Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

My old friend Andrew Berry, who teaches and advises biology undergraduates at Harvard, recently went on a trip en famille to the Galápagos—as a lecturer on a university alumni cruise. He’s a good photographer, using the same Panasonic Lumix camera as I do, and he sent me a selection of what he calls his “holiday snaps.” There’s a video at the end, too. Captions are Andrew’s.

Galapagos flycatcher, Myiarchus magnirostris, (endemic), Floreana:


Female sea turtle somewhat grumpily emerging from the water to lay her eggs.  Presumably Pacific Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas.  Floreana, with Isla Campeon in the background.


Yellow crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea posing patiently, Floreana.


The cause of the heron’s patience: a worm hole directly in front.


Charles Darwin wearing a curious purple finch head dress.  San Cristobal.


In the Galapagos, prickly pear bushes have become trees.  Opuntia echios.  Floreana.


Male lava lizardsMicrolophus sp, San Cristobal. Endemic.


Female lava lizard, Microlophus sp, San Cristobal. Endemic.


Sea lion, Zalophus californianus, obligingly providing some foreground.


Brown pelicanPelicanus occidentalis, and blue-footed booby, Sula nebouxii.  San Cristobal.


Lava gull goofing around, San Cristobal. Larus fuligionosus, endemic.


A sea lion unmoved by considerations of comfort when it comes to finding a spot of a bit of a lie-down.  Zalophus californianus.


Marine iguana, icon of the Galapagos.  Amblyrhynchus cristatus, endemic.  San Cristobal.  Darwin’s encounter was crudely experimental: “I threw one several times as far as I could, into a deep pool left by the retiring tide; but it invariably returned in a direct line to the spot where I stood. It swam near the bottom, with a very graceful and rapid movement, and occasionally aided itself over the uneven ground with its feet. As soon as it arrived near the edge, but still being under water, it tried to conceal itself in the tufts of sea-weed, or it entered some crevice. As soon as it thought the danger was past, it crawled out on the dry rocks, and shuffled away as quickly as it could. I several times caught this same lizard, by driving it down to a point, and though possessed of such perfect powers of diving and swimming, nothing would induce it to enter the water; and as often as I threw it in, it returned in the manner above described. Perhaps this singular piece of apparent stupidity may be accounted for by the circumstance, that this reptile has no enemy whatever on shore, whereas at sea it must often fall a prey to the numerous sharks. Hence, probably, urged by a fixed and hereditary instinct that the shore is its place of safety, whatever the emergency may be, it there takes refuge.”


Marine iguana, Española.


Marine iguana, Española.


Galapagos dove, Zinaida galapagoenis, Española. Endemic.


Proud parent, Nazca booby. Sula granti. Española.


Swallow-tailed gull, Creagrus furcates.  Endemic.  Española.


Marine iguanas, Española.


Sally Lightfoot crabGrapsus grapsus.  Española.


Española mockingbird, Nesomimus macdonaldi.  One of four species of Galápagos mockingbirds, each one on a different island. Darwin recognized differences among islands, but it wasn’t until he talked in London to the ornithologist John Gould that he came to appreciate that the differences were sufficient to qualify the mockingbirds as separate species.  This Española species is particularly tame; here one is investigating the contents of my backpack.


Española mockingbird, Nesomimus macdonaldi, on the beach at Gardner Bay.  This is a mockingbird territorial face-off. Galapagos mockingbirds are co-operative breeders, meaning that a few individuals breed, and others help out.  They form cooperative groups of as many as 25 individuals, which defend their group territories using the remarkable “dance” seen in the video at bottom (shot at the same time as the photo above was taken).


Land iguana, Conolophus subcristatus, Baltra Island.  Endemic.  Darwin was a little unkind about this species: “Ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath and of a brownish red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance”


Giant tortoise, Geochelone elephantopus, Santa Cruz.  Endemic.  Darwin famously missed the boat on this species.  He was told upon arrival in the Galapagos that it was possible to tell from the structure of a tortoise’s carapace the island from which it was derived. However, he failed to follow up on this and his discovery of the role of geographic isolation in the genetic divergence of populations had to wait.  He preferred instead, it seems, to ride the beasts: “I was always amused when overtaking one of these great monsters as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed it, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead. I frequently go on their backs, and then, giving a few raps on the hinder part of their shells, they would rise up and walk away — but I found it very difficult to keep my balance.”


Andrew also sent a video with these notes:

Española mockingbird, Nesomimus macdonaldi, on the beach at Gardner Bay. This is a mockingbird territorial face-off, with two groups noisily contesting a territory boundary. Galapagos mockingbirds are co-operative breeders, meaning that a few individuals breed, and others help out. They form cooperative groups of as many as 25 individuals, who defend their group territories using the remarkable “dance” seen here. Video by Megan Berry.


    • Dominic
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing the lovely pictures!

  1. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Terrific collection of photos.

  2. Karen Bartelt
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Must. Go. Back. Thanks for the lovely pix!

  3. rickflick
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I was there 13 years ago. One of the greatest experiences of my life. We went aboard the Galapagos Aggressor, a live-aboard dive boat, so we managed to experience the place from both the top and bottom.

  4. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Ah, the Galapagos. I would give a kidney and a large portion of my liver to go there.
    As I recall, it was the mockingbirds that caused Darwin to first doubt the stability of species. That tortoises differed from island to island was not fully realized by Darwin until some time later. Another opportunity to detect that species could change were the finches, but Darwin was no ornithologist and so when he saw the varieties of finches he assumed that they were members of different bird families. But even he could tell that the mockingbirds were mockingbirds, with slight differences from island to island. It was with them that the light bulb 1st came on.

  5. Kevin
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Prickly pear tree. A most impressive species. It’s like a cactus that wanted a view.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I will never tire of pix from the Galapagos. Even so, this series is truly exceptional.

  7. Merilee
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink


  8. Mark R.
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Amazing photos. I think the land iguana is cute!

    • Merilee
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      The land iguana does look kind of sweetly smug ( unlike the Land Shark;-) I had no idea there were marine iguanas as well.

  9. loren russell
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Mockingbird turf wars— who knew??

    I imagine a lot of “your-mama” taunts when the mockingbird gangs get mocking….

    • Merilee
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      🎶in them ol’ mockin’ fields back hommmmme🎶

  10. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the Galapagos. Soooo tempting. But I fear I couldn’t justify to myself the environmental costs of visiting there. An externally-supplied cruise boat … maybe more justifiable, but then you literally wouldn’t get to see the wildlife that makes the place special.
    I’d still have to check out the ship’s sewage plant though – they’re not always as effective as they should be, and that’s a potential cause of significant environmental damage too.

    • rickflick
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      On my trip there with a dive group aboard the Galapagos Aggressor they explained the rigid environmental protections. The number of visitors is strictly limited and, for example the ships are not allowed to dump sewage. The Ecuadoran coast guard is very strict with tour companies that operate there. You can’t just go anywhere you want. Our guides were very careful to keep our feet on the trails and hands off the wildlife. It looks to me like they have it under control. You are limited to specified trails, etc.
      My advice – if you really want to see it, go. You only live once.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 11, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        Feet wear trails. Engines spit out both carbon dioxide, particulates and lubricants.
        Besides, having grown up with the conservation movement, I’ve internalised the message that it is much easier to avoid damaging something in the first place than to repair the damage afterwards. I’m not sure that I could really square it to myself for what would only be personal vanity.
        Ditto Antarctica. If I went, I wouldn’t be able to honestly say to the next person “I think the place has too many tourists.”

  11. Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful pictures!

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