We had an incredible time exploring Quito, Cotopaxi and Mindo.  Here is our group’s top 10 favorite moments from the mainland!

Photo by trip leader Emma Nolan-Abrahamian

Photo by trip leader Emma Nolan-Abrahamian

1. Bird-watching in Mindo.

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2. Learning the “mysteries” in one of the oldest convents of Quito while Pope Fransisco was in town.

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3. Trekking through the jungle at night and encountering a kinkajou!

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4. Horseback riding in the Páramo.

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5. Crossing a mountain valley on the Tarabita.

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6. Learning about Jeff Mauritzen’s experiences as a photographer for National Geographic.

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7. Climbing to the refugio on Cotopaxi.

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Now that we are in the Galapagos, both the Photography and Wildlife & Biodiversity On Assignment teams have been hard at work documenting the abundant species we encounter each day.  Below find some of their notes from the field!

Greater flamingo – Jenia

The Galápagos archipelago is home to 500 Greater Flamingos, the lowest number of individuals needed for genetic variation in a species. The flamingos are born white-grey, but acquire pink plumage as they age. This change is due to the red shrimp in their diet: the more they consume, the more prominent the coloration. Even though the flamingos are not endemic to the Galápagos, they represent an irreplaceable section of the islands’ ecosystem. Existing conservation programs are sufficient to maintain the population at 500 individuals, but more effort is needed to raise the number of flamingos from the critical threshold.

Blue-footed booby – Emma

The Blue-footed booby is a bird found primarily in the Galápagos Islands. It is known for its bright blue feet, extraordinary because blue is the most “expensive” color, in terms of energy, for an animal to make. The color of a booby’s feet comes from carotenoids in the fish they consume. Because a booby’s feet are indicators of how well the bird eats, females are prone to mate with the brighter males. These birds can be found in large groups along the coastlines of the Galápagos Islands. The arrival of invasive species, such as cats, has hurt the booby populations as these animals destroy or eat the nests of the young birds.

Galápagos Penguins – Tori

Imagine a tropical archipelago of igneous islands speckled with flocks of penguins. Amongst several other unique marine birds, the Galápagos penguin has found its niche in the otherwise unforgiving islands by feeding on various fish. This otherwise arctic bird acts as a key element in the ecosystem by controlling populations of juvenile fish. Cuddly and iconic, Galápagos penguins diversify the menagerie of animals on the islands.

Galápagos sea lions – Patrick

The Galápagos sea lions are one of the only and most abundant mammals on the Galápagos Islands. These playful creatures can be easily spotted sunbathing all over the beaches. Often awkward on land, the Galápagos sea lions glide like torpedoes in the ocean. Observing these very special animals in their natural environment has been not only a privilege, but an amazing experience for me.

Galápagos tortoises – Sarah

The Galápagos tortoises are the biggest of their kind. These well known gentle giants play an important role in the ecosystems of the Galápagos. They spread the seeds of plants with their feces, allowing endemic plants to grow throughout the islands. Although four out or the original fourteen species of the Galápagos tortoise have gone extinct, there has been a rise of tortoise populations due to the combined efforts of conservation and breeding centers.