July 8, 2012

California Wanderings, Part 2: Ventura and the Channel Islands

June 13-14, 2012

From the sweltering Mojave Desert, we booked it to the gloomy coast of California.  In May and June, fog incases the coast of California making for the names May Gray and June Gloom.  A hike up in elevation and away from the coastal fog at the Ventura River Preserve provided many new birds, including Wrentit, Phainopepla, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black Phoebe, and California Towhee.  Usually a flowing river, the Ventura River held only small, isolated pools of water with crayfish fighting for survival, and a few dancers, bluets, and forktails (damselflies).

Crawdad - by Joel Such

Dragonfly sp (need to ID) - by Marcel Such

Vivid Dancer - by Marcel Such

Unidentified snake - by Marcel Such

To end our first day on the coast, we stopped at Marina Park to swim, run, and bird.  We saw our first coastal species here, with Brown Pelicans, Western Grebes, Heermann’s Gulls, Black Oystercatchers, and a Caspian Tern among the highlights.

The next morning (June 14), we boarded up on an Island Packers cruise out to Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park.  Even before we left the harbor, the sea life of the area began presenting itself.  California Sea Lions lounged on bouys, Elegant, Caspian, and Forster’s Terns wheeled overhead, cormorants, Double-crested and Brandt’s, dove beneath the prow, and Western Gulls and Brown Pelicans were everywhere.  And once we started getting out away from shore, Sooty Shearwaters began flying out from the wake, along with Xantus’s Murrelets (which Marcel somehow managed to miss), Pigeon Guillemots, and Cassin’s Auklets.  Joel also saw a Black Storm-Petrel on the way back to the mainland, which was a great find for him and another tragic miss for Marcel.

Brown Pelicans and Cormorants - by Joel Such

Forster's Tern - by Joel Such

California Sea Lion - by Marcel Such

Sooty Shearwater - by Joel Such

Sooty Shearwater - by Joel Such

Black Storm-Petrel - by Joel Such

After landing in Prisoner’s Harbor, the island’s unique avi-fauna was immediately apparent, with its own subspecies of Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, and Song Sparrow.  This island even has its own unique bird species, the Island Scrub-Jay (as many of our readers probably know).  Only a few minutes passed on the island before one went screeching overhead.  We took a guided hike into The Nature Conservancy property (which occupies 76% of the island), which proved to be a very birdy choice.  Acorn Woodpeckers, Oregon Juncos, Lesser Goldfinches, Red-shafted Flickers, Chipping Sparrows, and Ash-throated Flycatchers, and Bushtits were abundant along the trail, with the occasional Hutton’s Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Black-headed Grosbeak, or endemic Island Gray Fox.

Island Scrub-Jay - by Marcel Such

Common Raven - by Marcel Such

Island Gray Fox - by Joel Such

Returning to the mainland after only a few hours on such a biologically unique site was difficult, and while we certainly wished we could stay behind and explore some more, we reluctantly re-boarded the boat back to Ventura Harbor.

Special thanks to the Holdorf family for hosting us in Ventura!  We enjoyed our time with you.
Stay tuned for part 3, coming soon!

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