Being a Brief Account of My Participation in Island Packers’ Pelagic Birding Trip to Santa Cruz…

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Being a Brief Account of My Participation in Island Packers’ Pelagic Birding Trip to Santa Cruz Island, 2018-03-10

With specific reference to birds I saw that were new additions to my Santa Barbara County year list

After a cut because no one has room for that in their dash

It was so much fun! It only rained on us a little on our way over, and then when it rained a fair amount on our way back it didn’t matter because I was warmed by the inner glow of all the cool new birds I’d seen. 😀

It was all quite awesome, but I’m just going to list the birds that were new for my county year list. Here they are in the order in which I saw them. The eBird lists, which were kept by the trip guides, haven’t been finalized yet, so this is from memory.

Cassin’s Auklet (#205)


Photo by Flickr user Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith

These little alcids are so adorable it’s ridiculous. And the Santa Barbara Channel was full of them today. We started seeing them on the way to Anacapa, and after we crossed the imaginary line between Anacapa and Santa Cruz we saw more almost immediately. By the end of the day I felt pretty solid about picking them out, even through rain-spattered binoculars as they skittered away across the water.

Black-vented Shearwater (#206)


Photo by Flickr user (and regional eBird editor and all-around swell person) Jamie Chavez

These are on the small side (for a shearwater). They’ll be moving on from our area fairly soon, so I was glad to have the chance to see them. We picked them up early in the trip, and kept seeing them as we crossed from Anacapa to Santa Cruz.

Pigeon Guillemot (#207)


Photo by Wikipedia user DickDaniels

How could you not love a bird like that? We were surrounded by them once we started motoring along the north side of Santa Cruz. They’re nesting in the sea caves there, and there were some in view pretty much the whole time we were close to shore.

Black Oystercatcher (#208)


Photo by Flickr user Len Blumin

There should be a law against a bird having this much personality. We saw a couple on the detached breakwater as we were leaving Channel Islands Harbor, then saw several countable ones along the north shore of Santa Cruz.

Island Scrub Jay (#209)


Photo by Flickr user Bill Bouton

North America’s only island endemic. On some level it seems surprising that such a boisterous, apparently fearless bird is such a weak flyer that the few miles of ocean between the mainland and Santa Cruz are enough to isolate the population, but here we are. Something I noticed this time that I’d never appreciated before is how much bluer they are than their mainland cousins.

They showed up as soon as we walked off the pier at Prisoner’s Harbor.

Scripps’s Murrelet (#210)


Photo by Flickr user Greg Schechter

I was a little nervous about these. Another adorable little alcid, we started seeing them on the way to Anacapa, but they don’t hang out close to shore, and as of lunchtime we hadn’t seen any in Santa Barbara waters. As the trip back started I wondered: Would we we be able to get any while still on the Santa Barbara side of the line?

I needn’t have worried. The people running our trip knew what they were doing. On the way back we headed north into deeper water, and shortly thereafter I got to add these sharp little alcids to the list.

Rhinoceros Auklet (#211)


Photo by Flickr user Mike Baird

We actually saw one of these early on the trip back before the countable Scripps’s Murrelets, I’m pretty sure. I raised my binoculars to check out a bird flying a short distance from the boat; through the raindrops on my lenses I saw dingy gray plumage and thought it was yet another Cassin’s Auklet. But as I was following the bird a couple of the better birders on the upper deck where I was hanging out (including trip guide Peter Gaede, one of the best birders I’ve ever been lucky enough to bird with) said, “Rhino!” The bird disappeared into the rain, and they explained that it had looked considerably bigger than a Cassin’s Auklet. I was spared having to wrestle with whether or not to list it (over-analyzing listability is something that comes with a list obsession) when a second, much closer Rhino showed up and put my mind at ease.

It wasn’t in breeding plumage, so it didn’t have the cool rhino horn and head tufts, but I got good views of its big beak and “anvil-shaped” head.

Northern Fulmar (#212)


Photo by Flickr user Tim Sackton

I knew these were out there for the finding since we’d seen several in Ventura County on the way out, but we hadn’t seen any on the Santa Barbara side, and I was starting to worry we wouldn’t when a couple more flew past. Yay! County year bird #8 for the day!

Fulmars are so cool.

There actually was one more bird that would have been #9, Bonaparte’s Gull; we saw several just a few minutes after the announcement that we were back in Ventura County. But it’s possible the announcement was just a tad premature, and I believe the trip guides are taking a closer look to see if one or more of those fulmars might actually have been on the Santa Barbara side. So we’ll see about that.

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