Red footed boobies!
Our last full day in Galapagos is spent on Genovesa (also known by the English name of Tower), one of the most pristine and spectacular islands in the archipelago. Shortly after sunrise we sail via a narrow and shallow channel into Darwin Bay - a huge submerged caldera of an ancient and (hopefully!) dormant volcano which now resonates to the sound of birdcalls - it is an overwhelming seabird experience - with frigate birds, red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, storm petrels and tropicbirds plus, if we're really lucky, the short-eared owl.
The day starts early for morning kayakers. 6am for coffee and snacks, and at 6.30am we're off with our kayak guide, Juan Carlos. We kayak close to the cliffs of the caldera from our anchor up to a point called Prince Philip's Steps. We see plenty of birdlife action plus Fur Seals (although they are sea lions not seals to be picky!). A large manta ray also visits us and on the way back Dawn rescues a kayak paddle that someone loses on route - although they didn't know they'd lost it! After breakfast everyone disembarks our National Geographic Islander and heads for the beach. Our last wet landing - but only into 6 inches of water! Our guides escort a short walk during which we see literally thousands of seabirds. There is a huge quantity of juvenile red footed boobies - something which even our expedition leader, Dr Lynn Fowler, and our naturalist guides are clearly very excited about. Lots of photos are taken! From the beach some decide to continue over lava rocks to a marker point. This is a fairly strenuous activity and it's hot today so we all need to concentrate. Everyone back safely we're able to stay on the beach, take a swim (avoiding the big male sea lion guarding his territory), or head back to our ship. Deep water snorkelers head off to enjoy their last snorkel experience. Richard stays firmly on the beach.
Following lunch on board and some siesta time, we disembark (dry landing!) for a panga cruise followed by a walk along a cliff top trail. To get to the cliff we climb Prince Philip's Steps. At the top we follow the trail through a Palo Santo forest, passing red-footed boobies and frigates along the way. We then enjoy a short hike on open ground and we're on the lookout for a short-eared hunting owl. They prey on storm petrels returning to nests, and sit in wait on the ground. Naturally they are the same colour as the rocks and the area is vast - so seeing them is very tricky indeed. On previous Galapagos visits Richard and Dawn haven't spotted the owl, and our guides don't seem too confident either. However, how wrong we were! Within a few minutes an owl is seen on the ground - admittedly at a distance via binoculars only. However we're in for a treat. An owl is found with a recent kill, and seems happy to let us watch. He (or she?) is only feet away! To say our guides Fernando, Juan Carlos and Walter are excited is an understatement. All three of them have good cameras and we're pretty sure they used up their memory cards with owl photos. We do the same of course - it is magical to see this wonderful bird at such close quarters. What a wonderful way to conclude a wonderful week.
As we often say, visiting Galapagos is like sitting right in the middle of a TV wildlife documentary!