Monday, July 8, 2013

Coastal California- Island Scrub Jay Tour

Day two (6/29) of our California trip was one Kevin and I were both very much looking forward to. We signed up to go out with Island Packers to Santa Cruz Island where we hoped for Island Scrub-Jay. However, I think I was more excited for the boat trip to and from the island than actually birding the island. Pelagic birding is perhaps my favorite kind of birding, and I just don’t get to do it enough.

We woke early and hit the Ventura harbor hoping to pick up some cormorants, shorebirds, and terns. We did well on all accounts, seeing Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorant, a bunch of Elegant Terns, three Surfbirds, a Ruddy Turnstone and a smattering of Whimbrel. I couldn’t get any pics of the Brandt’s or Elegant Terns as they were too far out, but I knew we would get them from the boat.

It was time to check in with Island Packers, so we got our boarding passes really early and went to get some coffee to combat the drowsiness brought on by Dramamine. We got more than we bargained for as we witnessed a very hostile man nearly fight another man just for asking “how are you this morning”. But I digress…

Finally we boarded the boat and secured front spots on the bow. There wasn’t any competition. Elegant Terns flew overhead as we made our way out of the harbor. Brandt’s Cormorants were loafing on the rocks.

Brandt's Cormorant (showing pale throat patch)

Elegant Tern
As we made our way toward Santa Cruz, the ocean was relatively birdless. But, we started seeing a few distant Sooty Shearwaters that sparked our hope. Then it happened. A huge flock of Sooty Shearwaters was seen loafing on the water while others were busy feeding. Then we spied some close Pink-footed Shearwaters. I told Kevin to keep an eye out for Black-vented Shearwaters and it wasn’t long after he shouted “Black-vented!”. Birds (and dolphins) were everywhere. Lucky for us, the captain slowed the boat and all the passengers enjoyed the show.

Sooty Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater (left) with Pink-footed Shearwater

In with the frenzy I also photographed Western and Heerman’s Gulls.

Western Gull

Heerman's Gull

We felt really lucky to get all three Shearwaters so easily and with such great looks. Once we started heading for the island again, the activity really died. However, we did get on two Cassin’s Auklets which seemed pretty close to shore, but I haven’t seen many so perhaps they are to be expected. I scrambled to take a few distant shots.

Cassin's Auklet
With such a successful boat trip to the island, we were excited when we hit land. Prisoner’s Harbor is the place to be if you want to see Island Scrub-Jay without too much trouble. We hiked around a bit, seeing and hearing a few distant Scrub-Jays. After we ate lunch, we found a much closer Jay. Success!

Island Scrub-Jay
It was REALLY hot, so we jumped off the docking pier into the water a few times until the boat came back to pick us up. On our return trip, we saw much of the same stuff, plus a bonus Common Murre. By the time we got back to the mainland, we decided we needed to head toward Santa Barbara once again. There were still plenty of birds to be seen that we had yet to come across like Yellow-billed Magpie or Chestnut-backed Chickadee. We set up camp just north of Santa Barbara and called it a night.

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