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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Stunning Española, a Galápagos jewel; part 2

While the seabirds are the obvious focus of any visit to Española, there is much, much more to enthral us as well. For a start, if you're excited by ocean blowholes (and who isn't?) there's a pretty good one near the Waved Albatross colony.
Blowhole, Española.
The island, like most of the smaller Galápagos isles, is covered by low vegetation, some shrubby, some no higher than herbs.
Carpet Weed Sesuvium edmonstonei, family Aizoaceae, a Galápagos endemic.
Which brings us to a key aspect of the Galápagos which, having never been part of any continental mainland, boasts large numbers of endemic species which have developed in isolation.The most recently arrived of these endemics, at least among the birds, is the conspicuous Galápagos Hawk Buteo galapagoensis, whose ancestor (something very like the modern Swainson's Hawk B. swainsoni) arrived from the mainland only some 300,000 years ago. Their conspicuousness is misleading - there may be only 130 breeding pairs left throughout the archipelago, following loss of prey species to exotic animals. They will eat anything, living or dead, but cannot survive where the Lava Lizards (see below) are absent.
Galápagos Hawk cleaning up Sea Lion placenta on Española beach.
Two of the most evident Galápagos endemic animals on any Galápagos beach are Galápagos Sea Lions and Marine Iguanas; Española is no exception.
Galápagos Sea Lion pups Zalophus wollebaeki; Bahia Gardner on the north shore of Española
supports a major colony.
The Española sub-species of Marine Iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus venustissimus is regarded as the
most colourful of all; no problem finding plenty to admire!

As everywhere in the archipelago there are the famous 'Darwin's Finches', but the Large Cactus Finch Geospiza conirostris can only be found here and on even more remote Genovesa, and the distant and inaccessible Darwin and Wolf islets.

Large Cactus Finch male, Española.
However, Española goes further than some of the other islands, and boasts its own endemic species, found nowhere else even in the Galápagos. One of these will accompany you on your walks; the Española Mockingbird Mimus macdonaldi derived from the more widespread Galápagos Mockingbird M. parvulus, which in turn seems to have descended from wayward Long-tailed Mockingbirds M. longicaudatus from Ecuador.
Española Mockingbirds, above and next two photos.


Like most Galápagos animals, these mockingbirds have no fear at all of humans!
Then there are two endemic Española reptile species, one of which you will certainly see, the other you'll need some luck for. Lava Lizards Microlophus spp. are members of the Neotropical ground lizard family and are restricted to the Galápagos; however those on Española are not only the largest and most colourful of them all, but are found on no other island.
Española Lava Lizards; female above, male below.


The Galápagos Racers Pseudalsophis spp. are a closely related group of five species (relatively recently recognised) of colubrid (back-fanged) snakes restricted to the islands. They grow to over a metre long, are remarkably swift, as their name suggests, and like other colubrids are mildly venomous. Lava Lizards are an important part of their diet, but they also prey on finches and small iguanas. The Española Racer P. hoodensis (Hood is the English name for Española) is another endemic to this tiny island. We were lucky to come on one in the dunes by Bahia Gardner, made sluggish by the cool of the evening; this was a highlight among many.
Española Racer, Bahia Gardner.
 
So, Española... Most tours and cruises don't go there, but I'd really suggest you look for one that does when you visit the fabulous Galápagos.

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