Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Isla Isabel Mexico’

Island Mystique

There’s a ship
And it sails a sea of light
On it’s way (with) me tonight
From a distant shore
Taking me home once more
And the waves
And the whistling of the wind
Make me come alive again
My destiny’s at my door
…….Ooo la la la la
On an island I will dwell
Starlit nights in Paradise
On the Isle of (Isabel)
Crosby,Stills,Nash&Young Isle of Sanibel

The mystique of islands, terra firma but surrounded by water. Often isolated, and a perfect scenario for breeding birds. Isla Isabel, located about 36 miles from San Blas, eluded us on our last trip north in January due to headwinds and huge chop. Cruisers and blogs extolled the wonders of the bird life on Isla Isabel, and at last on March 23 we sailed over from Matanchen Bay near San Blas to reach an anchorage in sand and rock offshore on the east side of the island near the rock pinnacles called the Monas. For only the second time on this voyage we pumped up the dinghy, put it in the water, and lowered the outboard onto the stern. The waves were crashing onto the nearby beach so kayaks didn’t seem like a good option. A short dinghy ride later we passed the south anchorage, and then were inside the bay and landing at a fishing camp.


Hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds circled overhead and nested in the trees all over the small island, only about a kilometer in length and about 800 meters wide. Following the map painted onto the kiosk at the end of the fishing camp beach we headed off through the trees, across a crumbling basketball court, surrounded by nesting frigatebirds. Frigatebirds resemble something out of Jurassic Park, the females have white throats, the courting males display huge red balloons at their throats, and the chicks resemble large fluffy cotton balls with the head of a bird.



The frigatebirds spend hours in the air, they can’t take off from water, so have to snatch food from the surface of the ocean or steal it from other birds. We saw them grab boobies (BIRDS) by the wing and shake them to try to make them drop their food. From dawn to dusk, and sometimes even after dark, the frigatebirds circle and wheel over the island, or fly in from somewhere to the east.

The trail took us by a partly-completed huge concrete pavilion constructed about 30 years ago and left incomplete when government funding went elsewhere, and then about 200 feet up a hill past nesting Blue-Footed and Brown Boobies; the nests were so close to the trail that the boobies were honking and whistling at us constantly. We learned that females honk and males whistle.

Brown Booby with green feet (some are yellow)

Blue-footed Boobies panting due to the heat

The view across the island from the lighthouse. The fishing camp is right below the crater lagoon, with the Monas in the background

Getting down from the lighthouse on the slippery trail and broiling in the heat almost ended our explorations for the day, but luckily we decided to hike off in back of the fish camp and over through the trees to the east side for a view of our boat in the water. On the way we met five young researchers coming from their camp who invited us to partake of their chairs sitting under a tarp, which we did, and then when we saw them again on the way back, got invited to dinner that night. Thus began a wonderful association, which lasted our whole eight days on the island.
The researchers are all from the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. Oscar is working on his doctorate studying evolutionary biology using Blue-Footed Boobies, and is the director of the research. Each breeding pair has their nest marked with a stake, and every day and often
at night the researchers go out to measure, weigh, record, and even take blood samples. We learned that research on BFB’s has been taking place for 32 years on Isla Isabela, and both Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic have done programs on the island. Islands like Isla Isabela are perfect for breeding birds unless prey species are introduced, which is what happened at Isla Isabela. First Norway rats got onto the island, and preyed on the eggs. In the Midway Island in the Pacific in the 30’s rats wiped out Brown Boobies completely, so in order to prevent that disaster cats were introduced to rid the island of rats. You can imagine the havoc caused to the birds by the cats. Two years ago the rats were poisoned by pellets dropped onto the island, and the cats trapped and removed. However five cats refused to be captured, and New Zealand hunters were called in to get the last cats. Now the island seems to be cat and rat free, and the birds and lizards less likely to be harmed. We shared several dinners with the researchers, and I baked them brownies and cookie bars, since they were there for months, with a weekly food drop mostly lacking in treats. They also came out to the boat to visit at noon one day, four swam, and one rode with Nikk in the dinghy. One picture of the researchers at camp is at the end of the blog, I found out I can’t add pictures in the middle of a blog, ni modo.

Christina (Veterinary Medicine), Fernanda (Biology/birds), Jose (Biology/reptiles)

Oscar and Santiago (Veterinary Medicine)

Eventually their parents and friends will be able to see these pictures when the researcher’s time on the island without internet or phone is over. We enjoyed out times with them on magical Isla Isabela.

Eight days were filled with alternating activity and relaxing on the boat. We hiked on a little-used trail across the island to rock pools at low tide, viewing a Brown Booby nesting colony and tiny electric blue fish in tide pools. Some frigatebirds were drying their wings in the grass and gave us a startling view of how wide their wingspan is, a wingspan that is the largest for any bird of similar weight.


Several days we snorkeled above the shallow reefs of green coral that are recovering after a hurricane hit the island, oohing and pointing at the profusions of angel fish, turquoise parrot fish, silvery needle fish, canary yellow box fish, and many more. Another day we took the dinghy all the way around the island, and yet another day we hiked with cruising neighbors from “Identity Crisis”, their recently purchased boat that has yet to be renamed.


After the first day the waves calmed down and we were able to take the kayaks to shore for easier exploring and investigating. One afternoon I was entertained by a Blue-footed Booby doing the courtship dance.


Another afternoon we were sitting on the boat when two adult whales and a calf spent about a half hour rolling and spanking the water with their flippers, breeching, and even spanking with their tail flukes. They were too far away for pictures but easily seen with binoculars.

When we arrived there was so much fishing activity, due to many Mexicans coming to towns like Mazatlan and San Blas for Semana Santa, the two weeks leading up to Easter when they eat fish instead of meat, and many go on vacation. This time of year the fishermen were out in full force, sleeping on their boats and netting as many fish as they could. Then by Good Friday almost all of the fishermen were gone from the island.

Our fisherman neighbors in the anchorage by the Monas

I’ll finish with a shot of Balance and the full moon, and then one of the Monas at sunset. Now we’re in Mazatlan for about four days, leaving on April 5 to sail across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz.
If I can get WordPress to cooperate again I’ll post some pictures tomorrow of the rather sensuous sculpture along the malecon in Mazatlan, and other scenes.




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