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15 July - 1 August 1996

by Barry Levine

Needless to say, because it's been said before, this is the trip of a lifetime.

A couple of words of precaution for those of you who are planning this journey.  It's outrageously expensive.  Be very specific with your travel agent with questions and concerns.  Be prepared before you travel to South America.

We did a lot of research before we decided to choose which vessel we were going to take.  We found Barry Boyce's book very helpful in filling us in on the different boats.  Factors that you might want to consider in making your choice are your constitution and amount of time/money you have to spend.  We ended up on a 100 foot yacht, which was very comfortable.  We booked this through a Canadian organization for the princely sum of $2,900 per person for 2 weeks.  The only real complaints we had on our Galapagos tour was with this organization.  I will not print the name of this company as I don't believe this is the proper place for that.  I will add though, that in dealing with your tour company, be very specific with any and all questions.  You are spending too much money to not have it all work out.  Some questions to be asked are:

Is the tour ONLY in English?  We ended up on a bilingual tour.  Is there enough snorkeling gear?  There wasn't on our boat.   Do we get a double bed for sure?  We obviously didn't.  What are the background and ages of the other tour members?  19-69 on ours.   Are there specifically others on the tour who are birders?   None on ours

Even though these events happened, they were easily overcomed and we had a fabulous time.  We were lucky in that the 16 people were very compatible and 8 of them didn't like to snorkel.  Our United Nations tour worked, but I could see it not working out on some other ships. We were also very fortunate that our tour members became very interested in birds.  Partly I'm sure because of just being in the Galapagos.  This allowed us more time to search for the less obvious species.  But, it is important to realize that you are in a restricted area with very restricted access.  If birding is your sole emphasis, I would advise organizing your own tour for birders and not taking a commercial tour.  Here again Boyce's book will be helpful.  To put this in perspective we were able to see everything we wanted to see except for the Vegetarian Finch and the Galapagos Rail.Both of these birds are seen.  The finch would most likely be seen in the Transition Zone, which we spent little time in, and the Rail came be seen in the Highlands.  We ran into a group that had seen the rail by walking hand in hand in the low vegetation and flushing it out.  How good this is for the environment is another question.

As for expense, if you book your tour from your native land you can expect to pay almost twice what you'd pay booking it in Ecuador.  The cheapest alternative is to fly to the Galapagos and book it there.  One couple did so and paid $800 per week versus our $1,450.  Of course this is chancey.  I wouldn't recommend this because you might not get on a boat that is reputable.  We met a group that had paid for a boat that hadn't yet showed up (2 days late).  So you can see, maybe it works, maybe it doesn't.  If you setting up a tour yourself your choice is pretty obvious.  If your willing to chance it, I would be tempted to go to Quito, have a travel agent work on it for while you bird the Mindo, or Tinanlandia areas.

Should a person try to get on the cheapest boat?  I'd say not.  The seas can be very rough and we saw one group on a very small boat looking very sick as we whizzed past them.  We made out ok with our accupressure wrist bands and occasional Dramamine fix.  Is a 5 day tour enough?  No way!!  Go for at least 8 days.  More is better.  More expensive but then again, this is an unbelieveable place.  We're school teachers, so we had to make a commitment to eating lots of peanut butter sandwiches this next year.

If you have never been to South America, your in for an experience.  Ours was very positive.  No problems with the usual complaints we had heard from others.  We were often told to be extremely paranoid about our wallets, personal belongings, etc.  We had absolutely zero probleMs. We also did not have any jewelry on, wore well used clothing, exhibited a cautious attitude and did not look to take the cheapest route to get where we were going.  I think these things can help.  In South America when we were told that maybe we could get something done we learned that means it's virtually impossible.  This ended up costing us a day at Macchu Pichu.  It seemed that people didn't know how to say I don't know.  So if you hear maybe, I believe they're telling you no!  Also something that might be of note in South America is that flights sometimes get cancelled.  The government revoked the charter of Aero Americana when we were in Cuzco and a whole bunch of people were stranded from their destination of Puerto Maldonado.  The same thing happened to people heading to Coca in Ecuador.  Be flexible or you might be unhappy.

For more information feel free contact me.

Here's the list of birds:

* Heard only
Galapagos Penguin ( Spenicus mendiculus) Isabella
Waved Albatross (Diomedea irrorata) Hood, N. side of Isabella 
Hawaiian Petrel ( Pteroderma phaeopygia) N. side of Isabella 
Audubon's Shearwater (Puffinis Iherminieri) Santa Cruz
Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma tethys)  Tower 
White-vented Storm Petrel (Oceanites gracilis)  Baltra 
Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) Tower 
Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) Santa Cruz 
Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) Tower 
Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) Tower 
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Hood
Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) Tower 
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) Santa Cruz
Flightless Cormorant (Nannopterum harrisi) Isabella, Fernandina 
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Santa Cruz 
Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) Tower
Striated Heron (Butorides striatus) Isabella 
Lava Heron (Butorides sundevalli Santa Cruz 
Common Egret (Bubulcus (albus) Santa Cruz 
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) Floreana 
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) Santa Cruz 
White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis) Santa Cruz 
Common Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus) Isabella 
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) Floreana 
Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) Santa Cruz 
Common stilt (Himantopus himantopus) Santa Cruz 
Black-bellied Plover (Squatarola squatarola) Santiago
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) San Cristobal 
Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanum) Fernandina 
Red-necked Phalarope (Lobipes lobatus) N. side of Isabella 
Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) Santa Fe 
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) Tower
Lava Gull (Larus fuliginosis) Santa Cruz 
Swallow-tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus) Tower 
Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus) Baltra 
Galapagos Dove (Zenaida galapagoensis) Tower 
Dark-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus melacoryphus) * Floreana 
Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris) Santa Cruz 
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) Floreana 
Large-billed Flycatcher (Myiarchus magnirostris)  Santa Fe 
Galapagos Martin (Progne modesta) Isabella 
Galapagos Mockingbird (Nesomimus parvulus) Santa Cruz 
Hood Mockinbird (N. macdonaldi) Hood
Chatham Mockingbird (N. malanotis) San Cristobal 
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia) Santa Cruz 
Small Ground Finch (Geospiza fuliginosa Santa Cruz 
Sharp-beaked Ground Finch (G. diffilis) Tower
Medium Ground Finch (G. fortis) Santa Cruz 
Large Ground Finch (G. magnirostris) Tower 
Cactus Finch (G. scandens) Baltra
Large Cactus Finch (G. conirostris) Tower (race), Hood (race) 
Small Tree Finch (Camarhynchus parvulus) Floreana
Medium Tree Finch (C. pauper) Floreana 
Large Tree Finch (C. psitaculla Santa Cruz 
Woodpecker Finch (C. pallidus) Santa Cruz 
Mangrove Finch (C. heliobates) Isabella 
Warbler Finch (Certhidea olivacea) Tower

This list is probably slightly out of taxonomic order. Sorry for this indiscretion. I was using Harris' Birds of Galapagos and as those of you who have used this book know, it is quite unwieldy in this respect.

If anyone wants more specific information about where these birds were seen feel free to respond with questions.

Barry Levine
Seattle, Wa.

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