on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular

Enlarge Map



NORTH SEYMOUR GALAPAGOS TRIP -
LAND IGUANAS & MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS

Story and photos by

Located in the Galapagos Islands, North Seymour is north of Santa Cruz Island, in the Pacific Ocean, just below the equator. Cruising the Galapagos on Ecoventura's M/Y Eric, we traveled 30 minutes north of Baltra, past Mosquera, an uplifted sandy islet, to North Seymour.

Making video of a land iguana
Making video of a land iguana
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

After a dry landing from pangas (rubber boats), we followed our Galapagos guide, Cecibel Guerrero, for two hours along a circular flat one kilometer- (0.62 mile)-long trail. Half the trail was sandy; the other half was rocky.

Land iguanas

North Seymour was the only place we saw land iguanas (scientific name: Conolophus subcristatus) during our Galapagos cruise. Within minutes, we spotted a land iguana stretching out its pink tongue to munch scorpion weeds (scientific name: Heliotropium curassavicum). Others ate saltbush (scientific name: Crypocarpus pyriformis) leaves.

What is the difference between land iguanas and the marine iguanas that we saw on Fernandina and other Galapagos Islands? Land iguanas are not as long as marine iguanas and are colored differently.

Adult land iguana eats scorpion weeds.
Adult land iguana eats scorpion weeds.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The color of Galapagos land iguanas varies from light brown to yellow and amber, with black usually on their back and tails. What endeared both land and marine iguanas to us, were the smiles on their faces and the spikes that topped their heads and spines, like punk rockers' hair.

"Land iguanas were introduced to North Seymour in 1932 by Allan Hancock," explained Ceci. (Hancock moved them by ship, the Velero III, from Baltra Island, where they were starving because introduced rats, cats and dogs were devastating the vegetation.) "After eradicating the introduced species on Isla Baltra, land iguanas were successfully reintroduced in 1991."

Adult male magnificent frigatebird inflates red throat pouch.
Adult male magnificent frigatebird inflates red throat pouch.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Magnificent frigatebirds

A Galapagos bird caught our attention by spreading out his wings and puffing out a bright red neck pouch. "It's a male magnificent frigatebird who is displaying to attract females," said Ceci. "Frigatebirds are supposed to breed in April and May, but the frigates on North Seymour breed year-round."

The male frigatebird puffed out his chest to the size of a soccer ball, forcing his head back. Whenever females flew overhead, he shook his head left and right, and called out like a croaking frog.

Perched in a muyuyo (scientific name: Cordia lutea) bush, the frigate's brilliant red breast stood out among the yellow muyuyo flowers. "Even if a female magnificent frigate sits next to the male, she can change her mind and leave. If she selects the male as a mate, he puts a wing around her and deflates his red pouch," explained Ceci.

Frigate chicks

As we photographed downy white frigate chicks in twig nests, Ceci gave us more facts about frigate birds. "Frigates mate about 10 times, then build their nest over 10 days. Males and females incubate a single egg over 50 to 55 days."

Magnificent frigatebird chick sits in nest.
Magnificent frigatebird chick sits in nest.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Frigatebird males and females look after their chick for six to eight months, before the male abandons the family. The chick's growth slows down when only the female frigate brings it food.

How to identify frigatebirds

What are the differences between magnificent frigatebirds (scientific name: Frigate magnificens) and great frigatebirds (scientific name: Frigata minor)? Ceci Guerrero told us how to identify magnificent frigatebirds.

"When a female magnificent frigatebird is flying, you can look up and see her white throat, resembling the letter 'M' on her black neck. Female great frigatebirds have white feathers all the way to the mandible."

Male frigatebirds are harder to identify, according to Ceci. "You only see the differences in their neck feathers. Great frigatebird males have long green neck feathers, while male magnificent frigatebirds have neck feathers with a purple sheen."

Feet of adult blue-footed booby
Feet of adult blue-footed booby
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Blue-footed boobies

North Seymour is also home to other Galapagos birds, including blue-footed boobies. Our Galapagos guide explained that female blue-footed boobies are larger than males.

The blue-footed boobies showed curiosity, rather than fear, watching us intently as we photographed their heads and feet. We noted that females also have larger blue feet than males.

Lava lizard

A small brown lava lizard, with black spots, skittered across our path. "Galapagos has seven species of lava lizards," stated Ceci. "They communicate with push-ups." A lava lizard push-up, we learned, could be a challenge to a male or a way to attract females.

As the lava lizard flicked out its tongue to lick a rock, Ceci explained how reptiles smell. "Jacobson's organ connects tongue sensors to their brains."

Painted locust rests on prickly pear cactus pad.
Painted locust rests on prickly pear cactus pad.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Prickly pear cactus

We stopped our walk along the North Seymour trail to photograph a painted locust on the pad of a prickly pear cactus (scientific name: Opuntia echios var zacana).

Ceci explained that the prickly pear cactus grows about one inch (2.5 cm) a year. "When the Opuntia cactus is about 80 years old, it grows a trunk. After it hardens, the cactus loses its spines because it is no longer in danger of being eaten by predators."

Although North Seymour (Isla Seymour Norte) is only 0.73 square miles (1.9 sq km) in size, its diversity of Galapagos reptiles, birds, plants and insects is impressive.


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:

Gardner Bay Espanola Island Galapagos Beach - Sea Lions, Sea Turtles and Galapagos Hawks

Genovesa Island Galapagos - Doves, Red-Footed Boobies and Short-Eared Owls

Santa Cruz Galapagos Giant Tortoise Reserve - Rancho Primicias

Galapagos Travel - Incentive Programs and Corporate Meetings

Bartolome and Pinnacle Rock Galapagos Cruise Tour