The Galápagos' own dabbling duck, shy but endearing
What you need to know about the White-cheeked Pintail
The main local duck species in Galápagos is the small White-Cheeked Pintail, often known as a “dabbling duck”.
This brown-chested duck, with its distinctive white cheeks for which it’s named, can be found around the salt water, brackish lakes and freshwater lagoons that can be seen all over the central and southern area of the Galápagos. It can grow up to a respectable 20in (51cm), and both male and female ducks are similar in size and color. Your Galapatours naturalist guide will be able to help you identify the small differences between the sexes.
The White-Cheeked Pintails forage for food on the surface of the water. Their diet consists mainly of vegetable matter as well as the small invertebrates which are commonly found in the silt and sediment of both coastal and highland waters. You will sometimes see them using their diving skills to escape predators.
When you’re enjoying time on board your Galápagos cruise ship, you will often spot these native ducks. They nest in pairs, and they build them on the ground close to their feeding waters. During the breeding season, they can lay up to ten pale brown eggs which have an incubation period of around 26 days.
This shy duck may be a little apprehensive of visitors, but your Galápagos cruise guide will know how to approach them to calm them, allowing for some lovely close encounters with these charming birds.
White-cheeked Pintail: Interesting facts
Opportunistic breeder when conditions are ideal
Restricted range, but a steady population
Nests on the ground, close to feeding areas
Male and female are similar size and coloring - can be difficult to tell apart
White-cheeked Pintail: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the White-cheeked Pintail can be observed
Puerto Egas (Port Egas) is a sheltered landing site at the southern end of James Bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago. This landing site is the trailhead for two hiking paths.
The first trail runs along the coast to visit the so-called "Fur Seal Grottos". The Galápagos Fur Seals like to seek shade from the equatorial sun, and they prefer rocky shores with caves or other nooks and crannies in which they can keep cool. The grottos here are perfect for them, and the tidal pools are also popular with Galápagos Marine Iguanas who can be seen feeding in and around them.
The second trail from Egas Port heads inland to the "Salt Mine Volcano". This hike is just under 2 miles long and takes you to the rim of a salt mine crater. This "mine" is actually a small volcanic cone that is filled with a salt water lagoon that dries up in the dry season. At several points in the 20th century individuals or companies attempted to mine salt from it, but without commercial success. The name of your landing site is after the owner of the last company to try salt mining here, Hector Egas.
The lagoon is often home to Galápagos flamingos and other birds, and the wonderful Galápagos Hawk can often be seen circling above this area.
El Junco Lagoon
El Junco Lagoon is one of the very few permanent sources of fresh water in the whole Galápagos. It avoids evaporation thanks to its elevation - some 2,300ft above sea level in the moist highlands of San Cristobal. The journey to visit is via a 45 minute bus ride from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The name comes from the many sage or "junco" plants that can be found around the lagoon. El Junco covers some 72,000 square yards and holds over 7 1/2 million gallons of fresh water.
The lagoon formed because this is the site of a collapsed cone of a long-extinct volcano. The source of water here is purely rain, and so the depth of the lake varies throughout the year, but it has never dried out in living memory. In fact scientists think the lagoon may have stayed filled since the end of the last ice age.
On your way to the lagoon itself you'll climb up through several different vegetation zones before you reach this wonderful viewpoint. As well as a superb place to drink in the wonderful landscape, it's also a great place to observe a wide variety of bird species, including rare mockingbirds, pintail ducks and even frigatebirds, who come here to bathe their feathers in the fresh water. Surrounding the lagoon are tree ferns and Miconia bushes.
Espumilla Beach is located at the northern end of James Bay, a large bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago. This is a pretty beach that is fringed with lush green forests.
The beach itself is home to marine iguanas who feed among the rocks at either end of the beach, and it is a good place to snorkel, with visitors often reporting sightings of sharks, rays and octopus. This is also a nesting site for Galápagos green turtles.
There is an inland hiking trail here that takes visitors past a seasonal lagoon that's often bright green thanks to the algae in the water. Here you can find Galápagos flamingos and pin-tail ducks. The trail then loops through the arid zone, where you can see further bird species including Galápagos Hawks that often circle overhead.
Moreno Point (known locally as Punta Moreno) is a short journey from Elizabeth Bay on the west coast of Isabela Island. You will take a panga ride which will give you great views of the striking rocky shoreline before you make your landing.
Here you will see the eerie site of a huge lava field leading up to the distant Cero Azul volcano. Hiking through this alien landscape you will come across several tidal lagoons, pools and mangroves - all of which provide an oasis for a range of wildlife, particularly bird species. In the larger tidal pools you may see green turtles or sharks, the clear waters giving you a unique opportunity to view them from on land!
On your journey back to the boats from your 1.2 mile hike you're likely to see Galápagos Penguins on the rocky shores as well a range of birds including herons and Galápagos Flamingos. This is a favorite excursion as it combines the opportunity to see coastal species with a hike through stunning landscapes.
The vast majority of Isabela's human population live in Puerto Villamil, which still holds onto its traditional fishing port charm. Indeed many of Galapatours visitors tell us they think it's the prettiest village in the whole archipelago.
The main reason for this is that Villamil had little impact from tourism until the 1990s, the residents quietly making their living from fishing and farming. Then in 1996 a small runway was opened for flights for light aircraft operating inter-island flights. There are now 13 hotels and 18 bars and restaurants in town, compared to only 1 and 2 respectively in 1980! Despite this, the town still enjoys a relaxed and authentic atmosphere.
Villamil enjoys a beautiful long beach, which is picture-book tropics - palm trees line it's bright white coral sand. Behind the beach are several saltwater lagoons which are home to pink flamingos, pintail ducks and several other species. There are several visitor sites that can be the subject of excursions from town on foot, by minibus or panga.
Tortuga Bay Beach
Tortuga Bay Beach is a delightful 1 mile walk from Puerto Ayora and is one of the prettiest beaches on the Galápagos.
As you walk the trail to the beach you cross through an area of arid vegetation which is filled with bird life, and your Galapatours expert naturalist guide will help you to identify many species here, which include the famous Darwin's Finches.
Once you reach the beach you will see a glorious tropical scene - white coral sands and breaking turquoise waves. You can often see surfers here, and they are a clue that those waves hide strong currents and tides, and you need to be careful if you choose to swim. A better option might be to continue along to the second part of Tortuga Bay Beach which is the other side of the headland. This beach opens onto a small bay that's almost completely sheltered from the swell and makes a wonderfully calm place for swimming or snorkeling.
This little bay is fringed with Galápagos mangroves which are a haven for bird and marine life. In the waters you may see rays and small sharks, and marine iguanas on the rocky headland.
Tortuga Beach and Tortuga Bay make a wonderful place that's not only great for relaxing and soaking up the sun, but also for exploring more of the Galápagos' unique wildlife and habitats.