Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Boobie Wonderland

Hi! I'm a blue-footed booby from Ecuador and I'm going to be your fine-feathered guest blogger for this entry.

The boy-owner of this blog was quite excited about writing this post. As expected, he wanted to put in all sorts of corny puns about boobies (not the feathered kind.) The girl-owner thought she could do a better job, starting with "My First Booby" as a title and linking it to her memory of "My First Barbie" (How lame!) Well thank goodness she didn't insist on writing it - just look at her first blog entry on birds! I'm glad that they finally came to their senses and decided that I would be the best person bird to show you some real bird talk!

That's me - your feathered host for this fabulous blog entry - sitting in my nest. The male booby (mooby?) is my husband. Doesn't he have the most gorgeous blue feet ever?

We live on a small island (7km by 2km) in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Ecuador. Our home was named Isla de la Plata or "Silver Island" for 2 reasons. Firstly, it is rumoured that Sir Francis Drake (the first Englishman to circumvent the globe) buried his treasure here and secondly, the thick layers of guano caking the cliffs give off a lovely silver aura (and aroma) under the sun's rays! As you can tell, I prefer the second explanation on how the Silver Island got it's name (oh, the sense of puffy-chested pride that we birds get from this honour!)

Where we live. I think the cliffs are losing their shine - they need a fresh coat of dazzling guano!

Most tourists visit Isla de la Plata as part of a whalewatching tour. Why these fat blubbery mammals (that look like fish... how weird!) get to be the main attraction of the tour - by entertaining tourists with their cheap antics (like squirting water from those huge nostrils located on top of their heads!) before and after the visit to our island (show stealers!), is a mystery to me. Humph.

The people who come are usually poor souls who can't afford the money or the time for a full-blown Galapagos Islands tour. US$40 (plus US$15 more for the national park fee) gets you a few whale sightings (big fat hairy deal, if you ask us birds!), speedboat transfers to and from Isla de la Plata, a guided tour of the island, rental of masks and snorkels, and a box lunch (watermelon, pineapple, tuna and cheese sandwiches, and Coke.) In comparison, a week-long Galapagos tour would set you back by US$3,000. It's no wonder that our little island has been christened "the poor man's Galapagos"! We don't suffer from any inferiority complex though - our feet are as blue as those of our Galapagos-born cousins!

Yellow-breasted Chinaman. Loved the way he smiled till his eyes disappeared into his head. How did he do that?!

Upon arrival at Isla de la Plata, the guide briefs the guests on the location of our colonies on the island. Guests are given 2 options: to take longer uphill climb where they can see blue-footed boobies, albatross, some other white bird (I forgot it's name) and sealions. Or the shorter, gentler path to see red-footed and blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds and er, one more less interesting bird. However, as the guide kindly highlights, more species of birds can be sighted on the shorter route, whereas guests only have a 10% chance of spotting an albatross or sealion on the longer one. Plus, the sooner the group returns to the boat, the more time everyone would have for snorkeling. How sly. Most tourists are happy to go with the shorter trek anyway.

I'm at No.7! But we're also found along the other (red & green) path

Tee hee. Bird watching humans go birdwatching!

The view from my apartment. Isn't it lovely?

So, I guess everyone wants to know why we have blue feet. Gee, I don't know! Wouldn't it be tiresome if every animal you met asked you why humans have 10 fingers and 10 toes which only come in various shades of brown? I guess that at the end of his 5th day at work, God got tired of making thousands of yellow bird-feet and decided to have some fun with the leftover blue paint that he used to create the sky!

Well, we female boobies really, and I mean really, like blue feet. So much so that we only mate with males with those big, blue and handsome tootsies. The bluer the feet, the faster our hearts beat for the male. Otherwise, how are we suppose to guarantee that our offspring will have blue feet? It's all in the blue genes (haha, like blue jeans, geddit, geddit?)

We reproduce once a year, churning out an average of 1 to 3 chicks per brood. Our babies are born snowy white, without a single speck of blue on them. Their feet start turning blue when they are a few months old (nothing to panic about when your baby turns blue, Mothers!)

Female boobies are bigger in size (we like our women big) and appear to have larger pupils than male boobies (er, moobies?)

"What's your problem, humankind? Have you never seen blue feet before?"

Guarding the dressing-room. "You can't go in there, my husband's changing his shoes to... his other blue pair."

The problem with all male animals (humans included): "Darling! What in god's name are you doing? That's unglam! We're on camera, for goodness sake!"

Given that life is all about our iconic feet, why in the world are we called "boobies?" Apparently, the European conquistadors mistook our innocence and trust in our human captors for stupidity! So they called us "bobo", which is Spanish for "clown" or "stupid". I find that highly offensive! As if it's not rude enough to equate us to mammaries! Our friendly Ecuadorian neighbours are a nicer lot, and politely call us by the local name "piquero", meaning "lancer" in Spanish, in recognition of our long pointed beaks.

Just watch this brilliant video of us. Do we look at all stupid to you?

To prove my point, here are some other snippets from our daily lives to illustrate our intelligence:

"Hmmm, there's so much guano around my rock. Wonder how it got there..."

"Arrggghh, yucks yucks!! I stepped on guano, I stepped on guano! Must..try...to...flick...it...off!! Oh wait... it's mine."

Taking off with your feet in front?! Clumsy fella!

"Yeah. So I'm stepping on my own feet. You have a problem with that, huh? Quit staring."

When we boobies are in love, we engage in an endearing display of courtship. I hereby share some love tips with you, in the sincere hope that they will help improve your love life too.

Step 1: Clack beaks
Step 2: Show off your spanking blue feet with a high-stepping strut
Step 3: Raise your wings and point your beak towards the sky
Step 4: Repeat

To the girls out there, remember to relax and let the guy take the lead in impressing you. Only if you like him, do you mimic his actions.

"Not now, dear. There are people watching!"

"Hey dude, it's not the Macarena! But thanks for trying to learn our mating dance. A word of advice - get blue footwear. The babes like 'em in blue." *wink*

"Pssst! No one's watching us behind these bushes. Mate with me, baby, mate with me now!"

You may have heard tales of our intense sibling rivalry, to the extent of sibling murder, from sources such as Sir David Attenborough, BBC, Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel. As their story goes, the first chick hatches a few days before the others. Thus, it starts receiving food first and gets a headstart on the growth process. When its younger siblings finally hatch, the larger and stronger first-born chick outcompetes them for food, deliberately starving the others to death.

At the time of hatching, the nest is surrounded by a ring of guano, which is created by squirting our poop in all directions (I know, I know, it sounds disgusting.) If murder by starvation doesn't work (or it takes waaaay too long), the first-born chick will shove its weaker siblings outside of the ring. I don't really know why, but this totally freaks us parents out and we will promptly disown any of our brood who have crossed the guano-line. It's as if Mother Nature imposed a "One Is Enough" rule on our species.

That chick is just a few months old. Huge, isn't it? Imagine if your human babies grew to your height within a few months of their birth. Freaky beaky!

Looking for Mummy

Oh, look how I've dominated this online tour of Isla de la Plata with info about us boobies only.
Let us move on to a short overview of the big-breasted big-chested frigatebirds, or fregatas.

Unlike the boobies who like to walk around and nest on the ground, the frigatebirds prefer to hang around in the trees.

We like humans as long as they behave themselves on our island. We let them get pretty close to us. And we smile for pictures too!

The ones on the island are the Magnificent or Man O'War Frigatebirds. The males have inflatable red throat pouches called "gular-pouches" which they inflate to attract females. Just like how a male human presents a red shiny heart-shaped balloon to the girl he wants! Sometimes, these male frigatebirds inflate their chests so large that they can hardly see straight. In my hum-blue opinion, they look mightily uncomfortable.

Sure, you guys have the big breasts but I'm the real booby here!

Despite their penchant for showing off, we boobies get along well with our puffy-chested neighbours. But thank goodness we don't get along that well. Just imagine what would happen if our kind were to mate with theirs... blue-footed fregatas, or freboobies!

Red chest and blue feet? Oh the horror!!

Throughout the tour, our guests were tailed closely by a couple of LBBs (Little Brown Birds) as they explored the island. The LBBs would rudely interrupt their conversations with a loud "peep!" My guess would be that these mockingbirds were trying to imitate human conversations and get their 2-cents-worth in! Mockingbirds have a huge memory bank of songs - of other people's songs - just like your iPod. They can recall and copy the songs of up to 200 birds, insects and amphibians! These music geniuses are reported to have mimicked the sounds of children crying even! So I wouldn't put it past them to mock these humans by trying to copy snippets of their conversations.

It's really hard to worm a smile out of Mr Grumpy!

Despite their irritating habit of mocking us by mimicking our songs (if you can call my nasal honk a song), the mockingbird is one harmless creature. Like one of the characters in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird says:
"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Walking around the island to visit me and my neighbours seemed to get our human guests all hot and bothered. Many of them were dying for a swim in the clear waters at the foot of the cliffs. I'm not a fan of snorkeling, but I hear that the fish living in the coral reefs off Isla de la Plata are much larger than those seen in other parts of the world. Someone mentioned that the parrotfish there were big enough to feed a family of four!

And I heard her call ME funny. Seriously, some people should take a look in the mirror.

I don't visit the folks from the underwater world too often. I only go diving when I'm hungry for anchovies! So I'm not too familiar with these big guys here. Anyone know what species of fish they are?

And with that, our guests from Puerto Lopez were done for the day! Just before the tour ended, the Singaporean guy came up to me and whispered, "Thank you for being my first booby." What a strange thing to say! Well, my pleasure, dear boy, my pleasure.

Another satisfied customer

People always tell me that they love visiting Ecuador. But when asked what they like best about my country, they name everything from the sun to the moon - the birds, the whales, the people, the Andes, the Amazon, the Pacific coast. If you can't put your finger on a single best reason for falling in love with this beautiful place, here's my advice to you:
Don't blame it on sunshine
Don't blame it on moonlight

Don't blame it on good times

Blame it on the BOOBIES!
And with that, it's been a pleasure being your host for this post. From Isla de la Plata, it's over and out *nasal honk*


Jo said...

Hey - you guys look like you've put on some weight! Dan at least! :) And those blue feet birds are cute. Funny creatures...

Dannie said...

Fascinating. All that effort into taking pictures, sorting them out, searching for an internet connection to upload the video onto Youtube to share, putting in the text and editing the HTML of the post, and we get a comment saying we put on weight. Some tact please, huh?

Yeepster said...

When you mentioned 'fat blubbery mammals' thought you meant overweight tourists. You expect tact with the word 'boobie' in the title? :P
Anyways, fascinating pics and funny blog with perspective from the boobie... the bird, u know what I mean!

Yi Lin said...

Heh, don't get me started on some of the tourists we meet on this trip - those who mistake Spore for Beijing (?!?!) and ask what the locals in Ecuador eat for breakfast since there is no Dunkin Donuts here. I shall do a post on that someday.

The birds are so comical and entertaining! I could watch them for hours. Save up and come with us to the Galapagos in a few years time. I know you don't dive, but we cld always have someone to welcome back us from dives with hot drinks and towels!

Lint said...

Hey if you cut their heads off at their necks, it'll look like a hedgehog...

Yi Lin said...

Errr, okaay. Dan and I are looking at your comment at the same time and trying to decipher its meaning. We THINK we know what you mean... but that is a damn weird perspective lah!

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