Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Whale watching trip to the Pearl Islands

Last weekend, I went with my family on a private tour to the Pearl Islands, the heavenly archipelago within an hour and a half from busy Panama City.  My friend Mario Ocaña organized the trip and was a terrific host, and my whole family is impressed by his professionalism and camaraderie.  Our objective was to watch whales... but it was an open itinerary, and we included some time to enjoy the beaches (as in plural!), to have lunch in Contadora island and to visit some seabirds colonies.
Ready for adventure!
In fact, the first attraction was close to the dock.  Few minutes after leaving the marina, we were admiring hundreds of Blue-footed Boobies and other seabirds resting at the Peñón de San José, a rocky islet to the south of Flamenco Island.  However, the main attraction there were the three Peruvian Boobies resting on the rocks among the Blue-footed Boobies.  They are irregular visitors to Panama (only under abnormal conditions, like El Niño).
Peruvian and Blue-footed Boobies
Blue-footed Boobies
Brown Booby
As you can see, I'm including also a photo of a Brown Booby seen later and another pic of the Blue-footed Booby, both from Pachequilla island, the first of the Pearl Islands that we visited that day.  The sight of several hundreds of seabirds on the rocks made us feel like in a Nat Geo documentary!  A little bit after leaving Pachequilla, we encountered our first pair of whales: mother and calf Humpback Whales!
Mother and calf Humpback Whales
These warm and shallow waters are perfect for the whales to raise their young.  Soon these beasts will engage on an epic transequatorial journey to their feeding grounds around Antarctica.  The second whale appeared shortly after the above pair close to Contadora island... as Mario says, the harder whale to find is the first one!
Humpback Whale (Contadora island in the background)
With the whales in the bag, we decided to enjoy the white-sanded beaches of both Mogo Mogo and Chapera islands... the Survivor: Pearl Islands sets.  We had the whole beaches for us, and the little ones enjoyed it most (specially Gabrielle, after her slight disappointment after realizing that whales were not purple, as her toy whale).
In our way to Contadora island, we saw some Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels.  For most of the participants, they were little dark bat-like birds flying swiftly and in zig-zag among the waves... this photo shows that they are delicately patterned in brown and buffy, with contrasting white uppertail coverts.
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
And of course we saw more Humpback Whales!  Several more, including pairs of mother and calf, solitary adults and even a distant group of adults flapping their flippers and jumping out the water!  The show was amazing and soon we were joined by several other boats admiring the whales as well.
Noisy blow
The ride back to Panama City was a bumpy one, but we were more than happy after enjoying these nature marvels so close to the big, busy city.  While we were having a sunny day at the islands, a huge storm system was whipping Panama City... but we made it without experiencing any rainstorm at all!  I want to thanks Mario for the excellent trip, and hope to repeat it soon my friend!

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