Tuesday, May 17, 2016

no man is an island, but many gulls are

One of those things I'd always wanted to do: visit one of the Channel Islands, eight outcroppings off the coast of Southern California. One, Santa Catalina, is actually inhabited and easily accessible, but I've never been there. Two others are Navy bases and not open to the public. The remaining five make up Channel Islands National Park, and it was to the smallest and closest of these, Anacapa (strictly East Anacapa, one of a chain of islets, one mile long and 1/4 wide) that I sailed on the concessionaire's day trip last Thursday. It's an hour out there, not counting the time we stopped to watch the dolphins and whales feeding (an awesome sight as the dolphins leap into the air to herd the fish by creating subsurface booming sounds while coming down), and you get about four hours on the island. There are no services on the island, not even water for public use, just a couple pair of outhouses, so bring your own lunch and lots of water, and take your trash away with you.

For the first two hours, I was struck by how weird and alien a place Anacapa is. After that, I found myself reveling in its strange beauty. During that time I walked it pretty much end to end.

A tilted mesa surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides - it's a 155-step climb up from the dock - East Anacapa lies in a rain shadow and is covered with low scrub, even a little cactus, plus weird bushes called tree sunflowers. These bloom violently in March, but by May almost all that was gone. What the island did have in May was gulls. Thousands of seagulls spread over the island, and every gull was nesting, and every nest had exactly three speckled green eggs in it. And every gull squawked continuously if you got very near its nest, which since they were everywhere meant there was constant squawking.

The eggs were just beginning to hatch, and the 20 or so of us adult day tourists (there were also 2 groups of high school students on field trips on our boat) saw just a few fuzzy chicks, alerting each other to them as we occasionally passed each other on the lonely gravel trails.

Here's my photo album of the trip. If you take it on slide-show view, you'll see my explanatory captions for each photo. And you'd better read them, because the chicks are almost invisible against the background.

Like Alcatraz, but for different reasons, this is an island I doubt I'll ever return to, but am very glad I visited: an experience not to be forgotten.

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