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March News 2018

Here it is the second week in April and I thought I should try something new. It will be mutually beneficial. I plan on publishing a monthly report with comings and goings in the channel, plus other interesting news from the Islands and surrounding waters. First, it will give those of you who would like it, an update on what is taking place just off shore of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Who knows, maybe trends for the whole lower half of the state will emerge over time. Second it will motivate me to keep on top of my note taking, photography, and blogging side of TheSaltyBird.

First off, March was the official start to spring, March 20th to be exact. We definitely had some spring weather this month. The winds blew and the upwelling began dropping the surface temperatures and depositing a fresh sprinkling of nutrients up into the Photic zone. This seasonal change generally results in cooler waters nearshore and a greenish color to the ocean causing underwater visibility to decrease. Basically what is happening is the phytoplankton begins to grow and reproduce with the longer days of sunlight and abundant "fertilizer" in the water. This results in rapid growth of zooplankton, the favorite food of fish, whales, and many seabirds.

Basking Shark

Basking Shark, one of the many beneficiaries of the spring winds

Basking Shark

There were quite a few amazing encounters with a half dozen or more Basking Sharks during this month. These animals are best appreciated as their 25 ft hulking bodies swim just feet away from the boat. I guess Basking Sharks used to be more common, but they were heavily fished for the oil in their livers and later were often caught as bi-catch in gill nets.

Gray Whales, looking for love

It takes at least three Gray Whales to make one baby Gray Whale

Most of March is also a great time to catch the bulk of the Gray Whale population passing through the SB Channel on their way north. It is usually the best time to find frisky whales, and promiscuous activities too. I crossed paths with a trio of mating Grays on the way to Santa Rosa one day and watched them rolling about at the surface for about 10 minutes before we had to move on.

Humpback Whale

Humpback, Fin, Blue, and Minke Whales have also returned to our local waters. They may be just passing through on their way north but they will stop and feed if the Krill and fish are plentiful.

On March 10th a number of birders headed out to Santa Cruz Island to find the Island Scrub-Jay and do some Pelagic birding along the way. I won't rehash the details of that trip since I already wrote about it here. The main focus of this particular trip was to get good looks at our island nesting species, alcids, and the Island Scrub-Jay. It was a nice trip with good looks at these birds and "a bit" of rain on the ride in.

Speaking of Rain we had a pretty good soaking March 21st that led to a lot of debris floating around.

March 14th-16th I went out to Anacapa Island to do a land bird survey for the Channel Islands National Park. I didn't get the best weather but it was a fantastic trip. I was the only human on the island for the majority of the time. There were no unusual birds, and despite the rain falling on the island while I was there, I could see the devastating impacts the past few years of drought brought to the island vegetation. Many of the Giant Coreopsis and Bush Mallow were dead and crumbling back into the soil from which they originated. The solitude, and slowing down of time were much needed to re-calibrate my busy life. I kind of miss the drone of the fog horn, the cackling of the Gulls, and the wind whistling through the air.

Western Gulls

Western Gull Transcendence

Along with Rain, I also got wind

The last day of the trip offered up some better weather and I completed the bird survey and made it off the island before the next big storm hit.

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

On the return to the mainland from Anacapa, a Black-legged Kittiwake flew by, always a nice bird in these parts.

The last few days of March brought in the first Red-necked Phalaropes of the year, and a few Red Phalaropes were an added bonus.

Perhaps it is appropriate, the best for last as they say... but on March 31st while motoring away from the Santa Rosa Pier I spotted an out of place bird flying ahead of us. When I got my bins on it, I was a bit confused by the pattern of colors but I could only figure it for a Long-tailed Duck! I snapped some photos and looked them over on the back of my camera and confirmed my thoughts. We then circled back around and retraced our path but could not find the bird again. Only later as we began motoring in our original direction did I now spot two strange birds sitting side by side. One duck became two! This was pretty amazing, I was fairly sure that this was a rare sighting for the Island, and perhaps a new record of this species. I looked it up in my checklist for Birds of the California Channel Islands but looked at the wrong line and got confused because it was reading they are a common winter visitor??? Hindsight, I was looking at the wrong entry, I think that one was for White-winged Scoter just above Long-tailed Duck. My error was pointed out to me later, (thanks Adam) so I looked it up again and saw that yes this was the first time a Long-tailed Duck had been documented at Santa Rosa Island. Pretty cool.

Long-tailed Duck, Santa Rosa Island March 31st, 2018. First documented encounter

Spring is happening, the rain may be done, but the wind is just getting started! See you next month!

Fire on Santa Cruz Island

Oh yah there was this little bit of a fire thingy over on Santa Cruz Island that sort of got out of control from an "ahem" controlled burn. You can read about it here.

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