I fully admit I am not a bird person. Sure, they are often pretty and easy on the eye, but I can’t be bothered to distinguish a finch from a mocking bird from a petrel. At least, that’s how I used to feel, and while I am never going to be a twitcher, this day mainly focused on birds blew me away.
After an early start we went for a walk on Genovesa island, where we had docked at dawn, in Darwin Bay (everything is ‘Darwin’ something here).
There was a profusion of birds, including Nazca boobies, red footed boobies, ridiculous-looking frigate birds with their inflated red pouches, mocking birds, finches, petrels and even a distant short-eared owl. Owls here hunt during the day, as there is nothing to catch at night apparently… Malena our naturalist brought all the birds’ little habits and behaviours to life, making it far more than ‘look a pretty bird, take a picture’. She also showed us some bones of various creatures, which Lauren took a gruesome delight in.
The island itself was beautiful, in a rugged kind of way, and it was great fun to walk among the masses of birds, who might turn a baleful eye if you get a bit close, but don’t move or leave their nests. The noise was incredible with so many different types of birds doing their thing.
There is a ‘stay 2m away from the wildlife’ rule, and while everyone was very conscientious in trying to comply, it was often impossible as birds had made nests or simply sat down on the narrow path. They also often simply walked past us, turning a beady eye to have a curious but unafraid look at us as they did so. Even those with chicks didn’t seem at all worried about us.
After the hike it was time to get our wetsuits and snorkelling equipment, which we would keep for the week.
Well that was an entertaining half hour.
Sizes seemed a little random, with different wetsuits of the same size fitting totally differently, and watching us all stumbling about trying to squeeze into the full-length suits must have given the crew a giggle. Being one of the, ahem, curvier shapes, it took the captain and the first mate to stuff me into mine.
Eventually we were all kitted up and ready for snorkelling. There were two options – nice and gentle for beginners, along the cliff edges, or a ‘challenge’ in open water to try to see hammer head sharks. Lauren had snorkelled before in Thailand – where the water is crystal clear, warm and basically flat – and was perhaps over-confident of her abilities. I also wanted to see the hammerheads and so allowed her to convince me she would be fine for the ‘challenge’. She is a good swimmer and I am comfortable in the sea, so I thought we would be fine. It was an error of judgement on my side, I should have put my foot down, as we lasted 2 minutes before poor Lauren completely freaked out at the large waves, cold water and open sea, and climbed back on board the panga. She was devastated, not only at having in her eyes ‘failed’ (she is harder on herself than any parent could be, I spend my life telling her to lighten up) but having done so in front of everyone and having stopped me from the chance to see the sharks (they didn’t see any anyway). It was probably a good life lesson in overconfidence, and we both agreed to try again in better conditions, once she had stopped sobbing.
After lunch we took out a kayak to explore the bay we were moored in. We didn’t see much but had a lot of fun drifting along the cliff edges spotting more birds nesting, and we also saw some of the less common sea lions, the fur sea lions. We got very excited at something breaking the water a little way off, and paddled furiously to get close, imagining dolphins or at the very least some rays or a turtle…. Turned out to be rocks and we had to veer swiftly in the opposite direction 😊.
Being out on the water gave us an opportunity to appreciate how beautiful the islands are. Sometimes there was a tendency to get so focussed on the animals and all the information, and so caught up in all the activities, that there wasn’t time to simply step back and enjoy being in such an incredibly beautiful place.
Once we had returned the kayak it was a quick turnaround for the late afternoon activity, a walk along another part of Genovesa, this time amongs the grunting, snuffling sea lions on the beach, and some more birds, including a tiny newly hatched chick. We were also lucky enough to spot a booby with an egg, much to Lauren’s delight. (There are three types of booby, Nazca, Blue footed and Red footed, with different habitats and lifestyles. There are lots of t-shirts being sold in the towns on the inhabited islands with the slogan ‘I love boobies’….. )..
After the walk, we had an hour or so of ‘beach time’ – for us, meaning another chance to get the snorkelling right. As we would be snorkelling every day – often twice a day – this was important and I was anxious to put the morning’s disaster behind us. In the calmer waters of the bay, and with the confidence of starting from a shallow beach, Lauren took 20 minutes of fretting to get over it and be taking the lead, swimming further and further out. Someone pointed out a row of 6 small sharks resting at the bottom, and we floated above them for a while, before striking out on our own. There were some beautiful tropical fish, but little coral, and while it was lovely, it wasn’t comparable to the incredible reefs in Mozambique. However, Lauren spotted her ‘own’ shark which pleased her immensely (these are reef sharks, small and placid, totally uninterested in us, but still…. a mother’s heart turns over when her child swims within a couple of metres of any kind of shark) and she definitely got the technique down.
It was a lovely end to the day’s activities, and a huge relief. I was very proud of her for getting back in, as she had been truly frightened in the morning and it took a lot of courage to persevere. What a girl.