Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Santa Cruz Island - A World Away and Right Next Door

Sometimes you don't have to go far to experience a different world. 

road coming up from the harbor and wetland
Santa Cruz Island is larger than the island of Manhattan. It is part of Channel Islands National Park and home to many rare and endemic species. Yet, few people visit this island only 26 miles off the coast of busy, bustling Southern California. 

A day trip out to Santa Cruz is like traveling back in California's history, when people were few and weather and sea molded the landscape. Last Thursday we took a trip on an Island Packers boat to Prisoner's Harbor on Santa Cruz Island.

brown pelican
There were sea birds, dolphins and migrating gray whales (including a gray whale calf). Picture of bottlenose dolphin with calf.

native blue dick
The wildflowers were in bloom.

And we found the tracks of an endangered island fox.

Santa Cruz Island was greatly impacted by the ranching of domestic sheep, goats and pigs during the 20th century. These large herbivorous animals nearly grazed the island to death. Today all of the domestic animals are gone and the wild plants and animals are making a strong come back. Before the day was over we saw not only the rare island scrub-jay, but also a healthy island fox. 

the island fox is only 12 inches tall
I'm the Education Director for Friends of the Island Fox. We've worked hard supporting conservation efforts to save this tiny rare canine from extinction. Just 12 years ago, you could not see an island fox on the northern islands running free in the wild. Only 15 individuals survived on San Miguel Island, 15 on Santa Rosa Island, and less than 100 on Santa Cruz Island. To see a healthy island fox in the wild at Prisoner's Harbor was a thrill.  For more about the island fox, visit www.islandfox.org

A day trip to Santa Cruz Island is a beautiful get away / adventure. For more pictures (including a dolphin calf), see my Island Journal at Friends of the Island Fox. You can take a trip to Santa Cruz Island with Friends of the Island Fox. We will be leading a group to the island on May 5th, 2012. Information on Trip to Santa Cruz Island.

The Channel Islands are also home to numerous bird species including island subspecies. Here's My Bird List for 3/29/2012 to Santa Cruz Island:

Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)  ~1000     in large rafts of individuals
Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii) 
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)  125     in a raft
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 
Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) 
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) 
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) 
Red-tailed Hawk (Western) (Buteo jamaicensis calurus) 
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)      
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)   
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) 
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) 
Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)       island subspecies
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)  carrying food from wetland area to west side of barn structure, nest not seen
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)      in restored wetland area
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)  in willows
Island Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma insularis)  3     pair together east of wetland area, single bird on the hillside up by the lookout, all visible at the same time
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
Bewick's Wren (Pacific) (Thryomanes bewickii)  island subspecies
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)       island subspecies
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) (Junco hyemalis [oreganus Group]) 
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) 
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)


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