Thousands of birds, circling in the sky, nesting, fishing. Day and night, Ísla Ísabel is teaming with life. We have seen some nature along the way, but this island topped it all. Ísla Ísabel lies twenty miles off the mainland of Pacific Mexico and because of its abundance of wildlife, it is considered the Galapagos of Mexico.
We arrived in the early morning and as we approached, we saw the island peeling out of dense fog. As in a movie, I cherished as a teenager ‘Island at the End of World’, dense clouds and windswept snow parted to reveal green pastures, for us another world opened once we finally saw Ísla Ísabel. The only thing missing was the movie’s forgotten Viking tribe inhabiting the island. Instead there was a fishing camp and the shell of a former research center now providing shelter for students, volunteers and wildlife enthusiast during overnight stays.
The island is a National Park and is monitored closely for scientific purposes, all birds and nests are assigned a number and all offspring is registered for scientific purpose, all forty thousand of them! Pangas bring daily visitors from and to the mainland and fishermen go out fishing at night.
The birds on Ísla Ísabel tolerate all this busyness stoically. The lack of predators has made them so complacent, that they hardly move even when humans walk right under their nesting trees. Unlike in Hitchcock’s iconic horror movie ‘The Birds’, visitors of Ísla Ísabel are watched but not attacked by the birds. Hitchcock masterfully demonstrated in his film the message that nature is all-powerful and will one day revenge human environmental ignorance by striking back. As sailors we know this well. We are at the whim of nature and one rogue wave can be enough to prove it!
We went ashore a couple of times to explore the island. We watched birds’ mating dances, build nests, hatch their young. We stood very still to marvel at iguanas and their pre-historical skin texture and markings. We hiked to a crater lake and explored a moon-like rock landscape with tide pools exposed by low tide. The island is volcanic and two craters are still visible: one, which is now a crater lake and another right next to it, broken off parts of the crater formed a high cliff and the other half sunk under water creating the bay we anchored in. From the cockpit we could see a slight ripple on the surface of the water, where the underwater crater met the open sea.
One afternoon I sat in the cockpit watching this ripple, when I saw a gray whale breach in the far distance. My eyes then searched the sea for it might breach again. That is whale watching for you: it can take five to ten minutes for a whale to come up for air again, anywhere, if he decides to move or not at all, if he stays under water. It is quite meditative the waiting and watching essentially nothing happening for long periods of time.
This whale came up again and was having a great day, breached several times in short intervals, then stayed under water for a while only to burst up again and again. It must have been full of krill out there, because he did this for a couple hours in the same spot.
During all this, another, smaller whale crossed just outside of the bay, moving slowly, one fin in the air, then the other, flapping the tail or sliding rhythmically in and out of the water until he disappeared around the island. What a show and all with the sound of – you guessed it – hundreds of circling birds!