on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

Birdwatching is one of the highlights of Santiago (James) Island in the Galapagos. Where is Santiago Island?

Yellow warbler
Yellow warbler
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located in the middle of the Galapagos Islands, Santiago is east of Isabela, west of Bartolome and northwest of Santa Cruz.

During our Galapagos Islands cruise on M/Y Letty, one of four Ecoventura ships, we visited Puerto Egas, located on the west coast of Isla Santiago.

Birdwatching tour

After a wet landing on the black sand beach, we went on a nature walk with our guide, Cecibel Guerrero. A yellow warbler (scientific name: Dendroica petechia) hopped around our feet on the lava rock.

Camouflaged against the black rock, a lava heron (scientific name: Butorides sundevalli) watched us intently with its golden eyes. Ceci pointed out a yellow-crowned night heron (scientific name: Nyctanassa violacea) nearly hidden on a guano-covered ledge in a volcanic crevasse.

Yellow-crowned night heron
Yellow-crowned night heron
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Shorebirds splashed at the water's edge—semi-palmated plovers, sanderlings, whimbrels and ruddy turnstones. "Look at the feet of that American oystercatcher," said Ceci. "It looks like she's wearing black nail polish."

Lava lizards

A tour of Santiago Island involves more than birding. Ceci reached down to the sand to point out a beach morning glory (scientific name: Ipomoea pescaprae) with pretty lilac-colored flowers. "Its leaves look like cloven hooves."

Galapagos reptiles also attracted our attention. A tiny lava lizard (scientific name: Tropidurus sp) sported a red patch, stretching from its lips to around its eyes and along the sides of its throat.

Galapagos sea lion mother nuzzles pup.
Galapagos sea lion mother nuzzles pup.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Marine iguanas (scientific name: Amblyrhynchus cristatus) sunned themselves, oblivious to the Sally Lightfoot crabs (scientific name: G. grapsus) that skittered along the black rock beside them. In contrast, a sea lion pup chased the gaudy red and orange crabs like mechanical wind-up toys.

Sea lion pup

We watched a mother Galapagos sea lion (scientific name: Zalophus californianus wollebacki) nuzzle her pup. Another baby sea lion cut his teeth on his tolerant mother's flipper.

"Sea lions recognize each other by smell, so don't let curious pups touch you," explained Ceci Guerrero. "If they pick up your scent or the fragrance of your sunscreen, the mothers will reject them."

Swimming with sea lion at Sombrero Chino
Swimming with sea lion at Sombrero Chino
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Sombrero Chino

We had more encounters with Galapagos sea lions at Sombrero Chino. Located off the southeast tip of Santiago Island, the islet gets its name from its Chinese hat shape.

Playful sea lions joined us for a swim in the azure water. Back on the sandy beach, we were so engrossed with taking photos of snoozing sea lion mothers and pups that we didn't notice a big bull sea lion emerge from the surf.

As he approached us, bellowing like a foghorn, his message was clear: "Stay away from my harem!" We fled.

Photographing sleeping Galapagos sea lions
Photographing sleeping Galapagos sea lions
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Ceci later told us that male sea lions constantly patrol their harems of three to 25 females. We wondered if Charles Darwin had similar close encounters when he visited Santiago Island in 1835.

Santiago history

"Darwin spent more time on James (Santiago Island) than on any other Galapagos Island," said Ceci. She also noted that Puerto Egas was a port until 1961.

"Hector Egas established a salt mine on James Island, but after Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, he declared bankruptcy and left. It wasn't until 2005 that Galapagos National Park was able to eradicate the goats and pigs left behind by salt mine workers and whalers."

Free of these invasive species, Santiago Island is now a pristine haven for birds, animals, plants and reptiles.


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:

Espanola Island Galapagos Birdwatching - Waved Albatrosses

Fernandina Island Galapagos - Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Darwin Bay Tower Island Galapagos - What to See

Santa Cruz Island Galapagos - Lava Tubes and Pit Craters

North Seymour Galapagos Trip - Land Iguanas and Magnificent Frigatebirds