It seemed a no-brainer to grab an opportunity to explore two of the Channel Islands with ecologist-extraordinare Kurt Leuschner, a professor at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. Anacapa Island, the barren rookery for hundreds of Western Gulls, and Santa Cruz, the lushest and largest, offered two ends of the Channel Islands’ ecological spectrum. If you haven’t visited them – do go.
One allure is seeing plants only found on the Channel Islands. According to this California State University Channel Islands list, 62 species of plants are endemic. Two have gone extinct.
Anacapa Island – for the Birds…
First, a photo gallery, offers the best overview.
Highlights of East Anacapa Island
- Birds! Kurt Leuschner kept track of bird sightings – 12 on Anacapa or on the way to/from – including nesting Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots, a resident Peregrine Falcon pair (so the gulls do have a predator) and many hundreds of nesting Western Gulls
- Western gulls: Anacapa is a well known rookery for this gull that only nests on remote islands; some had nests, or had their chicks ‘hidden’ right next to the trail. Some were very loud, some attacked (I got bonked on the head). On this June 2nd visit, the photos show 1-3 eggs with a number of nestlings walking or hiding behind the limited vegetation..
- Blue whale, largest animal in the world – amazing to witness it’s length (90 feet long) and also Fin whale, and Common dolphins
It’s barren, not helped by the drought. The smallest islands have the least vegetation, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa the largest. (see map below)
Santa Cruz Island -The Queen in Vegetation and Unique Species
Above shows the lush vegetation (on a hike from Prisoner’s Cove) that illustrates how California used to look. More Santa Cruz photos below:
Highlights of Santa Rosa (Prisoner’s Cove area):
- Lush vegetation, despite the ongoing drought. We’ve planted Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat, a compact buckwheat – there, it was huge. Huge lemonade berries, island oaks, ceanothus….all so large.
Species found no where else….We got to see two of their endemic animals – the Santa Cruz Island Jay – nearly double the size of the scrub jay and the island fox, which is smaller. Great examples of gigantism and dwarfism in evolution…
For more info:
Channel Islands visitor center – excellent demo garden and introductory film if you’re there, or you can watch the video on this site.
Channel Islands National Park website – the national park contains 5 of the islands
This Wikipedia Channel Islands page best describes the 8 islands
Webcams (including one of the nesting bald eagles on Santa Cruz Island)
More about island Dwarfism…. why some species adapt smaller
An article about Channel Island Gigantism… why some species adapt larger