Exploring Seymour Norte

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A desolate, flat island baking under the equatorial sun, Seymore Norte is home to large nesting populations of blue-footed boobies and great frigatebirds and not much else. Covered in a tangle of brush and dotted with the occasional opuntia cactus, the island itself is not much to look at. Enter the island’s feathered inhabitants however, and it becomes a place of wonder.

The sky above the island is strewn with the distinctive angular silhouettes of frigatebirds, black against the bright blue sky. Their sharp, ominous shapes fit hand in hand with their nickname, “Pirates of the Sea”. Named such for their ruthless kleptoparasitism of other seabirds’ hard earned fish, the frigates rarely fish on their own. Instead they prefer to ambush other seabirds in the air, forcing them into dropping their catch.

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Beneath the circling frigates, landed birds show complete indifference to groups of camera-clicking tourists as they follow their guide through the nesting colonies.  Young and old, frigatebirds fill the scraggly brush that lines the designated path. Fluffy, white babies pop their heads over bare, brown branches to get a look at the tour groups, while older juveniles stare confidently at them from their perches atop the thicket.

Upon entering the island for the first time, my friends and I scrambled to get pictures of birds ten to twenty feet away before realizing that further down the path the birds were much, much closer. The clatter of our camera lenses did nothing to diminish the vigor with which puffed-up males courted white breasted females. Just feet from the path frigate mothers tended their young, oblivious to our excitement.

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The highest concentration of frigates was near the coast. As we moved inland, nests became less frequent and the focus of our group shifted to land iguanas lounging under opuntia cacti and juvenile blue footed boobies staring glumly at their drab, grey feet. Later in the year the boobies congregate at Seymore Norte to breed, but our February visit was too early to see their characteristic, bobbing courtship dance.

All too soon, our circle of the island was complete. One by one we loaded back into the inflatable dinghy to return to our ship and, from there, Santa Cruz. Looking back once the island was nothing but a line on the horizon, I could still see the dark dots of frigates as they continued their endless circling – round and round.

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