Swallow-tailed Gulls in the Galapagos Islands


When I visited the Galapagos Islands, the second island I visited was Genovesa Island, and one of the first birds I saw and photographed on the island were Swallow-tailed Gulls. Swallow-tailed Gulls are equatorial birds that breed only in the Galapagos Islands. These gulls are unusual because they are the only fully nocturnal gull and seabird, feeding only at night when squid and small fish rise to the surface to feed on plankton. Because they are nocturnal, their eyes are very large for a gull.


Male and female Swallow-tailed Gulls are indistinguishable, looking exactly alike. In their breeding season, their heads turn dark grey or black, and they have bright red eye rings. Normally, their heads are white and and their eye rings black. I was lucky to be there during breeding season, because not only were the gulls in their breeding plumage, but there were young gull chicks to be seen and photographed.


Swallow-tailed Gull eggs are incubated for 31 – 34 days. After 60 -70 days, the chicks are fully grown and take their first flight.


When breeding season ends, the Swallow-tailed Gulls fly east toward the coast of South America, feeding while over the open Pacific Ocean. They return to the Galapagos to breed and typically to the same nest with the same mate within the same colony of gulls.


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Posted in Bird Photographs, Galapagos Islands, Nature | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Late Autumn Colors at Prince William Forest


Early Monday morning, I met my friend, Ernie Sears, at Prince William Forest National Park. Prince William Forest encompasses over 19,000 acres and has over 37 miles of hiking trails. The northern Virginia park provides a quiet and peaceful respite from the  surrounding suburban masses and the very close and always busy Interstate 95. When deep in the forest, it is easy to forget the nearby traffic and crowded areas and imagine what native Americans and the early settlers experienced.


We hiked over five miles looking for places to capture what remained of the autumn colors and found a couple of locations along Quantico Creek that provided picturesque views. When we first arrived at the creek, there was a light fog that could be seen up the creek from where we stood (above image). We were there about an hour, during which time the sun rose over a ridge and the fog cleared (below image).


As you can see from the above and below images, most of the leaves had fallen. However, there were still enough leaves left in the trees for us to enjoy and capture the autumn  colors. The fallen leaves also provided color on the creek’s banks.


About a mile from the above location, we found a small waterfall. The amount of water in the creek and its flow were minimized by the recent lack of any substantial rain. Nevertheless, I made the best of the “trickle” by using a slow shutter speed to soften the water and to capture the swirl, as seen in the foreground of the below image.


The above photo is a composite of two images. One image was shot at a very slow shutter speed to soften the water and to capture the swirl in the foreground, and the second image was shot at a much higher shutter speed to properly expose the background and surrounding rocks. The two images were blended together in Photoshop.

The images in this article were taken with either a Nikon D800 or D810 and either a 24-70mm or 16-35mm lens.

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Posted in Autumn Photography, National and State Parks, Nature | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Espanola Island in the Galapagos


When in the Galapagos Islands, I traveled for eight days from island to island on an 80 foot yacht. Most of the traveling between the islands was done at night to preserve time to visit the islands. Therefore, each morning when I woke up, the yacht was at a new location and the view totally different. Above is an image I shot from the upper deck as the sun was rising. That morning’s sunrise was the most spectacular during my visit, because the sun’s morning light colored the clouds in gorgeous soft, glowing colors that framed an island’s silhouette. It was a sunrise I will always remember.


As you can see in the above map, the islands vary in size and cover a large area of the Pacific Ocean. They consist of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The Galapagos Islands are about 600 miles west of Ecuador, the South American country that owns and protects them. In 1986, 27,000 square miles of surrounding ocean was declared a marine reserve, meaning the waters and islands are protected against fishing and development. In 1990, it became a whale sanctuary.


One of the islands I visited was Espanola. It had the most beautiful beach I have ever visited. As you can see from the above and below images, the beach was lined with volcanic rocks, causing waves to splash high into the air. The color of the water varied from shades of blue to beautiful turquoise. Best of all, the beach was totally deserted, no people, no buildings, no signs, and no litter. The beach was unspoiled and as natural as it was when Darwin visited the Galapagos in 1835. Espanola Island’s beach was breathtaking. I did not want to leave and hope that I will visit it again.


Although I did not have to share the Espanola’s beach with people, I did share it with a  group of sunbathing Sea Lions. They, as well as most of the fauna in the Galapagos Islands, were not afraid of people. Therefore, I was able to get close while trying not to disturb them.


While photographing the sunbathing female Sea Lions, a large bull Sea Lion kept an eye on me from the shoreline. The male Sea Lion eventually left the water and approached the females. Clearly, this was his harem of Sea Lions. As he approached them, one of the females raised her head, and the very large male stretched his head out, and they appeared to kiss. I am sure that is not what they did, but they were clearly showing affection toward each other.


As I walked along the beach, I noticed a single female Sea Lion rolling in the surf and enjoying the warm water and sunshine. I have many images of her in the water to include one when she was floating on her back. The setting was beautiful. I could have watched her all day frolicking in the surf.


By the way, Sea Lions are not the same as Seals. There are significant differences, such as:

  • Sea Lions have earflaps; Seals have earholes.
  • Sea Lions have long whiskers; Seal’s whiskers are crimped or beaded.
  • Sea Lions have long hairless fore-flippers; Seals fore-flippers are short and have claws.
  • Sea Lions hind flippers rotate underneath and enable them to walk on land; Seals move on land by wiggling on their bellies.
  • Sea Lions swim using their fore-flippers like wings of a bird; Seals swim by steering with their fore-flippers.

Below, a female Sea Lion watched as I photographed her among the volcanic rocky shoreline.


A young Sea Lion pup, covered in sand, was walking along the beach, and of course, I  could not resist photographing it.


Below is another view of Espanola Island’s beach. Occasionally, there were Marine Iguanas sunning themselves on the beach. One can be seen in the below image. I have many more images of the Marine Iguanas and will do a separate blog article about them.


Hope you are enjoying seeing some of the Galapagos Island’s beauty in my photography. I have many more images to share in future articles.

Posted in Galapagos Islands, Landscape Photographs, Nature, sunrise, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Santiago Island and Galapagos Land Iguanas


When I was in the Galapagos Islands, I visited eight of its 18 main islands in eight days, and each of the eight islands was different from the other in landscape, fauna and flora. When leaving an island, I would think how could the next island compare to what I had seen and photographed, because each was unique and memorable. I could easily see why naturalist Charles Darwin spent five weeks in the Galapagos.

Above is a view from Santiago Island. As you can see, the coastline is covered in large black volcanic rocks and boulders, and the water was a beautiful turquoise blue that glowed as the sunlight shined through large four to six foot waves. As shown in the above image, across the open water was an island formed from an old volcano that was leveled across the top when it erupted. Santiago Island was formed from two overlapping volcanoes. The last lava flow is estimated to have occurred about 750,000 years ago.


Besides the incredible views, Santiago is known for land iguanas, and it did not take long after landing on the island to locate the first iguana. The land iguanas looked very different from the many marine iguanas that I had seen on other islands and clearly looked prehistoric. The above photo is my favorite iguana image. I shot it at eye level and caught the iguana looking at the camera with a grin.

When Charles Darwin was on Santiago Island, he wrote that land iguana burrows were so abundant there was hardly room to pitch a single tent. Today, unfortunately, that is not the case. Because feral animals such as rats, dogs, cats and pigs were introduced on the island, the iguana population was at one time totally wiped out. Fortunately, they were reintroduced on the island, and although not as abundant as they once were, land iguanas can be seen again today.


Galapagos land iguanas were described by Darwin as “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red color above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” I do not know why Darwin thought they looked stupid. I found them to be one of the highlights of the trip.

In the above and below images, an iguana was working its way through the limited green foliage in an arid area of the island and eating leaves.


Galapagos land iguanas grow to a length of three to five feet with a body weight of up to twenty-five pounds. They are cold-blooded and absorb heat from the sun by basking on Santiago’s volcanic rocks during the day. They spend evenings in burrows to conserve body heat.

I have many more images from Santiago Island, as well as the other seven islands I visited, and will be posting them to my blog in a series of articles. More of my images from Santiago Island can be seen at:  http://stabone.com/bartolome_island_photos#h388a4a9b

If you ever considered going to the Galapagos Islands and have not been there yet, I highly recommend making the trip.

Posted in Galapagos Islands, Nature | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Roseate Spoonbill and Great Egrets


Last night, while reviewing recent images, I stopped when I came to the above image of a Roseate Spoonbill in flight. I stopped because the spoonbill’s eye was  brightly lit, sharply focused, and looking at me when I shot the image. One of the essential goals of wildlife photography is focusing on the eye and, ideally, capturing the image with a catchlight in the wildlife’s eye. A catchlight is a reflection/small white dot caused by the sun’s light or the camera’s flash, when one is used. The wildlife’s eye is what most people immediately focus on. If the eye is not sharp or covered in shadow and not clearly visible, the image is not a “keeper.” This image was photographed with a Nikon D800 and a 80-400mm lens at 370mm, f/8, 1/800 sec. at 400 ISO.

I also discovered the following two images of Great Egrets. The first image is the same egret that I posted in my previous blog article, but taken on the following day. The egret was in the same general area and was putting on a dramatic mating show, standing and stretching its neck straight up in the air and then falling back down into a crouching position. (Nikon D700 and 600mm lens at f/5.0, 1/400 sec. at 800 ISO)


Below is another image of a Great Egret that was returning to its nest with nesting material. The sunlight was brightly glowing through the egret’s wings, making its wing feathers clearly visible. I used a flash (Nikon SB-910) to light up the egret’s underside, which otherwise would have been dark and shadowed. (Nikon D800 and 80-400mm lens at 180mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 sec. at 280 ISO.)


If you haven’t already done so, I suggest clicking on the images to see them in more detail.

I have hundreds of images from this spring and summer that I have not reviewed or processed, but expect to get caught up shortly and will post more to my blog as I proceed. Like most nature photographers, I love being outdoors shooting images more than being indoors processing them.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature | Tagged , | 3 Comments