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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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Bar~beautiful!

Barbuda has been described as a large version of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands.  At first glance this appears to be true. But I found the two islands very, very different.

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First view of Barbuda

Anegada has a lot to offer visitors and certainly caters to tourists in the usual BVI way, which I very much enjoy.

Barbuda seems to have chosen to remain staunchly independent of visitors and prefers to retain its’ local flavor.  My understanding is that the island is owned by the residents and if a company wants to build something, say a resort, the whole town votes to accept or decline the plan. So far it appears few, if any, outsiders have managed to develop Barbuda. The result is that Barbuda is unspoiled and beautiful, but it is also difficult to find services or restaurants.

When we walked through Codrington Village, few of the stores had signs so it was difficult to tell what was available. The grocery was pretty well stocked, but because there was no sign, I would have walked past it if a woman had not walked out with bags of food.

The children here have the freedom of roaming a hometown where everyone knows each other and they are safe to explore. I watched one boy upright a bike much too big for him and serpentine up the road; another child skipped into the grocery and asked for clothes pins for her mom; two young boys were gently scolded by a lady sitting on her porch as she reminded them their mothers expected them to go straight home from school. I felt like I was looking back to a time when computers and smart phones and stranger danger didn’t exist.

The water clarity and colors of Barbuda are beyond belief. Our first anchorage was Gravenor Bay. Navigating into this bay is tricky because there are a lot of reefs. It is very important to only enter when the sun is high and the visibility excellent, but once through the maze of reefs, the settled anchorage and amazingly clear water is worth the effort.

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Watching a storm from Gravenor Bay

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Another dramatic storm that passed beyond us

I tried to get a picture of how clear the water is by taking a picture while standing on the bow of LIB. You can see the coral and sand!

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The water is about 15 feet deep in this photo

We decided to move to Low Bay to see the NW side of the island and get close to Codrington Village.  We motored around Coco Point before raising the sails. To our delight, a few dolphins came to say hello! They didn’t stay very long, but we sure enjoyed seeing them.

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Dolphins swim under the bow of Let It Be

The 11 mile expanse from Palmetto Point to Low Bay is a beautiful beach where the sand is so fine you sink as you walk. We certainly didn’t walk the whole length but we did enjoy hanging out appreciating its’ beauty.

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Sand so fine you sink as you walk

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Captain is always up for a roll in the sand

As you can see, Captain dives right in to the beach scene. The more sand she can dig in and roll in and generally grind into her fur, the happier she is!

Moving to Low Bay allowed us hire a guide to take us on a tour of the Frigate Bird Sanctuary.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this tour but ended up thoroughly enjoying it. . Our tour guide, Clifford, took us to the sanctuary via his long boat, then he walked the boat through the area so we had an excellent view of the birds. Ornithologists estimate that there are 5,000 birds in this colony which makes it one of the largest in the world.  The pictures offer more than I can describe.

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The male Frigate enlarges his gular pouch to attract females.

In addition to inflating the gular pouch, the male Frigate rapidly taps the pouch to create a drumming sound which adds to his attraction.

Come on, lady readers, you think those pouches are pretty sexy, right?

Females do not have pouches but instead have a white chest.

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Young Frigates are downy white

When born, the babies have downy, white feathers which are gradually replaced by the black plumage. In the picture above you can see two very young Frigates. Toward the back you can see a Frigate that is a few months old; it has begun to grow some of its’ black feathers but still has a good deal of baby down on the chest.

Wind forecasts were beginning to pick up so we lifted anchor and headed back to Green Island, Antigua  to be in place for kiting should the predicted winds materialize.

Happily, the winds did blow and we arrived at Green Island with plenty of time to get in an afternoon kiteboarding set.

For the kiters out there, here are two pics…..

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Frank chilling as he heads back toward the beach

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Hunter boosts off the back of LIB to start his session

Next stop Guadeloupe.

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