Photographing Galapagos: Flamingos

Earlier in the year, wildlife photographer and artist Robert E Fuller visited the Galapagos Islands to get inspiration for a series of new paintings. We will be putting up a selection of Robert’s blogs over the next couple of weeks which will focus on his time spent in Galapagos and on his fantastic photographs and paintings.

“Flamingos are rare in the Galapagos Islands, so when I came across some greater flamingos feeding in a brackish lagoon I felt very privileged. I spent some time trying to get a shot of an individual feeding when all of a sudden these two males challenged one another.”

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“It was fascinating to watch as each tried to get its head higher than the other. Then after a flurry of pink it was all over. But not before I managed to capture the magical moment when their necks joined to make a perfect heart shape.”

Painting Galapagos: Galapagos Penguins

Earlier in the year, wildlife photographer and artist Robert E Fuller visited the Galapagos Islands to get inspiration for a series of new paintings. We will be putting up a selection of Robert’s blogs over the next couple of weeks which will focus on his time spent in Galapagos and on his fantastic photographs and paintings.

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“Galapagos penguins are endemic to the archipelago and are very different to those found in South Georgia. I have tried to capture their endearing nature in my painting. But what struck me most about these flightless birds was how they moved underwater. On land they can look so awkward but I will never forget the first time I saw one swim.”

“I was snorkelling with my group when a penguin appeared quite suddenly. It was chasing a shoal of fish and gliding through the water, its wings propelling it along with such speed. As it twisted and turned its wings were spinning through the water like a wind up toy. It was so agile it looked as though it was flying when it was underwater.”

Painting Galapagos: Waved Albatross

Earlier in the year, wildlife photographer and artist Robert E Fuller visited the Galapagos Islands to get inspiration for a series of new paintings. We will be putting up a selection of Robert’s blogs over the next couple of weeks which will focus on his time spent in Galapagos and on his fantastic photographs and paintings.

“Waved albatross stand at nearly one metre high and sport waved markings across their breast. During the breeding season, pairs greet each other by rubbing their bills together. This is followed by one or both of the birds standing bolt upright. Then they often either stand with their beaks pointed towards the sky, emitting the strange wailing sound that I’d heard earlier or pose alert with their beaks wide open, before continuing to rub bills again.”

“Sometimes, they clack their beaks rapidly like a pair of castanets then stop abruptly to preen over their shoulders or to move their head fluidly from side to side in a comical manner. Then they might take a break or attend to their nests before resuming this unusual behaviour once more.”

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“Albatross are quite cumbersome on land but up in the air they were majestic. I watched as a male with a 7.4ft wingspan circled overhead looking for somewhere to land. Finding a space big enough for that vast shape took some planning!”

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To watch a video of Robert’s whole trip, click here.

Painting Galapagos: Frigatebirds and Boobies

Earlier in the year, wildlife photographer and artist Robert E Fuller visited the Galapagos Islands to get inspiration for a series of new paintings. We will be putting up a selection of Robert’s blogs over the next couple of weeks which will focus on his time spent in Galapagos and on the fantastic paintings that he has created upon his return.

Robert often uses video footage that he has taken when observing animals to help inform his paintings when he’s back in the studio. Here are a couple of examples of videos and the paintings they inspired from his Galapagos trip…

Magnificent Frigatebird

“These are magnificent frigatebirds. During the breeding season the males puff out their throats a bit like toads to create incredible displays. I wanted to capture the intimacy of this ritual in my painting.”

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Blue-footed Booby

“The video of a pair courting is interesting because of the listless way in which the male offers the female a stick. It’s almost as though they can’t really be bothered! I wanted to capture this indifference alongside the comical element of these birds in the mood of my painting.”

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To watch a video of Robert’s whole trip, click here.

UPDATE: Galapaface I Sunk

At 17:25 (local time) the Galapaface I cargo ship was sunk at a location outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This brings the third phase of the bail out plan to an end. The last remaining phase will involve evaluating the environmental damage caused by the ship’s grounding on May 9.

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UPDATE: Galapaface Wreck Refloated

The Galapagos Islands can soon say goodbye to Galapaface I, the shipwrecked tanker that posed an environmental risk to the fragile Galapagos ecosystem for two long months. The cargo ship, which ran aground off Punta Carola, San Cristobal on May 9, is currently being towed to its final resting site, where it shall be scuttled in 2500 metres of water.

Galapaface 1

Over the past few days the ship, which originally threatened the Archipelago with 19,000 gallons of fuel oil and 1,100 tons of cargo, was stabilised and refloated by having giant steel buoys welded onto its hull.

At 2AM on Tuesday, it began its 24-30 hour journey to a site 20 miles east of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). There, it shall be sunk in an operation that has been calculated to have almost no impact on the environment. It is currently being accompanied by 16 crew members and other ships which will retrieve the sailors before the sinking.

Minister of the Environment Lorena Tapia said that no efforts were spared in order to protect the Galapagos ecosystem during this emergency. “Today, we see the fruits of our hard work”, she said. Indeed, the Ecuadorian government can be praised for its timely action; it declared a state of emergency a week after the grounding in order to cut through red tape and ensure a flow of resources to tackle the threat which the ship posed.

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The Galapagos National Park will also monitor the site of the original grounding for two months to determine the environmental impacts on the area. Once all the tests are completed the site, which has been closed to the public ever since the grounding, shall reopen.

This incident had a much more positive outcome than that of the Jessica, the oil tanker that spilled almost all of its 240,000 gallons of petroleum products into the GMR in January 2001. Thanks to the quick response of the authorities, disaster was averted this time.

by Jose Hong

The peculiar tale of the first resident of Galapagos

Wednesday (25 June) was the International Day of the Seafarer. This is a day that is greatly relevant to the Galapagos Islands, as prior to the age of the airplane the only way to the Islands was by sea. To commemorate this, we shall recount the story of Patrick Watkins; the first and certainly one of the most eccentric characters to have called the Archipelago home.

Not much is known about the sailor’s background, save for the fact that he was marooned on the island of Floreana in 1807. For two years he lived feral, growing vegetables on a two-acre plot of land in a small valley. He became known for trading his vegetables for rum from passing ships and according to anecdotal history managed to remain drunk for much of his stay on the island.

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Captain David Porter

There are very few first-hand accounts of Patrick Watkins, but there does exist a record from Captain David Porter in his Journal of a Cruise made to the Pacific Ocean. The captain played an important role in American attacks on British commerce during the 1812 War and travelled around the Pacific. Despite the fact that he arrived Galapagos in 1813, four years after Patrick Watkins had left, he evidently found him an interesting subject to write about in his journals.

Captain Porter noted: “The appearance of this man, from the accounts I have received of him, was the most dreadful that can be imagined; ragged clothes, scarce sufficient to cover his nakedness, and covered with vermin; his red hair and beard matted, his skin much burnt, from constant exposure to the sun, and so wild and savage in his manner and appearance, that he struck every one with horror.”

Horrendous though he may have appeared, he was cunning, and would apparently trick other sailors who had landed on the island into working for him. His method was simple: he would incapacitate them with rum and conceal them until their original ships would sail off without them, thereafter making them swear loyalty to him. In this way he managed to bring his number of followers to four.

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Eventually, he and his men managed to steal a boat from a ship (the captain of which curses Patrick Watkins in his logs as “the notorious Irishman” and a “villain”) and one day in 1809 left Galapagos for the Ecuadorian mainland.

The story becomes even more bizarre for he landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador, alone. It was assumed that his companions had perished from thirst or had been killed by him as the threat of thirst grew larger in the open seas. From there he moved on to Payta, Peru, where he managed to seduce a local woman and convinced her to return with him to Galapagos.

However, the local police judged him a suspicious character and upon finding him hiding under the keel of a small boat that was about to be launched, threw him into jail. From then on, nothing more was heard of him, save for rumours and hearsay.

by Jose Hong