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PUNTA SUAREZ ESPANOLA ISLAND GALAPAGOS - CHRISTMAS IGUANAS,
MOCKINGBIRDS & BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES

Story and photos by

There are so many animals on the Galapagos Island of Espanola that it feels like Noah's Ark. Where is Espanola?

Galapagos sea lion and Christmas iguanas
Galapagos sea lion and Christmas iguanas
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The farthest south of all Galapagos Islands, Isla Espanola is south of San Cristobal in the eastern end of the archipelago. Not all trips to the Galapagos Islands visit Espanola (also called Hood Island).

We were delighted that our Ecoventura Galapagos cruise included a full day on Espanola Island—the morning at Punta Suarez and the afternoon at Gardner Bay.

When we arrived on M/Y Eric, we were overwhelmed with so many birds, animals and reptiles that we didn't know whether we should look up, down or sideways.

With our Galapagos guide, Cecibel Guerrero, we followed a two-way loop trail over rough rocks. Because there were so many things to see on Espanola, we walked slowly.

It took nearly four hours to complete the circular walking trail, but it felt like four minutes.

Christmas iguana
Christmas iguana
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Christmas iguanas

In addition to Espanola waved albatrosses, Punta Suarez is known for its red-colored marine iguanas (scientific name: Amblyrhynchus cristatus venustissimus). "They have red spots year round," said Ceci.

"We call them Christmas iguanas because they turn bright red during their breeding season in December. They also develop turquoise-green spots along their spines."

Espanola Island lava lizards (scientific name: Tropiduras delanonis), the largest in the Galapagos, also exhibit seasonal color. During their breeding season, females' heads become intensely red.

A lava lizard skittered beneath our feet. "They like the adrenalin rush," quipped Ceci.

Blue-footed boobies with chick
Blue-footed boobies with chick
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Blue-footed boobies

A whistling sound drew us to a male blue-footed booby (scientific name: Sula nebouxii excisa), standing on a rock above a ground nest. Standing below him, a female blue-footed booby responded by honking.

"Male blue-footed boobies have smaller pupils and lighter blue feet than females," noted Ceci.

Nestled into a rock niche, their booby chick was as white and fuzzy as a child's stuffed toy. Sound asleep, he was oblivious to his parents clacking their beaks.

In another nest, a blue-footed booby chick, with flesh-colored feet, tapped his mother's beak. She opened her mouth so the chick could retrieve some regurgitated fish from her throat.

Blue-footed booby chick taps adult's beak for food.
Blue-footed booby chick taps adult's beak for food.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Sky-pointing blue-footed booby
Sky-pointing blue-footed booby
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Booby courting dance

A few steps farther, we watched blue-footed boobies courting. The male whistled and lifted his ultramarine feet, like someone trying to walk with swim fins. The higher he lifts his feet, the better his chances of mating.

His courting attempts failed to impress a female booby who honked and left him to observe the courtship dance of another blue-footed booby with more attractive feet.

To impress the female, the male booby lifts his head and tail upward in a courtship ritual called sky-pointing. When the female starts mimicking his moves, she agrees to mate with him.

Nazca boobies court.
Nazca boobies court.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Nazca boobies

Espanola Island is also home to Nazca boobies (scientific name: Sula granti). Their duck-shaped bodies have white feathers, except for black wing tips. Black feathers also encircle their golden eyes and orange beaks.

We observed several pairs of nesting Nazca boobies. Some of the birds (formerly called masked boobies) appeared to be talking to each other.

One male Nazca booby picked up a small stick off the ground and offered it to a female. After accepting his courtship gift, they mated.

Espanola mockingbirds

Before we visited Punta Suarez, Ceci Guerrero warned us about the Espanola or Hood mockingbirds (scientific name: Mimus [formerly Nesomimus] macdonaldi. "They are very disrespectful. They will peck at your shoelaces and water bottles. Close the zippers on your backpacks because they will go inside to see if there is something to eat."

Hood mockingbird on lava rock
Hood mockingbird on lava rock
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

She also told us how to identify Espanola mockingbirds. "They have long beaks that curl downward."

Espanola is a very dry island, so Hood mockingbirds are always looking for moisture. "They even peck at marine iguana tails to draw blood," she explained.

On the day we traveled to Espanola Island, we spotted a newborn sea lion, its umbilical cord still attached, suckling its mother. Hood mockingbirds battled with frigatebirds for the placenta, another source of moisture.

A frigatebird swept down and carried it away, leaving a few scraps for the mockingbirds.

Our wildlife watching did not end here. Before leaving Isla Espanola, we saw Galapagos hawks, finches, oystercatchers, sea turtles, Galapagos doves and dozens of sea lions. We needed swivel heads to observe them all.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Ecoventura: www.ecoventura.com

Copa Airlines: www.copaair.com

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in the Galapagos Islands:

Isabela Island Galapagos - Hiking and Kayaking at Tagus Cove

Fernandina Island Galapagos - Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Darwin Bay Tower Island Galapagos - What to See

North Seymour Galapagos Trip - Land Iguanas and Magnificent Frigatebirds

Santiago (James) Island Galapagos - Birds, Animals and Plants