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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Floreana (Charles) Island and Champion Islet

August 26th, 2012 · 4 Comments

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Our yacht, the Xavier III, took our tour group to the one island in the Galapagos that I had already read a lot about before going there on August 3. This island, called in Spanish as Floreana and in English as Charles, still offered me lots of surprises.

Floreana became world famous in the 1930s when three groups of Europeans decided to settle there. Most of these settlers were decidedly strange and at least five of them were soon dead under suspicious circumstances. Only Margret Wittmer remained, and it was primarily her book Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galapagos that I had made sure to read before stepping on the island. You can read a succinct account of of this fascinating story “Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair.”

While this story was a backdrop to our visit to Floreana, we were, of course, much more interested in the island’s wildlife than in its sordid history.

In the morning seeing more Galapagos Penguins absolutely delighted me. This time I got good shots of them in the water, where they are at home.

A Galapagos Penguin (Speniscus mendiculus) Grooms Itself Before Going for a Swim in the South Pacific Ocean (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

A Galapagos Penguin (Speniscus mendiculus) Grooms Itself Before Going for a Swim in the South Pacific Ocean (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
A Galapagos Penguin (Speniscus mendiculus) Swims (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO 800)

A Galapagos Penguin (Speniscus mendiculus) Swims (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

As much as I love penguins in general and these Galapagos Penguins in particular, the biggest thrill I got all day was to see and photograph a little mockingbird. But this one is special for several reasons.

This Charles (or Floreana) Mockingbird figured large in the thinking of Charles Darwin when he encountered it in 1835 as a young naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. This was a different species from the Chatham Mockingbird that he had found earlier on Chatham Island, and this triggered his thinking about the origin of species.

“If there is one species that symbolizes the importance of Galapagos to Darwin and his theory of evolution,” write K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes in their 2009 book, Darwin in Galapagos, “it is Mimus trifasciatus, the Charles Island mockingbird. When Darwin was in Galapagos, the mockingbirds (or mocking thrushes as Darwin then called them) were the only group of organisms he appreciated as being distinct on the different islands, and it was the Charles Island mockingbird that jolted him to this awareness …. It was also the Galapagos mockingbirds as a group that provoked Darwin’s initial conception of what would later be termed ‘adaptive radiation’ — the diversification of a group of organisms from a common ancestor, through geographical isolation … Indeed, so fundamental were the mockingbirds to Darwin’s theory of evolution that when he wrote The Origin of Species 24 years after his visit to Galapagos, they were the only organisms from Galapagos that he specifically named to illustrate his point.”

Nowadays, people rarely get to photograph this endangered Charles Mockingbird because only about 150 birds remain, all of them probably on a little islet named Champion off the coast of Floreana. Champion is uninhabited and only researchers may land there. The only way for visitors to see a Charles Mockingbird is to take a dinghy, which can make viewing difficult. Kevin told me that of the more than 15 trips he has made to the Galapagos he has only been able to get close to Champion Island a few times and that this was the first time he was able to get usable images of the Charles Mockingbird. We were both in luck this time. And notice how the mockingbird’s color matches the nopal on which it rests.

The Charles Mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus or Nesomimus trifasciatus) May Not Look Important, But it Played a Big Role in Evolutionary Theory (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

The Charles Mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus or Nesomimus trifasciatus) May Not Look Important, But it Played a Big Role in Evolutionary Theory (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Further up the coast I was able to photograph a bird that doesn’t have as big a history with us but is much more distinctive. This is a Red-billed Tropicbird. I love its long tail as well as its evocative name.

A Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) at Rest (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO 800)

A Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) at Rest (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Then we returned to the yacht for lunch. Rather than being just a necessary stop to refuel our bodies, this trip gave us our best views of dolphins. A pod of them playfully followed the yacht.

Five Dolphins Swim Along our Yacht (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 260mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO 800)

Five Dolphins Swim Along our Yacht (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 260mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Dolphin Close Up with Head Up (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 250mm, f/8, 1/3000, ISO 800)

Dolphin Close Up with Head Up (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 250mm, f/8, 1/3000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

After watching the dolphins who were watching us, we returned to Floreana. This time we did pay attention to the island’s history.

We landed at Post Office Bay, where sailors began using a barrel some time between 1798 and 1813 to facilitate delivery of mail to England and the U.S. A barrel, albeit a different one, still remains, and visitors still use it to mail post cards to their friends around the world. Other visitors sort through the mail for addresses close to their homes, and I found three cards addressed to people in a Denver suburb, where I will deliver them when I am back down that way. I also left three cards in the barrel and will be interested to see if they arrive this year or later.

At the Floreana Post Office, One of the Oldest -- and Most Primitive -- in the World, Mary Returns Some Mail for Later Delivery (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 10mm, f/8, 1/35, ISO 400)

At the Floreana Post Office, One of the Oldest -- and Most Primitive -- in the World, Mary Returns Some Mail for Later Delivery (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 10mm, f/8, 1/35, ISO 400)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

At Floreana I found the “facts on the ground,” a diplomatic term that means the situation in reality as opposed to being in the abstract, a lot more interesting than those in books. The facts in the water were pretty interesting too.

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Posted in: Galapagos

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Fran Stearns // Sep 2, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Your Charles Mockingbird has character. Just really fine. You do make the most of your opportunities, David Mendosa.

  • 2 David Mendosa // Sep 2, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Dear Fran,

    What a lovely complement! I do try to be present for the opportunities that I see.

    Best regards,

    David

  • 3 Bob Curry // Sep 28, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Nice shot of Floreana Mockingbird. FYI, the bird is in immature plumage (small spots on either side of darker breast splotches); it was probably about 6 months old. I am surprised that it was not banded, because conservation work taking place on Champion that aims to mark all individuals. We’ll need to go back to band that one!

  • 4 David Mendosa // Sep 28, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Dear Bob,

    Thank you. And can you tell me how many Floreana (Charles) Mockingbirds are on Champion Islet? I also heard conflicting reports that some still remain on Gardner Islet. This that correct?

    Best regards,

    David

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