Visiting Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Archipelago

Charles Darwin Research Station

The sign in front of an administration building.  

The research station (and much of the island's arid lowlands) have numerous tree-sized cacti, with thick trunks that looked almost like Ponderosa pine with waxy bark. The cacti are actually prickly pear cacti but they have evolved into unique subspecies in the Galápagos. Different islands have different subspecies.  

The small knobs at the edges of the cacti pads are the fruits that result from flowering. I don't know whether the ones here are before or after flowering.  

Mockingbirds are very common and quite fearless. They readily pose for close-up photographs, although it helps to have a zoom lens.  

This scientific facility is operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation to study the native species and their habitats throughout the Galápagos Archipelago. The large campus on Isla Santa Cruz contains breeding centers for several native species (such as tortoises and iguanas), as well as offices, research facilities, and living quarters for scientists. The station's primary purpose is scientific but it's also a must-see for tourists. There are no formal tours but visitors can follow marked trails to observe the outdoor breeding centers. There's a visitor center with interpretive displays and a souvenir shop and snack bar. When we visited admission was free.

Despite the buildings and trails the landscape retained a natural appearance. Due to the hot arid climate, all the plants were adapted to desert-like conditions. There were numerous cacti including huge tree-sized cacti with trunks covered with brown waxy scales. There were other trees and shrubs including some that were flowering. All the vegetation was growing on a very rough and uneven surface of old broken-up and weathered lava flows. The rocks were thoroughly pockmarked from gas bubbles that had becomed embedded in the once-molten material.

We saw quite a few birds including the same kinds of finches that Darwin studied, and fearless mockingbirds that made for easy picture-taking. Both Marcie and I saw small inquisitive yellow birds that hopped and flitted amongst the tree branches. We attempted to photograph the birds but each time we reviewed a shot in the camera's electronic viewfinder, we saw only a blurred bird or no bird at all. The birds were so restless and quick that the camera's autofocus couldn't keep up with them. If you managed to get one in-focus and pressed the button, you'd review the shot and discover that the bird had hopped out of the picture at the last instant. As a joke, Marcie and I dubbed this species the "blurry-bird"; getting a good picture became one of our photographic missions.

This is a photograph of the Galápagos blurry-bird, a new species that Marcie and I discovered. No matter how carefully you adjust your camera, this bird always appears blurry in photographs since it hops around faster than the camera's autofocus can adjust. In actuality, I think it's a Galápagos flycatcher.

These might be yellow warblers or they might be blurry-birds, it's hard to tell. They were very curious and would hop around and look at you.  

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