It's Bird Season on Anacapa Island (Photos/Video)

Chicks gather around their parent | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

There are three seasons on Anacapa Island, and the one currently in play is something those with ornithophobia should dread. For the rest of us, though, to walk its trails is like being transported into a scene from inside the pages of National Geographic.

For being just 1.1 square miles big, Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park yields an impressive statistic: it is the largest Western Gull rookery in the Western United States. When you observe a seagull on the Santa Monica Pier or elsewhere in California, there's a good chance its first flight from was the island.

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Relatively quiet for much of the year, save for the lighthouse's warning sound and some sea lion barking below the cliffs, Anacapa's aural landscape takes a sharp contrast each spring when thousands of squawking Western Gulls descend upon the island to mate.

They generally do not lay eggs on trails, but passerby beware, the birds are watching you. Take a stroll and you'll witness first hand the aggressive display parents take toward protecting their eggs and hatched young. It's not dangerous--you won't be wearing a meat dress, right?--but the swooping sounds right above your head will make it feel so. (Tip: wear a hat, it will make you feel safer, and will protect you from a much grosser method of intimidation.)

To experience this is wild (a short point-of-view video is below among the photos), and if you're inclined for the adventure yourself (and hey, the views are beautiful, too), nesting season only lasts for a finite period of time. Mating and the laying of eggs occurred earlier this spring and now the chicks are hatching. They'll fledge over the next month, at the latest, and then leave for the mainland.

To go, national park vendor Island Packers offers day trips weekly, Wednesday through Sunday, launching from Oxnard. The roundtrip ride will cost adults $56, children 13 and younger $39 and seniors 55 and up $51 (prices differ for campers).

Not into that kind of bird density? Anacapa is always home to other (and more chill) bird populations year-round (California brown pelicans, cormorants and now bald eagles!), but it has what I consider two other seasons. The off-season, after the Western Gulls have left, lasts mid-summer through the end of winter. The greenery begins to fade and the Giant Coreopsis plants go bare, resembling mini-Joshua Trees. When spring hits, the plants bloom brilliant yellow wildflowers for a short-lived season before the squawking begins again.

The gulls populate most of the land | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

A chick stands at the edge of a cliff | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

A parent tends to eggs under a bench near the campground | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET













This is what it looks like when you walk down most of the trails on the island | Video by Zach Behrens/KCET

Western Gulls atop Giant Coreopsis with gumplant in bloom around them | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

A parent and its chick (peeking out, center), in a patch of non-native ice plant | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

Three chicks venture out on a trail | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

A field of gulls | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

Close-up profile | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

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About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCETLink's Editor-in-Chief of Blogs, where he oversees website editorial and advises on projects. When he does write, he mostly covers local government, environment, and the outdoors.
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