This weekend Sonia and I hopped aboard the Island Packers now annual combination inshore pelagic and Island Scrub Jay boat trip. The idea was to cruise around the Channel Islands before stopping on Santa Cruz Island for a few hours to find the Island Scrub Jay, a species that prior to 1996 was considered conspecific with both the Western and Florida flavors of Scrub Jay. I have actually seen the Scrub Jay on 2 previous trips to Santa Cruz Island (one in 1996 and one in 2009 - see photo), so my main target on this weekend's trip was Scripps's Murrelet, a small, black-and-white alcid/auk that breeds on the Channel Islands. I had managed to miss that bird on several other SoCal boat trips, so I hoped to redeem those past dips this weekend.
Sonia and I visiting the Channel Islands in 2009.
We had been dating for 9 months at that stage.
Why she didn't run for the exit then I have no idea.
The entire day was perfect, seas and weather included. Birds were plentiful, and we had a number of nice bonus finds on top of the usual suspects. First, we saw upwards of 80 (yes, 80!) Brown Boobies on Anacapa Island. This generally more tropical species, once cause for birding alarm bells in SoCal, has become effectively resident in the last 15 years. We do not know the exact reason for this northward range expansion, but higher water temperatures due to global warming are a prime suspect. Anyway, mixed in with the Brown Boobies was a single Blue-footed Booby (BFBO), a fantastic find for SoCal! Everyone on board was stoked when this guy appeared! Interestingly, I saw ~50 BFBOs in SoCal in October of 2013. That was a monumental invasion, but not a single bird of those I saw on that trip was a blue-footed adult. The bird this weekend was a real treat!
Anacapa Island from the boat
Hiking on Santa Cruz Island
BF Booby! Decent despite terrible backlighting....
I did finally collect my Scripps's Murrelet. After many distant and disappointing views, a few pairs floated close enough to the boat to permit decent views and record photographs. The boat was pitching around quite a bit by that stage of the afternoon, so that I got anything was a source of celebration. A huge flock (~1000) of Surf Scoters, a couple Mew Gulls, a single Island Scrub Jay, hundreds of dolphins, several Gray Whales, and a breaching Humpback Whale rounded out a fantastic day on the water. For those that want to tick the Scrub Jay, I would highly recommend this particular boat trip. Island Packers runs daily trips to and from Santa Cruz Island, but only on this late February trip is the boat utilized explicitly for the purposes of birding (hence the pelagic component). I actually saw Scripp's Murrelet, then Xantus' Murrelet, on my 2009 trip, but the boat kept steaming along since it wasn't a birding specific trip. My view was so poor I decided not to count that bird, hence it was a lifer this weekend.
Scripps's Murrelet! ABA bird #702!
Not bad considering terrible midday light
This is not the most technically sound shot, but I think
it perfectly represents how alcids are most often observed.
So without further ado, I will tell you that The Speckled Hatchback will be coming to you live and direct from Colombia next week! That's right, South America here I come! I have been invited to join a 10-day, National Audubon Society-, Calidris-, and Colombia National Parks-sponsored trip to Colombia that will highlight ecotourism possibilities and sustainable resource management in the recently stabilized country. I will be functioning as a photographer and writer, specifically blogging about the trip on the Audubon Society website once I return. I post live snippets on this blog when internet access permits. I leave Saturday so updates will start to flow in sometime after that. We will be visiting the Caribbean Slope, Santa Marta, and Perijá regions before moving south to Cali for the 3 day Colombia Birdfair. For those interested in some background on birding in Colombia, please see this recently published feature article in Audubon Magazine. We will be recapitulating much of this itinerary, so it should be amazing. Here is a link to a video of the Northern Colombia Birding Trail, a project designed to included locals in the development of a birding and ecotourism industry. With 1,900 bird species, the most of any country, Colombia should be at the top of every birder's "someday" list.
It all starts in 5 days, so please check back in soon!