Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Southern California - update five

I was back on the Pacific coast on Saturday, ready for a nice day out from Ventura to the island of Santa Cruz, famed for its endemic Island Scrub Jay. The weather was absolutely ideal for the hour or so crossing, and wildlife was literally everywhere. It started in the harbour where loads of Brown Pelicans, Western Grebes and California Gulls were gathered. As we set sail, the obligatory California Sealions were loafing about.
California Sealion, Ventura 4th Jan 2014
The crossings there and back with Island Packers were outstanding, especially given that this wasn't a specialist wildlife cruise. On the way over, we diverted to get some close looks of six Grey Whales while on the way back the boat stopped to see a pod of literally hundreds of Common Dolphins. Much better than some of the whale watching boats I've been on!
Grey Whales, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014

Common Dolphins, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014
To top it off though, I saw what I wanted bird wise too. The main target was Scripps' Murrelet - one of a two way split of Xantus' Murrelet, with Guadalupe Murrelet, a couple of years ago. They made me wait though, and it wasn't until I was withing sight of Santa Cruz Island that I saw my first of a total of five birds. Black and white birds, with an obvious white eye ring and whirring flight. Cassin's Auklets were present in good numbers, fifty or so, along with a dozen or so hefty Rhino Auklets. Black-vented Shearwaters were present in the high hundreds, as well as a couple of Pacific Fulmars. 
Scripps' Murrelet, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014

Black-vented Shearwater, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014
And then it was onto the island itself. While getting the 'orientation' (being told what you can and can't do, in plain English), the first Island Scrub Jay appeared. In fact, right by the jetty and this seemed to be the best place for the birds, and a fantastic Island Fox, during the few hours I spent on the island. Make sure though, that if you're going to look for the Scrub Jay, you get a ticket to Prisoners' Harbour as the first stop off at Scorpion Harbour isn't meant  to be much cop for them. Anyway, the island itself is a lovely place for relaxing and getting away from traffic [and loud American tourists] - other birds noted included four Rufous-crowned Sparrows, the local Song Sparrows (said by some to be the Channel Island race graminea but more likely an intergrade between that and the mainland race heermanni), Spotted Towhees, Yellow-rumped Warblers, an Osprey and a couple of Spotted Sandpipers on the beach. 
Island Scrub Jay, Santa Cruz Island 4th Jan 2014
Island Fox, Santa Cruz Island 4th Jan 2014

 So all in all, a particularly enjoyable day out and back in Santa Barbara for early evening for the last night of the trip. Still plenty of birding to be done on the last morning though!
Spotted Towhee, Santa Cruz Island 4th Jan 2014

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