three forms. 

(Click here to download Map of Punta Suarez. Española Island.)

 

Birds to look for

Punta Suarez

Arid   Zone (AZ), Sea shores (SS),

Common:  Waved Albatross (e) (AZ, SS), Swallow-tailed Gull (AZ, SS), Nazca Booby (AZ, SS),   Hood Mockingbird (e) (AZ, SS),   Small Ground Finch (e) (AZ, SS),   Large Cactus Finch (e) (subspecies   conirostris) (AZ, SS), Warbler   Finch (e) (subspecies cinerascens) (AZ, SS), Yellow Warbler   (AZ, SS).

Uncommon: Galápagos Hawk (e) (AZ, SS), Galápagos Dove (e)   (AZ, SS), American Oystercatcher (endemic   subspecies galapagensis) (SS).

 

7.8 Floreana Island.

Habitats

Arid zone, Transitional Zone, Scalesia Zone.

 

Logistics.

Floreana Island.

The Southernmost island of the archipelago with a land surface of 24 square kilometers and a maximum elevation of 864m, Floreana is also known as Charles.  This island has suffered the greatest impact from human activity, which reduced the population of the Charles Mockingbird (e) to 70 pairs that survive onlyin the islets Gardner and Champion off Floreana. Floreana is the only island where the Medium Tree Finch (e) can be seen.

 

Birding

Floreana Island.

Puerto Velasco Ibarra is a small village and is the only port of the Island.  It is the best starting point to visit the highlands of Floreana in the morning.   There are very few vehicles on the island, but organizing one should not be a problem. A short drive of 5.0 km from the town will take you to a point where the road stops climbing and levels out. This is a good place to look for the Medium Tree Finch (e). The end of the road near “El ascilo de la Paz” some 8.0 km from Puerto Velasco Ibarra, is also a good place to look for the Medium Tree Finch (e).

Once you have visited the highlands and you come back down to town, you will embark again to visit the Champion Islet.   Here a short dinghy boat circumnavigation will allow a look for the rare and restricted Charles Mockingbird. It should be noted that stepping on shore is forbidden.

After visiting Champion a good way to end the day is to visit the site known as Punta Cormorant.

The last morning in the Galápagos Islands before catching your flight back to the mainland could be spent visiting Seymour North, if your flight leaves from Baltra.

If your flight leaves from San Cristobal airport you could visit the highlands of San Cristobal.

(Click here to download Map Floreana and Champion)

Birds to look for

Floreana Island and Champion Islet

 Arid Zone (AZ), Scalesia   Forest Zone (SFZ), Transitional Zone (TZ), Sea shores (SS), Lakes (L).

Common: Brown   Pelican (endemic subspecies urinator) (SS), Galápagos Shearwater (e) (SS), Blue-footed Booby (endemic subspecies exisa), Swallow-tailed Gull,   Red-billed Tropicbird (SS), Common Noddy (endemic species galapagensis)   (SS), White-cheeked Pintail (L), Greater Flamingo (endemic subspecies  glyphorhynchus) (L), Small Ground-Finch   (e) (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Medium Ground   Finch (e) (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Small Tree Finch (e) (subspecies parvulus)   (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Yellow Warbler (TZ, SFZ, AZ).

Uncommon:   Whimbrel (SFZ, TZ, AZ, SS, L), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (endemic subspecies pauper) (SS, L), Short-eared Owl (endemic subspecies galapagoensis) (TZ, SFZ, AZ),   Galápagos Dove (e) (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Galápagos Flycatcher (e) (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Common Cactus Finch (e) (subspecies intermedia)   (AZ), Medium Tree Finch (e) (TZ,   SFZ, AZ), Warbler Finch (e)   (subspecies ridgwayi) (TZ, SFZ, AZ).

Rare: Galápagos   Penguin (e) (SS), Paint-billed   Crake (TZ, SFZ), Dark-billed Cuckoo (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Vegetarian Finch (e) (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Large Three Finch (e) (subspecies psittacula) (TZ, SFZ, AZ), Charles Mockingbird (e) (AZ).

Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

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Meet the Author

Lelis Navarrete – Birding tour leader. Lelis has 19 years of experience as a birding guide and naturalist in the field. He has led groups of birders throughout most of Latin America, guiding frequently in countries like his native country of Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Panama. A Biology B.Sc. graduate from Universidad Católica in Quito, Lelis has supported Jocotoco Foundation since its founding in 1998 and was an active Board Member until 2010 supporting Ecuadorian bird and wildlife conservation. Lelis divides his time between his two great passions in life: birding and spending time with his wife Solange and son Fabian with whom he lives in Quito.

 

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