San Mateo County, California
Field Trip Report
Santa Cruz Island Trip Report
October 13-15, 2017 by Donna Pomeroy
Fifteen Sequoia Audubon members made the trek to Southern California, with the highlight being the all-day excursion to Santa Cruz Island. The trip officially began on Friday morning at Oceano County Park & Campground in San Luis Obispo County. This is a well-known spot for fall migrants and it did not disappoint. A Gray Catbird gave us brief looks from the shadows of the shrubbery. There were nice numbers of other migrants, but nothing else unusual.
Next, we made our way to Oso Flaco State Recreation Area, where we had amazing numbers of both Soras and Virginia Rails, calling and coming out into view.
Also at Oso Flaco, we had a surprise flock of Aleutian Cackling Geese make a brief appearance. There was an excellent representation of water birds and those of us who had never been here before are all anxious to return here for more birding some day.Our final stop for the day was Carpenteria State Beach. Here we had fantastic views of gulls and terns on the beach in the late afternoon light. Most memorable were the side-by-side comparisons of Royal and Elegant Terns. A great learning opportunity for us.
Several Blue-winged Teal helped round out our birding for the day, but the biggest surprise was a brief look by several of our group at a Nelson's Sparrow. Unfortunately, the sparrow was not cooperative and we could not get any photos.
Day 2 had us boarding the Island Packers boat at Ventura Harbor for the trip across Santa Barbara Channel with calm seas and perfect weather. We had nice numbers of Black-vented Shearwaters, more Royal Terns, and a quick look at a South Polar Skua by those few people lucky enough to be looking in the right direction. But the stars of the show were the Common Dolphins racing across our bow.
Within minutes of landing on Santa Cruz Island, we spotted the first of the endemic Island Scrub-Jays, followed immediately by the endemic subspecies of Loggerhead Shrike. The shrike dropped to the ground while we were on it and came back up with a small lizard in its bill. After this, we quickly picked up several more of the endemic subspecies, including Song Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, Allen's Hummingbird, and Bewick's Wren, nabbing six of the nine possible endemic birds. We spotted a couple of nice vagrants on the island, including a Green-tailed Towhee and a Clay-colored Sparrow. On boat trip back to Ventura, we saw more Black-vented Shearwaters, and both Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. The last surprise of the day was a Steller's Sea Lion hauled out on a bell buoy just outside the harbor. The California Sea Lions on the buoy gave us a great comparison of these two species. Steller's Sea Lions are rarely seen this far south.
The last day of our trip had us breaking into smaller groups, since some of us had to get back to the Bay Area for work the next day, but most of us were able to fit in a stop at Morro Bay to see the two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that have been hanging out at the State Park Marina. Both of the young herons were perched on boats and gave us great views for this difficult ID challenge. The shorter, thicker bill on the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is also all-dark and there are some subtle plumage differences, as well. These cooperative birds gave us a lesson in identification, along with some great entertainment, when one of them started playing with the American Flag on the boat's stern.
It was a wonderful weekend, with every participant adding their expertise to the trip. Thank you to all, especially the trip leaders, Francis Toldi, Leslie Flint, and Donna Pomeroy.
Photos by Donna Pomeroy