Lindblad Endeavour Visits North Seymour

N Seymour Magnificent Frigatebird-1

Journey Log: Day 2

Although in the Galapagos the same endemic animals are present year-round, their mating and nesting are seasonal. The one bird I want most to photograph is the male magnificent frigatebird, which in the breeding season looks like it’s swallowed a bright red balloon. The bird inflates its red throat pouch as part of its courtship to attract a mate while perched on small plants with their heads bent back. It also uses the sac for sound effects, too, by creating a clattering sound as it drums its sac with its bill. Not exactly sure why this attracts a mate; maybe size does matter. In any case, a female signals her choice by landing next to the male, who then wraps his massive wings around her to protect her from other males.

Unfortunately, the mating and nesting season occurs only from spring to summer. I express my disappointment to naturalist Jason Heilmann, who leads the two photo sessions held on Lindblad’s National Geographic  Endeavour and will be our guide for our forthcoming shore landing. He says not to worry, that there is one island where the male frigates are in display and nesting occurs year-round. It happens to be North Seymour Island.

“You’ll see plenty of male frigates and their bright red sacs, and they’ll all be close to the path,” Jason assures me. The birds’ proximity to the trails created across the island by the National Park Service is crucial since we’re not supposed to step off it. While the crews of some other ships may allow it, the Lindblad naturalists are adamant about following the rules and keeping to the marked path; as they should be.

The bows of all the Endeavour’s Zodiacs are covered with heavy netting. Our landing method at North Seymour demonstrates why they need such protection. Despite the popularity of the island, there is no permanent docking facility. So, once we are a few yards from a large black lava rock, we remove our life jackets and toss them into the center of the boat. Then our boatman slowly propels the Zodiac’s nose against a flat, wet lava rock and keeps the engine engaged as we scramble to step onto a rock just above the bow. I’m thankful I’m wearing the Keen sandals because I don’t think my tennis shoes would have had enough traction on the wet surface.

N Seymour landing site -2
The landing site on North Seymour Island

Once on shore, we have several large black frigatebirds effortlessly soaring over us. Besides being almost primal looking, the birds are huge, up to three feet in length and a wing span of seven feet or more. The silhouetted frigates flying above us, with their sharply forked tails and long narrow wings, appear powerful and menacing. They would make the perfect visual introduction to a movie named “Island Lost in Time” or “Island of the Damned.”

We don’t walk far before spotting male frigates on the nest, though they are far enough away that the numerous bare tree limbs separating us mask the birds like a thick cobweb. Jason assures us all we’ll soon encounter other birds much closer to us. He is absolutely right. We come upon several nests located just yards from the path. Several males are on the nest, their ballooning red sacs making it look like a small gathering of gigantically red-nosed clowns. One nesting female is so close I could reach out and touch her hooked beak.

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Female magnificent frigatebird on the nest

Telling the sexes apart is surprisingly easy. Frigatebirds–which include the great frigatebird as well as the magnificent frigatebird–are the only seabirds where the male and female are simple to differentiate. The female is brown with a white breast where the magnificent male frigatebird has black feathers with a purple gloss and, of course, its distinctive famous red sac. (The male great frigatebird also has a red sac but its black feathers have more of a greenish sheen.)

I’m so distracted by the ballooning male frigatebirds I’m ignoring what’s on the ground around me and I almost step on a large yellow sleepy land iguana resting flat on its belly and with its legs and tail extended. It’s positioned itself inside the path near the edge. This is the first land iguana I’ve seen, so I crouch down to its eye level and begin snapping away. Not until later do I realize that this land iguana is far more noteworthy than the flamboyant male frigatebirds.

These land iguanas shouldn’t be here. They are not native to North Seymour; in fact no land iguanas at all lived on the island before the 1930s. Land iguanas were transported here in 1932-1934 from Baltra, a short distanced from North Seymour and which at one time was called South Seymour. The iguanas were transplanted under the direction of a Capt. Allan Hancock who considered the land iguanas on Baltra to be undernourished and suffering, perhaps due to a prolonged drought. This wealthy California industrialist  was not scientifically qualified to make such a decision and today he would probably be locked up. Capt. Hancock’s crew is believed to have transferred some 72 iguanas to North Seymour where he deemed the vegetation far better for their survival. Additional iguanas were transferred periodically until 1934.

N Seymour land iguana-2North Seymour land iguana descended from South Seymour transplants

Although such meddling would not be tolerated today, Capt. Hancock’s iguana transplanting project was the right decision. By 1954, the land iguana on Baltra (South Seymour) was declared extinct. When the Galapagos National Park was established, Baltra was not included within it because of the human population. That meant it was politically correct for some of North Seymour’s land iguanas to be reintroduced into their home island in the 1990s. Today, thanks to Capt. Hancock’s interference, both North and South Seymour Islands have a land iguana population that otherwise would not exist.

If the magnificent frigatebirds fulfilled my photographic wish, I guess I should have hoped for great numbers of blue footed boobies as well. In summer, walking the North Seymour trail normally is challenging because of the numerous nests scattered along it. We did spot a few boobies in the trees but it that was nowhere near what I would have wished for (I’m greedy). But the presence of the nesting magnificent frigates and numerous images of their splendid inflated red balloon sacs make the booby drought a minor disappointment.

However, near the end of our walk, we pass a junction with another path where a blue footed boobie on the ground with a chick are located. I break off from Jason’s group to take a quick look. This is the only nest we’ve seen on the ground. Hurrying back, I ask Jason if we will be taking the same route by the nest and he says “no.” I tell him I’ll catch up with his group and he nods agreement.

N Seymour blue footed boobie -2
I’m going to have to put up with this kid how much longer?

The chick is wandering around the nest so I rush back to take photos. Another Endeavour group already is intent on photographing the boobies, so the open space to see the nest is small, which makes it difficult to squeeze in for photos. At a slide show on the last night, I realize how much action I miss. Well, a lot of good wildlife photography isn’t based on skill. Often, the biggest factor is being in the right place and at the right time. Just plain luck.

And I had my luck with the ballooned-up male frigates, something I never expected.

Although we spend 2.5-hours walking a ring around part of North Seymour, the pace is fast, a definite problem that photographically often results in grab shots and why a tripod isn’t practical. The Endeavour, like every ship, is given a certain amount of time at each island by the National Park Service. In some places, we share a landing with other ships. Such rigid scheduling is a major change since my last visit, when the landings were more relaxed. Increasing popularity of the Galapagos has made this necessary. According to the Galapagos National Park, there were 68,856 Galapagos visitors in 1960; CNN states there were just 2,000 tourists a year in 1960. Regardless, in 2010 there were 173, 296 visitors from more than 140 different countries.  The 2010 numbers are a six percent increase over 2009.

In the 1980’s there weren’t 87 tour boats wanting to land at 97 sites. That’s why today there’s almost always the push to keep moving on the land walks. Who can blame people for wanting to come to the Galapagos? The place is magical.

N Seymour lava lizard-2Lava lizard on North Seymour; it’s the size of a gecko

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links 

The Galapagos Experience                                         Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                             Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                          Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                   Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                             Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                     Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                          Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                  Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                   Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                          Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

National Geographic Endeavour Calls at Las Bachas, Galapagos

Tour_Group_Las_Bachas -1

Journey Log: Day 1

The lifeboat drill is one of the first things that happens on every cruise, and it’s no different on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour. Normally, once the drill is over, you stuff your lifejacket away in your cabin and that’s the last you see of it. It doesn’t work that way here, not with repeated Zodiac shuttles to Galapagos landfalls throughout the week, sometimes two and three times a day.

Fortunately, these life jackets aren’t floppy or overly bulky. Size-wise, it’s like buckling two large flattened deli salamis to your chest; yes, that sounds weird but I can’t think of anything else that compares in size, though these salamis are virtually weightless. Between trips, they’re cleverly stowed just inside our cabin door in what would normally be a wooden magazine rack.

Following the lifeboat drill, it’s time for our first visit to the Endeavour’s dining room, which is going to become one of our favorite places. The lunch menu posted at the entryway is an interesting one: Ecuadorian potato & cheese soup with avocado, pasta salad with vegetables, Asian stir-fry with peanut sauce, yellow rice, braised chicken with veggies and fried bananas. Hmmm, I suspect we won’t see a hot dog or a hamburger all week. (I’m right.)

In the afternoon we make our first shore excursion at a location many ships use as a first stop after picking up passengers in Baltra: Las Bachas on Santa Cruz Island, an island we’ll return to toward the end of the voyage. Las Bachas is bad Spanish pronunciation of  “barges,” whose rusty metal posts stick out of the sand here.  These World War II relics are reminders of the U.S. presence here when Ecuador authorized the US to establish a naval base at Baltra Island. The U.S. also built Baltra’s airstrip, the same one where we landed. The runway allowed the U.S. Army Air Force to patrol the Pacific for German submarines and also have the capability of defending the Panama Canal from attack.

Las Bachas’ white sandy beach is known as an important nesting site for Pacific green sea turtles, though we’re not present in the height of the egg-laying season. The one bird we might see at Las Bachas but not elsewhere is the pink flamingo.

As our Zodiac lands, we spot two birds I can just as easily find back in Florida: a great blue heron and a brown pelican. However, the species that reside in the Galapagos are considered different enough from their mainland cousins to be endemic and unique to this region.  The great blue heron does its usual shoreline stalking, looking for fish. The antics of the brown pelican are hilarious. For between 10 and 15 minutes, it vigorously grooms itself, going through contortions I didn’t know were possible and have never seen any pelican perform before.

Brown_Pelican_Las_Bachas -1
The brown pelican going through contortions

The heavy clouds of the garua look as if they might move out of the way and allow the setting sun to appear today for the first time. From the beach where we landed, we  hike a brief distance past several  large cactus to reach the striking white sand beach on the northern end of Santa Cruz. The sun finally slips from behind the clouds during its final hour of the day. It’s the wonderful “golden hour” where everything is bathed in a soft, warm color. And it’s because of those wonderful colors I’m turning the rest of this post  over to the photos.

Bachas watching flamingo-1   Bachas flamingo-1 blog
Our group watching the lone flamingo wading in a mangrove pond behind the beach

Bachas beach-1   Cactus_Las_Bachas -1
Walking the beautiful sandy beach at Las Bachas on the northern end of Santa Cruz

Bachas sally lightfoot-1  Turtle_Tracks_Las_Bachas -1 blog
Sally Lightfoot crab in a tidal pool; tracks made by a sea turtle nesting above high tide

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A good end to a good day as the Zodiacs head back to the Endeavour


Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                         Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                              Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                           Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                    Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                              Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                      Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                           Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                   Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                     Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                            Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

What To Pack For A Galapagos Cruise



What should you bring for your Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour cruise? (Or any other Galapagos cruise?)

Suitcase Restrictions
Depending on airline, you may be able to take two bags weighing 50-pounds each to Guayaquil or Quito but you can’t take both to the Galapagos. You’re limited to a single 40-pound checked bag to the Galapagos, which means you must pack carefully.  Leave any extra bags at your Hilton hotel, which you can pick on when you return.

The reason for a single 40-pound bag on the Galapagos segment is that many supplies are sent by plane to the 30,000 people who live in the islands; the cruise ships also rely on their deliveries. On your return to the mainland, the planes carry no supplies and the weight limit is not strictly enforced. That makes it easy to bring souvenirs and gifts back home, though there doesn’t seem to be a lot to shop for except t-shirts, refrigerator magnets and other small souvenirs. But if you see a wall hanging or carpet you just have to take back, you can.

Endeavour dress code
Since this was our first Lindblad cruise, we weren’t sure what clothes to take. The Endeavour is not like most cruises.  The atmosphere is casual every day and night.  In fact, after a few days women in at the evening meal have no make-up and many pull their hair back into a ponytail.  The daily activities sometimes end too close to the 7:30 p.m. dinner hour for the usual evening grooming habits. After a full day with little time between numerous activities, most people are tired and hungry. The nightly ritual usually is eat, go to the final night’s presentation, then bed. Wake-up is early, 6:45 a.m. or earlier.

Shorts, shirts and sandals were entirely appropriate for breakfast and lunch. Sometimes even at dinner when there was a tight day time activity schedule, though on more relaxed nights many people wore slacks and did the usual casual smart.

             As you can see, this isn’t a very formal crowd

Footwear for going ashore
Your main transportation during for Galapagos shore excursions are the inflatable Zodiac, known locally as a “panga,” The Endeavour staff terms them a “black Cadillac,” your floating taxi from the Endeavour to the island where you will be bunched with 11 of your best new friends.  Most island landings are “wet landings,” called that for a good reason.  You must swing your legs over the side and gently slide into the water.  If you’re short like Linda, the water can be knee high; sometimes the waves make it necessary to use two hands to steady yourself.  Thus the need for good water shoes (as well as a backpack).

Footwear is probably the most important packing item to consider. We both make the trip with only two pairs of shoes (a first for Linda: tennis shoes and a pair of Keen water sandals.

After researching different types of water shoes for the best traction and comfort, the online reviews for Keen closed-toe water sandals convinced use they would be our best bet. They turned out to be invaluable.  They made maneuvering on lava rocks and over slick boulders much easier without the risk of slips or falls likely with many types of tennis shoes. We highly recommend the Keen water shoes; some of the naturalists wear them. Keen water sandals are a small investment for help ensure your safety and comfort both in the water and while hiking. Flip flops don’t work here, except on the beach. Hiking boots are also recommended for some of the more strenuous hikes although the Keen sandals gripping power seems just as good.

This is why you want to be selective about your footwear: on the first day, one woman slipped and fell on the sharp lava rock, gashing her face in several places. Fortunately, she was not seriously hurt but did have to smear her face with anti-bacterial ointments for the rest of the week.

The volcanic islands offer little even foot except on the beach

Expedition clothing: Since some landings are wetter than others, it’s important to have shorts or slacks that dry quickly. Linda bought convertible slacks that could zip off to shorts, roll to capri, or wear as long pants. The three pairs served as her shorts during the day and slacks at night. Tim, who is taller and didn’t need to worry about stepping in deep water, wore his usual cotton cargo shorts.

Along with the shore landings, you’ll have several opportunities for touring around parts of an island in a panga. The water on these excursions sometimes can be rough.  Bring a windbreaker/rain jacket for such times. There always is the chance that even in the dry season it might rain, so stuff a rain jacket in your backpack.
Although clothing is casual, think layers: t-shirts, shorts and long sleeved shirts for added sun protection. In the cooler garua season, bring a sweater to wear on deck. Or, if the water has chilled you, to wear inside the well air-conditioned Endeavour.

Transporting cameras ashore
Put your camera in a heavy plastic bag and place it on top of the windbreaker in your backpack to cushion it. If you are carrying two SLRs, take a hand towel from your bathroom to act as a cushion if you have to place it on top of the first camera. Camera backpacks that need to be opened when laid flat are too troublesome and awkward to access. Better to use a traditional backpack, which is easier to open and allows you to grab what you need without any worry of things spilling out.  The naturalist guides also favor traditional backpacks, in which they stuff their own cameras, first-aid kits and more.

Sun protection
A good floppy hat with a tie so the wind won’t tear it off if the cord is loose under your chin is a top necessity.. On both the ship and on shore you’ll find the wind often coming from behind you. If the tie cord isn’t tight, you’ll probably lose your hat. Some Endeavour guides keep their hats so tightly secured they can probably withstand a tropical storm. Although Lindblad sends a nice Endeavour baseball cap as part of its documents package, the equator is not the best place to wear it. Wear it as a fond reminder after you get back.

Sun Hats-1                                     Note all the floppy hats for this Zodiac tour

, a broad spectrum UVA & UVB block that is SPF 30 or higher, is an absolute must. The temperatures may be cool when the clouds are blocking the sun. Remember you’re on the equator and need to use sunscreen several times a day to protect your face, arms and especially your feet or you’ll end up with a burn where the sandals are open. Just in case, bring aloe or another favorite remedy for sunburn.

Good sunglasses are another priority. Most people don’t realize it’s possible to get melanoma in the eye, not just on the skin. Melanoma of the eye may even require its surgical removal. Melanoma of the eye lid is another possibility. Even on cloudy days, there is a lot of bright light. And the glare from the water on a sunny day is at least 10,000 times brighter than is comfortable for the eye.

Your sunglasses (look at the tag) should be capable of doing at least these three things:
Block the UV rays that can damage the cornea and the retina.
Block intense light, with no squinting. Intense light can damage the retina.
Block the glare, as polarizing glasses will.

Other suggestions

Water bottles are provided on the Endeavour, one per person. Water stations for refills are located throughout the ship.  But the tap water is just fine.

For snorkeling, the ship provides a shortie wetsuit, mask with snorkel and fins. Don’t bring dive booties; they don’t work with the Endeavour’s fins. If you have a mask you like, bring it but keep a closer eye on it and take it back to your cabin after each trip. Masks too frequently disappear because they sometimes get left behind in a panga or someone picks up the wrong snorkel bag.

First aid: In case you fall and cut yourself, bring Neosporin and Band Aids. The Endeavour has a doctor on board for serious injuries, such as tripping and getting lava rash.

Motion sickness: Bring meclizine or use the Dramamine available for free at the reception desk. Linda needed more than usual due to the sometimes rough Zodiac rides.

Last but not least, bring a good attitude since you have the opportunity to meet many new friends for the week and have lots of fun while seeing one of the world’s singular wonders. .

More info
These two sites have additional information on what to pack.  The first is from the Lindblad Expeditions site, the second is from the Charles Darwin Research Station.

 Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                         Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                             Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                         Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                  Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                            Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                    Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                         Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                  Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                         Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop