Isla San Francisco
From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Baja California
At first light, pink washed the underside of a light cloud cover. We were cruising in the San Jose Channel avoiding the gentle swells pushed up by a north wind that rolled south in the more open gulf. About 25 long-beaked common dolphins headed toward us. These small cetaceans weigh only about 200 pounds and are usually less than 7 feet long. They swam fast and energetically. The tight group passed quickly by as if we were not there. In a few more minutes we approached hundreds of pelicans diving for fish. Predatory fish were probably pushing the schools to the surface. Heermann’s and yellow-footed gulls were nearby, ready to steal or scavenge scraps. Frigatebirds were also within the fray. They cannot take off from water once their feathers are wet. They also picked up morsels off the surface, never touching a feather.
Isla San Francisco is the perfect island for an introduction to the beauty of Baja California. Snorkeling, kayaking and hiking were our modes of exploration. Some snorkeled for the first time, while the very experienced peered down into schools of goat fish and grunts, reef cornetfish and even the poisonous stone scorpionfish. The morning overcast burned off, leaving a warm but breezy day.
Kayaking and hiking filled the afternoon. It is a true joy to paddle within the bay and look at the interesting rocks with pelicans staring back at you. This cove is large enough to allow kayakers the freedom that their own boats provide. Later, hikers climbed ridges and strolled among prickly desert plants. Lizards were often seen scampering for cover. Those that didn’t kayak had extra time to take a special hike that the staff on the National Geographic Sea Bird seldom does. They took a Zodiac to an alternate beach and the hikers wound through a canyon to the summit of Isla San Francisco. The 360-degree view extended up the San Jose Channel and all the way around to a crescent-shaped bay with the NG Sea Bird anchored in the center.
The sun set as the magic of Baja California and wild country entered into our souls. The breezes quieted, swells calmed, and the outlook for tomorrow’s passage north looked promising.
— Robert “Pete” Pederson, Naturalist; National Geographic Sea Bird