July 15, 2018: A Day with the Birds
Channel Islands National Park is obscenely close to Los Angeles, but it gets overlooked. In fact, many Angelenos are unaware that it even exists!
The Channel Islands consist of 8 islands, but only 5 islands are part of the National Park: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Santa Catalina aka Catalina Island is not part of the National Park.
To reach the islands you have to take a boat. The boats to Anacapa leave from Oxnard. The boats to the other 4 islands leave from Ventura. Island Packers (islandpackers.com) is the Park Service concessioner. If time is more valuable than money or you are traveling with a group, Channel Islands Aviation offers flights to Santa Rosa Island for $1200 + tax. The plane seats 8, so if you can fill the plane, it’s only about 70% pricier than the boat.
At only 699 acres, Anacapa is by far the smallest of the Channel Islands. It is actually made up of 3 small islets: West, Middle and East Anacapa. Boats normally only travel to East Anacapa, but occasionally special trips will be arranged to Frenchy’s Cove on West Anacapa. Frenchy’s Cove is just a cobblestone beach surrounded by protected land so if you want to see more, I would highly recommend visiting East Anacapa instead.
I headed up to Oxnard with my friends Jessica and Andrew on a Sunday morning. The drive took 1 hour 15 minutes from Santa Monica. We got to the boat a bit early, so we killed time by getting a fantastic breakfast at Mrs. Olson’s Coffee Hut, a longtime local favorite. I ordered the enormous Surfer Breakfast Burrito.
At 9am, we arrived at the Island Packers Oxnard office and checked in for our trip. The lady said that conditions were good and that the boat will be able to dock on the island (whew). At 9:15, we loaded onto the Vanguard. It was a much smaller boat than I was expecting. It left promptly at 9:30.
The ride to the island took about an hour. Along the way, dolphins swam up to our boat to catch the current!
Right at 10:30, we arrived at Anacapa Island. The cliffs were about 100-150 feet high. We could see thousands of birds perched high on the island. It was then that I opened my phone and read the warning from the National Park Service: WARNING: Western Gulls Nesting on Anacapa Island From April Through Mid-August During this time, visitors will encounter seabird rookery conditions: guano, strong odor, constant noise, bird carcasses, and birds protecting their territory. If visitors consider these conditions adverse, it is advised that they visit another island.
Some of the cliffs were white with guano. It was then I realized that it was going to be a stranger day than I was expecting.
The boat docked in a cove. After unloading, we climbed 150 steps (the Anacapa Stairmaster) to reach the island proper. Right at the top of the stairs, everyone was crowded around a seagull and was taking pictures of it. Looking back, this was incredibly silly because I turned around to discover that the birds were EVERYWHERE.
The ranger estimates that there are 4,000 bird nests and each nesting bird. Each bird has 1-3 babies so there are approximately 12,000 seagulls on the tiny island!
The baby birds cannot fly at this point, so the mama birds are extremely territorial. If you get too close, they will squawk at you. If you get even closer and they feel threatened, they will fly up into the air and dive-bomb at your head.
If a bird gets too close to another bird, the defending bird will attack the trespassing bird by pecking at its head. Oftentimes these fights go to the death. Throughout the day we saw at least 50 bird carcasses.
With only 2 miles of trails, but 5 hours until the boat leaves, we walked slowly around the island and made sure to spend plenty of time at each spot. The first stop was the National Park visitor center, which has about 10 minutes of exhibits to see. Outside of the visitor center, there are picnic tables with wind-dials that keep the birds away.
About a quarter mile from the visitor center is the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is closed to the public due to the siren which could cause permanent hearing loss. The birds obviously did not read the memo and still nest close to the lighthouse and all on the trail.
1/2 mile from the visitor center is Pinniped Point. This aptly named vista has views of a beach inhabited by sea lions.
Another nice viewpoint is Cathedral Cove on the north side of the island. You can also see sea lions from here, but not as many as Pinniped Point.
The best viewpoint on the island is Inspiration Point, located at the far western tip of the island. The roundtrip hike takes about 40 minutes from the visitor center. From here you are privy to an unbelievable view of the other islets that make up Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island.
The final activity on the island is exploring the landing cove- the only spot to go into the water. There is a 20 ft. cliff jump and a kelp forest to explore. The water felt quite refreshing on a hot day. We only spent an hour here, but wish we spent more like 2.
At 3:15pm the boat pulled into the dock and at 3:30, we were back on our way. At 4:30, we were back in Oxnard after a long, but fun day.
Anacapa is not a the flashiest of the Channel Islands, but its size makes for a nice day trip for people of all ages. The birds really made it a unique destination. While I enjoyed the day, I do not need to go back. It’s definitely a visit-once kind of place.