A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Galapagos: An Intimate Look at Darwin's Islands I 2023

June 17-27, 2023 with Mitch Lysinger & local guide guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
We had some great experiences with many of the Galapagos endemics, including the attractive Lava Gull. Photograph by participant Steve Keith.

This was yet another fabulous and inspiring visit to the Enchanted Islands. Our tailor-made itinerary gets us to the most important islands and key visitor points for a chance at all possible bird endemics, which we got! Because of park visitation restrictions to certain islands and sites, some land birds are simply not gettable, which really only amounts to a few finch species. For birders Darwin’s Finches are always a highlight, not only because they were a key piece of the puzzle.

Every step of the way of our journey forged special moments, but here are some that really stand out: that jaw-dropping family group of Galapagos Rails feeding about almost at our feet; those adorable displaying Waved Albatrosses out on the rocky flats of Espanola… and their take-offs at the cliff weren’t bad either; Blue-footed Boobies “dancing” on our first afternoon; a marvelous display of American Flamingos with active nests and young at a beautiful salt lagoon on Floreana Island; some excellent looks at the increasingly endangered Brujo Flycatcher in the drippy highlands.; those enormous (and wild) Giant Tortoises in the Santa Cruz highlands, some that have gazed into the eyes of visitors and explorers for the better part of two centuries.

The sheer beauty of the islands is awe-inspiring, and the peace and sanctuary that they provide to the wildlife is so refreshing. Our attentive, knowledgeable and easy-going guide, Darwin, was one of the best Galapagos guides I have been in the field with, and he really added a lot to the success of our trip, especially with his fish identification skills. Our comfortable boat and first-rate crew, always at the ready, turned a great trip into an over-the-top experience. A big thanks goes out to Maggie for compiling an impressive fish list for a bunch of birders!

So have a read through the list that follows and relive some of the marvelous moments that we all shared together, and happy travels!


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL (GALAPAGOS) (Anas bahamensis galapagensis)

Common in fresh and saltwater ponds on Galapagos.

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This Galapagos Penguin was one of the ones we observed on the western side of the islands. Participant Paul Koker got this great portrait of one.
Phoenicopteridae (Flamingos)

AMERICAN FLAMINGO (Phoenicopterus ruber)

Seen first on Isabela when we stopped to take a look at some birds in a roadside pond, but we topped this on Floreana at Punta Cormorant in the salt lagoon where we had them at close range, and also nesting with eggs and young.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

GALAPAGOS DOVE (Zenaida galapagoensis) [E]

Plentiful and seen on most days. A beautiful dove species.

EARED DOVE (Zenaida auriculata)

Common in the gardens at the San Jose Hotel.

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

SMOOTH-BILLED ANI (Crotophaga ani) [I]

A species introduced to the islands that is now common.

DARK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus melacoryphus)

Maggie was on fire and spotted them numerous times for us on Isabela!

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

SPARKLING VIOLETEAR (Colibri coruscans)

Common and displaying in the gardens at the San Jose Hotel in Quito.


Seen by some at the San Jose on our first morning.

WESTERN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus)

We had quick looks at a male getting chased by a Sparkling Violetear at the San Jose.

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We were able to see Waved Albatrosses in courtship display at their breeding colony, but we also got to appreciate the beauty of these tremendous birds in flight. Photo by participant Eric Carpenter.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

PAINT-BILLED CRAKE (Mustelirallus erythrops)

Kevin spotted one running through the grass, and Janie got the photographic proof. We got the group together and called in a pair for nice views. Santa Cruz highlands.

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

Fairly common in ponds throughout the islands.

GALAPAGOS RAIL (Laterallus spilonota) [E]

This has to have been the birding highlight of the trip! I could not believe our luck when we called in a pair attending three chicks up in the highlands of Isabela, a place I've never seen it!

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus galapagensis)

Seen a few times.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

One distant bird out along the edges of a salt pond on Floreana.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

One flew by during an afternoon hike on Genovesa.


In small numbers throughout the islands.

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

We saw a pair at the dock on Floreana.

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Brujo Flycatcher has been recently recognized as a Galapagos endemic, but it seems to be facing some difficulties on several of the islands. We caught up with this individual on Isabela for a good view. Photo by participant Steve Keith.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SWALLOW-TAILED GULL (Creagrus furcatus)

A stunning gull species that does much of its feeding nocturnally. We had our first looks at them at close range on N. Seymour Island on the first afternoon.

GRAY GULL (Leucophaeus modestus)

This was the gray-colored gull, with the pale head, standing on the beach on Floreana as we headed in to see the flamingos. It is similar enough to the Galapagos Gull that we unfortunately didn't pay much attention to it in our quest for Flamingos! Some folks got pics of it, confirming its id. This could be the first confirmed record for the islands, although it has apparently been reported before as a vagrant.

LAVA GULL (Leucophaeus fuliginosus) [E]

A gull endemic to Galapagos. We had our most memorable encounter with this species at a beach on Genovesa Island when a pair had a bit of a dispute right at our feet!

BROWN NODDY (Anous stolidus galapagensis)

Abundant throughout the islands.

Phaethontidae (Tropicbirds)

RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (Phaethon aethereus mesonauta)

An elegant oceanic species. How could we forget the groups of them in flight off of Champion Island?

Spheniscidae (Penguins)

GALAPAGOS PENGUIN (Spheniscus mendiculus) [E]

The northern-most occuring penguin whose populations are centered more on the western side of the islands where the waters are cooler, such as the coasts of Fernandina and Isabela, where we had some point-blank studies from the panga.

Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)

WAVED ALBATROSS (Phoebastria irrorata)

An exceptionally beautiful albatross that dazzled us with their courtship displays on Española Island. Almost the entire population of this species breeds on this island.

Oceanitidae (Southern Storm-Petrels)

ELLIOT'S STORM-PETREL (Oceanites gracilis galapagoensis)

The common storm-petrel closer in to shore. Very similar to Wilson's Storm-Petrel.

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Participant Eric Carpenter got this nice photo of a Large Ground-Finch on Genovesa, where we saw a good number of these birds.
Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)

BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates castro)

The most pelagic of the regularly occurring storm-petrels. We had some nice studies of them during our cruises.

WEDGE-RUMPED STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates tethys tethys)

We saw them by the thousands as they came in to the visit their nests on Genovesa Island. One of the great avian spectacles of Galapagos.

MARKHAM'S STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates markhami)

Maggie spotted one for us when it flew by the boat just SW of Genovesa.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

GALAPAGOS PETREL (Pterodroma phaeopygia)

Breeds on highland slopes in Galapagos. We had plenty of fine studies of them during our pelagic birding.

GALAPAGOS SHEARWATER (Puffinus subalaris)

Common throughout the archipelago, and we had some large rafts of them, especially between Isabela and Fernandina.

Fregatidae (Frigatebirds)


The most commonly seen frigatebird in Galapagos.

GREAT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata minor ridgwayi)

We could not have seen them any better during our visits to N. Seymour and Genovesa where many males were in full display, with their red pouches the size of basketballs!

Sulidae (Boobies and Gannets)


Genovesa Island is home to one of the largest breeding colonies in the world of Red-footed Booby, so it was a real treat to be right there at ground-zero, surrounded by thousands of them!

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The two species of Warbler-Finch look very different from many of the other Galapagos finches, and indeed, they were once thought to be related to warblers. This Green Warbler-Finch shows its tiny bill, in contrast to the huge bill of the Large Ground-Finch. Photo by participant Steve Keith.

NAZCA BOOBY (Sula granti)

Split from the Masked Booby. Seen best on Genovesa at one of their breeding colonies where they nest right along the trails.

BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY (Sula nebouxii excisa)

An emblematic species of Galapagos popularly found on many t-shirts and hats! We had pairs of them launching into their famous foot displays on our first afternoon at N. Seymour.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

FLIGHTLESS CORMORANT (Nannopterum harrisi) [E]

Many fine views of this Galapagos endemic cormorant on Isabela and Fernandina, the only parts of the archipelago where they are found.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

BROWN PELICAN (GALAPAGOS) (Pelecanus occidentalis urinator)

Common and seen on all days.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (GALAPAGOS) (Nyctanassa violacea pauper)

Most common in coastal areas.

STRIATED HERON (GALAPAGOS) (Butorides striata sundevalli) [E]

The Galapagos birds are now considered a subspecies of the mainland Striated Heron. While most of them a darker - looking like lava rock - and chunkier-legged, paler birds also occur, looking a lot like the birds from the continent.


Common throughout the islands.

GREAT BLUE HERON (GREAT BLUE) (Ardea herodias cognata)

In small numbers.

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This Espaniola Mockingbird posed nicely on lava rock for participant Paul Koker.
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

Seen at the San Jose hotel on the first morning.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GALAPAGOS HAWK (Buteo galapagoensis) [E]

Most common on uninhabited islands. We even spotted a bird attending a nest with a chick on Española!

Tytonidae (Barn-Owls)

BARN OWL (GALAPAGOS) (Tyto alba punctatissima)

We had a pair on the last day in the highlands of Santa Cruz at a known roost in a small shack. Apparently there were chicks in there too, but we couldn't see them.

Strigidae (Owls)

SHORT-EARED OWL (GALAPAGOS) (Asio flammeus galapagoensis)

The darker colored Galapagos race. We spotted a distant one out on the lava fields on Genovesa as it hunted for storm-petrels, but really topped this when we found one at point-blank range along the roadside in the highlands of Santa Cruz.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

Common in the central valley in the Quito area.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


Heard only in the gardens at the San Jose hotel.

BRUJO FLYCATCHER (GALAPAGOS) (Pyrocephalus nanus nanus)

Now officially split from the mainland Vermilion Flycatcher. This species is getting more and more difficult to find in the highlands of the larger islands, having disappeared from Floreana completely. Luckily populations seem to be hanging on pretty well on Isabela where we saw a few pairs well.

GALAPAGOS FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus magnirostris) [E]

Common on many of the islands, and often very confiding. The Galapagos endemic Myiarchus.

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Here is one of the Galapagos Rails that we saw on Isabela. Participant Steve Keith caught this one sneaking through the tall grass. What a great moment it was, seeing the little family of these tiny rails!

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)

On the grounds at the San Jose hotel.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

GRAY-BREASTED MARTIN (Progne chalybea)

GALAPAGOS MARTIN (Progne modesta) [E]

This can be a tricky Galapagos endemic to track down, but we clinched pretty nice views at a female along the west coast of Isabela at a well-known nesting site for this species.

BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOW (Pygochelidon cyanoleuca)

The common swallow of the central valley that we saw on our first day.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)


Inhabits the younger and more central islands of the archipelago, with the exception of Genovesa Island in the north; the form there will probably get elevated to species status at some point.

FLOREANA MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus trifasciatus) [E]

Once occurred on Floreana Island, but now restricted to two satellite islands off of its coast. We had decent looks at them from the boat and panga - it is prohibited to land here - when they perched up on shrubby trees on Champion Island.


Right at our feet on Española Island. The most comical of the island's mockingbirds.


Common everywhere on San Cristobal Island. We had our first looks at them at the tortoise station there.

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The Blue-footed Booby is an icon of the Galapagos, even though it is not an endemic. We had some wonderful views of them doing their famous breeding displays, showing off those magnificent blue feet! Participant Eric Carpenter caught this one in a more pensive moment.


Seen by some at the San Jose on our first morning.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

GREAT THRUSH (Turdus fuscater)

The common thrush of the Ecuadorian highlands.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW (Zonotrichia capensis)

No garden would be complete without this species in the highlands!

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

PERUVIAN MEADOWLARK (Leistes bellicosus)

Steve spotted this one from the plane next to the runway in Guayaquil.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

YELLOW WARBLER (GALAPAGOS) (Setophaga petechia aureola)

Abundant throughout the islands.

Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)

BLUE-AND-YELLOW TANAGER (Rauenia bonariensis)

Nice looks at a male on our first morning at the San Jose hotel.

BLUE-GRAY TANAGER (Thraupis episcopus)

We had a pair feeding at a fruiting tree on our first round of birding at the San Jose hotel.

SCRUB TANAGER (Stilpnia vitriolina)

Yet another tanager species that we saw on our first morning before the flight to Galapagos.

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Participant Steve Keith caught this Galapagos Dove at just the right angle to show the beautiful iridescent patch on the side of the neck.

CINEREOUS CONEBILL (Conirostrum cinereum)

Quick looks at the San Jose hotel.

SAFFRON FINCH (SAFFRON) (Sicalis flaveola valida)

Pretty common in the valleys around Quito.

GREEN WARBLER-FINCH (Certhidea olivacea) [E]

Plenty of close encounters in the drippy highlands of Isabela and Santa Cruz.

GRAY WARBLER-FINCH (Certhidea fusca mentalis) [E]

This species is divided into numerous island-specific forms… maybe some further splits one day? This was the one that we saw in the scrubby forests on Genovesa.

GRAY WARBLER-FINCH (Certhidea fusca luteola) [E]

Common in pretty much all habitats on San Cristobal Island.

GRAY WARBLER-FINCH (Certhidea fusca bifasciata)

The form found on Santa Fe Island that we saw during our hike through the cactus tree forests.

GRAY WARBLER-FINCH (Certhidea fusca cinerascens) [E]

Common in the low scrub of Espanola Island.

VEGETARIAN FINCH (Platyspiza crassirostris) [E]

This one had us scrambling a bit, and it took us up until the last day to find it despite numerous chances on other islands. Luckily our naturalist guide, Darwin, knew of a spot heading up into the highlands on Santa Cruz Island where we landed a male for nice views.

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In addition to the amazing birds, we saw many of the special animals that are found only in the Galapagos, such as the Marine Iguana. We got to watch them feeding in the sea, and sneezing salt spray! Participant Paul Koker got this portrait of one between such activities.

WOODPECKER FINCH (PALLIDUS/PRODUCTUS) (Camarhynchus pallidus pallidus) [E]

We continued our run with all of the possible finch species by seeing all of the Woodpecker Finch subspecies. This form is the one that we saw in the highlands of Santa Cruz.

WOODPECKER FINCH (PALLIDUS/PRODUCTUS) (Camarhynchus pallidus productus) [E]

We got our first looks at this species in the highlands of Isabela during a foggy, but birdy, morning.

WOODPECKER FINCH (STRIATIPECTA) (Camarhynchus pallidus striatipecta) [E]

The form endemic to San Cristobal Island that we had a couple of times, such as at the town cemetery.

LARGE TREE-FINCH (Camarhynchus psittacula psittacula) [E]

The was our last Galapagos bird endemic of the trip, which is usually the case since we tend to visit the Santa Cruz highlands - by far the best spot for this species - on the last day. We even managed to get a female to perch on the barbed wire right net to the road!

MEDIUM TREE-FINCH (Camarhynchus pauper) [E]

Plentiful and vocal in the highlands of Floreana Island, where it is endemic. We had some nice views at close males a few times.

SMALL TREE-FINCH (Camarhynchus parvulus parvulus) [E]

A common finch of the humid highlands that we saw on a few islands.

SMALL TREE-FINCH (Camarhynchus parvulus salvini) [E]

The endemic form of this species to San Cristobal Island.

SMALL GROUND-FINCH (Geospiza fuliginosa) [E]

The most commonly seen of the finches, being found in essentially all habitat types, and on most islands.

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While many of the birds of the Galapagos are rather dull in color, the American Flamingo provides a vivid splash of color to the lagoon at Floreana, where we saw the breeding colony. Participant Eric Carpenter got this great image of one of these beauties in some kind of display, showing all of its variations of pink.

LARGE GROUND-FINCH (Geospiza magnirostris) [E]

This species can sometimes play hard-to-get, but we had an easy time with them on Genovesa this year, seeing them around every bend of the trail!

GENOVESA GROUND-FINCH (Geospiza acutirostris) [E]

Once considered one of the forms of the Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch, but it is now split out as an endemic to Genovesa Island. In overall appearance, very similar to small ground-finches, but with a pointier beak.

COMMON CACTUS-FINCH (Geospiza scandens intermedia) [E]

We had our first looks at this one right in the town on Floreana Island when we called in a pair for point-blank views!

MEDIUM GROUND-FINCH (Geospiza fortis) [E]

One of the more commonly seen finches. This bill sizes of this species can really vary from island to island.

ESPANOLA GROUND-FINCH (Geospiza conirostris)

Española Island's endemic finch species. As with many finch species this trip, this one was as common as I've ever had it. Previously considered conspecific with the very different Genovesa Cactus-Finch, so definitely a good split!

GENOVESA GROUND-FINCH (Geospiza propinqua)

Another endemic to Genovesa Island, and as common as I have ever had them. Conditions were relatively green, so there must have been an abundance of food. We also saw them feeding at cactus flowers a few times.


BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)

Seen in small numbers a couple times.

"GALAPAGOS" SEA LION (Zalophus californianus wollebacki)

Snorkeling with them was certainly a thrill!

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Here's the group in one of the pangas. Looks like we're having a great time in paradise! Photo by participant Steve Keith.

GALAPAGOS FUR SEAL (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) [E]

Easy to find on Genovesa, where they even floated around us as we snorkeled.


MARINE IGUANA (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) [E]

The most exciting thing that these guys do is feed on beds of marine algae and sneeze salt spray into each other's faces, both of which we saw them do! We saw them daily and noticed the difference in size and colors between islands.

LAND IGUANA (Conolophus subcristatus) [E]

We saw them on our first afternoon in the islands during a visit to North Seymour Island where their populations seem to be doing very well.

SANTA FE LAND IGUANA (Conolophus pallidus)

Endemic to Santa Fe Island where they can be found roaming around amongst the tall cactus trees, waiting for a chance to pounce on a fallen fruit or pad.

GALAPAGOS LAVA LIZARD (Microlophus albemarlensis) [E]

Common on many islands.

ESPANOLA LAVA LIZARD (Microlophus delanonis) [E]

A large lava lizard found only on Espanola Island.

FLOREANA LAVA LIZARD (Microlophus grayi) [E]

Common right around the town on Floreana.

SAN CRISTOBAL LAVA LIZARD (Microlophus bivattatus) [E]

San Cristobal Island's endemic lava lizard. We had our best looks at them around the tortoise breeding station.

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And finally, here is another of the endemic "Darwin's finches", the Genovesa Ground-Finch. They were apparently doing quite well this year, and we had great views of them. Photo by participant Eric Carpenter.

FLOREANA RACER (Philodryas hoodensis) [E]

We had one right at our feet during the hike at Punta Suarez.

GALAPAGOS (GIANT) TORTOISE (Geochelone elephantopus) [E]

One of the most emblematic animals of the Galapagos Islands. We saw huge individuals in the wild during our time in the Santa Cruz highlands, as well as subspecies from other islands in captivity for breeding purposes. We even spent a few minutes with old Lonesome George in his private mausoleum at the Darwin Station on our last day!

GREEN SEA TURTLE (Chelonia mydas)

Common throughout the islands, and seen spectacularly well during snorkeling outings.


Fish ID's based on Reef Fish Identification - Galápagos by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach

19-Jun-23 snorkeling off Genovesa

20-Jun-23 snorkeling off Fernandina

22-Jun-23 snorkeling off Champion (Darwin, Shelia, Maggie only)

23-Jun-23 snorkeling off Santa Fe

24-Jun-23 snorkeling off Española

plus some miscellaneous sightings from the Nemo III while sailing or anchored

first sighting date shown

19-Jun-23 Panamic Fanged Blenny (aka Large-banded Blenny

19-Jun-23 King Angelfish

19-Jun-23 Guinea Fowl puffer (both yellow and black and white phases)

19-Jun-23 Cortez rainbow wrasse (2 phases)

19-Jun-23 Moorish Idol

19-Jun-23 Giant Damselfish (2 phases)

19-Jun-23 Blue-chinned Parrotfish

19-Jun-23 Black-striped Selema

19-Jun-23 Razor surgeonfish

19-Jun-23 Scissortail Chromis

19-Jun-23 Goldrim Surgeonfish--(Mitch & Darwin)

20-Jun-23 Dusky chub

20-Jun-23 Galapagos Ringtail damselfish

20-Jun-23 Loose tooth parrot fish

20-Jun-23 Harlequin wrasse

20-Jun-23 Mexican hogfish

20-Jun-23 Giant hawkfish

20-Jun-23 Balloon fish

20-Jun-23 Orangeside trigger fish

20-Jun-23 Pacific beak fish

20-Jun-23 Reef cornet fish

22-Jun-23 Barracuda

23 Jun-23 Fine scaled trigger fish

23 Jun-23 Three banded butterfly fish

23 Jun-23 Pacific Creolefish

23 Jun-23 Galâpagos four eye blenny

23 Jun-23 Diamond Stingray

23 Jun-23 Bumphead Damselfish

23 Jun-23 Yellow-tailed Damselfish

23 Jun-23 Black-tailed mullet

24-Jun-23 Barred Flagtail

24-Jun-23 Blacktip Cardinal fish

24-Jun-23 Calico Lizardfish

24-Jun-23 Spinster Wrasse

24-Jun-23 Leather bass (juvenile)

24-Jun-23 Blue and Gold Snapper

24-Jun-23 Galápagos Grunt (juvenile)

24-Jun-23 Galápagos Sheepshead--Mitch

24-Jun-23 Barberfish--Mitch

25-Jun-23 Halfbeak fish-From the Nemo III

25-Jun-23 black-tipped reef shark-From the Nemo III

25-Jun-23 sardines-From the Nemo III

-Mola mola-From the Nemo III

-bottle nosed dolphins-From the Nemo III

Other Critters (ID's based on Marine Life of the Galápagos by Pierre Constant)

-Longspine urchins

-Green sea urchin

-white sea urchin

-pencil sea urchin

-Orange cup coral

-Green sea turtle

-chocolate chip starfish

-Galápagos sea star? orange "starfish" we saw in multiple spots; no obvious arms

-Blue star (Linckia laevigata)

Totals for the tour: 87 bird taxa and 3 mammal taxa