Thursday, February 20, 2014

Isla Isabel Again

We left Chacala in the middle of the night, bound for Isla Isabel. We woke Ryan to help Bryan pull up the dual anchors and I steered us out of the bay while the wet anchor line shed phosphorescence on the deck. Bryan took the rest of the night watch and I came on for the morning hours. We pulled into the Island about midday and several crewmembers jumped over immediately “to check on the anchor.” It is really nice to check the anchor set (as it turned out, it had caught on a rock instead of setting and we fooled around with our underwater camera trying to catch the process of setting the anchor on video) but we mostly just wanted to cool off.

In the evening, the breeze picked up a little, but we ate dinner in the cockpit anyway.

The next day, Bryan found a place in our small boat to make a cup of coffee and headed out into the cockpit to enjoy the morning view.


Hannah popped out to see what she could see (isn’t that why “…the sailor went to sea, sea, sea”?)


And then we spent a while getting ready (it’s hard enough to get the 4 of us off the boat in a reasonable amount of time, much less 5!)

Soon enough, we rowed to shore. In the weeks since our previous visit, strong swell and high tides had altered the beach considerably. Several sections of sand had dropped away and the nesting birds sat just feet from the new drop off.



We tried to avoid scaring them at this sensitive time in their life-cycle. But it was hard to find a path down the beach that didn’t lead right by the nests.
Ryan's veiw...

...and mine.

We walked along the sand and met a bird researcher who asked us to move back down to the water’s edge. The researchers were studying the nesting birds in a small strip of coastline right where we’d landed. They wanted what we didto make sure we didn't disturb the nests. We chatted with him for a few minutes and learned a few interesting facts. Blue boobies typically lay 2 or 3 eggs 4 or 5 days apart. In lean years, the first baby to hatch competes strongly for scarce resources and the younger siblings often don’t survive. The researchers had been following this population for 30 years or so trying to discover whether surviving younger siblings grew up with long-term disadvantages. To their surprise, so far it doesn’t seem it makes any difference in their future behavior or health. Brown boobies, on the other hand, lay their eggs 10 days apart. If the older sibling doesn’t succumb to disease or predation in the first 10 days, they kill the younger sibling as it hatches.
Boobies aren’t all competition and violence though. Apparently, birds with the brightest blue feet (like the little dude below) have a harder time finding a mate. If I understood correctly, they eat small shrimpy creatures, dust shrimp-shell powder on their feet to turn them lighter and more turquoise, and then lift their feet in turn, using their white bellies to reflect the color toward a prospective mate.

We walked up the beach at the tideline and explored the rocks around the edges on our way to the trail that led to the western side of the island.




On the trail, we marveled at families of frigate birds and lots of little lizards. Hannah loved being the first one down the path to spot the lizards as they scuttled away.




The brown boobies had the run of the of the western shore but we found a place to sit and eat our lunch.

Bryan and the girls explored out where the big Pacific swell crashed into the rugged shore. Ryan and I sat in the sun and chatted until several humpback whales surfaced off the northern shore and stunned us into reverent silence.
The trail map showed a trail running along the northern shore. We didn’t see a clear path, but the low groundcover made it easy to hike cross-country and we eventually found our way back to the eastern beach.

Bryan and I took Ryan to the southern end of the beach for a walk along the crab- and chiton-covered rocks.

By the time we were ready to go, the tide had started to come in. But we knew from our last trip to Isabel that the rocky shoals extend far out beyond the waterline and we could still occasionally see exposed reefs between us and our boat.

We decided to wait a few more minutes for the moon to work her magic on the sea. Meira invented a game with rocks and sand and Hannah built with coral while Ryan found something to climb. Soon the tide had come in enough and we found safe passage across the rocks back to LiLo for the night.

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