Isla Espiritu Santo
The navigation in the Gulf of California is not always easy, as we experienced last night and today aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird. With a notoriously strong northern wind sweeping the entire surface of the Gulf, we slowly made it to the southern tip of Isla Espiritu Santo, called Punta Dispensa. Here there is a beautiful beach with a narrow strip of land crowned by mesas and peaks of immense beauty due to the pink and orange colors of the rocks. Farther beyond, steeper and higher hills showing different strata correspond to different past volcanic episodes. In this quiet but wild spot we disembarked for hikes, kayaking, and snorkeling from a Zodiac.
On the island, and as the first intro to the Sonoran desert environment we find a combination of thorny plants, like organ pipe cactus, galloping cactus, prickly pears, jumping chollas, and cardon cactus. These were intermixed with other flowering, but less frightening plants like jojoba, limberbush, slipper plant or candelilla, nigthshades, and agaves in bloom. Our guests and naturalists explored the foothills and the top of a long mesa, finding landscapes of great beauty, quartz rocks, and land birds like California gnatcatchers, black-throated sparrows, and turkey vultures. Also, here and there we found evidence (tracks and feces) of the presence of one of the jewels of the gulf: the black jackrabbit, a hare of dark brown color, larger than its counterpart on the peninsula that has evolved in isolation to becoming a new species. Many entrances to deep tunnels and galleries that correspond to another endemic form, the antelope ground squirrel, were also found on the deep, soft graveled areas, as well as dens whose owners, the pack or wood rats, were sleeping during the day. A guest even observed a pocket mouse working hard during the day to obtain the sparse seeds in the due amount it needs every day to stay in good health.
Those guests and staff who explored the sea by kayaking observed the first courtship behavior in the Gulf’s endemic yellow-footed gulls, and in American oystercatchers, species that nest right on the beach above the line of the highest tide. They were also delighted by the effortless flight of magnificent frigate birds in the heights of a clear, deep-blue sky. Despite the strong winds, the frigate birds skimmed the air just like kites, going up and down and once in a while chasing gulls or pelicans to steal a piece of their lunch.
We finished this “another beautiful day in Baja” (the classic phrase of one of our most experienced expedition leaders,) with cocktails on the ship while contemplating a sunset of glorious yellow and orange light.