Last Wednesday (16 November 2016) members were treated to a talk by our own Chris Warby, with lavish photographic illustration, about his visit to the Galápagos Islands in June 2008.

The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands, distributed across the Equator, in the Pacific Ocean . They are a province of Ecuador, lie about 1,000 kilometres off its coast, and have a population of about 25,000. It took Chris five separate flights to get there from the UK and, in addition to eight days in the islands, his trip also took in a week in Quito (the capital of Ecuador) and four days in the Bellavista Cloud Forest.

Chris’s interest in the Galápagos Islands had been peeked by Charles Darwin’s book “Voyage of the Beagle”. This told the story of Darwin’s part in the surveying and charting expedition of HMS Beagle round the coasts of the southern part of South America. Originally planned for two years, the voyage eventually lasted almost five years (December 1831 to October 1836).

Darwin was the son of Josiah Wedgewood (founder of the famous pottery firm). He travelled on the voyage as the geologist (even though he was actually a botanist) and naturalist for the expedition and as the “gentleman companion” of the captain of HSM Beagle, Robert FitzRoy.

The isolated terrain of the Galápagos Islands, which include the Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Marine Reserve, is home to a diverse collection of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else. It was Darwin’s observations and collections of this unique wildlife that brought him to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection. (Chris, however, was not sure that this gave sufficient credit to the observations of Robert FitzRoy or separate work by the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.)

On his own trip, Chris and his wife had toured some of the smaller islands of the Galápagos in a modest cruise boat (just 12 cabins). This travelled overnight so that each day they could explore a new island, ably assisted by three guides and a naturalist. The tour group, which included a few other photo enthusiasts, was not sufficiently large to disturb the wildlife and it was quite easy to get close enough for good photographs. They were also able to snorkel in the Pacific Ocean (which was a welcome escape from the large biting flies).

Chris described how the islands were windswept and arid with limited vegetation and no trees. And he illuminated his talk with plenty of his wildlife photographs from the trip, including images of
· Giant tortoises (Galápagos is Spanish for tortoise);
· Land iguanas (3-5 feet long, weighing about 25 pounds);
· Marine iguanas (2-3 feet long);
· Blue-footed boobies (about 3 feet tall, with a wingspan of about 5 feet);
· Red-footed boobies (about 2 feet tall);
· Sally Lightfoot crabs (brightly coloured and very nippy);
· Sea lions (distinguishable from seals by their external ears);
· Mockingbirds;
· Frigatebirds (about 4 feet tall, with a wingspan of about 7 feet);
· Storm petrels;
· Herons;
· Waved albatrosses (about 4 feet tall, with a wingspan of about 7 feet); and
· Darwin’s finches.

In distinct contrast to the Galápagos Islands, the Bellavista Cloud Forest (about 50 kilometres from Quito in mainland Ecuador) is situated at about 2,000 meters above sea level and is notable for its extremely heavy rainfall – averaging about 240 centimetres a year. It is a private reserve and certified conservation area of sub-tropical rainforest comprising some 2,000 acres. Again, there was a great variety of wildlife and Chris showed us some of his pictures of birds, including (from many attempts!) some of hummingbirds.

Chris described this trip to these various parts of Ecuador as “a very different sort of holiday”. It had been very enjoyable and interesting and there had been plenty of time to indulge in his photography.

The talk was engaging, entertaining and extremely interesting. And it was generously illustrated with numerous delightful wildlife images. A most enjoyable evening.