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The Galapagos on a Lindblad Expeditions Cruise

This story first appeared in Escape

As the waved albatrosses bow to each other, there’s a moment of silence before the rapid-fire bill clacking begins. I may have seen their courtship ritual on documentaries, but I hadn’t fully appreciated the sound those powerful yellow bills make as they connect.

The hollow, almost wooden tapping suddenly stops as they pull upright. One opens its bill wide and snaps it shut with a loud clap before they lean back into each other. Then, hilariously, there’s the exaggerated sway from side to side, a whole bird body bend as they waddle around each other, assume their new position and bring their bills together again.

The largest bird in the Galapagos archipelago, with a wingspan of up to 2½ m, the waved albatross’s courtship dance is long and complicated, even more so when a new pair is trying to decide if they’re compatible or when established pairs who failed to raise a chick in the previous season need to get their mojo back.

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When we stepped out of our Lindblad Expeditions Zodiac at Espanola Island’s Punta Suarez, the marine iguanas were the stars of the show. As the only lizard in the world to dine on algae, some biologists believe they deserve top billing on the remarkable animals of Galapagos list, and Espanola is the only place to see and smell the ripe salty lizardy smell of the red and green ones known as Christmas iguanas.

Seal pup on Esponola Island, Galapagos

We hear the lamb-like bleating sounds of newborn sea lion pups before we see them blinking in the sun with their mothers, and as we follow the trail of rocks and small boulders we enter a bird-watcher’s delight.

It starts with Darwin’s finches flitting in the bushes and espanola mockingbirds hopping up to take a curious and gentle peck at our shoes. Then come the nazca boobies with their gleaming plumage, which our guide Cindy Manning explains is considered the “whitest white” in the natural world, followed by a scene-stealing appearance by a Galapagos hawk that poses from all angles before rising majestically into the air.

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Galapagos Islands tortoise

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