Galapagos, Ecuador – Mangrove finch
Finches were one of the many birds Darwin studied in the Galápagos Islands before publishing his monumental work on natural selection. Today, the mangrove finch is on the verge of extinction in the Galápagos. There are around 100 left, with just 20 breeding pairs. To keep the finches from disappearing altogether, the Charles Darwin Research Station and San Diego Zoo have engaged in a captive breeding program.
Recently, a third group of fledging mangrove finches were released on Isabela island. All birds are fitted with miniature tracking devices. Some returned to the aviary, but several finches released in past years have been seen in the wild. This showed finches raised in captivity are able to survive long-term.
The Great Frigatebirds are some of the most iconic inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands, especially when dramatically inflating their red gular sacs to attract mates. When not breeding or caring for young, however, they can be well out of sight — soaring up to 2.5 miles high in the air!
This would be impressive for any seabird, but the truly amazing fact is that frigatebirds have been tracked by GPS flying continuously (without any rest) for 56 days! Averaging 260 miles per day with 400 miles possible in perfect conditions, that would be a global round-trip in 95 days.
Most seabirds (albatrosses, petrels, sulids, etc.) glide for maximum efficiency. A frigatebird’s heartrate when soaring at altitude, flapping once every 6 minutes, is similar to when resting in a nest. Updraft currents allow them to ride upwards before swooping, in rollercoaster fashion.
July and August are the peak months for whale watching in Ecuador, as hundreds of humpbacks put on spectacular mating displays, physical and audible. They’ve come all the way from Antarctica for the warmer waters of the equatorial Pacific coastline, and boat operators haven’t seen a peak in human interest yet. Tourists are still on the rise, year on year.
Tours are normally an afternoon, or a whole day, usually with 6-12 passengers. Needless to say, longer tours increase whale viewings and the chance of a perfect encounter: a giant adult male exhibiting powerful displays at the ocean’s surface: arching, chest flapping, exposing flippers, tail-waving/slapping, head-slapping, and breaching (the most dramatic of all).
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