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Blue Footed Boobies


While Kongo loved all the birds he saw in the Galapagos Islands last week, his favorite is the Blue Footed Booby. The monkey has a long history with these amazing birds and if you bear with him he’ll share a booby story that goes back 25 years or so.

Way back in 1989 Kongo sailed through these waters in his first command, a small destroyer named BRONSTEIN.  Kongo and his crew of 250 of America’s finest were conducting at sea tests of a new satellite communication system about 1000 miles west of the Galapagos Islands.  When the tests were complete permission was requested from Ecuador to do a brief port visit in the Galapagos.  Ecuador denied the visit request by saying only research vessels were allowed in the Galapagos.  Hmm.  Kongo really had his heart set on a seeing a blue footed booby so on the way to Panama for fuel and provisions Kongo charted a course through the middle of the Galapagos Islands using the concept of “transit passage,” which under international law allows a warship to sail through the territorial waters of another country when it is proceeding from the high seas to the high seas.

Anyway, Kongo timed the passage between the islands to start at sunrise and complete at sunset.  Hopefully, a blue footed booby would make its appearance.  Now during Kongo’s seagoing years he always kept a copy of Peter Harrison’s Seabirds in a little pocket next to his bridge wing chair and during slow periods would hold marine bird identification contests with the crew. For the blue footed booby search, Kongo Xeroxed copies of the booby picture, briefed all the lookouts, and offered a reward for the first sighting.

Well, it was an interesting day.  The crew spotted red footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, frigate birds, pelicans, sea lions, killer whales, lots of sharks, petrels, and several albatross.  Sadly, when the sun san below the western horizon, no blue footed boobies had been spotted.  Not a one.  The ship sailed on into the night.

Early the next morning, a Sunday when the crew was allowed to sleep in, the buzzer in Kongo’s cabin went off.  It was the Officer of the Deck reporting that a blue footed booby had landed on the ship and was perched by the gun mount on the forecastle.  Kongo quickly ascertained the ship’s latitude and longitude and determined that they were a couple of hundred miles east of the islands.

“There are no boobies here,” Kongo informed the nervous bridge officer, “they are only found on the islands.”

“Yes, sir,” came the reply, “but you really need to come out here and see this!”

At this point, Kongo’s well honed suspicions in dealing with American sailors kicked in.  Kongo was sure that he would come out to the bridge to find a boatswain’s mate decked out in painted blue boondockers, a feathered jacket, and a bird hat on doing the chicken dance to the delight of everyone.  These are some of the things captains at sea have to put up with from time to time to keep up morale aboard a ship.

Imagine the monkey’s astonishment when he came to the bridge and saw not a dancing sailor in costume but a real live blue footed booby perched calmly on the gun mount.  Kongo went down on deck and stood a few feet from the big bird and they peered at each other for several minutes before the booby lazily stretched its wings, caught the wind, and flew off in the general direction of the Galapagos.

Kongo wrote a letter describing the incident to Peter Harrison providing the latitude and longitude of the sighting and the author came back with a nice reply and promised to update the next edition with a pinpoint dot on the map showing booby distribution in the world to account for Kongo’s sighting.

It was much fun to once again get up close and personal with some more boobies.  in the photos above, this booby at Gardener Bay on the island of Espanola was doing the mating dance to attract female mates.  They raise one foot after another in a booby version of the chicken dance, arch their wings, then look about to gauge the impact on nearby females, then start the process all over again.  It was quite entertaining and Kongo was happy to be there at the right time of the year to see this ritual up close.

Boobies perch on Fernandina Island.

Above, a booby perches on the cliffs of Santa Cruz Island.

See more of Kongo’s Galapagos photos here.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

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