From the boat we walked over the small beach up to the Park Office, where I think we registered. There you can also find the only bathrooms on the island. Then we started the hike and we all walked together with the guides uphill to a viewpoint and the starting point of several trails. There are four trails, two shorter ones and two longer ones.
Before coming to Isla de La Plata I was sure I was going to take the longer trail as I like to walk, but when the guides told us what we could see on the different trails I choose the Punta Machete trail, which is 3.5 km long, and makes a loop on the east side of the island. The longer Escaleras trail is 5 km long and makes a loop on the west side of the island. On the Punta Escaleras trail you can see Frigatebirds and Red-footed Boobies, which you can’t see on the Machete trail. I had seen a big colony of Frigatebirds only a few days earlier and I had seen Red-footed Boobies the previous year in Galapagos Islands. On the Machete trail we were told we could see Albatrosses, Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies and maybe, if we were lucky, sea lions. Well, we didn’t see sea lions, but we saw the birds mentioned and also other birds, a Red-billed Tropicbird and a big black vulture flying in the sky. On the way up to the view point we had also seen a Long-tailed Mockingbird.
About half the group took the Escaleras trail with one of the guides and I and the rest of the group went with the other guide on the Punta Machete trail. Besides all the birds we also stopped to look at different plants. On Isla de La Plata there are lots of Yellow Geiger (Cordia lutea), a bush with beautiful yellow flowers. Some of them had small round fruits which we tasted, but only one. They are supposed to be good for the stomach, but they are also used as glue. I also tasted a very tiny tomato. We took our time during the hike and returned to the viewpoint only five minutes earlier than the group taking the longer trail.
It was a very hot and sunny day, and even though it is cloudy in Puerto Lopez it is often blue sky at Isla de La Plata. So, don’t forget to bring sunscreen and plenty of water.
When we approached Isla de La Plata we could see the Frigatebirds flying above the cliffs. To have a closer look at the colony of Frigatbirds you shall choose to take the longer path, making a loop on the west side of the island. As I only a few days earlier had visited the Figatbird colony at Isla Corazon and seen many, many Frigatbirds I choose to take the other path, making a loop on the east side of the island. Along that path we didn’t see any Frigatbirds close up.
The Frigatebirds are large seabirds with a black plumage and long, pointed wings. The tail is deeply forked and the bill long with a hook in the end. When flying it is difficult to tell the different species apart, but the Magnificent Frigatebirds are slightly larger and the males have a purple shine on their backs, while the Great Frigatebird males have a green shine on their backs. Female Magnificent Frigatebirds have a white breast and a blue eye-ring while the female Great Frigatebirds have a white throat and breast and a red/pink eye-ring.
The males have a very characteristic red chest pouch which they inflate like a balloon to attract females. They build a nest, blow up the pouch and call out to attract a female. The males also flap the wings during the courtship.
Even though the Frigatebirds are considered to be seabirds they can’t dive or swim. They don’t have enough oil gland to make their feathers waterproof. They can pick up food from the surface, but very often they steal food from other birds, mostly boobies.
The Frigatebirds are beautiful to see either when they fly above you or when they are in their nest, maybe with a downy little with chick next to it.
Almost all Waved Albatrosses (around 18 200 pairs) breed at Punta Suarez on Isla Espñola, Galapagos Islands, but a few can also be seen breeding on Isla de La Plata, just off the Ecuadorian coast. I had seen the albatrosses in Galapagos Islands the previous year and thought they look both funny and beautiful. So when it was time to choose which path to take on Isla de La Plata I absolutely wanted to take the Machete trail, making a loop around the eastern side of the island, as that is where you can see the albatrosses. Our guide told us that four albatrosses had been seen on the island this season, but we only saw one, and that was an albatross lying on its egg. We also saw an abandoned albatross egg.
When the Waved Albatross is not breeding it can be found over the Pacific Ocean east of Galapagos Islands and along the Ecuadorian and the north Peruvian coast. They can stay very long at sea, without putting their feet on firm ground. In the air they are very good fliers and can glide for long periods without flapping their wings. They feed far out at sea from the surface and usually eat fish, squid and crustaceans.
The Waved Albatross is a large seabird with a length of 85 - 93cm and a wingspan of almost 2.5m. They have a grey-brown plumage with white head and neck. The back of the neck is a bit yellowish. The webbed feet are large and the yellow bill is also big. Males and females look alike, but the male is slightly larger.
Most Waved Albatrosses are monogamous, some have several partners. The egg is laid on the ground and both parents help with the incubation. Strangely the parents sometimes roll the egg about. It is believed this is done for a more successful hatching.
During the breeding season, in April - November, you can see the albatrosses perform their courtship ritual. It is a fun thing to see. It looks like the couple is fencing with their bills when they snap and rattle. They move their necks from side to side, up and down, and they raise the bill towards the sky and make some guttural noises. I was happy to see this when I visited Galapagos Islands in 2011. You can see my video of the courtship display here.
The Nazca Booby (Sula granti) used to be seen as a subspecies of the Masked Booby, but it is now known that it is a species of its own. We saw several Nazca Boobies along the path, even on the path, when we walked the Machete trail on Isla de La Plata. Some of the boobies were lying on eggs and some had chicks.
With a length of 81-92cm the Nazca Boobies are the largest of the three species of boobies presented on Isla de La Plata (there are also Blue-footed Boobies and Red-footed Boobies). They have a white plumage with a black tail, black ends on the primary feathers and a black band at the base of the bill, which looks like a mask over the eyes. The large bill is orange.
Like other boobies the Nazca Boobies feed at sea and catch fish by plunge-diving from high up in the air. They often feed long distances from land.
The Nazca Boobies build their nest on the ground. They lay two eggs, several days apart, but even if both eggs hatch only one chick will survive. When the second egg hatch the older chick will push the newly born out of the nest. There it will be left to die, because the parents will not pay any attention to it. This might seem to be cruel, but by laying two eggs the chance to get a chick to raise will increase, in case the first egg doesn’t hatch or the chick dies very young.
Pushing out the second hatchling of the nest is not the only cruel behaviour of the Nazca Boobies. When parents go away to find food chicks left alone can be harassed by boobies without children. I recently read in a science magazine that scientists who had studied ringed boobies in the Galapagos found out that the ones who had become most picked on as young also became the worst bullies when they grew up.
The Blue-footed Boobies are funny looking birds, but also amazing with their bright blue feet and their special mating ritual. They are not shy and when walking the Machete trail on Isla de La Plata we saw several along the path.
As the name indicate the Blue-footed Boobies have bright blue webbed feet. The bill is greyish blue and the head brown and white. The under parts are white and the wings and upper parts are brown.
Males and females look alike, but males are slightly smaller than the females and the pupil of the females looks larger than the pupil of the males.
The Blue-footed Boobies feed on fish which they plunge dive into the Ocean for. When I snorkelled in Galapagos the previous year one dived into the water just in front of me. They are really quick!
The Blue-footed Boobies have a very interesting mating ritual. The male make a dance in front of the female, where he raises one blue foot at a time. He then points the bill to the sky and spread out his wings. The male makes a whistle sound, and the female who has joined in with the movements answers with a more guttural honk. They then offer each another sticks and twigs, for a future nest. We didn’t see this on Isla de La Plata, but I was very lucky to see this courtship ritual in Galapagos Islands when I visited last year. I have a video of it here.
The Blue-footed Boobies form monogamous pairs and make their nest on the ground. The female lay 2-3 eggs, which both parents help to incubate. To keep the eggs warm they use their feet. After about 45 days the eggs hatch. If food supply is scarce the youngest and smallest chicks will be kicked out of the nest and only the biggest chick will be fed and survive.
The name Booby is believed to come from the Spanish word bobo, which means stupid.
June – September is the whale-watching season on the Ecuadorian coast. Puerto Lopez is a good place to do it from and the chance to see many whales is largest in July – August. In Puerto Lopez there are many tour agencies where you can book a whale-watching tour or a tour to Isla de La Plata with whale-watching along the way. I would recommend the tour to Isla de La Plata as that is also a place worth visiting. Some people bargain for cheap whale-watching tours with fishermen, but then it is possible that the boat is very slow and lack life west and radio. I paid $40 for a full day tour to Isla de La Plata with whale-watching along the way. It also included lunch.
Going back from Isla de La Plata we were looking for whales and following them. We were very lucky to see many and especially Humpback Whales leaping up from the water and landing on their backs with a big splash. A fantastic sight!
It is the Humpback Whales you usually see when doing a whale-watching tour from Puerto Lopez. They become around 12 – 16 metres long and weigh almost 40 tons. They are black or grey with a white underside, and they have long flippers.
The Humpback Whales feed during summer in the sea near the pools and in winter they migrate to warmer waters around the equator. They can often be seen near the coastline.
The name Humpback Whales comes from the hump they have on their back.
In August and September the humpbacks breach of the coast of Ecuador. You can just go whale watching, but for about the same price you can go to the Isla de La Plata as well and see SO many whales on the way there! They'll also take you snorkeling off the island which is very nice.
The reason why this island is called "Galapagos of the poor" is because it is a cheaper way to see some of the animal species you can find in the more famous islands, like blue-footed boobies, black ones and there is even a notoriously lonely big sea lion resting in one of the cliffs bottom. You will surely meet dolphins or whales jumping around the island and it is common that the guides take you to some quiet and clear bay to snorkel or simply swim around.
But also you might hear from a distance the call of a more land animal. There is a colony of goats spreaded in the island which is a menace for original inhabitants. Anyway, enjoy hiking, snorkeling and meeting boobies.
There are some nice hiking trails to the top of the Island. From there, the view is incredible and you can watch the frigate birds, boobies, albatross, etc...