First thing in the morning, I spread the curtains apart, and there it was, the Red Island, Rabida. We took a morning walk in one of the most colorful islands in the Galápagos, an excursion that started with a wet landing on iron-red sand where Galapagos sea lions dozed off. Darwin’s finches, Galapagos Mockingbirds, flycatchers, and Galapagos Doves escorted our way through a striking forest of prickly pear cactus.
Rabida is the name of the convent where Christopher Columbus left his son behind when he engaged on his first voyage that led to the discovery of the Americas. He was looking for a shorter route from Spain to India, and instead he found a whole new continent on the way. Such an important historical event has been celebrated by the Republic of Ecuador with the naming of the Islands. The official designation of Galapagos is “Archipielago de Colon” or Columbus Archipelago, and each one of the main islands bears a name that is associated with that time in history, like Isabela and Fernandina, after the Catholic Queen and King, Santa Cruz, the symbol of the Catholic faith, and Rabida, to mention just a few.
But my special treat this morning were the flycatchers. There are two species in Galapagos –the Galapagos Flycatcher and the Vermilion Flycatcher. Both are agile insect-feeding birds, and it was a delight to watch for a short time how a young Galapagos Flycatcher somersaulted in the air to trap its prey. In the other species, the male is strikingly red. Vermilion Flycatchers prefer to live in higher elevations, but it is really food availability which determines their distribution. The mangroves on Rabida must offer a good supply because a male Vermilion Flycatcher has made a section of them his territory.
There was some snorkelling off the beach, and as always, we saw lots of colourful fish, like the blue-chin parrot fish, schooling species like the yellow-tailed surgeonfish, and many marine invertebrates, such as starfish and sea urchins.
In the afternoon we went to Eden Islet, very close to the west coast of Santa Cruz Island. In Spanish, “Eden” refers to paradise. That was the way the first settlers visualised the western coast of Santa Cruz, as “paradise-like”. Beautiful colours: dark reds, bright reds, deep greens, light greens, ochre, and pastels, contrasting against the sheer blackness of the basaltic lava boulders, and the white fine-grained sand that builds up the beaches of this side of Santa Cruz.
We boarded the Zodiacs, and escorted by our skilled drivers and knowledgeable Naturalists, we cruised around Eden and along western Santa Cruz. The vegetation, particularly on the Santa Cruz side, was stunning –a forest of giant prickly pears mingled with very big candelabra or Jasminocereus cacti, growing off a carpet of succulent Galapagos carpetweed or sesuvium. Green mangroves and silver-looking palo santos gave a finishing touch to this wonderful landscape.
We saw Brown Pelicans, Blue-footed boobies, herons, and even baby sharks in the shallow waters. Spotting the Great Blue Herons was particularly special to me since I had been monitoring a nest for the last three months. Great Blue Herons are solitary birds (as opposed to nesting in a colony), so every fortnight I could witness how this large and bulky nest became busy with a couple of hungry chicks that kept their parents flying from here to there trying to satisfy their ever-growing appetite. In a matter of two months, the chicks turned into big, clumsy juveniles to finally become the handsome birds that I saw this afternoon.