The fringe benefit for visiting naturalists and birders are the many boats ready for hire. Tino, who lives and works in the village and for the field station is happy to make money off taking visitors out to the aptly named Bird Island. With the going rate at $10/person and a full boat of 10 people, Tino makes a good wage (there’s plenty of people who don’t make that in a day in the US). And for us, ten bon-a-fide greenbacks was a deal to see breeding Blue-footed Boobies!
We’d been trying to make it out to the island before leaving for Alamos. The wind and Tino needing to accommodate other groups hadn’t allowed the venture until now. The morning of the afternoon departure to Alamos, we clambered on and coasted out to the open water.
In the wide channels that feed the estuary, mangroves and all their charismatic inhabitants flanked us as the boat crawled forth. Although my bouts with seasickness have been directly dependent on being in heavy waves and distance from shore, I was willfully avoiding being ill. Thankfully, as we broke into the open water, I had ample distraction.
As many times as I’ve watched boobies and gannets slice into water on film, it has never done them justice. At the risk of making evolution sound sentient, boobies are perfectly engineered for these stoops. Seeing their quarry from high above, boobies plummet and transform to spears thrust from Poseidon. They shed any resemblance to birds the split second before impact.
Blue-footed Boobies in most respects however, aren’t as graceful as they are when foraging. Well built for living at sea, they quickly diminish in elegance right when they try to land. Feet thrust forward and gangly wings stuck at awkward angles, like someone trying to brace their fall, many of the birds seemed elated in the simple miracle of coming to ground without mishap. Beaks clattering, they’d uttering bizarre noises on successful stops.
Bird Island itself isn’t horribly fascinating from a geological perspective – it’s just an eroding bit of sand. Hardly an island at all. But it was full of birds: both species of Pelicans, Brown and Blue-footed Boobies, cormorants, geese, ducks, shorebirds, pretty much every bird in the estuary. Tino brought the boat up close but to be respectful, we didn’t go to land.
Breeding bird colonies are not places of glamour either. Behaviorally, yes – very fascinating. But let’s not ignore that fact that this island was mostly bird shit from obligatory piscivores (we got a full whiff of this one the far side of the island). The excrement of birds that eat fish all day and exude it to bake in the sun, does not remind one of rose petals. Then there’s the noise and the complete lack of shade – you can probably assume I’m not destined to work with Nasca Boobies in the Galapagos.
But you don’t visit these places for the ambiance. You come because you get to see a White Pelican stretch its proboscis skyward, the absurdist yoga. To watch Blue-footed Boobies assume courtship displays, clownishly raising their latex gloved feet up and down in unison. To hear the excited whistling and humming of the birds as they go about lives that don’t include our own. And best of all, to admire the babes.
Baby boobies are the oddest baby birds I’ve ever seen. These fluffy white muppet like birds were few in numbers and easily missed amongst the whitewash, mainly because they were sprawled about like discarded feather boas. They didn’t look comfortable and I was reminded of two days earlier when I’d slept one off. This was probably akin to that, an inescapable, nauseating discomfort. However, I’d had the option of not baking in the sun (and not imbibing so lavishly).
I stared at one for about ten minutes, willing it to move. It didn’t. Even when an adult bird pummeled the ground adjacent during a particularly graceless landing, it stayed motionless. Finally it half-heartedly nibbled at the nearby adult’s chin. Not the penultimate of begging. But I’ll be damned if they weren’t deathly cute. You can take baby penguins, I’ll take these nonchalant albino Elmos over them any day. I’d probably suffer less hangovers if I spent a few months watching them valiantly avoid sun stoke.
After looping to the west of the island and quickly retreating because it smelled like rotten fish guts, we started back. We were leaving Navopatia when we came to shore. I could have stayed; written some Steinbeck sluiced book and found a beautiful Mexican wife who could plump me on hand made tortillas and seviche.
But we had to meet the Mays in Alamos that evening and explore Tropical Deciduous Forest (TDF). Everyone was going to be glad to no longer hear me spout on about “TDF”. It sure was hard living this lavish life of natural history worship
Although I knew I’d be back, it was hard to leave our friends. We’d see all the people from Evergreen back in the Northwest but who knew when I’d see any of the locals again. I made a goal with myself to relearn Spanish and find my way back soon and actually communicate more than monosyllabically. My flailing attempts to do eloquent justice the Thornforest, Navopatia, and the Mangroves won’t suffice. Whoever is out there reading this will have to visit. Really that’s the point of all this laborious self-indulgent verbage – to inspire you to explore and care about our world.
“Probably every subject is interesting if an avenue into it can be found that has humanity and that an ordinary person can follow.” – William Zinsser, Writing to Learn
That about sums it up!