Thursday, July 2, 2009

YBC: Day Two



The second day of the 2009 ABA/Leica Young Birder's Conference promised to be one of the most intense. Last Tuesday, we planned a boat ride out to Santa Cruz Island to see the endemic Island Scrub-Jay and also a few seabirds on the way to the island. Now, it's a three hour drive to get to Ventura Harbor, where the boat leaves from, and we had to be there early enough to catch the boat that left around eight-thirty. This required an outrageously early starting time, but we all managed to load up in the vans, weary and yawning, around four-thirty.

When we finally reached Ventura harbor, we were eager to ditch the vans and start looking for birds. We arrived nearly half and hour early, and while we waited for the boat, we saw species such as Black Oystercatcher, Heermann's Gull, Least Tern, and Marbled Godwit right around the harbor. A few Tricolored Blackbirds among the scavenging blackbirds in the parking lot were exciting novelties for the non-Californians.



The boat finally departed and we all excitedly crammed to the bow of the boat, scanning the waves ahead of us for seabirds. The first few miles of shallow water were rather boring, but we did get close-up looks at some California Sea Lions on a buoy.



Seabird sightings began picking up as soon as we hit deeper water. Sooty Shearwaters were common, and among them we spotted a handful of Pink-footed Shearwaters. Nothing different showed up until we were within a few miles of the island, when a Xantus's Murrlet and a few Pigeon Guillemots were spotted. The latter was, embarrassingly enough, a life bird for me.

It took only a few minutes after we landed to spot our quarry, the Island Scrub-Jay. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get very excited over it; it's simply a ever-so-slightly different version of a Western Scrub-Jay, marooned on an island. Birding was decent on the island, despite the mid-day heat; other species we saw included Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Allen's Hummingbird. We took a hike up a ridge above the harbor, where we were rewarded with stunning views.



One of the funnier incidents of the day occurred on this hike. I noticed a Flame Skimmer caught in a spiderweb near the trail. Some of the campers were terrified and ran up the trail, screaming. Those of us who weren't scared out of our wits by the harmless little dragonfly stayed and watched as Jen Brumfield, one of the leaders, carefully extracted it from the web and set it free.



After a bit more hiking (we got to see an Island Fox!), we turned around and headed back to the dock so we wouldn't be stranded on the island indefinitely. On the way back down I noticed this skipper flitting around. I don't know much about the butterflies of the Channel Islands, so I don't know if this is just something like a Juba or Common Branded Skipper, or if it is an endemic (sub)species. It posed for photos, anyway.



We didn't see as many seabirds on the boat ride back, though we added Common Murre (surprising in the summer) and Cassin's Auklet to our list. Sooty Shearwaters continued to be common. Here is a photo showing a few.



It was late afternoon by the time we docked, and the harried leaders understandably wanted to head straight back to San Diego, so we didn't do any birding on the way home. It was a really great day of birding; for many of the participants the boat ride over to Santa Cruz Island was their first introduction to sea birding. It was my first visit to the Channel Islands, and I hope to return soon; they are very beautiful and good for birding.

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