June 25 - July 5, 1999

Allen & Nancy Chartier

Trip Log
     Day 1       Day 6
     Day 2       Day 7
     Day 3       Day 8
     Day 4       Day 9
     Day 5       Day 10
                     Day 11

Species Lists
This trip was offered by Field Guides, Inc. and was led by Mitch Lysinger, whom we had birded with in 1996 so we were expecting a fun, and excellent trip. We weren't disappointed, and the tameness of most of the birds, and their abundance, offset the low number of species seen on the trip.
Day 1, Friday, June 25, 1999
We rose at 4 a.m. to get to the airport to catch our American Airlines flight departing from Detroit at 7 a.m. We left pretty much on time, joking that there would be orange barrels and a "left lane closed ahead" sign on the runway. It'll be good to get away from the Michigan road construction for a while.

We arrived in Miami around 10 a.m. and checked to see if any car rental companies had cars available. Globetrotters had an Oldsmobile Bonneville (a truly poorly designed car, in our opinion) for $32, so we took it and after a delay, due to the attendant not leaving us the key then driving back to the airport for another pick-up, we headed out for the Tamiami Trail. We ran into some construction on the way, but we eventually made our way out of Miami into wilder areas. There were surprisingly few birds, and when we reached Shark Valley it started to rain quite hard. We continued on to the Big Cypress Reserve Visitors Center then headed back to Miami.

We turned in the rental car and took the shuttle to the airport where we checked in at 2:45 p.m. for our 4:45 p.m. flight on Saeta Airlines to Guayaquil, Ecuador, which was now delayed to 5:15 p.m. We pushed back at 5:45 and were airborne at 6:00 p.m. Other than a little turbulence, it was an uneventful flight, with the expected everyone-is-first-class service from Saeta.

We landed at 9:00 p.m. local time (10 p.m. at home) and cleared immigration and customs fairly quickly. Prior to boarding in Miami, a few of our group made our acquaintance, including Dee Bates with whom we had gone to Rancho del Cielo, Mexico, way back in 1983. We met Mitch, went by taxi to the Grand Hotel (where we had our farewell lunch with Paul Greenfield in 1996), and settled in for the night around 10:30 p.m.

Day 2, Saturday, June 26, 1999
We were up by 6:00 a.m. for a little pre-breakfast birding around the hotel. We found a small park, Parque Seminario, nearby that had a few interesting birds. After breakfast the whole group went back to the park for more birding. We saw Green Iguanas all over the place, Guayaquil Squirrels and a smaller squirrel, and in-your-face Groove-billed Anis, as well as a very cooperative Pacific (Pale-legged) Hornero.

At 11:15 a.m. we packed up and got to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos. After a flight of a little more than an hour, we met our guide, Fabricio, at the Baltra airport and got transferred to our home for the next eight days, the catamaran yacht, Freedom.

We cruised to nearby Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz I., while we got an orientation talk about keeping the deck clean, where meals would be served, how to do wet and dry landings, and Zodiac rides. We had our first experience in a Zodiac, with a bouncy ride around the cove, where we saw our first sea life and our first birding. Our guide called them dinghies, but they are more properly called Zodiacs, or baloney-boats! The cove had Galapagos Herons and Blue-footed Boobies, as well as an interesting assortment of sea life, including Green Sea Turtle, Galapagos Shark, and Eagle Ray. We returned to the Freedom, had dinner, did our checklists, and turned in by 8:00 p.m. During the evening we cruised to our next destination, Rabida Island a couple of hours away.

Day 3, Sunday, June 27, 1999
We were up at 6:00 a.m. for a 6:30 departure to Rabida, with a wet landing. This meant that the Zodiac pulled up as close to the beach as possible, and everyone jumped out into the usually knee-deep water and walked up onto the beach.

We took a trail across an isthmus through the scrub. We found a few Darwin's Finches and a Galapagos Mockingbird, as well as a number of sea birds. A pair of Galapagos Doves were extremely cooperative. We returned to the boat for breakfast, then went out for a Zodiac ride along the coastline where we saw Marine Iguanas and two species of sea lion. Some of our group went snorkeling; we went birding.

After lunch we headed for Santiago (James) Island. The pelagic birding along the way was pretty good. We took an afternoon expedition onto the island at Puerto Egas (another wet landing), along the coastal tide pools where we saw tons of Sally Lightfoot Crabs and more Marine Iguanas. The short trail inland yielded Galapagos Flycatcher and a Galapagos Hawk at a nest.

We returned to the boat and headed west for our next destination, the channel between Fernandina and Isabela Islands. It was quite a distance away, and we traveled most of the night. Fabricio suggested we might encounter Swallow-tailed Gulls at sea after 10:00 p.m., but we had no luck then, nor at midnight.

Day 4, Monday, June 28, 1999
We were up before 6:00 a.m. for seabirds, and a 6:20 breakfast. We went ashore at Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island. It was a dry landing, but the lava was very slippery and sharp, making it quite treacherous. Counter to our first impressions, we think we're preferring wet landings! We saw more Marine Iguanas her than elsewhere, and a Galapagos Hawk that was very cooperative. Also, there were several Flightless Cormorants and a few Galapagos Penguins in the water. Allen sat down on a blunt piece of projecting lava to get better photos, and immediately punched a hole in his pants! The lava was really sharp! A plan to cruise in Zodiacs near Fernandina Island was abandoned because it was too rough to be safe, so we went across the channel to Isabela Island instead. South of Tagus Cove we took a Zodiac ride looking for penguins on shore. We only saw some in the water. A little farther south, at Black Beach, we went ashore in an area that had four species of mangroves, and found the extremely rare Mangrove Finch (only 35 pairs). One was quite tame and easy to photograph.

During lunch, the captain (Chino) spotted some penguins on shore so we did a very effective "abandon ship" drill, getting into the Zodiacs in record time! We cruised the rocky shore of Isabela Island and had excellent views of a small group of Galapagos Penguins. We continued south along the west coast of Isabela Island, making a brief stop at Urvina Bay where we had a rather rough (and thoroughly soaking) wet landing. Maybe dry landings are better after all! This was our stop to see Galapagos Land Iguanas and possibly a Giant Tortoise. We had excellent looks at several iguanas, which were of the largest subspecies in the islands, and saw signs of tortoise where they had slept the night before. Unfortunately, the thick scrub prevented us from tracking it down. There were more finches here (mostly Medium Ground-Finches) than anywhere else so far.

We returned to the boat and continued south, rounding the southwestern end of Isabela Island during the night. The rough seas of earlier got worse as we entered deep water, and it was a long, queasy night for several of us.

Day 5, Tuesday, June 29, 1999
We were up around 6:15 for a 7 a.m. breakfast. During the early morning hours we had arrived at Puerto Villamil on the south side of Isabela Island. It was fairly bouncy all night, but not as much as during dinner. We're getting pretty tired of listening to the constant, loud generator noise right outside our room. At the mouth of the harbor, there was an overturned cargo ship. We thought it must have been there a while, but it turned out it happened the night before. There were oranges, tomatoes, lettuce, and, unfortunately, globs of oil floating in the harbor.

We went ashore at 8 a.m. to catch a bus to the highlands, where we also got on horseback. This was Allen's first time on horseback, and it had been quite a while for Nancy. It wasn't a very good experience, as birding was impossible and our horses were difficult (more difficult than the other peoples' horses, though if they had told us the horses names like they did for the others we might have done better). Allen's horse seemed particularly obsessed with crashing through trees and shrubs, and it even fell once on the slippery, muddy trail. All in all, we could have walked up faster, and birded the whole way too.

Once we got off the horses and began birding, it got mistier, but it didn't affect the bird activity. Our primary objective in the shrubby grasslands in the highlands was to find Galapagos Rail, which we missed, but we did find Woodpecker Finch, Large Tree-Finch, and Small Tree-Finch. The zodiac ride back to the boat was through some substantial breakers, so we got soaked again.

We had lunch, then went back ashore to the Darwin Research Center and a saltwater cove for birding and looking for tide pool life. We returned to the boat and set out for our next destination. The waves made it rough again, and of course during dinner was the worst. This time, four of the group didn't finish dinner, which included the two of us. Once in bed, things seemed to stabilize somewhat, and we didn't get seasick. Apparently some others weren't so fortunate.

Day 6, Wednesday, June 30, 1999
We were up at 6 a.m. once again for a dry landing (this time with a dock too!) on Floreana Island. We met our bus, which was late. It was the only bus on the island, and was a rather rickety vehicle more like a pickup truck with a wooden shed and bench seats crudely attached to the bed. We got aboard and rode up into the highlands. We succeeded in finding the Medium Tree-Finch, which is found only on this island. We returned to the town and some people bought post cards to drop off at our next destination on the island, Post Office Bay. We took a zodiac ashore, looking for penguins along the way.

Offshore, we anchored at Devil's Crown, a barren rock which was good for snorkeling. Some went snorkeling, while we watched the seabirds including lots of Red-billed Tropicbirds. Then we went to nearby Champion Island, which is the only place where the Charles Mockingbird can be found (it is difficult, and much less numerous on nearby Gardner Island). Unfortunately, there are only 56 Charles Mockingbirds left, so to protect them landing on Champion Island is prohibited. We did, however, use the zodiacs to motor up to the shore to try and see them. This is all we needed to do, because the mockingbirds are naturally curious and four of them came bounding out of the scrub to the shoreline to greet us.

Our next destination was Enderby Island, which we sailed past to view the large nesting colony of Great Frigatebirds. There were lots of Nazca Boobies too, and quite a few more Red-billed Tropicbirds. We then struck out for Espanola Island. Of course it was rough during dinner again, and the ranks were even thinner than last night. Both of us were OK this time, luckily. We arrived at Espanola around midnight, after which true sleep was possible.

Day 7, Thursday, July 1, 1999
Since this island was a popular destination, our guide got us up at 5 a.m. in order to depart for Punta Suarez by 6 a.m. After a dry landing we walked a trail through many Blue-footed Booby nests and eventually to dozens of Waved Albatross nests. On the way we passed many Swallow-tailed Gulls and Nazca Boobies, while the scrub had lots of the restricted-range Large Cactus-Finch and the more common Warbler-Finch. This was definitely the wildest island we visited. We returned to the boat and headed for San Cristobal Island, a 5-hour sail away, but with very few seabirds along the route.

At Isla Lobos, a small islet offshore of San Cristobal, some went snorkeling with the sea-lions, while a couple of us went in the zodiac with Mitch. Then we went ashore to see a nesting colony of Great Frigatebirds up close, followed by a quick sail over Ochoa Beach to try to see the difficult-to-find San Cristobal Mockingbird. We didn't succeed with the mockingbird, as they apparently move up into the wetter highlands from May to November. We'll be trying to find them in the highlands tomorrow. We anchored offshore of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal's main town, for the night, and had a good nights rest for a change.

Day 8, Friday, July 2, 1999
We were up at 6 for a 6:30 breakfast and a 7:30 departure for the town. We caught a bus (a real one this time) to the highlands to Lago de Junco. It was a very scenic area with good forest and lots of birds. The lake (Lago is Spanish for lake) is an old volcanic crater filled with fresh water. On the way up to the crater, we stopped at an old cemetery were we found the elusive San Cristobal Mockingbird as well as the Vegetarian Finch which we hadn't found until now. After the cemetery, we saw a few more mockingbirds on the utility wires on the way up to the lake.

We returned to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we did a little shopping, then returned to the boat. We sailed for about 3 1/2 hours to Santa Fe Island, which has an endemic land iguana, but we couldn't land because it wasn't part of our registered itinerary. A few people went snorkeling, then we headed for Santa Cruz Island. We docked in the harbor of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in Galapagos, for the night.

Day 9, Saturday, July 3, 1999
We were up at 6:30 for a 7 a.m. breakfast and a departure for for Puerto Ayora where we caught a bus (another real one) for the highlands. Our target birds were Southern (Galapagos) Martin and Galapagos Rail. We stopped at several areas on the way up into the highlands, and got good looks at Vegetarian Finch and Woodpecker Finch. We went to Bellavista then to the northeast where we walked some roads, then to the northwest through Santa Rosa. We got a report that Galapagos Rails were seen that morning on the soccer field in Bellavista! After what we learned later, it seems unlikely that Galapagos Rail is the species involved. Just before lunch we stopped at a small restaurant where some noisy tourists were having lunch. The owner indicated that Galapagos Rails come out and steals food from her dog's food dish! Soon after, we glimpsed a rail dashing into the taller grass, only seeing it for a second or two. We went to another larger restaurant for lunch, where Fabricio had staked out a Barn Owl nest, but unfortunately the nestlings had died since his last visit, and the adult owls had abandoned their nest.

We returned to Puerto Ayora and went to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where they were breeding lots of Galapagos Tortoises (PHOTO). While some of the group stayed in town for shopping, four of us went with Mitch back to that small restaurant in the hopes of getting a better view of the rail. The cab ride was exciting (very fast), and it was appropriate that the driver had a "No Fear" decal on his windshield. We got there just as she was closing, and we talked her into staying a little while, and we made the extra effort and all had a beer while we waited. When the bird appeared, it turned out to be a Paint-billed Crake! We had an interesting story to tell those that went shopping. It seems that the Galapagos Rail is shier, and might prefer more natural areas. Undoubtedly, the ones on the soccer field are Paint-billed Crakes.

We returned to the boat at 6 p.m. and set sail in the evening for Baltra, where we had begun the trip.

Day 10, Sunday, July 4, 1999
Day 10, Sunday, July 4, 1999 After a 7 a.m. breakfast we went ashore to catch our flight back to Quito via Guayaquil. Everything went smoothly, and we had a little time in the afternoon to bird the grounds of the Hotel Quito (12 species seen). We had a farewell dinner in the nice restaurant on the top floor.
Day 11, Monday, July 5, 1999
Our alarm was still set on Galapagos time, so we were surprised to get a call from Mitch at 6 a.m. (the clock read 5 a.m.) saying we were leaving right away since there were rumors of a transportation strike, which could block all the roads and prevent us from getting to the airport in time for our flight. We got to the airport at 6:30 and waited for the Saeta counter to open at 7:00. Our flight left early, at 8:55 a.m. after three security checks, x-ray, then a hand search of hand luggage at the gate, then we were lined up outside on the tarmac so the dog could sniff all our carry-on luggage. At Guayaquil we had to get off the plane (we didn't on previous trips through Guayaquil) and they had a dog at the base of the stairs. We wondered why the security was so much tighter. Our flight took off from Guayaquil and arrived in Miami at 3:45 p.m. They had removed the easy check-in near customs for American Airlines, so we hauled everything about 1/2 mile to the counter, then back to the gate for our 7:10 p.m. flight home (an earlier flight wasn't possible to be booked since we got to the counter at 4:55 after a long wait for our luggage). We arrived home in Detroit on-time at about 9:30 p.m.