The one thing I really wanted to do on this most recent trip to southern California was visit Santa Cruz Island again. The last time I was out there was in January of 2008 and Daisy and I had really enjoyed both the boat ride and the island itself. This time, more than five years later, on 20 June 2013, we were not only going in summer rather than winter but we also had our three-year-old son, Desmond, with us. Would the trip be as fun?

In a word, yes. We had a nice boat ride out on an Island Packers vessel, though Desi did not like how fast the boat went into the waves and clung to Daisy the entire time. Our time on the island was spent looking at birds, exploring, picnicking, throwing rocks in the water, and admiring a very cooperative Santa Cruz Island Fox. By the time the boat came back for us we were pretty tired and had enjoyed a heck of a day. The ride from Prisoner’s Harbor, where we had spent our day, to Scorpion Anchorage, was uneventful, though Desi did fall asleep and I did enjoy pretty good views of breeding-plumaged Pigeon Guillemots.

Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba

Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba

But once we left Prisoner’s Harbor things really started to pick up. First off, Felonious Jive‘s brother-in-ornithology, Seagull Steve, who you will remember from my trip to southern California back in December, came aboard the boat after a two-week stint doing field work. Then the birds showed. Hundreds, then thousands of Sooty Shearwaters, which was pretty impressive considering that I didn’t see anything more than double digits on the way out.

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

As only is to be expected when there are that many sooties around, Steve and his fellow biologist, Tom, managed to spot a couple of Pink-footed Shearwaters as well. It took me awhile, but I managed to get on quite a few, especially when the boat slowed down to go check out some Humpback Whales and a huge number of Common Dolphins.

Pink-footed Shearwater Puffinus creatopus

Pink-footed Shearwater Puffinus creatopus

humpback breach aftermath

Sooty Shearwaters and a Western Gull fly by the aftermath of a Humpback Whale breaching. That is Santa Cruz Island in the background.

three shearwater species

This picture actually has three species of shearwater in it – Pink-footedSooty, and Black-vented.

The whales, the dolphins, and the seabirds all combined to put on an amazing show, with one Humpback Whale even coming to the surface right next to the boat and then diving beneath us. We estimated at least 3,500 sooties and over 1,000 dolphins. It was amazing.

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae

It was truly an amazing experience only lessened by the fact that Desi slept through the whole thing. (Though I did make sure to go take my turn with him so Daisy got to check out the action from the deck of the boat and not be stuck watching from the cabin.)

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Though they haven’t rated a mention thus far, Brown Pelicans were everywhere and are awesome.

The final nice bird of the boat ride was a small flock of Elegant Terns which, when you have seen them in flight, you will understand why they are so named.

Elegant Tern Thalasseus elegans

Elegant Tern Thalasseus elegans

It was a heck of a trip and a very lucky one. Seagull Steve has been making the same boat ride every two weeks since late March and he said that the number of birds beat all of his previous trips this year combined. So, yeah, lucky. If you have a chance, get to southern California and make your way to Island Packers – they are the way to get to the Island Scrub-Jay, they have knowledgeable and caring staff, and they know how to get you close to the wildlife without getting too close for the animals’ comfort.

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.