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Ninety Leagues Over the Sea: A Birdwatching Cruise to Cocos Island…

Endemic is a heavy and valuable word when it comes to birdwatching. Like saying an old car is actually a classic car or a cheap meal is actually a home-made meal. It changes the way you see it and it even changes the way you taste it. Same thing occurs with endemic birds (in a birdwatching context), even if the birds look exactly the same as the one you have at home is never going to be the same as soon as you realized this particular one is an endemic! Translated in other words an endemic bird is something you will never find anywhere else, only there, so it is UNIQUE. Now, everybody likes unique things and even more if that unique thing is right on a paradisiac island in middle of nowhere.

Cocos Island is a relatively small island of 2300 hectares of land and 97235 hectares of marine habitat, located at about 300 miles off the pacific coast of Costa Rica, it represents an enigma and a dream for most bird and nature lovers from all over the world. And of course I am not excluded of this desperate group of people wanting to go there no matter what.

Fortunately for me (and for my 2017 big year in progress) four keen, generous and absolutely nice birders from USA, John and Karen Shrader and Macklin and Lynette Smith decided to sign in on this Lifer Nature Tours special adventure including me as companion and making possible my visit to the island in one of the best seasons of the year (mid April), the end of the dry season (so we still have migratory birds passing by!).

Few months later and after some easy paper work we were on a private shuttle from San Jose toward Puntarenas to get on board of the Aggressor II and start a 300 miles (about 90 nautical leagues as you can see in the title) ride toward the mysterious and unique island of Cocos.

For me 40% of the excitement of this trip comes from what the sailors called the “crossing” or the period of constant navigation from mainland Costa Rica to Cocos Island because the chances to find pelagic birds with no preview record in the country are quite high.

As soon as we departure the dock of Puntarenas we started seeing good birds, easy and common but birds at the end. Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern, Laughing Gull, White Ibis and as we were getting far from shore small groups of Black Terns were visible. Also an always nice sighting of Common Bottled-nosed Dolphin jumping out of the water, a Humpback Whale and a good number of Spotted Dolphin were playing with the waves our boat was creating while navigating.

Quickly we run out of light and I have to give It my first chance to the “owl of the oceans”, the strong but gracious Swallow-tailed Gull, one of the few nocturnal Gulls in the world and maybe one of the most beautiful of all too. So I decided to sleep right in the open deck in the front of the boat to be checking for it regularly. I check at 11pm, 2am, 3am, 4am and nothing was there. Quite disappointed but with the hopes of having a better try the next day as we continue or way toward Cocos.

With the first light of the day all of us were sitting in front of the boat waiting for the minimum movement of a black spot on the ocean flying like a bat to yield “Storm Petrel” and immediately point our optics in that direction. Despite the big efforts the number of birds was quite low but we got some quality sightings including Brown, Red-footed, Masked and Nazca Booby (photo below), Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Least Storm Petrel and a quick but beautiful close up of the Red-billed Tropicbird showing the comet-like fly by of its full grow tail.