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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Island Life

Another must-do trip in Southern California that I was finally able to do was the boat ride out to Santa Cruz Island departing from Ventura. Island Packers runs daily trips on fast catamarans, and I was aboard the 8 am departure on the Island Adventure to make the 1.5 hour (or so) crossing. Conditions were foggy & misty most of the way, but I did see some Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters. Closing in on the island, I also saw Common Murres and Pigeon Guillemots. A highlight for everyone during the crossing was a large pod of common dolphins, many of which took turns surfing on the bow wave of the boat. The overhanging configuration of the bow allows you to look straight down on these magnificent cetaceans as they catch a ride. Can't help but smile as they do this no matter how many times you've seen it before!!

Most of the day trippers get off at the first stop, Scorpion Anchorage, for sea kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, or whatever. But most birdy types stay on board to head farther around the island to Prisoner's Harbor, where Island Scrub-Jays are more reliable. Off the boat then goes, and you've got about 6 hours of island birding before the 4 pm pickup.
Approaching Santa Cruz Island

Cavern Point seen from Scorpion Anchorage- you geology types will appreciate the diagonal thrust fault running through the cliff.

Prisoner's Harbor

See 'ya, Island Adventurer!

As many of my faithful readers will know, the Island Scrub-Jay is only found on Santa Cruz Island and is told from the nearby coastal races of Western Scrub-Jay by its darker coloration, larger bill, and overall larger size (in both dimension and weight.) I'm told their bones have been found on other Channel Islands but they were extirpated sometime in the past from all but Santa Cruz Island. Despite the island being in sight of the mainland (at least on clear days), there are no records of Western Scrub-Jays on the island or Island Scrub-Jays on the mainland. Reliable the jays were, calling from the tall Eucalyptus trees as the boat arrived. One eventually came down around the old sheep pens. Still, it took a while to get clear looks, but eventually I found a pair in the brush around a dry stream bed that wanted badly to get photographed. All of the Scrub-Jays I saw there had color bands. Another farther along the creek was curious about my presence, too. In a first for me, I first detected that bird by hearing the silvery jingling of its bands before I turned around and saw it looking out at me from the brush. This small endemic population is closely monitored by color-banding the individuals around the easily-accessed boat landing site.

Santa Cruz island also has other interesting endemic birds (not to mention plants, mammals, and insects), but for now at least they don't have full species status like the Scrub-Jay. Perhaps best-known is the endangered Channel Island Loggerhead Shrike, but to see that you have to get up into the interior portions of the island, which I didn't do. Unlike the single-island-dwelling Island Scrub-Jay, this shrike subspecies is found on 7 of the 8 Channel Islands. I also missed the island versions of Hutton's Vireo and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. I did, however, enjoy seeing the resident subspecies of Allen's Hummingbird (sedentarius) along with the "dusky" (sordida) Orange-crowned Warbler, the island-endemic Pacific Slope Flycatcher (insulicola) and the island version of Song Sparrow (clementae).
sedentarius Allen's Hummingbird

sordida ("dusky") Orange-crowned Sparrow

insulicola Pacific-slope Flycatcher

clementae Song Sparrow

I also enjoyed this curious pair of Harbor Seals that came in from their kelp forest to see what I was up to as I strolled a cobble beach. Interesting to see the differences in coloration on these two individuals. Brown Pelicans skimmed back and forth over the kelp with an occasional plunge-dive. After a couple of intense days of mainland birding, I also enjoyed some island time in a grassy pocket, catching some z's before the 4pm boat pickup. Luckily I didn't oversleep- if you miss the boat you're out of luck until the next day.

Anyway, the return of the boat (this time the Islander) signaled an end to my visit. What a great place to go birding- hope to get the chance to do so again!!

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