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Isla Isabel ~ Escape To Paradise for Birds and Birders.

I am trying to catch up on a few places we have visited but about which I have not written.  We actually visited Isla Isabel back in January!

Isabel is a small island of only 1.94 square kilometers and is host to a huge number of sea birds.  This uninhabited island was declared a national park in 1980 and in 2005 was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Isla Isabel is sometimes called the Galapagos of Mexico and Frank and I decided it was a must visit for us. So after our brief stay in Mazatlan, we pointed TTR south and slightly west for a quick 93 nm hop to Isabel.

                    Image taken from Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser’s Guide.

We left Mazatlan around 4 pm and the next morning we dropped the hook in the southern anchorage of Isabel. Approaching the island, we could see many birds riding the wind drafts and once closer we could see many others roosting on the nearby rocks.

In 1975, Isla Isabel was featured in a Jacques Cousteau documentary called The Sea Birds of Isabela, and after visiting, we understand that title completely!

The birds were everywhere and the trees were dense and lush.

The wildlife on Isabel has been free of human aggression and as a result was completely unfazed by our presence.  In fact, we were able to get so close to the birds that I could have easily touched several of them while they were sitting on their nests.

There is no zoom or adjustment to this photo – this is how close we were to the birds!

There are several loosely marked paths on Isla Isabel and I think we managed to walk all of them.  It felt a bit like walking into Jurasic Park as we ducked below and squeezed by branches.  The birds continued to call to one another as we traversed, but not in an agitated or warning voice, more like normal bird calls.  Similar to the fact that the birds just looked at us as we passed by rather than flying away, the tenor of their calls made it seem like they were not the least bothered or concerned by our presence.

Frigate with a protective claw on her chic.
A close up of one of the babies.

Neither of us are “birders” but we enjoyed seeing the frigate birds and hearing some of the males beat upon their inflated pouches as they tried to entice a mate. Several years ago we took a frigate bird tour on the island of Barbuda and the frigates were in full mating mode during that tour!

That inflated gular pouch doesn’t look comfortable.

At Isabel we caught the very end of the season and saw only a few males with inflated gular pouches. Hopefully they were eventually successful!

The blue footed booby is truly stunning.

The boobies were our favorite birds, specifically the blue footed ones.  Isla Isabel is host to blue, brown and red footed boobies. The color of boobies’ feet and the intensity of the color is dependent upon the diet of the birds. 

Several of the boobies had eggs with them as you can see in this photo.

We only saw blue and brown boobies on Isla Isabel and we noticed that the blue boobies sort of ‘displayed’ their feet when they walk. 

Frank having a chat with two boobies.

Turns out, the more blue the feet are, the more attractive the bird is considered to be. 

The male boobies are smaller than the females.

Boobies are also known to “skypoint” to attract females.  Skypointing means that while flying, the male throws his head back and points his beak to the sky. 

Come on ladies, you know that is totally sexy!?!

Brown boobies are similarly shaped but colored very differently than blues.

We also saw some brown booby birds and while their feet weren’t as pretty as the blue footed boobies, their dark fur was interesting because it really showed the outline of the feathers against the bird’s head.

Birds were not the only interesting aspect of Isabel.

This section looked a bit like a meadow compared to the dense trees with frigate birds.

As we walked we saw a variety of fauna, iguanas, an interior pond and shores that were sometimes high and grass covered and other times shallow with ocean refreshed tide pools.

This lake is within the island itself.
We kept our shoes on while exploring here as the rocks were sharp.

Although Isla Isabel is basically uninhabited, there is a good deal of activity. We saw two boats bring a photography class to Isabel where the students spent the nights in tents and during the day wandered the island honing their photo skills.

The birds were constantly looking for handouts from the shrimpers.

We also saw a couple of shrimping boats out working their nets and later they anchored nearby for a much needed rest.

                       Walking along the coast we even saw whale spouts in the distance.

We found Isla Isabel to be a fabulous immersion into nature after being in the large, busy city of Mazatlan. We spent four nights at the island and wished we could have stayed longer.

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Geological History and Unusual Sights Define the SOC.

We have been in the Sea of Cortez for two months and we continue to be thrilled with the visual overload here.

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TTR at anchor at Isla Coronados.

Our time in the Sea is limited this year because we need to go back to the States to have some warranty work done on Ticket to Ride.  As a result, we have covered a lot of area at a fast clip. We have seen many beautiful places and I will share some thoughts and sights through pictures in this post.

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I know there is a story written in these layers but I don’t know how to read it!

Frank and I  should have studied geology to fully appreciate all the beauty and history of this stunning area. Every part of the Sea is dramatically framed by rugged and arid land masses. When we traveled the U.S. by RV this summer, we felt our lack of geological knowledge but we were fortunate that many of the parks had signs explaining the history told in the layered deposits of the cliffs and canyons we visited.

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Very well defined layers at Punta Pulpito.

Here in Mexico, we sail or dinghy or hike past amazingly well defined layers of the earth’s history but we have no way to learn the story revealed by the lines.  The internet is unavailable and neither of us studied geology, so we can’t even pull on long forgotten knowledge.

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We hid from SW winds at colorful Bahia Cobre. 

However, even without an understanding of the rocky history, we are amazed at the beauty and diversity of the formations we see.

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The back side of Caleta Partida where we took the dinghy into small sea caves.

Any geology buffs want to chime in and explain the geological history for any of these pictures?

But the SOC isn’t just about geology.  While returning to La Paz, the wind was shifting and changing and as we were accepting the need to furl sails and start engines, we came across a pod of whales. The rocky bluffs near Espiritu Santo made a perfect backdrop for this whale spray.

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A whale’s blow is it exhaling air from its’ lungs. 

There were about 10 whales and each would surface three or four times before disappearing for a while. None of these whales breached and we never saw the tail. I’m not certain but I think they were Fin Whales.  (Can anyone confirm that?)

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Such a big mammal and such a small dorsal fin.

Fin Whales are the fastest of all whales and can swim up to 37 kilometers per hour! After rolling in our foresail, we just drifted for about an hour watching the whales surface all around us. It was a thrilling experience.

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The whales were pretty close to TTR!

Each day we see amazing things that make us pause and appreciate the Sea of Cortez again and again. Sometimes it is a beautiful sunrise….

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Sunrise at Caleta Partida.

Other times it’s the birds we see coasting on air drafts or diving like sharpened arrows into the blue waters. Or it is spying Blue Footed Boobies like these on nearby ledges.

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Blue footed boobies!

The depth of the blue color of the male Booby’s feet play an important role in courtship of the females as the males display their feet to woo a female. The intensity of the blue can vary from a pale turquoise to a deep aquamarine.

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The bird 2nd from left seems intent on the camera.

This quote from Wikipedia about the color of Booby feet is interesting: “The blue color of the blue-footed booby’s webbed feet comes from carotenoid pigments obtained from its diet of fresh fish. Carotenoids act as antioxidants and stimulants for the blue-footed booby’s immune function, suggesting that carotenoid-pigmentation is an indicator of an individual’s immunological state.”  Bottom line; the deeper the color the healthier the bird, and the more likely he is to get the girl.

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The cloud bank between the sailboat and land was interesting.

We have not seen an abundance of coral when we snorkel here in the SOC, which sort of surprises me since we see so many mammals like dolphin and sea lions. We see some fish when we snorkel and they offer the most color when we are underwater.  We have seen hues of green and brown and hardly any coral. The visibility under water has not been very good either.

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Stretching our legs on Isla Coronado. 

In my opinion, the dramatic landscape, the surfacing of dolphins or sea lions and the rays jumping out of the sea combined with the lack of color under the water means the views from on the boat or on land are more interesting than those below.

On the whole, the weather here has been much cooler than I expected. In fact, when we sail, I often put on a long sleeve shirt or a light jacket.  The water is still chilly and we are wearing wet suits if we get in the water.  I am sure there are places where the snorkeling or diving are excellent and hopefully we will find them next Fall when we return to the Sea of Cortez.

The local people we have met in towns and fishing villages here have been amazingly warm and deserve a post unto themselves.  I won’t expand on that now but in the future I hope to capture a sense of our experience and share it.

For now, we are enjoying the beauty of the Sea and watching the water and land to see what new surprises present themselves.

Thank you for taking time to read our blog.  We would love to hear from you if you have questions or comments.  You are welcome to visit our FB page where we hope to have enough connection to post pictures more often than we post here.

 

 

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