Birds of the Galapagos

On a recent Saturday evening, Shirley Johnson, president of the Birds of Vermont Museum’s Board of Directors and world birder, presented a slideshow chronicling her early winter 2011 week touring the Galapagos Islands. The audience visually explored this austere collection of islands off the western coast of South America while listening to Shirley’s excitement over each find along the way.

Volcanic in origin,and undiscovered until 1535, the islands offer a spartan lifestyle which nevertheless supports a diverse array of birds and land animals. Cooled by the Humboldt Current coursing northward from the Antarctic and swept by the Panama Current flowing south from Central America, the Galapagos waters are cold enough to attract the Galapagos Penguin and sea lions, despite the islands’ proximity to the Equator.

Shirley’s narrative complemented her generous slideshow of the birds, which are endemic to the islands- meaning confined and unique to a particular location. Charles Darwin”s research from the early 1800s focused on this defining quality which led to his work on the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection. Birds introduced to us through images and anecdotes included the Magnificent Frigate Bird– its inflated, red chest-pouch signaling its status as a breeding male; the thieving Red-footed Booby who stole rocks from his neighbor’s nest site for display in his own construction; the Flightless Cormorant whose wings are 1/3 the size needed for flight but are not necessary for a bird with abundant marine food sources and no predators. Also, the Blue-footed Booby, Waved Albatross, and Galapagos Hawk inhabit the islands as well as Darwin’s Finches, Giant Tortoises, and Land Iguanas.

This armchair trip took us to a very different world and we are indebted to Shirley for making the journey so pleasurable. Shirley will be presenting this program again at the Shelburne Library for the Green Mountain Audubon Society at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28th. Please call the library for further details.

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