Down South

Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2007

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The boats engines roared into action at 5 am and persisted until we slotted in between the North n South Plazas and Santa Cruz Islands. We were greeted to the South Plaza jetty by a Harem of sea lions. The nursery of juveniles located nearby stay in the safety of the shallows under the watchful eyes of the big dominant bull, who's constant barks keep the youngsters in check and warn of imminent danger from sharks. The adult females are free to fish and chill out spread along the rocky North shoreline but the rest of the males, all unwelcome in the group are left to fend for themselves well away far out of view of the constant patrols and are forced to occupy the high cliffs on the south side of this plaza.
Despite being so small (a mere 0.13Km Square) that most maps haven't bothered marking it down, the abundance of wildlife is astonishing. Not a step from the jetty you are surrounded by all manner of wonderful creations. Firstly Swallow Tailed Gulls, both the prettiest and only nocturnal species in existence. They are thought to hunt using the bioluminescence of small fish and squid combined possible with a form of sonar. On return to the nest with full stomachs, the white patch on their beaks guides the white chicks (another private attribute of these gulls) in the right direction of a regurgitated meal.
Next came a Lava Heron, Lava Lizards(Microlophus Albemarlensis) and our opening encounter with a Land Iguana (Conolophus Subcristatus). In fact everywhere you gazed were more and more of these Lizards and Iguanas scattered over the landscape charging their cold blooded batteries in the morning sun.
The short 300m walk over to the south side of the island took us up a gently sloping hill past an iguana burrow where the female lays her eggs to the top of a Cliff dotted with nesting sites of the ST Gull. We continued eastwards along the cliff edge stepping over and around the cameoed lizards running i fear of their lives, the brightly coloured Igs who just sat there nonchalantly ignoring us and a Small Ground Finch munching some shrubbery.
Woohoo my first pair of boobies! Not the finest pair but impressive Nazca ones all the same(the jokes will never grow old) were camped out in the vicinity of a fluffy ST chick accompanied by its dozing parent while a super athletic marine iguana basked carelessly 10´s of feet above the crashing surf proving, just how amazing climbers these guys are.
Now that the blazing sun had become almost unbearable even at just gone 9 and I wondering how it was possible to sweat so much we carved our way towards the north coast and our pickup point surrounded on all sides by more and more lizards, Igs and sea lions.
The succeeding island Santa Fe (Barrington) brought with it our introductory snorkeling excursion around Islote Black, a small cactus covered islet sheltering Barrington Bay. We were fortunate to see 4 eagle rays coasting along the bottom in perfect diamond formation a Green Sea Turtle, that allowed me to float alongside fora short while, a stingray slinking in the golden sand along with many wild and wonderfully colourful fish.
The afternoons wet landing brought a new colony of sea lions chilling on the white sands and as we picked our way among them the Beachmaster (Dominant Bull) scoured the shoreline like a Guildford bouncer on a Friday night looking for young punks to harass. After catching a few closeups of a posing lava lizard we joined the trail in search of a second type of Land Iguana (Conolophus Pallidus) for which Santa Fe is the only island to own.This species an obvious bright yellow all over looked to be slightly larger. Massive, trunked, tree like Opuntia Cactus´ also grow here and tower high above the ground to avoid the reach of these large vegetarian mammals.
Our final delight appeared during the taxi back to ship as when we were surrounded by 10 or so eagle rays and one golden ray who encircled the boat as we drifted through the bay and a another Green Sea Turtle who swam slowly underneath us. 
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