From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Baja California

Apr 09, 2008 - National Geographic Sea Bird


From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Baja California
Isla San Esteban Spiny-Tailed Iguana Eating Cardon Flower
From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Baja California
Elegant Tern
Isla San Esteban & Isla Rasa

One of the distinct privileges of traveling with Lindblad Expeditions is that we often get to visit locations that can be described by the words only or best. This morning on Isla San Esteban in the midriff region of the Gulf of California we landed on the only (and therefore the best) island in the world to see the endemic Isla San Esteban spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura conspicuosa). As a side note; purists may also point to the small population of this species on tiny Isla Cholludo nearby, but there is strong evidence that Seri Indians may have transplanted the iguanas here from Isla San Esteban to use as a food source should a Seri be stranded on this island during rough weather.

These rather large iguanas are complete herbivores that have developed an amazing ability to climb the tallest living thing in their world; cardon cactus. Leaving the relative safety of the ground, several spiny-tailed iguanas delighted our photographers this morning by climbing cardon cactus in order to feed on the flowers at the very top, at times over 30 feet from the ground. To see (and photograph) this amazing arboreal iguana navigate the spines of the cactus and climb to dizzying heights in order to find food delighted us all, and made for a great photo as well!

Late in the afternoon we visited the tiny bird sanctuary of Isla Rasa. This is the very best place on the planet to see and film elegant terns (Sterna elegans), as 95% of the world’s population nest on this tiny island at this time of year. The cacophony of tern calls were constant and almost deafening as we approached the shoreline. The birds had only just started to arrive on Isla Rasa, and mate selection was going on in earnest. As the sun set over the Baja Peninsula, the tern fervor seemed to pick up even more with pairs and trios returning to the shoreline with small fish in their delicate bills. Again and again camera shutters clicked and whirred to try and capture the beauty and the majesty of the moment, and while we may only keep the very best images taken by our cameras, the memory will remind us of why we search out these places in the first place.
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About the Author

Michael Nolan

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Michael Nolan was born in Bitburg, Germany to an Air Force family stationed there. His first experience of the ocean came at age 12, when he learned to snorkel in the Italian Mediterranean. At age 17 he moved to Tucson, Arizona and became a PADI SCUBA instructor, before starting a SCUBA diving business that specialized in diving trips to the Sea of Cortez.

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