21 Nov 2014

21 Nov 14 - The Channel Islands Scrub Jay & Fox

There was no time to lose to start looking for an Island Scrub Jay once I got off the boat at Santa Cruz Island, as I only had about three & a half hours to look around Prisoners Harbour. One of the crew on the boat had said that Birders had seen the Island Scrub Jay on the coastal trail to the right of the valley. Island Scrub Jays are restricted to Santa Cruz and the current population size is thought to be about 2300 individuals on this twenty by five miles island. After a few minutes I reached the start of the trail & was heading uphill. After about twenty or thirty minutes of looking, I found the first couple of Island Scrub Jays. The views were fine, but they weren't particularly close. Fairly quickly they headed off & away from the path. I carried on Birding, but didn't see any others. The trail was getting more open & didn't look as suitable so I turned around & headed back to the quayside area. Here I ran into another, more showy, individual feeding on an acorn stash in a tree. Apparently, they harvest & hide acorns, so presumably this stash belongs to the Island Scrub Jay, rather than to an Acorn Woodpecker which also occurs on the island.
The hillside behind Prisoners Harbour: The mainland can be seen in the distance
Fire is a real risk for the wildlife on the island as it is so dry
Looking along the coast
Island Scrub Jay: They are restricted to Santa Cruz Island
Island Scrub Jay: They were split from Western Scrub Jay by Clements & IOC, however, BWP still regards Island Scrub Jay as a subspecies of Western Scrub Jay
Island Scrub Jay: They are about one third larger than Western Scrub Jays
Island Scrub Jay: It has pulled an acorn out of a hole
Island Scrub Jay
Island Scrub Jay: The acorn was swallowed whole
Island Scrub Jay: It was a great looking Jay & my only Tick of my short stopover in California
It was time to find some shade & eat the small snack I had brought over with me. However, this was quickly disturbed by the appearance of an Island Fox which appeared to have a look around the landing area. It was clearly used to people & presumably was hoping I had brought some food for it. I hadn't & it wouldn't be a good idea to feed an endemic species with a limited range. Island Foxes are distantly descended from the mainland Grey Fox, however, they are regarded as a separate species. They are found on six of the eight islands with each island having its own distinctive subspecies. Like many island species, they have become a lot smaller than than mainland ancestor which is probably an adaptation to the limited food availability on the island. However, they also wouldn't need to be as large to compete with other predators, as Grey Foxes on the mainland need to. Their head & body length is around nineteen inches with another eleven inches for the tail. This compares with Grey Foxes which range in size between thirty & forty four inches for the head & body length and a tail ranging from eleven to seventeen inches in size. The overall population is currently around 6000 individuals. In the 1990s introduced Cats, Pigs, Sheep, Goats & Red Deer had all been removed. However, about this time Golden Eagles were becoming commoner on the islands & they became a significant predator for Island Foxes. In the late 90s, canine distemper arrived on the island & this killed over 90% of the Island Foxes on St Catalina island. Similar crashes were seen in most of the other island populations with the number on Santa Cruz being reduced to 135 in 2000, from a population of 2000 only six years earlier. Fortunately, following a program of vaccination for distemper & rabies and captive breeding programs on some islands, the populations have now recovered to their former numbers. Visitors are no longer allowed to bring their pets to this island which might have been how the distemper was originally introduced.
Island Fox: This is a really cute Fox
Island Fox: The current population on Santa Cruz is around 1750 individuals
Island Fox
Island Fox
I still had another hour before I needed to return to the quayside so I had a look around the bushes in the valley. It isn't possible to walk too far up the valley, as a fence indicated it was private property.
The valley behind Prisoners Harbour
It was private land beyond this fence
There was a selection of Birds in the bushes close to the landing area, so I was happy to not wander too far.
Hermit Thrush
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Loggerhead Shrike: This individual was hanging around close to the quayside
Song Sparrow: This is the graminea subspecies which is restricted to the Channel Islands
Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Finally, it was time to wander back to the quayside where there were some Gulls to photograph.
California Gull: There were a few loafing around on the pier. The black band & red spot on the bill & the dark eye all help to identify them from the other local species
Heermann's Gull
The Island Packers boat
We had the waves behind us on the journey back & it wasn't quite as rough as it was on the way over, but it was still pretty bouncy. There were good numbers of Cassin's Auklets, a few Fulmars & Black-vented Shearwaters, Pelagic Cormorants and a large feeding party of around 150 Western Grebes. There was also a couple of Short-beaked Common Dolphins which is the most abundant Dolphin on this stretch of the Californian coastline.
Fulmar: The Pacific rodgersii subspecies of Fulmar look very different colouration from their North Atlantic cousins
Common Seal: Another familiar face was a Common Seal as we were close to Ventura Harbour
We were back in Ventura harbour in late afternoon. Some of the Black-necked Grebes were still happily feeding in the main channel.
Black-necked Grebe
Ventura Harbour is a long channel
Another view of Ventura Harbour
Once I was back on dry land, there wasn't a lot of time left to go far. I headed out of town & found a convenient beach to have a final look around. The light was fading fast & there wasn't much I could do other than watch the sun going down. Next, it was back to the harbour area for some food, before heading off for a few hours of driving to my next & final location.
Sunset over the Channel Islands: It has been a good day with the Island Scrub Jay seen & a bonus Island Fox