OK

And maybe not quite what you were expecting from a diary about birds in Ecuador.  But I figured I'd put my best photos forward first.  This diary documents my course on June 30 of this year when we headed out to sea to visit Isla de la Plata, the Island of Silver, commonly known as the "Poor Man's Galapagos".

Unlike this frigate bird we had to take a boat.

The island lies several miles off of the coast.  It is part of Machalilla National Park, which is an attempt to protect the dry tropical forest of southwestern Ecuador.  The nearest town is the village of Puerto Lopez, a hamlet supported by fishing and whale-oriented tourism (we saw plenty of whales on the boat ride over but that's a different diary).

I want you, gentle reader, to notice a couple of things about this photo.  First that the hillsides surrounding the town are brown.  Southwestern Ecuador is a seasonally dry environment and we were there in the middle of the dry season.  Second the overcast sky.  The sun was almost always hidden behind the clouds and it never rained.

The pelicans opted to remind back at Puerto Lopez.  I kept trying to pick out Peruvian Pelicans (which are larger and have more white on their wings) from the mobs of Brown Pelicans but could never do so successfully.

After a couple of hours of successful whale watching and four very sea sick students later we arrived at the island, looming indistinctly out of the haze.

As you got closer you could see this, giving us a hint of what was in store.

Isla de la Plata lacks the unique bird and reptile species of the Galapagos.  No giant tortoises or marine iguanas.  We were greeted by a friendly green sea turtle (I think it was getting handouts)

and by a few unassuming lizards in the scrub

The avian fauna is definitely more Galapagosesque.  Although there are no unique species the island does have distinct races of at least a couple of land birds.

Collared Warbling Finch

Long-tailed Mockingbird

These birds were fairly tame although not quite as tame as the Galapagos birds.  The real stars of the island are the breeding sea birds with most of the same species breeding there as on the Galapagos.  We hiked up a canyon and then spent 2-3 hours walking on the plateau on top.

Blue-footed Boobies

Note: I realize that I am straying into Haole in Hawaii's turf here.  I hope he doesn't sue or something.

These birds were nesting across the entire island.  I've never really seen anything quite like it.  In many places the trail went within a couple of feet of a nest.  You were supposed to walk by and stop a reasonable distance away to take pictures.

Further along we reached the Magnificent Frigate Bird colony we had seen from the boat.

The steep terrain kept us from walking right up to these guys and I'm not sure I would want to in any event.

We also saw the dessicated remains of a few frigates.  I'm guessing the lack of land mammals keeps the carcasses from being torn apart.

Also breeding in the same general area were a few red-footed boobies.

Unlike the Blue Foots the Red Footed Boobies nest in trees.  The population on de la Plata had crashed a few years earlier for unknown reasons and still consisted of only a few pairs.

Moving across the end of the island we reached an area of coastal cliffs.

Here there was a colony of Nazca Boobies.

These large boobies apparently need to the cliffs to take off

Just like the Blue-footed Boobies they seemed quite unconcerned about humans who might wander by their nests.

And finally the highlight of the day, perhaps of the entire trip.

There were red-billed tropic birds nesting on the cliffs.  Their nests were invisible and unlike the other birds they weren't very cooperative about getting their pictures taken.  But even out of focus they were amazing.

The one bird we didn't see on our hike was the Galapagos (Waved) Albatross.  Only a handful of pairs nest on the island and they nest away from the trails under the brush at the opposite end of the island.  I opted not to go that way for the chance of seeing the tropic birds.  Maybe next year for the albatross!

Originally posted to matching mole on Sun Aug 07, 2011 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by J Town and Birds and Birdwatching.

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