Monday, 4 January 2010

I've Never Seen So Many Boobies

The sea-side town of Puerto Lopez is strewn with discarded plastic, the beach with carcasses of dead fish while the buildings, to be polite, are dog-eared to say the least. Having said that it may be difficult to understand that there is a certain charm about the place, and already I am sold insomuch that instead of staying 2 nights I have already extended that to 4. This morning at 06-00 I was on the beach to meet the incoming fishing fleet, mainly to view the catch but also to see what sea-birds were attracted. The catch was mostly Tuna, of unknown species, small by some standards being between 4 and 8lb apiece. The attendant birds were there in large numbers and those noted included Franklin's Gull, Blue-footed Booby, Neotropic Cormorant, Brown & Peruvian Pelican, Elegant Tern and a single Spotted Sandpiper. On the way back to the Colombia Hostel, where I am staying there were also Shiny Cowbird, White-edged Oriole, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Croaking Ground Dove and Brown-breasted Martin. No 'lifers' so far but a wonderful breakfast, included in the $10 per night price, awaited, starting with a huge bowl of fresh fruit, then scrambled eggs with home made bread, preserves and endless coffee.

Yesterday afternoon I had booked my first pelagic of the trip, so at 09-30 I boarded the Barracuda for a day on the Islas de la Plata. Some 40 miles out into the Pacific Ocean the boat, powered by twin Yamaha engines, took just over a hour to reach the only sand landing on the main island. On the way bird-life was scant, but the first 'lifer' came by way of the only, but obliging, Black Storm Petrel. After that there was a single Laughing Gull, Peruvian Pelican and Blue-footed Booby plus 3 Wilson's Phalarope.

The main and only accessible island is just 12Km by 4Km but already the temperature had reach 90F so it was going to be a tough day in this arrid place, particularly a my only 2 'target species were at opposing ends. Our group was 8 strong, plus a guide, all young tourists with no birders, but all were interested to view what was around them. We started on the western path and after 2 hours walking my next new bird hove into view. More correctly, we approched it as it was a full grown juvenile Waved Albatross awaiting the return of the parent birds which unfortunately didn't show while we were there. A cicuit that usually takes 3 hours was conqured in a record time, I think mainly due to my insistance of wanting to see the 2 species. At this point all of the others left Richard the guide and myself to pursue the next target and already leg-weiry with the undulating terrain and the heat, it was explained that the next leg would not be easy. Some 45 minutes walk out and of course the same back, I was so determined that I said I would crawl if needs be, and it very nearly came to that! The first mile was all up hill and steep to boot, followed by much less downhill followed by another climb. I have to admit that some feeling of biting off more than I could chew set in but Richard said the colony was now only about 200 meters ahead, I continued with the return walk would be, in the main, downhill. There are only a small number of breeding pairs, probably no more than 15, of the now threatened Red-footed Booby on the island, but my determination was fuel by the fact that I have missed this bird a number of times before, plus it was the last of the Boobies and Gannets of the world I needed to see. I think it would be a little ungracious to say I was disappointed, but like the Oilbirds earlier in the trip, the half dozen that were in attendance were not exactly smart, nor were any of them showning 'red feet' being all incubating female. Anyroadup, I had finally cracked this long outstanding bird, but now came the long trek back - and long it was. It would be fair to admit that there came a point when I reached my physical limit. Only once in my life had I been at this limit before, and that was when I trained as a Royal Navy Diver. That was in 1967, and a few years have past since then, when the point was to take you beyond physical capability and resolve, sorting the men out from the boys was how the Navy put it. Anyway, after many stops, and Richard kindly carrying and providing the water, we made it back taking over an hour. To take those boots of and paddle in the sea was Navana, and back on the boat lots to drink and a couple of sarnies soon put the experience out of my mind. It was so good to see thosebirds given the conditions, which will go down as the toughest single species I have ever 'twitched'.

Back to Lopez, we had a wet debarcation followed by no driver to take us home, but that too was welcome as in addition to seeing a large group of Pacific Parrotlets come in to roost, on the walk back I was overcome by a great feeling of satisfaction and felt high as a kite. Tomorrow, I anticipate a walk along the river a few miles from here, where there are reported to be a number of 'endemics' to be found. I'll let you know manana how I get on.

The photographs are posted in reverse order to which they were taken, mainly for easy of uploading. Also it is hoped there were not too many mistakes made in the 'update', which after one crash was done in a hurry, and a list update should also be posted tomorrow!

Red-footed Booby (female) on nest.

Magnificent Frigatebird (male)

Magnificent Frigatebird (female)

A fine pair of Boobies, these are Nazca

Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross (head close-up)

Red-billed Tropicbird - the only one, a fly-by at distance.

Shades of Saudi - thank heavens for the head-gear.

Blue-footed Booby (adult with young

Another stretch of inhospitable coastline.

Collared Whistling-Finch

Men That Go Down to the Sea in Ships.

Blue-footed Booby (juvenile)

Croaking Ground Dove