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North Seymour and Pinnacle Rock

Emerald River near the Guayllbamba valley
Emerald River near the Guayllbamba valley
North Seymour Island is a flat table top growing out of the Pacific Ocean. Tuff and basalt with a vein of limestone make the island seem like a lunar landscape. Great Frigate birds and Blue Footed Boobies nest in the low branches. The gular, or pouch, fills as the males look for mates. More than one male sits in the trees flapping their wings and shaking their inflated pouches. There were hundreds of Magnificent and Great Frigatebird males with these pouches, flying, courting, nesting and simply trying to attract a mate. When a white female happens by, the males would flap their wings, push out their pouches and exclaim, "I am here. Look at me!" Sometimes there were many males competing for a single female. Not much different from human males really. (lol)

Happy Mother's Day indeed! The young chicks call for their mother and each one has a distinct sound. I watched in awe as a female Frigatebird fed her growing baby by opening her beak as the youngster stuck its whole head down the throat for the predigested food. Ouch! Isn't nature wonderful?

In addition to the showy Frigates, the Blue Footed Boobies were in abundance as well, dancing for their partners. Boobies and Frigates share an interesting relationship. Sharing the same nesting area on North Seymour, Blue Footed Boobies nest on the ground making their nests from the twigs of the Palo Santos trees, while the Magnificent Frigatebird nests just above them in the salt bushes.

Frigatebirds on North Seymour rely on the fishing success of the Blue-Footed Booby for their survival. Blue-Footed Boobies are great at fishing. Hunting off-shore, the boobies dive from mid air into the sea in order to catch their fish. Successful, they return to the island with their prize to feed their young. Frigatebirds, named for the warships once used by pirates, are truly the pirates of Galapagos birds. In contrast to the Booby, Frigates do not excel at fishing. Their bodies produce very little oil for their wings and they are not waterproof. Unable to spend time in the water fishing they must rely on food stolen from other birds to feed themselves and their young. When a Booby or Red-Billed Tropicbird returns from a successful fishing trip, the Frigatebird will swoop down and molest the bird until it drops its catch. The Frigate then plucks the food from the air, feeding itself and its young from the stolen loot.

As I completed our route on the flat circular hike,I noticed brown noddy terns and lava gulls swooping over the crystal clear water. Once back on the panga, I also observed fur seals, which are smaller than their cousins, the sea lions, sunning themselves on the rocks. Galapagos penguins surfed in the clear waters as I watched, amazed that I could be this close! What a gift to see them in their natural habitat. These are warm water penguins, similar to their cousins who love the ice and cold.

After a satisfying lunch, we motored to Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome. This small island is located just off Sullivan Bay east of Santiago. Bartolome is a desolate island with few plants. The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations.

The best known of the island's formations is the Tuff Cone known as Pinnacle Rock. This large, black, partially eroded lava formation was created when magma was forced from the volcano and reached the sea. When the sea waters cooled the hot lava it caused an explosion. The exploded particles eventually fastened together forming a rock composed of thin layers.

Little vegetation grows in this barren place. Mangroves border the beach and the small shrub, Tiguilia grows in the volcanic sands. The seeds and tiny white flowers provide food for the island's finches. These plants are common to arid regions and are able to survive in these harsh volcanic conditions.

After the last eruption, lava tunnels, very fragile now, dotted the landscape. The lava rushed from the top of the crater, now extinct, and cooled into tunnels as they reached the sea. The long boardwalk and steps leading to the top of Pinnacle Rock were steep and better than any Stairmaster! The lunar landscape continued to astonish my senses. The view from the top of the lighthouse was incredible! We could see an extinct caldera, Chinese Hat and the bay far below.

Though there is little evidence of many forms of life in this harsh environment, the geology of the Galapagos fascinates me. Though it took many millions of years, the circle of hot magma cooling, volcanoes erupting, hot magma cooling, affirms that life begins anew.

At last, we took pictures of the motley crew, all together after our amazing hike to the top. Each day was an amazing adventure and today was no exception!

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