Saturday, February 26, 2011

Santa Cruz Island, California

I can't wait to go back to California! In my short time in the state, the weather was sunny and warm and the birds were plentiful. When I left the snow-covered state of Indiana I had no idea what to expect. As mentioned in a previous post, my thoughts of California were very stereotypical. My head was filled with images of traffic, smog, and frivolous behavior - the exact opposite of the images I left with.

My favorite spot was Santa Cruz Island - one of a string Islands known as the Channel Islands. Santa Cruz Island is about 20 miles off the coast of California just west of Ventura. We decided to take the trip to the Island with the specific intent to see the Island Scrub Jay - a bird endemic to this one Island. So, we booked a trip with Island Packers and before we knew it we were on a boat in the Pacific Ocean. A BEAUTIFUL Pacific Ocean I might add. Thank goodness for the little miracle patch behind my ear!

On our way out to the island, we were entertained by some breathtaking fauna, including: Dolphins, Whales, Seals, Gulls, Cormorants, Grebes, and Ducks. And... as exciting as all of these animals were, the star of the show was none other than the Island Scrub Jay.

Lilacs... everywhere you looked were breathtaking reminders of God's creations!

Santa Cruz Island... gorgeous!

Santa Cruz Island... home of the Island Scrub Jay. Could you live here?

Island Scrub Jay... the star of the show in an Oscar winning pose! These Jays NEVER leave Santa Cruz Island.

Island Scrub Jays... a pair actually picking up twigs, etc. working on a home for the next generation. Notice the bands on their legs? This helps scientists identify them as individuals.
Once we arrived to the Island, we were orientated by an Island Packers Naturalist about the Island. He gave us a short history and then gave us the option of going on our own on the National Park side of the island or with him to the Nature Conservancy side of the island. We opted to go with him as the Island Scrub Jays are reportedly more reliable on the TNC side. So off we went UPHILL to find the Island Scrub Jay! The bad news is that I quickly realized once again how out of shape I was but determined, I lifted this 260 pound body up the hill to see the Jay! The good news is that the Jay made a presence known pretty quick once we got up the hill. I was instantly in love with this bird and the island. The even better news is that not only did we see two Jays rather instantly, we saw several more - at least 6-7 in total.

Hillside Lupine... the beauty of Santa Cruz Island.

Bewick's Wren... relatively plain as compared to the Island Scrub Jay but this bird was singing with such passion that I had to make sure I gave him credit. He was loving life one Santa Cruz Island!!!
I spent most of the remainder of my time on the Island watching the Jays and simply enjoying the views from all directions. We were only on the island about 3 hours before our ferry was back to pick us up but our short visit was definitely worth every moment. To see a bird such as the Island Scrub Jay in the setting of Santa Cruz Island is memory that I never want to forget!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pismo Beach, California. Monarchs, Monarchs, Monarchs!

Until now, I had never been to California. In fact, anytime the word "California" came up, the image that I had of the state was nothing more than a land of complete chaos and corruption - something I had no desire to be a part. I was invited by my two friends, Amy and Sally to join them on their already planned birding trip. I instantly (and probably imposingly) accepted the invitation and met them about mid-week into their vacation just two weeks ago. I arrived on a late flight so it wasn't until the next morning that I knew I had a made a mistake. Instantly, I knew that I had messed up - I should have come sooner! The mountains that surrounded the hotel said, "Welcome to California" in a way that I never expected. The state is absolutely beautiful!

Our first stop was a park in Pismo Beach, just north of Santa Barbara - a location known for its magnet attraction to Monarch butterflies. It was only a matter of seconds after our arrival before we knew were someplace special. Monarch's by the thousands were coming to life as the sun warmed the air. They seemed to be dripping from the trees, mostly Eucalyptus, from all directions. If you are a butterfly lover, you would feel as though you were in heaven. If you have yet to come to appreciate butterflies, I am certain that this amazing place would be your changing point. If not, well... we have some work to do!

Oh, and the birding at this park? Fantastic! But, I will talk about that more another day!

A low-light picture but I think you get the idea!

At times, they seem to become a permanent part of the tree.

Enjoying the sun!

Not for innocent eyes! I was extremely uncomfortable with the amount of frivolous activity going on!

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal