Punta Suarez is located on the west end of Española Island and is one of the most popular visitor sites in the Galápagos Islands. A looped trail, approximately 1,670 metres (5,450 feet) long, leads visitors from the beach up to a large plateau, past an abundance of wildlife and through a waved albatross breeding colony. Sea lion pups playfully chase lava lizards, while marine iguanas bask in the sun.
The colourful Española lava lizards are endemic to the island and, like most Galápagos lava lizards, they are extremely territorial. The female lava lizards from this island have red or orange heads, whereas most other subspecies in the archipelago have only red or orange throats.
At the top of the rocky sea cliffs is a blow hole that spurts water high into the air at regular intervals. The erosion of coastal rocks by the ocean’s waves created this blow hole. Underwater caves can grow inwards and upwards into vertical shafts and, if conditions are right, this can result in water being blasted out of the shaft when a wave comes in, at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
The trail continues along the cliff-tops past swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropicbirds and the nesting sites of nazca boobies and blue-footed boobies.
Young blue footed boobies sit on the ground by their mothers, still covered in white down feathers. Although these birds are not endemic to the area, the Galápagos Islands are home to over half of all breeding pairs. These boobies nest on land at night and take off at dawn in search of food. Their diet consists mainly of anchovies and it is the pigmentation of the fish that gives the birds their blue feet.
It is thought that the booby birds got their name from the Spanish word ‘bobo’, meaning stupid, which is how early European colonists may have characterised these birds when seeing them walking clumsily on land, their least graceful environment. It is also thought that the early Europeans may have characterised these birds as ‘stupid’ due to the fact that they were unafraid of humans, as they have never encountered a human meaning to do them harm.
By the path, blue footed boobies sit on their eggs and with their young. Blue footed boobies usually raise two chicks but sometimes have three in one breeding cycle, however the eggs are laid five days apart, allowing the parents to provide more attentive care for the chicks during the first days of life. Both the males and the females take turns in incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks. If food supplies are good then all three chicks can survive, however if food supplies are low the parents will feed the larger and stronger chick first, which often leads to the death of the younger and weaker sibling.
Nazca boobies also sit on their eggs, uninterested in passing visitors. Nazca boobies are the largest of the boobies on the Galápagos Islands and have green feet, due to their diet of sardines. Like their blue-footed relatives, they are ground nesters.
Although the birds sit on two eggs, only one chick will survive due to a practice known as ‘siblicides’ (the killing of a sibling, regardless of the food supply). The eggs will hatch around four days apart and the older (or stronger) chick will kick the younger (or weaker) one out of the nest. It is believed that two eggs are laid as an insurance policy; if the older chick’s egg is damaged or the chick dies then the younger sibling will survive.
Española island is most well-known for being the sole breeding ground for the entire population of the world’s waved albatross, also known as the Galápagos albatross. Near the end of the trail, the path leads along the edge of the albatross breeding colony, where young birds flap and hop as they prepare to leave the island to fish.
The waved albatross is the largest and the heaviest of the birds found on the Galápagos Islands and it has a wing span of over two metres. These large wings make soaring effortless, however they do not help the birds to take off, as the sheer size of them makes flapping very difficult indeed.
Between April and December between 25,000 and 30,000 individuals, almost the entire world population, can be found on Española Island. These birds mate for life and perform an elaborate courtship dance that can last for five days. The pair produce a single egg each year, which they take turns to incubate. In December these chicks begin to wobble awkwardly to the edge of the cliffs before launching themselves off and by January the entire colony leaves the island to fish for three months. Young albatrosses will remain at sea for approximately five years before returning to seek their mate.