Monday, July 16, 2012

Los Farallones

Los Farallones

Yesterday, Roselvy and I took our friend Dan Germer on a boat trip to a group of rocky islets in the Gulf of Fonseca called Los Farallones. Our objective was to find breeding Bridled Terns, and who knows what else pelagic. These rocks are about 10 km from the Cosiguïna Peninsula of Nicaragua, and about 10 km from Meanguera, an island that belongs to El Salvador. We left from Amapala, a Honduran island at about 25 km distance. Yes, the small Gulf of Fonseca is littered with volcanic islands and peninsulas from all three countries. Most authorities now accept that Los Farallones belong to Nicaragua, although the (Honduran) harbor master of Amapala was of the opinion that those rocks really belong to all three countries. It matters little to the birds that breed there, and ultimately — I'm not really a lister — not that much to me either. I was excited to see these birds no matter what nationality they possess.

Bridled Terns (and a Brown Booby)

The Bridled Tern colony on Los Farallones was first described by my friend Oliver Komar (Komar & Rodríguez 1996), who encountered an estimated 600 breeding pairs in 1993. Nineteen years later, this colony still exists, although my impression was of fewer individuals. 

Bridled Terns

As we circled the islands, it was difficult to get an accurate sense of how many Bridled Terns were there, but we estimated about 600 individuals, or 300 pairs. There may be a fairly wide margin of error in this estimate.

breeding Bridled Terns - note chick on right

We found at least one chick, and many apparently incubating birds. Komar and Rodríguez reported 8 chicks in early August of 1993, so the breeding season there appears to be July/August.

Blue-footed Boobies and a Brown Pelican

We saw five other species on the island: Blue-footed Booby (estimated 30, possibly more); Brown Booby (estimated 60, possibly also a low estimate); 300 Magnificent Frigatebirds; 80 Brown Pelicans; and 15 Gray-breasted Martins. A Least Storm-Petrel was seen darting away from the islands just as we approached.

Blue-footed Booby with a USFW band on its left leg

One of the Blue-footed Boobies was banded. Blue-footed Booby, a relatively recent addition to the Honduran list, now appears to be regular in the Gulf of Fonseca, as well as off the coast of El Salvador. Jenner et al. (2007) listed the species as unknown but expected from the Honduran part of the Gulf of Fonseca, and indeed eBird shows several recent records for the area.

Adult male Brown Booby

Unlike Atlantic Brown Boobies, adult male eastern Pacific Brown Boobies have a beautiful frosty-pale head around the face.

Note: a trip to Los Farallones needs to be planned beforehand; you can't just show up there and ask a fisherman to take you to 'those rocks out there'. If traveling from the Honduran side, a permit can be obtained from the harbor master in Amapala. Bring your passport and enough money to buy gasoline. From Amapala, the roundtrip is about 50 km. We spent about 80 USD in gasoline (which included the boatsman's fee) plus 12 USD for the permit.

Cited literature:
Jenner, T., O. Komar & A. Narish. 2007. Noteworthy bird records from the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras. Cotinga 28: 13—20.
Komar, O. & W. Rodríguez. 1996. A Major Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus) Colony in the Gulf of Fonseca, Nicaragua. Colonial Waterbirds Vol. 19, Nr. 2: 264—267. 

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