One of the most gorgeous natural visuals available to us can best be enjoyed by a slow cruise along the front (north) side of Santa Cruz Island, situated within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
I commonly watch people grow silent with awe as they take in the breathtaking beauty of the sheer rugged cliffs and picturesque little coves.
Sea caves abound, and they look so inviting, until you consider what happens inside that cave when powerful swells sweep along the island. One special cave — Painted Cave – is big enough to take a boat inside of when the swells aren’t too big.
Most of our party boat and private charter operators take passengers into the cave. It can be spooky, and for some it becomes a spiritual event with epic epiphanies. Painted Cave is my absolute favorite place in the world and to me it is a spiritual place.
Smaller caves can be found all along the north side of the island, and many look just right for exploration by kayak. It can be great fun to stack some kayaks on a boat and head across for a day of paddling and exploration.
When quietly enjoying stunning island views, one startling moment is when the calm and serene mood is pierced by the shrill sound of bird calls. We all know the gull’s cry only too well. Our brown pelicans are thankfully quiet. Other birds make some eerie sounds.
The rocky rugged waterline of Santa Cruz Island is perfect for some funny looking and sounding birds, which inhabit just such terrain.
We often see oystercatchers 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.
There are other rewarding birdwatching opportunity at Santa Cruz Island. This is the home of the island scrub jay, which only lives on our Channel Islands. These grow to about 25% larger than mainland scrub jays. All of this makes for very special bird to log in a birdwatcher’s book.
Know what I love about birdwatchers? When a birdwatcher claims to have seen a particular bird, all other birdwatchers seem to readily accept the person’s word as truth. Compare that to fisherfolk! Listen … when fisherfolk claim to have caught something, they had darn well better have photos to back it up.
Another birdwatching opportunity is looking for bald eagles perched on high cliffs or dead branches of trees. They swoop down gracefully and skillfully to grab fish with their powerful talons and then with strong wing beats, fly back up to a perch or to their nest to feed themselves or their babies.
Channel Islands National Park staff and volunteers have done great work to build roosting places and bring back the mighty bald eagle to the Channel Islands chain. Good work!
It is so relaxing and rewarding to spend a day crossing the channel and watching for pelagic seabirds, then drifting just off of a wide canyon looking for island scrub jays, then noticing the big raptors flying high above the island or sitting in lone trees, next enjoying the scenery of the quiet little coves, and feeling special about spotting the cute shorebirds of the rocky coastline.
The trip back across the channel is when everyone can compare notes about what they saw, and why it all feels so wonderful. We have some precious resources around us. Let’s enjoy it all.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.