Channel Islands National Park

March 22, 2021 at 5:00 am (Birds - California, California, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography) (, , )

Island Fox

I had two critters in mind when I visited Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park in early March, 2021. The Island Fox was one.

Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay on manzanita

The Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma insularis) was the second. It is found ONLY on Santa Cruz Island.

It was a bright overcast day, perfect for wildlife photography. I didn’t have to go very far to find these guys. I only went a short distance on the Cavern Point trail above the picnic area and a pair of Island Scrub Jays seemed to be bringing nesting material to a Monterey cypress. I sat and watched.

This variety of scrub jay is a bit different than the California scrub jays that visit my yard. They are more intensely colored, especially the blue. They are supposed to be larger, but I couldn’t tell the difference.

They became curious about me, too, and both came closer on a manzanita to study me.

I walked a short distance up the hill and the Island Fox was in plain view, nose to the ground, sniffing the rodent tunnels through the lush green grass.

Occasionally he raised his head just enough for a decent photograph, but never once looked at me while I watched, though he knew I was there. He came with in about 20 feet of me at one point, and I’m just standing on the trail. Everyone else had gone ahead awhile earlier, and I had the spectacle all to myself.

I sat on the bank overlooking the ocean and along came a pair of peregrine falcons.

Hawks are sometimes confusing for me – this one seems more like a Swainson’s but the red-tailed juvenile is possible, too.

Sparrows made great subjects, too since they posed so sweetly for me. Although the Park Service website says the Channel Islands Song Sparrow sub-species is not found on Santa Cruz Island, either it is now, or it is the more common form.

The spotted towhee was trickier, as they tend to want to hide.

Spotted towhee

A pair of loggerhead shrikes may also have been scoping out a nesting site near the picnic area. They were the least shy shrikes I’ve encountered anywhere and allowed the best images I’ve ever made of this species. Matter of fact, apparently they are also an endemic sub-species.

As I said, I didn’t make it very far up the trail since I spent so much time with these critters. But I was more than happy with the trip.

Both on the way over, and on the way back, we saw migrating gray whales!

Gray whale diving

There are quite a few oil platforms offshore, as you can tell by the photos.

Brown pelicans in breeding plumage
Brown pelicans Ventura

The Common Dolphins that met the boat going out were playful, some swimming right alongside the boat. To visit Channel Islands go with Island Packers. They stop for whales and slow down for dolphins. You can also hire guides to go kayaking or exploring as well. With COVID-19, many services are minimized, and wearing masks is a requirement on the boat, especially since it is impossible to social distance. I sat in the open in the stern for best access to photos, best ventilation, and for reduced chance of seasickness. (Two Bonine tablets were indispensable for that.) This is definitely a trip I’d like to take again.

Leaving Santa Cruz Island

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Santa Barbara

March 21, 2021 at 7:49 pm (California) (, , )

Mission Santa Barbara

I went to Santa Barbara enroute to the Channel Islands National Park (next blog post.) At the top of my list were Old Mission Santa Barbara, and the Botanic Gardens. I just happened to be standing front and center at the mission when the Franciscan friar appeared in the doorway. Soon he brought out a folding table and lectern and other items to celebrate Mass outdoors, due to COVID-19.

The inside was closed to visitors, but the exterior was, for me, the most beautiful part.

In the adjacent olive garden was a beautiful mosaic Stations of the Cross. A Spanish-speaking family was devoutly praying their way along all of the stations, in the way I used to do as a Catholic schoolgirl during Lent.

Stations of the Cross mosaic

I actually started at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden before I went to the mission. My GPS insisted that the San Marcos Pass Road (St. Route 154) was the fastest route, even though I could have stayed on U.S. Rt. 101 the entire way from my home in Paso Robles. It was a two-lane, winding, heavily-traveled road and I vowed I would never take that road again. (On the way home I stayed on the 101 and it was a breeze.)

There is limited parking at the Botanic Garden but there were folks there to guide us into a newly vacated spot. I didn’t realize that the garden featured ONLY California native plants, which was a real bonus.

California poppies and verbena

Meeting this gopher snake (at least that’s what I think it is) was a highlight. It was an extremely lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng snake covering the entire trail even though it was doubled up. When I moved to go around it, it slowly moved off.

Some other early blooming flowers made my day, too.

Path through redwood forest

Tomorrow: My visit to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
Join my Facebook Page

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