Isla Isabel – 23/3/2020

Isla Isabel.

We motor sailed the 42 nm (78 km) from Bahia Matanchen, San Balas on the Pacific Coast of Mexico to Isla Isabel, a small rocky volcanic island. We visited the island last year in May and it was definitely one of my favorite spots we visited last year, so I was eager to share the experience with our son, Tristan who is visiting with us. How many places in the world can you freely wander among thousands of nesting birds?

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The island often described as Mexico’s Galapagos has an abundance of nesting frigatebirds and blue, red and brown footed boobies, as well as a variety of iguanas and lizards.  The frigatebird’s nest in Crataeva Tapia trees which stand around 2 meters high and are in the lower part of the island, while the boobies and seagulls’ nest on the ground at the top of the island.  As the island has no natural predators the nesting birds are unworried, and this allows you to view their babies fairly close.   Should you venture too close you will find the booby will warn you with a honking sound, similar to geese.

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Nesting blue-footed boobies

With the increasing number of deaths due to the Coronavirus, we have been quarantined on the boat for 7 days, so far and thought Isabel would be a spot we could go and not be in contact with other people.  Andrew’s anxiety level increased as we approached the landing spot near the fisherman’s village and he rather hesitantly went ashore.  I may have done a bit of convincing after coming all the way here.

We began our hike in the lower part of the island walking among the nesting frigatebirds.  The species found on Isabel are called the Magnificent Frigatebirds, the largest in the frigatebird family.  We came to Isabel last year at the end of May and it was the end of the breeding season, so we didn’t get to see the male’s spectacular throat.  The male’s black feathers contrast to their scarlet-colored throat or gular sac which they inflate during the breeding season to attract a mate, it looks like an inflated balloon below their beak.

Veins in the frigatebird’s throat when inflated are highly visible and the sides are patterned with black spots.

At any point in time while on the island or on your boat you can look up to the sky and there are hundreds of frigates soaring in the thermals.  I still think there is something a little creepy about frigatebirds they have this death feel about them.  Last time we visited there were numerous frigatebirds who had either recently died or in the process of it and there are always skeletons and bones of the deceased adding to the morbidity feel of the bird.

As we hiked up the hill to see the boobies, we could see some fishermen approaching and quickly retraced our steps to maintain social distancing.  The whole social distancing is awkward when you are in your own country, but when you are a tourist in another country it is incredibly uncomfortable.  Normally you use your limited language skills to talk to the locals, but now the risk of the virus puts us and them in a position where you mumble a quick greeting and retreat as fast as possible.  Not really a great touristy feel and it definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

We ascended the hill, leaving behind the last of the nesting frigatebirds and their trees to reach the grassy top, home to the ground-nesting boobies.  Last year during our visit the birds already had their fluffy babies, some of which were the same size as their parents, this time there were only eggs.  I think the boobies were possibly a bit more protective of the babies at this stage of development than when we saw them later last year and they had hatched.

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You can’t help but love these beautiful birds.

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We wandered around the top and spotted lots of the blue-footed boobies and a few brown-footed too.  Eventually, everyone was boobied out and we made our way back to the dinghy, stopping to look at a few iguanas on the way down.  I’m pretty sure Tristan enjoyed the trip.

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View from the top of Isla Isabel

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The steep hike back down

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An Iguana enjoying the last rays of sunshine

We spent 6 days at Isabel and while we didn’t go and visit the birds again as we decided it was too risky with the Coronavirus, we did snorkel around the rocks, in the chilly water.

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