Readers’ wildlife photographs

August 10, 2015 • 7:15 am

We’re back to the Galápagos today. Reader Robert Lang, who is overly modest, sent a bunch of photos a while back, adding some notes (indented):

I am a longtime reader of your website and have enjoyed and admired the readers’ photos, while considering that photos of such quality are generally beyond my equipment/skills/access. But I recently was privileged to visit the Galápagos islands where the animals exhibit such lack of fear of humans—really, lack of care, they seem to think of us as just objects—that one can get close enough to take pretty decent pictures even with ordinary skills and cameraware. It was an amazing experience, and I’d welcome the chance to share some of the photos with your readers, if you feel so inclined.
I do feel so inclined, and here they are:
The Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus) are everywhere along the coast. The babies are black and well-camoflaged against the black volcanic rock, but the adults stand out brilliantly.


The true stars of the coastline are, of course, the marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), who lie around in heaps, warming themselves before their next foraging swim.


Lava lizards (Microlophus albemariensis) are popular headgear among the fashionistas of marine iguanas.


The frigate birds (Fregata magnificens) nested literally right next to the well-trodden nature trail. Here’s two on nests; the male’s red throat pouch is visible.


When he puffs it out, it’s quite noticeable.


There are two species of frigate: the Great (Fregata minor) and the Magnificent. (I wonder if there’s also a Pretty Good Frigate, from Minnesota.) The Great Frigate has brilliant green iridescent feathers on its back.


Their chicks, like those of so many seabirds, are fluffy and white. But they still have that vicious hooked bill!


We saw quite a few Galapagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis), which are said to be most closely related to the Swainson’s hawk. Here it serves as both top predator and scavenger.


This one was picking over the remains a marine iguana. They prey particularly on female iguanas that are exhausted after digging a burrow, laying their eggs, and covering them up.


There are three types of boobies: the Nazca (Sula granti), blue-foot (Sula nebouxii), and red-foot (Sula sula). The blue-footed boobies were quite common along the coast.


The red-footed boobies nested in trees a bit inland but still within sight of the coast.


The flightless cormorants (Phalacrocorax harrisi) have comically small wings, but are speed demons underwater.


They are matched in underwater prowess by the Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus). It’s weird to see penguins and not be freezing. (In fact, it was sweltering.)


 I had to take a picture of this one because I leave no tern on stone.


Also a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) along the coast.


Inland we saw one of the mockingbird species (Mimus parvulus) that figured heavily into Darwin’s thinking.


Though not nearly as common as the marine iguanas, we saw a fair number of land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus), which are larger and more brightly colored than their marine kin.


Not to shortchange the invertebrates, but there’s not that many as one might expect in a tropical climate. One of the more noticeable ones is the Galapagos carpenter bee (Xylocopa darwinii), which is sexually dimorphic. The females are black:


The males are a beautiful golden color.


And last, but surely not least, the main event: tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra) ! Those that live in the highlands live the life of Riley, surrounded by lush vegetation. They eat all vegetation within reach of their long neck, then move a few inches and repeat the process, all day long.
But those that live down near the coast in blasted scrub have slimmer pickings, and accordingly, they are a bit more adventurous, culinarily speaking. This one, alas, was sadly disappointed after his first taste.


23 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

    1. I’m sorry ! I’m sorry ! I just got it !
      re “(I wonder if there’s also a Pretty Good Frigate, from Minnesota.)”

      Cute !

      ps I never have claimed to be the brightest color inside the 84 – crayon box !

  1. When I visited, the Frigate Birds were just beginning the mating season. The males would sit in the bushes and puff up their red neck pouches gawking skyward. The females circle around looking for a particularly attractive specimen to call her own. Sexual selection on hormones.

  2. I am blown away. You have posted a rather complete summary of the major kinds of animals on the Galapagos (except for finches, but maybe you have pix of those as well).
    This would be an item on my personal bucket list. If I was there, my heart would be racing. Well done!

  3. With the Sally Lightfoots, I am reminded of John Steinbeck and his book Log from the Sea of Cortez:
    “Many people have spoken at length of the Sally Lightfoots. In fact, everyone who has seen them has been delighted with them. The very name they are called by reflects the delight of the name. These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes, They have remarkable eyes and an extremely fast reaction time. […] They are exceedingly hard to catch. They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in a puff of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colors, red and blues and warm browns.”

    1. A great description by Steinbeck. It reminds me of walking through some areas on the barrier islands around me. Only, the crabs I am thinking of are not brightly colored, but camouflaged quite well. If you try looking for them you may not see a single one. The trick is to just look in front of you, normal height not at the ground, as you walk, eyes slightly unfocused, and pay attention to your peripheral vision. You will suddenly notice large areas of the ground ahead of you slowly creeping in lock-step with you as dozens, sometimes hundreds, of crabs each slowly ease towards their bolt-holes as you advance. And if you move suddenly? They all disappear in a wink of your eyes, in a proverbial puff of blue smoke.

  4. Very nice photos. Brought back lots of memories. By the way, being from Minnesota, I have to say that the Pretty Good Frigate Bird is still on my life list. I keep on loking, though.

  5. First US Forest Service chief and PA Governor Gifford Pinchot served two discontinuous terms. In-between those terms he visited the Galapagos. I’ve long said that I wish we had a Gov who would do that, and now, finally, we have one who would at least be receptive to the idea.

    1. Brilliant. But extend this concept to requiring all high office holders to spend 2 years on a tour of the world. Emphasize effects of global warming, loss of habitat, endangered species, human overpopulation, religious intolerance, Earth as an oasis (this may require a month aboard the space station). A part of this experience would be a tour of Egypt, Greece and the other epicenters of enlightenment values. They may skip the oath on a bible at this point and be allowed to take office in a quiet ceremony conducted by a Pastafarian monk.

  6. Galapagos photos are always a treat when featured on Readers’ Wildlife Photos, and this batch is up there with the best. Thanks for the humorous captions as well, and the tortoise eating tripod was great. smiles.

  7. I really enjoyed your capture of the residents of the island through your lens. You also artistically showed the environment in which they lived. Many thanks

  8. Marine iguanas always seem so strange to me. They remind me of a beach of fat people.

    You can almost see the tortoise’s full tongue in that photo – I find their tongues interesting because they look a lot like human tongues and I wonder what it’s like to taste things as a tortoise (they sometimes have terrible taste in “food”).

  9. Robert – you brought back wonderful memories with your camera lens – and delightful descriptions. I especially liked your birds ‘in flight’. We saw lots of male frigate birds- must have been the mating season when we went.

  10. What a delightful write-up and series of pictures!

    In the group shot of marine iguanas, some of their faces resemble sloths’ to me.

    First I’ve heard about the Lava Lizard and the dimorphic bee–how cool!

    I wonder if seabird chicks are often white because they tend to be born in areas covered with bird guano? (By which I mean, bred-in protective coloring, not rolling around in it.)

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