A bit north of Punta Moreno still on the western shore of Isabela, Bahia Elizabeth (a.k.a., Elizabeth Bay) is located at what is sometimes referred to as the “waist” of Isabela—the narrowest part of Isabela, called the Perry Isthmus. The Mary Anne anchored well away from the bay itself and the pangas took us toward the nearby islets of Las Marielas on the way to the bay. (Click on the map above to see a larger version with these 2 spots marked.)
At the Marielas, we passed Flightless Cormorants on the rocks, flapping their stubby, non-functional wings. As is true with all cormorant species, but unlike most other water birds, Flightless Cormorants have very little oil to use in waterproofing their feathers. After being in the water, they have to stretch out their waterlogged wings to dry the feathers. (This is a classic cormorant pose, but it looks exceptionally goofy with those little wings.) Found only around Isabela and Fernandina, Flightless Cormorants have no predators. As a result, their wings have now evolved so that they are basically vestigial—not used for either flying or swimming. However, those wings may be a bit helpful in maintaining balance as they hop from rock to rock. But while penguins use their wings to “fly” through the water (i.e., they use their wings to propel them underwater), Flightless Cormorants keep their wings close to their bodies when they are in the water, relying instead on their strong webbed feet for underwater propulsion. One of the most striking features of adult Flightless Cormorants (although none of our photos here show it) is their stunning turquoise irises. Juveniles have brown irises that turn to turquoise after their first year.
We also came nearly eye to eye with a number of Galápagos Penguins on the rocks and in the waters before the cove. These endemic little sprites are among the smallest penguins in the world, standing only about 14” tall. They are the only species of penguin to breed completely within the tropics and the only ones found in the northern hemisphere.
Continued on p. 2; click below.