Sunday, February 28, 2016

Photo Essay: Birding the Channel Islands

It had taken me so long to get to any of the Channel Islands (other than Catalina), that once I did, I couldn't wait to get back.

Sure, I'd love another overnight volunteer trip like the one to Santa Rosa back in October, but those opportunities can be few and far between.



So I paid my way to get back, by buying a ticket on a daylong birding trip with Island Packers.



I'd never been on a boat for that long—four hours before docking, and another three hours on the way back—or with so many serious birders, their long lenses swinging and the pages of their field guides flipping against the downwind.



As for myself, although I love birds, I was there for the entire experience—which, to my delight, included spouting gray whales and lots of dolphins.



Of course, there were plenty of gulls and brown pelicans this time of year, in this pelagic zone of the Pacific Ocean.



But, land ho! The islands! The arch of Anacapa!



The ancient volcanic eruptions and land forms birthed out of the San Andreas Fault!



At the eastern end of Anacapa Island, there's a light that was the last built by the Coast Guard's United States Lighthouse Service on the West Coast, in 1932.



It still acts as an active beacon, though it wasn't able to prevent a small plane crash near the island in 2000.



The birds seem to like it there at Cathedral Cove. As our boat passed by, a whole bunch of brown boobies were perched there.



Perhaps the highlight of the trip—well, at least for the birders—was the spotting of a single blue-footed booby, perhaps astray from an influx of them that came up from warmer waters farther south back in 2013.



In truth, there were tons of birds sighted on our trip, their species and common names being called out...



...from loons to grebes to shearwaters, terns, jaegers, rhinoceros auklets, and cormorants.



We even saw a couple of peregrine falcons and nesting golden eagles.



At high ocean levels, with the melting polar ice caps, Anacapa is actually three islets that, true to its name, appear almost as a mirage. But it's shallow down there, and underneath the water, there's a land bridge. You just can't see it now.



The recent rains and the abundant fog has got the islands fertile with greenery...




...which makes good nesting for the brown pelicans this time of year.



On Anacapa, there's a nice outcropping of giant coreopsis, a bright yellow "tree sunflower" that peaks on a couple of the Channel Islands between January and March, which you can see even from the sea.



There are so many birds out there, they don't even have time—or room—to scatter with our oncoming vessel...



...though a few get spooked by all the shouting and the announcements over the PA system, so they would dive down and stay underwater until we passed.



If it's at all difficult to spot the birds with binoculars, as the sea swells and little crests of waves distract the eye, imagine how hard it is to photograph them without the aid of magnification, and with a surging seasickness.



But sometimes, nature gives you these little gifts. Birds like this snowy egret have grown accustomed to the presence of humans and their boats and sometimes come for a visit in hopes of a snack.

Stay tuned for photos from our stop ashore at Santa Cruz Island, including a sighting of the island scrub-jay (a close relative of the mainland western scrub-jay)—which is only found on this one island, which makes it the smallest range of any bird species in North America.

Related Posts:
An Island Calling
Photo Essay: Up and Into Catalina's Wild Interior
Photo Essay: Invasive Plants, Parasitic Birds, and Giant Stinging Nettle at Prado Wetlands
Basking in the Gloom at Bolsa Chica Wetlands