Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
While trekking Machalilla National Park, Ecuador (March of 2022); Mike Stevens (trekking buddy) and I had decided to book a tour to explore Isla de la Plata. Isla de la Plata is a small island off the coast of Manabi, Ecuador; and is part of the Machalilla National Park. It can be reached by boat from the city of Puerto Lopez, which is 40 kilometers away.
Isla de la Plata is tiny at just 5.2 square kilometers, but it is home to thousands of birds. There are five distinct hiking trails, and our tour guide let us choose between two, (the one with the view or the one with the frigatebirds). It was called the “Patas rojas” and 4.8 km long, [The red colored route pictured below].
The root of its name (Isla de la Plato) is uncertain: [It may refer to the treasure allegedly buried there by Sir Francis Drake, or it may refer to the reservoir of guano (bird droppings) that glints in the sun from atop the cliffs]. Of course, the English interpreted name is “Silver Island”.
Pictured below, Isla de la Plata and its surrounding sea is part of Machalillas National Park. The north and east face of Isla de La Plata are cliffs which are important roosts for oceanic birds.
During most of the year, the dominating cold Humboldt current from the South causes very low rainfall, while the warm current from the North, makes the relative humidity rise, resulting in increased rainfall during the rainy season. There are no fresh water open water bodies on the island.
Pictured above and below, the plants of the dry lowland shrubland are dry, spiny and low (1 – 6 m high), such as Manzanillo, Palosanto, Barbasco, intermixed with tall cacti.
Isla de La Plata has a very interesting birdlife, which includes nesting colonies of Blue-footed, Red-footed and Masqued Boobies as well as of Frigate Birds.
Mike and I expected more of a search for blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds, but we didn’t have to look hard to find them. The boobies didn’t roost and instead incubated their eggs right on the sand. We visited during the springtime, and we saw babies and courting boobies everywhere (pictured below). We were nearly tripping over them, ducking to avoid them, and swerving onto different trails to give them space.
Pictured above, no color is more surprising amongst the drab rocks of the tropical desert island than the intense bright blue of the blue-footed booby’s feet. Shown off to their best in the dramatic landing “salute” and in the ritualised “parading” of courtship, the blue feet play an important part in the life of this species. The male has a long drawn-out beseeching whistle while the female makes a nasal honk.
To walk through a colony of frigatebirds during the courtship season is a spell-binding experience. On Isla de la Plata the great frigatebired colonies reverberate with eerie calls and the massed red pouches draw the eyes, as nature intended.
Pictured above, the vibrant atmosphere as the male frigatebird do their utmost to attract a mate can almost be felt. This spectacle alone made the trip to the Isla de la Plata worthwhile.
The frigatebirds or “man of war” birds, so-named because of their piratical habits, are unmistakable large black birds with long wings, long hooked beaks and deeply forked tails.
Pictured above, the red-footed booby is the smallest and least often seen of the B]boobies. It is, however, the most abundant of the tree species, but its colonies occur on the eastern cliffs of Isla de la Plata. It feeds well out to sea, where it catches flying fish or squid. Below is a video we captured of a group of boobies fishing. Notice how they dive straight down into the ocean at tremendous speeds to capture their prey.
Pictured above and below, with a wingspan of 1.5 m the masked (white) booby is the largest of the boobies. Its brilliant pure white body plumage contrasts with its almost black wing markings.
The masked booby’s stout bill is yellow-orange set against a blue-black face mask which distinguishes this species from the white form of the red-foot. The young birds look similar to those of the blue-foot but the white of the underparts extends well up the neck. Booby chicks that have survived the crucial first few weeks often seem too large and overstuffed in their downy coats. Young birds usually grow as large or lager than their parents before sprouting feathers.
Pictured above, the masked booby lays two eggs, and usually both hatch, but only one ever survives to maturity. Sibling murder is apparently obligatory in this species. This seems a perverse behaviour pattern, but it has been found that birds that lay clutches of two eggs are on average more successful in raising a chick than those that lay only one.
Pictured above, the red-billed tropicbirds are colonial and make their nests on over-hanging ledges or in the crevices off steep slopes and cliffs. The long white tail streamers, sometimes as long again as the body of the bird, and coral red bill make these magnificent white birds unmistakable.
Boobies feed mainly on fish and squid at sea for which We saw them often diving into the water from considerable heights. Both species form large colonies. Birds of the order Procellariformes are exclusively pelagic or oceanic birds that they feed in the ocean and only fly to land to nest.