Friday, March 14, 2008

Birds, birds, birds!

Green flash? It is rumored that a green flash may grace the sky, if you're lucky, just as the sun dips below the watery horizon. Critics do exist. I've been looking for it for years, without yet abandoning hope. Is it a myth? A mariner's equivalent of the Sasquatch? Or a veritable atmospheric phenomenon, rarer but no less spectacular than the aurora borealis? Well, it's hard to be convincing if I can't state anything with more certainty than: I saw a flash! The trouble is, while wearing my rosy-colored, polarized glasses it looked, well, rosy-colored. I guess it remains elusive. Maybe it's best viewed from the shifting shores of Atlantis.

Another quasi-experience: auditory evidence of a whale breaching behind us (audio without the visual). We were approaching Isla Isabella a few days ago, actually dawdling a bit, waiting for daylight before making our approach. It was my watch, around 5:30 am; my senses were heightened, as they always are when approaching shore. Down below, looking at the chart, I heard a loud slap. I climbed the steps to the cockpit and heard the tell-tale "Whhhooooophhh!" of a whale's blowspout, and then another loud splat. We were minutes from that pre-dawn rosy haze, just as the stars are beginning to fade before the sun's grand entrance. Looking in the direction of the splat, I saw an indeterminate shadow move, and another loud splat....then another. I guess it was far enough, at least, that there was no tactile experience to go along with the auditory one (no spray on my face or rocky loss of balance). Anyway, I was SO excited, and a bit nervous, not wishing to have a blind, closer encounter than this. I made Ben get up, of course, but the whale gave no further proof of its existence.

So, I experienced half a green flash, and bore partial witness to a breaching whale. These incomplete experiences paled in comparison to the delight of Isla Isabella itself. The island is a bird sanctuary, and one of Jacques Cousteau's favorite places. National Geographic filmed a documentary here, and there is a permanent ornithological research station on site. The stars of the show? Nesting magnificent frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, brown boobies, in the thousands I would hazard to guess, in addition to nesting Heermann's gulls, red-billed tropic birds and the usual suspects, brown pelicans and eared grebes. And would we be so lucky to have arrived smack in the middle of breeding season? We hiked along marked trails, often within arm's reach of ground-nesting boobies and gulls, or tree-nesting frigatebirds. I wouldn't say they were equally delighted by OUR presence, but they remained undisturbed, voicing an occasional honk (or in the male boobies' case, a low, plaintive whistle), but remaining in place. I can't imagine access wouldn't be restricted to such a place as this in the US, but Isla Isabella is established as a park that welcomes visitors. Regardless, I felt a twinge of guilt to intrude, and tried to make myself as small as possible as we tip-toed by.

These boobies, especially the blue-footed ones, are only less goofy-looking than a pelican. I mean, blue feet? Are you kidding? The brown boobies are no less precious, and seem a little more gregarious. The booby babies are, of course, adorable in their utter awkward ugliness. The frigatebirds, on the other hand, are striking in their silhouette against the sky. They have the longest wings relative to their weight of any bird, and long-forked tails, so they make a dramatic statement as they soar endlessly overhead. They are described as aerial pirates, often attacking other sea birds in flight to get them to disgorge their fishy catch. So, they steal meals from others, leaving the hard-work of hunting to their "inferiors." They build paltry little nests in low-slung branches, oten at just our height. They could care less as we walked by. I don't know how the frigatebird nestlings manage to maintain their balance in these little nests, though with the number of dead frigates on the ground here and there, I imagine they don't all manage to balance in the tree-tops.

So, MORE birds: back in La Paz I was excited to find white ibises mingling with snowy egrets, tricolored herons, little blue herons, reddish egrets and yellow-crowned night herons in the mangroves across from our anchorage. I know, boring detail to some, exciting to me.

The anchorage itself is stunning, with surf crashing on rocks only yards from where we were anchored. But, there we were with a couple other boats and did just fine. Tucked into the head of the small bay is a fishing village. The island, despite its status as a sanctuary, still offers a harvest to local fishermen, who have an established fish camp used to mend nets and sort the catch. The fishermen are very friendly, and offered me a ride to shore, sitting next to a heap of red snapper, shortly after our arrival. Several speak fluent English and talk of their time living in the US. They all sound happy to be back home. Not to be outdone, we caught our own dinner (en route from La Paz), a skipjack tuna. We made sushi tuna rolls and ate the rest seared. This time we tried what would seem to be a more humane way to kill a fish, based on some advice. We squirted vodka in its gills and, well, that seemed to do the trick! Who really wants to bludgeon his dinner?

Well, after an overnight sail, here we are in Banderas Bay, currently anchored off the quaint town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (still haven't figured out how to pronounce this). In the next couple days we'll move to a marina in Puerto Vallarta proper to work on a few boat projects in preparation for the big crossing to come....

Oh, I've finally gotten my feet wet with some veterinary work, during our prolonged stay in La Paz. I did exams and consultations for Zeus the Doberman and Henry the Lab, both belonging to fellow expatriate cruisers, and a behavioral consultation for Pixie, a local Scotty. We also made a donation of medical supplies to a Baja Dogs Rescue group. I didn't manage to organize a spay/neuter day with them, but maybe more opportunities will be encountered in PV.... I've also been making bead jewelry for future trades (I hope) on some of the South Pacific islands. That's been fun.

Anyone up for an impromptu trip to Puerto Vallarta is more than welcome!



doglady said...

Sounds like you're happy and rested when I talk to you. It's already mid March. Time is flying. Wear your sunscreen-no excuses. Call me about your taxes. Some questions need answers.

Love mom

Josh Burker said...

Sorry to hear that Galapagos was a no-go, but the excursion to the bird sanctuary sounded very exciting. You'll find when you read Vonnegut's _Galapagos_ that the blue footed boobie features prominently.

Your writing is so vivid and fun to read. I hope you two are having fun!