See the Galapagos hawk, one of few island raptors
Espanola, or Hood, Island is the southernmost island of the archipelago, and is one of the most popular due to the breathtaking variation and sheer number of fauna that greet the visitors. The giant tortoises, although present on this island, reside in an off-limits area, but don’t worry -- the famous giant tortoise awaits you on other islands. Some individuals were reintroduced to Espanola in the 1990s and since then their numbers have climbed. This effort counts as one of the National Park's greatest success stories.
On the northeastern shore of Espanola, Gardner Bay offers a magnificent long white sandy beach where colonies of sea lions laze in the sun, sea turtles swim offshore, and inquisitive Hood mockingbirds boldly investigate new arrivals. You will be lured into the turquoise water for a swim, but just a little further off-shore, the snorkeling by Tortuga Rock and Gardner Island offers peak encounters with playful young sea lions and large schools of surprisingly big tropical fish, including yellow-tailed surgeonfish, king angelfish, and bump-head parrot fish. Sleepy white-tipped reef sharks can be seen napping on the bottom and sometimes hammerhead sharks lazily swim by.
The quantity and variety of wildlife at Punta Suarez is remarkable. Sea lions surf the waves beyond the breakwater landing, and tiny pups are known to sniff visitors' toes upon arrival. A few steps inland you will find the most peculiar population of marine iguanas in the Galapagos. They bear distinctive red markings, some with a flash of turquoise running down their spine and legs, and they nap in communal piles. The trail then takes us beside the western edge of the island where Nazca boobies (formerly known as Masked boobies) nest along the cliff's edge, and then the trail descends to a rocky beach before rising to an open area and a large gathering of nesting blue-footed boobies. Galapagos doves, cactus finch, and mockingbirds forage nearby, unconcerned by human presence.
The trail continues to the high cliff edge of the southern shore; below, a shelf of black lava reaches out into the surf where a blowhole shoots a geyser of ocean water into the air. Within this area, along the cliffs is the "Albatross Airport" where huge waved albatross line up to launch their great winged bodies from the cliffs, soaring out over the dramatic shoreline of crashing waves and driven spray. In the trees set back from the cliff is one of only two places in the world where the waved albatross nests. In fact, the 13,000 pairs that inhabit Espanola constitute the total endemic population of this species of birds, with the exception of a very small population that occasionally nests elsewhere on the continental part of Ecuador. Lucky visitors can watch courtship 'fencing' done with great yellow beaks and necks among the large, fluffy, perfectly-camouflaged chicks. Mating occurs year round.
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