Saturday, 23 January 2016

CALIFORNIA 2016: Santa Cruz and home (22-23 January)

22 January. Our day trip to Santa Cruz Island departed from Oxnard Harbour at 09:00. This gave us an hour of light to do some birding nearby before checking in. Matt had looked on ebird and found 2 Black Skimmers had been seen at Surfer's Knoll the previous day. It was ideal, located between Ventura and Oxnard, and the first place on the coast we had visited when we arrived in California. We left the Viking Motel at 06:30 and arrived at Surfer's Knoll as it was getting light to find a very high tide. We walked out to the river mouth which was swamped by water with some waves breaking over the crest of beach but draining into the sand before breaching the lagoon. The skimmers were sat by the river mouth amongst a selection of gulls and later skimming along the lagoon. Time quickly slipped away and we returned when Matt reminded me our departure time and that we ought to be heading back. We did, having a couple of close encounters with waves almost reaching the lagoon.  
Black Skimmer and Glaucous-winged Gull, unusual bedfellows?

one of the few Common Gulls seen, with Ring-billed and California
Glaucous-winged Gull
I wasn't too sure about the front bird

Least Sandpiper
Matt keeping his feet dry, just ...
We drove to Oxnard Harbour arriving at 08:15, quickly checked in and then hung around until the boat boarded and departed just after 09:00. The crossing to Santa Cruz Island took just under two hours and was excellent. We started at the back of the boat but transferred to the bows to better see auks sat on the water ahead of us although it was quite cold there in the wind. I had good views of 8 Cassin's Auklets, 6 Scripp's Murrelets and a couple of Guillemots as well as Brown Booby, juvenile Pomarine Skua and lots of Black-vented Shearwaters, Pacific Divers and Common Dolphins. 

Oxnade Harbour
leaving the harbour 
Brown Booby, Black-vented Shearwater and Western Gull

 We arrived at Prisoners where we had 4.5 hours before returning. We set off down the main track to the start of a superb looking lightly wooded valley seeing both our targets for the island, Island Scrub Jay and the island race of Allen's Hummingbird within 200m. I was watching a male hummingbird in a nearby sallow when it turned and the light caught it's throat. It was such a shockingly brilliant fiery orange that I involuntarily stepped back a pace out of surprise. Further up the valley was private so we followed the main track which climbed up one side and overlooked the beach. We scoped the roosting gulls seeing a Thayer's, several Glaucous-winged and a couple of puzzlers, all were young birds. I had been warned by Martyn Kenefick that one either had too long on the island (4.5 hours) or two little (some boats returned after an hour). The longer visit was our only option and although a shorter one would have been as successful we were happy taking things easy and seeing the jays and hummingbirds again.
Santa Cruz Island
approaching Prisoner's
colour-banded Island Scrub Jay
larger and brighter than the mainland version
usually without a twisty tail
Orange-crowned Warbler
male Allen's Hummingbird, its throat blew me away when it caught the light (unfortunately it didn't for the camera)
female Allen's, still rather impressive
looking down on the beach
some of the gulls had me puzzled, Glaucous-winged and Thayer's?

Stilt Gull??
Santa Cruz Fox, on the prowl
about the size of a large cat which made it very cute
Western Gull, an easy large gull ID!
Our return boat journey was almost as successful as going out although somewhat colder. Only Matt saw a Pomarine Skua, an adult that passed while I was transferring from the cold bows to the slightly warmer stern. I saw two each of Cassin's and Scripp's and had poor views of what I thought were Rhinocerous Auklets, fortunately something we had seen well off Monterey. Heading to the coast we passed large rafts of Black-vented Shearwaters (500+), Pacific Divers (1000+), Western Grebe (3000+) and Brandt's Cormorants (500+). Five Grey (Gray) Whales, better views than off Monterey, a full moon, a nice sunset and a couple of small groups of Heerman's Gulls roosting on floating seaweed made it a very memorable trip. We were back in Oxnard at 17:00, just as the light was fading, and returned to the Viking Motel in Ventura. My last full day had been another good one.
leaving Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Island 

Heerman's Gull on a seaweed raft
Ventura coast
full moon
23 January. My last morning and I had time for some birding in/near LA before Matt dropped me near LAX. Looking on ebird Matt had found that a Hermit Warbler had been seen in a park in LA a couple of days before. There was no further news but it seemed worth a try, more so as it was in 'Dennis the Menace' park. We left the Viking Motel at 05:25 and Matt drove to the park arriving at 07:00 soon after it was light. Traffic had been reasonable, it was a Saturday which doubtless helped, although doing the journey in the dark meant we dipped on the Hollywood sign. The small park did not look encouraging, scattered tall trees, no understory and a large children's play area. There was also no access from the side we had approached and we had to climb over a tall fence to get in. Matt soon found a Townsend's Warbler, a close miss, and several Audubon's. I decided to concentrate on two tall conifers that a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was feeding in. After 20 minutes Matt called over that he had found it and I ran, arriving just in time to see it before it flew, back towards where I had run from and into one of the conifers I had been looking at. There it gave better views and although not a male was still very impressive. We also saw Western Tanager, Orange-crowned Warbler, Cedar Waxwing and a flock of 14 Bushtits. Not bad for a small park. 
Dennis the Menace Park, much birdier than it appeared
who is Dennis?

We had a smooth run to LAX and just had enough time for a look at a lagoon and the beach at Del Rey, not helped by the beach road being closed for a fun run. I finished the trip with Surf Scoter, Buffleheads and some last Heerman's Gulls. Matt dropped me at Alamo at 09:40, he had another successful three days south of LA (see for details and some brilliant photos taken during the trip) while I caught the shuttle bus to LAX, checked in just after 10:00 and began the long journey home (via a snowy Minneapolis St Pauls).
American Coot
drake Bufflehead at Del Rey
Heerman's Gulls at Del Rey, a fitting end to a brilliant trip

The trip had been very successful and hugely enjoyable, in no small measure due to Matt. I was very grateful he had mentioned his plans and more so that he invited me along. A big thank you too to Guy McCaskie for showing a couple of complete strangers around his patch so enthusiastically.

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