Monday, September 25 , 2017, 6:17 pm | Fair 75º


Captain’s Log: Island Bird Watching

Take a trip across the Channel to enjoy nature's beauty and revel in the looks and sounds of birds.

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A night heron prepares to show a snowy egret who’s boss at the bait receiver near the harbor entrance. (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

Autumn is a good time to take to the sea in search of birds. We have periods of delightful water conditions and plenty of birds to see.

The bird-watching part of the trip begins very early — before leaving the harbor, where dozens of species of birds who roost and forage in our harbor.

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
The bait receiver near the harbor entrance is always worth checking out. It is like a little island where birds feel safe from shoreside dangers such as dogs. There is usually live bait inside the receivers, and those birds certainly know it. Species commonly found on the bait receiver include night heron, snowy egret, great egret, blue heron, cormorants, brown pelicans and a variety of gulls.

It is so relaxing and rewarding to spend a day crossing the Channel, watching for pelagic seabirds, then drifting just off of a wide canyon at Santa Cruz Island looking for island scrub jays. These special birds are indigenous to the Channel Islands and are easily recognized because they are about 25 percent larger than mainland scrub jays. Birdwatchers love logging this unique bird in their books because doing so also makes a statement about the adventure they made to do it.

We often spot raptors — now including bald eagles — flying high above the island or sitting in lone trees. The scenery of the quiet little coves is stunning, and we spot cute shorebirds along the rocky island coastline.

I commonly watch people grow silent and awestruck as they take in the breathtaking beauty of the sheer rugged cliffs and picturesque coves along the north side of Santa Cruz Island. The calm and serene mood is frequently pierced by the shrill sound of bird calls. Some birds make eerie sounds. The rocky rugged waterline of the island is just perfect for certain funny looking and sounding birds that inhabit such terrain.

We often see oyster catchers and boobies, launching themselves off the rocks at water’s edge and flying in their typical semicircular pattern to another equally precarious perch. These birds are special because of their shape and colorful appendages.

Sea caves abound, and they look so inviting, until you consider what happens inside that cave when a powerful swell sweeps along the island. One special cave — Painted Cave — is big enough to take a boat inside when the swells aren’t too big. It can be spooky, yet for many people it becomes a spiritual event. Count me in that group. Painted Cave is my absolute favorite place in the world. Smaller caves can be found all along the north side if the island, and many look just right for exploration by kayak or skiff.

The trip back across the Channel is when everyone can compare notes about what they saw, and why it all feels so wonderful. We sure do have some precious resources around us.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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