Paracas, Peru 2014

   In June of 2014, a Trekking buddy, (Kathy Stoker) and I had the opportunity to visit Paracas, Peru while trekking across Peru from Lima.

Area map for Southern Peru

     The desert and the sea come together in spectacular landscapes at Paracas, just a few hours south of Lima.  There, the Paracas National Reserve was created because of its rare natural diversity. Rich in marine life and wildlife, its unique ecosystem is one of the most biologically productive on the planet.  Encompassing the Atacama Desert, the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains and subject to the influence of two currents — the cold Humboldt Current and El Niño Southern Oscillation — the natural equilibrium of Paracas is incredibly sensitive to the effects of global warming.

Peruvian pelicans at Paracas, Perm

     Peruvian pelicans, pictured above, gather in noisy flocks all over the Paracas region.  Kathy and I were getting ready to take a boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands when I got a picture of these Peruvian pelicans begging for food. Most often, peruvian pelicans can be found all over the Ballestas Islands, just off the coast of the Paracas National Reserve. One of the 150 species of marine birds resident in the area, and with another 215 species of migratory birds spending large amounts of their time there, Paracas is a haven and a host to an incredibly diverse avian population. Their numbers include many rare species, such as the Humboldt penguin,  Peruvian petrel and Inca tern. The Peruvian pelican is also classified as under threat because of a drastic decline in its numbers after a 1998 El Niño effect. Despite having stabilized in 2014, they remained vulnerable to the increasingly severe impact and frequency of Niños, naturally occurring events in the Pacific region that generate warm, nutrient-rich water, as well as assaults on their breeding grounds by fisherman.  It appeared that 2014 was the beginning of the next El Nino.

Kathy Stoker and I on a boat trip to visit the nearby Ballestas Islands off the coast Paracas
The Humbolt penguin on one of the Ballestas Islands, Peru 2014

     Humboldt penguins share their name with the chilly Humboldt Current, which flows north from Antarctica along the Pacific Coast of South America or the Ballestas Islands, where the birds live, (pictured above).  Humboldts are medium-sized penguins, averaging 28 inches long and weighing about 9 pounds. You can recognize them by the black band of feathers across their chest.  Additionally, they have splotchy pink patches on their face and feet, as well as the underside of their wings. Actually, the pink doesn’t come from their feathers: it’s the result of bare skin patches, an adaptation that helps keep the birds cool in a warmer climate such as in Bellestas Islands of Peru.

The Inca tern at the Ballestas Isands in Peru

     Pictured above, The Inca tern is also found only near the cold waters of the Humboldt Current, where the birds feed on anchovies and other small fish.   Inca Terns are best known by their dashing white mustaches, which are found on both male and female birds.  Inca Terns feed by plunge diving and surface dipping. The birds also scavenge scraps from sea lions, dolphins, and fishing boats.

Red-legged cormorant at the Ballestas islands, Peru

     Pictured above, the red-legged cormorant is a medium-sized seabird with a mottled grey body and bright red legs.  They are foraging predators that spend most of their time in the water.  Rather “plunge diving” from flight like many seabirds, they “duck dive” from a sitting position on the sea surface.  They are usually hunt in groups of two. Scientists believe the re-legged cormorant to be near threatened with extinction and makes this image a rare photo.

Sea lion found on the Ballestas Inlands, Peru 2014

    Pictured above,  among the jagged dips and curves of the Ballestas Islands, barking sea lions, above, echo across the rocks as they sun themselves on small outcrops or shelter under caves or ledges. One of the 36 mammal species in the area of Paracas, sea lion colonies are a popular sight. The sea lions, however, are reliant on anchovy and other small fish in the bay as their main food source, so the lions’ population often varies with the fluctuating levels of the fish, who in turn are vulnerable to changes in the ocean temperature, to overfishing, pollution and El Niños. Extreme El Niños were being forecasted for this year of 2014.

Sea arches at the Ballestas Islands, Peru

     Coastal cliffs are carved by the sea into dramatic sea arches, such as La Catedral, and undermined by caverns filled with sea lions and fur seals swimming in the turquoise-blue water.

Rock arches and tunnels found on the Ballestas Islands, Peru

    Pictured above, natural rock arches, tunnels and caves were formed naturally in the course of millions of years by the eroding effects of the sea.

A large sea arch found on the Ballestas Islands

     The Paracas Candelabra, pictured below, also known as the Candelabra of the Andes, is one of the lesser-visited attractions at Paracas.  En route to the Ballestas Islands, the geoglyph is 595 feet tall and was made by digging a two-feet-deep trench in hardened sand and soil, with the design held into place by rocks and stones placed around the edges. The meaning of the glyph is unknown, although many theories have been entertained over time, including that it was a signpost for sailors and travelers or that it was a religious symbol.

The Paracas Candelabra, in Peru 2014

     Archeologists have found pottery remains in the area dating back to 200 B.C., so it predates the more famous geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines. While mainly safe from tourists or farmers because of its Unesco protection, the Candelabra is still in danger from natural forces. As sea levels continue to rise, flooding could be damaging, and severe sandstorms are not uncommon in the area.

Filtered image of The Paracas Candelabra, in Peru 2014 

    Below is a brief video clip of the Ballestas Islands, (note the abundant types of sea birds)

The Ballestas Islands near Paracas, Peru 2014

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