Thursday, 14 October 2010

Seeing Red - or Should That be Vermillion?

A couple of years ago, Mr. DBM and I spent four months galavanting around South America with the trip culminating in a visit to the Galapagos Islands. Now, I have waxed lyrical ad nauseam about these magical and mystical islands here, here, here, here and here. I think there were a couple more posts, but I am sure that you have got the picture by now. I loved this place, I adored this place. It really is the one place to see before you die. At the time, I thought that this was a once in a lifetime trip. Turns out, I was wrong and, back in August, I found myself once again touching down on San Cristobal Island for another visit to this most wondrous of places, my favourite place in the whole world.

So, how come there have been no blogs about this second visit? Dare I say that I have been there, seen that and done the blog (actually seven blogs) before? Would it sound a little preposterous to say that I have little left to say about the place that I haven't already said before? Could I even risk saying, well, once you have seen one giant tortoise, you have seen them all? Now, don't get me wrong, I had a marvellous time on my second visit and I would go back again in a second, but I am finding it hard to come up with something new and improved to write.

Do I still love the boobies? Well, of course I do - who doesn't love a good booby or two?

Do I still think that the marine iguanas are one of the most interesting and delightful creatures in the world, despite their rather nasty snorty behaviour? Absolutely.

Do I still love to lecture people about how it was the mockingbirds and not the finches that really got Darwin excited about the whole evolution thing? How could I not enjoy my feeling of superior intellect and expansive knowledge as I explain the whole situation to some poor schmuck who happened to innocently comment about the finches?

And as for those finches, do I still marvel at all the different species and spend hours poring over the ID books trying to work out whether I have just seen the large or medium tree finch, or perhaps it was a medium ground finch? Absolutely. What kind of biologist would I be if I just went on my merry way saying, "Oh, just another finch then"?

Really looks like a warbler, doesn't it? But no, this is in fact a warbler finch.

What about those adorable, lovable and oh so cuddly-looking sealions with their foul breath and other disgusting body odours? Still love 'em, still took endless photos of furry snouts and stupidly long whiskers.

Then there are the tortoises. You gotta love the tortoises, don't you?

Well, to be honest, by the time I arrived at my third tortoise breeding facility, the whole tortoise thing was becoming rather tedious. Really, how many baby tortoises can one oooh and aaaahh over in one day? And yes, the adults are big, really big, but it is hardly like watching the lions of Etosha National Park trying to get into the vehicle in front of yours or seeing two males fighting tooth and claw over a sexy lioness, is it? It is not exactly on the same scale as being surrounded by shaggy bears, all teeth and claws, trying to decide whether it is better to run or just sacrifice your mother for your own safety, is it? Let's face it, a 400lb tortoise barrelling towards you at top speed doesn't exactly curdle your blood, cause you to break out in a cold sweat or stop your heart dead, does it? There is no split second, life or death decision to make about fight or flight, is there? The reality is that you have time to stop and have a cup of tea while pondering your options, in the end deciding that your best bet is just to step over three feet to the left to let the tortoise by.

Look out everyone, it is a tortoise on the move!

So, does that leave me anything new and exciting to write about?

Actually, yes - the most gorgeous and eye-catching of birds, the vermillion flycatcher.

So, there we are, half way up one of the volcanoes on Isabela Island. The trees are dripping with mosses and moisture as the damp air from the ocean rises and condenses on the side of the volcano. A flash of red flicks past the window of the car. STOP THE CAR!!!!! we cry in unison. Dr. G., my bird nerd of a companion, is literally pushing me out of the vehicle, demanding that I get a photo of the flash of colour. I am muttering away about how typical it is - the one day I don't lug my big lens along with me is the one day that I finally get to see a vermillion flycatcher. Meanwhile, the flycatcher has buggered off and I am now muttering away about my lack of a photo. I clamber back into the vehicle. The bird reappears 20 yards down the road.

The whole process is repeated. Just as I fall out of the vehicle, the bird tweets at me, winks (no, really, I swear I saw him wink at me, in a very mocking sort of a way) and flitters down the road another 20 yards. This time, I eschew the vehicle and decide proceeding on foot would be easier and quicker. So, I leg it in pursuit of the bird, with Dr. G. shouting encouragement from the vehicle. The bird now decides that the other side of the road looks much nicer and disappears, only to reappear another 20 yards down the road. More muttering and swearing........but then I discover the answer - make little squeaky, kissie noises. Apparently flycatchers can't resist and instead of retreating from me, he is now hopping, skipping and flitting back to me. He gets nearer and nearer. I get more and more excited. The next thing I know, the little vermillion devil is flying straight at my head! Whoa, too close buddy, back off!

Anyhoo, my photogenic little friend and I had quite the session and here are the results:

What a beauty!

On a side note, did you know that vermillion is an orange red pigment that was originally obtained from the dried bodies of the Kermes scale insect in a similar manner to the red dye cochineal being obtained from cochineal scale insect? No, neither did I - thanks Wikipedia!


Cortes said...

I have at last figured out why I end up reading each of your blog posts a minimum of two times - I am in too much of a hurry to get to the next photo! Marvelous!

Lauren said...

New reader stating vehemently: no such things as too much on this topic, and I could look at these photos all day. As for tortoise breeding boredom - why not swap it for booby breeding - if only for a fantastic title?

Kala said...

Those islands are a feast for the mind, the eyes and the camera. Thanks for sharing these images.

jabblog said...

That's a beautiful little bird and well worth the merry dance he led you.

Anonymous said...

I think, that you are mistaken. I can defend the position.

Don't Bug Me! said...

Cortes: I always read your comments at least twice - I love a good compliment!

Lauren: I know, I know, the old booby jokes never get dull, do they? Still, you have to be a bit careful - you never know who might end up on your blog if the word booby is in the title! Anyhoo, since someone out there still loves my photos, perhaps I will get back to work on them and post a few more.

Kala: Absolutely. Never a dull moment on the Galapagos - oh, OK, that third tortoise breeding facility might have been a little less shiny than the first two.

Jabblog: He was stunning and he made my day.

Anon: Huh!?!