Galapagos birds: by land, sea, and air

pelican with marine iguana, pelican, marine iguana, Galapagos

Pelican with marine iguana.

The birds of the Galapagos were far beyond my ability to comprehend in a week. There are nineteen species, five of which exist only (are “endemic”) to the islands. They vary from the brown long-necked flightless cormorants to blue-footed boobies, miniaturized penguins, and the varieties of Darwin finches from island to island that led the good man to contemplate “survival of the fittest.”

How did any of them get there? The Galapagos are a thousand miles from anywhere. Fly, glide, ride vegetation rafts, swim up the Humboldt Current?

And what were the odds of a male and female bird of the same species getting there at the same time? What does that mean in terms of all the other birds that launched off deliberately or by accident and perished mid-Pacific Ocean? The Galapagos are small, the Pacific Ocean is large. Sighting land, eden ahead? Let’s go there and evolve into a new species!

Given the magnitude of questions, I am simply going to show you some of my bird photos in the hopes you can catch the wonder without the scientific data. Enjoy!

Immediately below are a lava heron and the famous blue-footed booby:

lava heron, bird, Galapagos

blue booby, Galapagos, birds






Here, the flightless, swimming birds, little penguins and cormorants:

penguin, Galapagos penguins, Galapagos

cormorant, Galapagos, bird

cormorants, Galapagos, birds

Darwin’s finches: yes, beautiful

finch, Darwin's finches, Galapagos, birds finch, Darwin's finches, Galapagos, birds,

And, signing off, with a couple of brown pelicans:

pelican, Galapagos pelican, Galapagos


Galapagos: turtle and tortoise (lack of) romance

She was young and he was old, a mere toddler when President James Garfield was shot in 1881. To be specific, according to our guide, the male giant land tortoise was between 130 and 140 years old and approximately 800 pounds while the female was one-sixth his size and 30 years old at most.


To be more specific, male giant land tortoises do not lose virility or impulse with age. Nor do they care if humans surround them and take photos. Male giant land tortoises, when in the mood, have only one thing in mind. ( . . .  and they achieve this by a sex organ in their tails. Don’t ask.)



The female, however, wasn’t on with the same plan. Escape under his fore flipper was her only chance. We women silently encouraged her despite our mutual concern for land tortoises as an vulnerable species.

(They arrived 2-3 million years ago by drifting 600 miles from the South American coast on vegetation rafts or by floating and swimming. Once numbering between 100,000 and 200,000, now 20,000-25,000 tortoises live on the islands, up from a low of 3,000 in the 1970s.)

If impregnated, our female would spend 3 months walking across the island to dig a deep hole in the beach sand, lay her dozen or more eggs in it, and then spend 3 months returning to the center of the island. And then she repeats this for a hundred years.

Tortoises don’t do much else. DSCN3452DSCN3468They hang out in shallow ponds or stroll and nibble cactus pads, grass, and low-hanging fruit. They don’t have to eat or drink for up to a year.

Actually, not needing food or drink worked horribly against them when whalers, fur sealers, and buccaneers realized they could chuck live giant tortoises in the holds of their ships to kill whenever they wanted fresh meat – though the tortoises did have distinction of having the islands named after them. Galapagos means “saddle” in Spanish. The giant land tortoises come in two main groups: the smaller saddleback with a shell that curves downward in the middle, and the domed back with a shell that is domed. Our May-December couple was domed.



Sea turtles, on the other hand, have their own mating issues. An adult male, about 2/3rds the size of an adult female, climbs on top of the female at sea while his buddies or rivals push in. The female holds both herself and the mating male up, trying not to drown. Below you see the male on a free ride while another male is coming in from the side. The female? … well, she’s under water.


Turtles are reptiles, they have lungs, they need oxygen. Not much, but if they are active, they need a good intake every few minutes. Each mating season there are drowned females at the bottom of the coves.

I was, by chance, on site for each mating session. Like the other women, I identified  with the females and their plight. The men mostly went silent.

There was not a speck of pruning, preening, giving of gifts or flowers, no dances, no “aren’t I the cat’s meow?” Nothing. Turtles have existed for 200 to 300 million years. Evidently the need for spectacle and seduction evolved later, was only needed later. Maybe style entered in with species complexity, i.e. awareness of difference and self. My feathers are brighter than yours, my mane is bushier than yours, my Armani outdoes your L.L. Bean. I like seduction, I like gentleness. Yet . . .DSCN2452

All said, the sea turtles and giant tortoises were marvelous. Snorkeling with 12 sea turtles at one time was thrilling. They swan six inches under our bellies and slept below us. (At rest, they can go without breathing for a couple hours.)

Yes, tortoises by day, and a great chablis by night. Each to his own species.

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More tortoise and turtle photos: they pretty much all look alike.



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Galapagos: Sea lions, oh my ….

sea lions, Galapagos, beach, lava

Enlarge all photos for greater impact.

An endangered species, Galapagos sea lions breed exclusively in the Galapagos – or on little Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador. There are 20,000 to 50,000 of them, down about 50% from 30 years ago.

They are threatened by el Ninos, which are expected to increase with global warming, and sharks and killer whales when they venture far out in search of, yum yum, sardines.  . . . not to mention fisherman nets and poachers looking for a profit on bull penises sold as aphrodisiacs.

sea lions, Galapagos, beach, sea lion group


Otherwise, their lives consist of swimming, sleeping in the daytime sun, lolling on and over each other, mating, mothering, and being cute or elegant (take your choice) furry bags of blubber.

sea lion, Galapagos, lava beach, lava, sleeping mammal


sea lion, Galapagos, lava beach, sleeping mammal

sea lion, sleeping sea lion, sleeping mammal, Galapagos, face of sea lion, baby sea lion, baby mammal

Why they are called sea lions, or sea wolves (“lobos marino” in Spanish) instead of sea dogs or sea bears makes no sense.

Look at this face. Their faces convince you they are safe even when you are warned to stay 12 feet from the bulls.

sea lion, bull sea lion, Galapagos


(Bull to right, not quite as cute.)




But what’s important is: I SWAM WITH A SEA LION!

Sammy, the guide, ever vigilant to my happiness, tapped my flippered foot and pointed. Fifteen feet away, among the rocky crevices, was my new dance partner. As I approached, she came towards me and began to whirl, twirl, and make loops and circles with her body. It was I who backed off. Less than three feet between us crossed my comfort zone.

She broke away once to chase off two smallish sharks 12 feet below (oh, yeah), then swam back, looked me in the eye, and we danced again. Later she danced with others, and that was okay because we danced longer, and she loved me more than she loved them, and I think of her every day. And I miss her, and I hope she thinks of me, and . . . and . . . .

Reality: the mothering aspect of sea lions is peculiar. Once a baby is a week old, its mother returns to the sea in her daily (nightly) food search. Things happen. She might not return, in which case the baby is doomed. It will not be adopted by another mother.

sea lion, sea lion mother, sea lion cub, nursing sea lion, Galapagos


Mothers identify their babies by the sound of their “bark” and their smell. It works both ways. Babies sniff their way across piles of sleeping seals to their mothers where they attach themselves to a teat and suck loudly as they too fall asleep.


sea lions family, sea lion, Galapagos


In sum: sea lions are sculptures in fur, varying in color from gray to gold. They cannot be awkward, though . . .

sea lions, Galapagos, sleeping sea lions

young sea lion, Galapagos, running sea lion, sea lion, beach

. . . the sight of a sea lion scrambling across sand has cognitive dissonance to it. How does that work?

They flipper to everywhere – to a pier bench, a tubular slide of a children’s playground, to the top of the stairs of the first leg of the climb to Darwin’s Lake.

sea lion, Galapagos, sleeping sea lion, sea lion on park benchsea lion asleep, Galapagos, sea lion in child's slide, sea lion




sea lion at top of stairs, Galapagos, sea lion




Sea lions just are. They have no appointments and not much to say. You want them to be here forever, to loll, sleep, mate, and swim in loops and whirls, and circle 8’s for flabbergasted tourists.

You want, actually, to lie down next to them in the sand, to see their dreams and just be.

Galapagos, sea lions on beach, Patricia Smith, Patricia Smith Melton, beach, sea lions

Traveling Light Becomes a Blog

patricia smith meltonThe hermit side of me is being dragged here kicking and screaming. She wants to sit cross-legged at the entry to a cave, Paleolithic paintings at her back and wildflowers spread across the distance in front.

It would be a warm day and the sun would be gentle where it touched my hermit feet and legs. My head would be just into the shade. The hermit wants never to work, to lay the burdens down like offerings up to that sun, to have them vaporize. She wants to ease into forgiveness and forgetfulness and into the yellow of the little flowers right over there.

But the tough steeled thing of me has dragged her here. Welcome, dear reader, let me talk to your heart and, thus, clear my own. The wheel has long been invented but knowledge is a delicate thing woven of math, time, space, senses, conjectures, bone fragments, DNA. Sixty-five billion neutrinos stream from the sun and go through every cubic centimeter of your body every second.

When I first took yoga in the YWCA nearly 50 years ago, my consciousness would rise out of my prone body during meditation and float above it and above the bodies next to me. When I asked the instructor privately if there was anything I should do with this, he went wide-eyed and said, “Don’t tell anyone. They’ll get scared.” It never happened again, and I never told anyone. Until now, but this is the least of it. And I will speak of the more of it and post it here under “Slouching Toward Enlightenment.”

So I drag my hermit self here because she and I live in this world, and I’ve grown to love it here. It took a long time. At seventy, I want to smash my face into the pomegranates of life, I want juice sluicing into me, I want young lovers and wild gardens of beautiful things. And I will write of these things and post them on “Woman of a Certain Age.”

The tough steeled thing of me is being re-shaped, tendered back down inside like a prong to nudge up the poet and meanderer and say “dare with me.” The hermit shivers, “What are you doing now? Again? More? Really? Necessary?”

The past 12 years were years of being an activist for women power, witnessing the savaging in the Middle East, getting emails in the night from desperate sisters in Afghanistan and Palestine, and having unending astonishment at people’s courage as they were being violated. The steeled me, well-tempered by now, will continue to write of rights and needs and wonders, and will interview women around the world and post their words here under “Peace By Peace.”

And when I was violated – a country we will visit, but less than we will savor travels to Paris, my geographical heart home, in October and the Galapagos with its blue-footed boobies in January. To be posted with photographs under “Road Show.”

At seventy I often feel grief and ecstasy at the same time. It resembles fine wines. Reds.

Come travel with me. My hermit self is. We will travel light.