My readers are well aware of my birdwatching obsession. I have told many tales of stalking a bird just to get the right photo,. Many birds are quite shy and “flighty” so these challenges have taught me a great deal about patience. However, there is nothing shy about the Galapagos frigates.
If you think that long, hooked beak is intimidating, how about these statistics: the adult frigate has a wingspan of about 7.5 feet, the females are larger and heavier than the males and they have the ability to soar for days using the warm equatorial air currents.
They were originally named by a French naturalist who called them “la frégate” meaning a fast war ship. They are also called “piratebirds” due to their ability to steal food from other birds by harassing them in the air until the harried birds release their catch.
Remember these facts – they are important to my story, as you will see.
The female may be larger but the male has a spectacularly brightly red hued appendage on its neck. It is called a gular sac and its sole purpose is to attract a female.
During courtship, male frigatebirds sit in groups, inflate these throat sacs, clatter their bills, wave their heads back and forth, shake their wings, and call to females:
From the internet:
My very own close encounter occurred on the island of Santa Cruz. The city center was like a combination of Capri and Sedona, with tons of jewelry and art shops and wonderful open air restaurants.
Our guide chose a marvelous two-storied restaurant for our lunch and as we waited for our meals to arrive I walked along the rim with my camera and couldn’t help but notice an interesting pattern of frigates and pelicans flying around and air-diving over a specific area:
The guide explained that there was a fresh fish market there and that after the locals purchase their choices the fisherman often cuts up bits of fresh tuna and such for the original locals – that is, the birds and even a sea lion or two.
So you already know where I had to go after our lovely meal. It was everything I could hope for – and a bit more. The fishermen were indeed cutting up some magnificently fresh tuna for a few late coming people – while some of the furry and feathered friends waited patiently:
I would note that some of the pelicans were not necessarily patient as they were quivering in excitement of a potential treat.
Let me mention at this juncture that I was standing right next to the above – so my zoom lens was not needed for these and the photos to come. While the pelicans, gulls and sea lions waited on the ground, the frigates had opted to take a higher roost (the white headed birds are the females):
Then the fisherman walked to where I was standing and started to throw out morsels – and suddenly I was in the midst of a feeding frenzy. However, while the pelicans and seals stayed aground, the frigates decided to take a route by air, circling around. Then this:
Now any sane person, seeing a bunch of very, very large birds with extremely long beaks plummeting towards him/her would move. Nope – I was transfixed, holding my breath and hoping my camera would not only get the shot but also provide a shield for me. I also figured/hoped that the birds were more interested in the fish, not me.
The frigates were magnificent – and great maneuverers:
Alfred Hitchcock would have loved the scene.
Another Galapagos large bird also provided a very very very close encounter – the greater blue heron.
Wherever there was potential food – crabs, lizards etc it was easy to spot one:
A very patient heron was so intent on the thousands of baby iguanas in his view that he didn’t even acknowledge our approach. We had been walking around a bunch of rocks out of eyesight when we suddenly faced this heron – only a few feet away:
Just a note: ordinarily it is considered proper to stay a good 10 feet or so away from wild animals, but in this case we had no other way to get past this heron on our narrow path without getting close.
My next heron encounter also broke this invisible barrier, but this time I wasn’t the one who made the approach. I was enjoying a little private pool time in the late afternoon on Santa Cruz Island before getting ready for dinner.
I am in the midst of my reverie when, with a flurry of feathered wings, this beautiful but quite large blue heron decided to land right next to my lounge chair – and this one definitely acknowledged my presence:
Again, as with my encounter with the frigates in the fish market, my first reaction was not fear, but one of delight and I slowly reached for my camera and started to shoot. In its turn, the heron decided I was neither a predator nor food so it casually walked around the pool area, even stopping to take a drink:
The heron even managed what I imagined a friendly smile at me before he left:
More close encounters coming!