Birding on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

When I was planning my recent birding adventure in the Galapagos, I had a choice to make.  You see, I only really had one day to spend birding.  This meant that I had to pick one island.  I could either get on a boat from the island I was on (Santa Cruz) and spend part of my day traveling to a different island, or I could spend the entire day birding on Santa Cruz.  I decided to spend more time birding and less time traveling.

This is a ground finch. He was not shy at all; I was less than 6 feet from him when I took this picture, and he posed for about 5 more!

The trouble is that there is very little information out there about the best places to bird on Santa Cruz.  Most people who go to the Galapagos get to visit more than one island, and most of the birding tours spend their time on Santa Cruz visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station (which I went to earlier in the trip and I do recommend) and then take their cruises around to the side of the island that is inaccessible via roads.   Their itineraries didn’t really help me, although a few blogs I found made some recommendations for places I could actually reach.I visited two areas on my personal birding day, Media Luna/Cerro Crocker and the Las Grietas trail.  Media Luna was recommended by several people and is even occasionally visited by guided birding trips, primarily as the place to see the Galapagos Rail.  Besides not seeing the rail, I didn’t see many birds at all.  The area that I was hiking was mostly in the Miconia zone of the islands, which is not a high-use bird habitat.  If all you have is a day, spend your time somewhere else.

Las Grietas, on the other hand, I highly recommend.  This is a trail that leads out to a cavern area that is popular with tourists and locals alike for swimming a snorkeling.  Be aware that this is not a friendly trail.  It starts off as a paved path and along its length it changes to a crushed rock path, a boardwalk, the beach, and another crushed rock path.  When you get to the “Las Grietas” sign, which tells you that you are almost there, the trail gets really challenging.  After that point it is an aggressive hike over intact, uneven lava rock, often going up and down small hills.  When you get to the end, the canyon-like area, I would recommend at least walking down to see the area.  You can always swim or snorkel at that point, too, although I didn’t.  I took a look, then turned around and hiked back.

Timing is important on this trail.  I hiked it in the early afternoon and I was in the full sun almost the entire time.  An important thing to note about the trail is that parts of it are underwater during high tide, so it is worth it to check the tide charts before you go.  Even with all of these challenges, it was highly worth it in regards to birds.

Crossing over from the main part of Puerto Ayora via water taxi, I saw Galapagos Shearwaters, a Blue-footed Booby sitting on the water, and the ever-present frigatebirds, Lava Gulls, and Brown Pelicans.  There were also ample chances to see sea lions, sleeping on the boats at anchor in the bay.  Once on the trail I saw lots of birds, which was a nice change from the morning’s hike at Media Luna.  The ground finches (of at least two varieties) are not shy, and will stay in the trail as you get close.  Along the beach section I saw my least favorite bird, Ruddy Turnstones.  In the various ponds along the trail there were White-cheeked Pintail, Black-necked Stilts, Wandering Tattlers, Spotted Sandpipers, a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, and a Lava Heron.   (I had to flush the Lava Heron, because it was standing on the lava rock in one of the low crossings.  Unlike small herons here at home, it waited until the last possible minute, when I was less than 6 feet away, to finally fly off and squawk in protest.)    On the return back to Puerto Ayora, the shearwaters were gone but I got a close look at a Common Noddy.

Las Grietas is definitely worth the hike, and if you can find a good spot in the highlands (perhaps Los Gemellos, which I didn’t get to visit) the Scalesia zone is also full of birds.  If you really only have one day (I had parts of other days, as well) you should definitely visit the Research Station.  Besides Lonesome George, I saw Cactus Finches and Galapagos Flycatchers there.

Hopefully you get a chance to spend more time than I did on the Galapagos, but if you are limited to one island, there are plenty of birds to find in the place where you are!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Ruddy Turnstones « Butterflies and Dragons

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