Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition

To finish up his Second Class rank requirements for Boy Scouts recently, I was helping my little man find photographs of wildlife that he has observed. As we dug through our photo archives, I was reminded of a fun little Oregon Nature Quiz: Early Summer Edition that I posted several months ago. I had posted it with the intention of making it a quarterly series but sadly, life distracted me and I let it slip my mind.

Oregon Nature Quiz #2: Wildlife Edition

How Well Do You Know Oregon?

Here are five of the photos my son selected to submit to his Scoutmaster. Can you identify the wildlife represented here? Whose Been Here? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

Who Am I? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

What Happened Here? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

I'm Friendly. Or Am I? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

My, What Big Teeth You Have. Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

Answers:

1. North American Raccoon tracks along the banks of a river

In the wild, raccoons often dabble for underwater food near the shore-line. They then often pick up the food item with their front paws to examine it and rub the item, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of the raccoon “washing” the food.

Originally, raccoon habitats were solely deciduous and mixed forests, but due to their adaptability they have extended their range to mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and even urban areas. Though previously thought to be solitary, there is now evidence that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behavior. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to four animals to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season, and other potential invaders.

Intrigued by animal tracks and wildlife signs? Check out these ideas for Exploring Animal Tracks with students.

2. Pacific Tree Frog

Pacific tree frogs are common on the Pacific coast of Oregon and Washington. They occur in shades of greens or browns and can change colors over periods of hours and weeks. They occur in shades of greens or browns and can change colors over periods of hours and weeks. Eggs of the Pacific tree frog may be consumed by the rough-skinned newt and other amphibians.

They are found upland in ponds, streams, lakes and sometimes even further away from water. The Pacific tree frog makes its home in riparian habitat, as well as woodlands, grassland, chaparral, pasture land, and even urban areas including back yard ponds.

3. Black Bear claw marks and Acorn Woodpecker holes on the trunk of an apple tree

In the early fall, when the apples are ripe, it is not uncommon to see claw marks on apple trees, particularly in old pioneer orchards that have been abandoned. Brown and American black bears are generally diurnal, meaning that they are active for the most part during the day, though they may also forage at night.

Most bears have diets of more plant than animal matter and are completely opportunistic omnivores. Knowing when plants are ripe for eating is a learned behavior. Bears may mark territory by rubbing against trees and other objects which may serve to spread their scent. This is usually accompanied by clawing and biting the object.

Interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife? Check out these great animal webcams.

4. Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel

Scientists classify the golden-mantled ground squirrel as a true ground squirrel, though it will climb trees to reach seeds. Its genus name Spermophilus is Greek for “seed loving.” Like other ground squirrels, the golden-mantle packs seeds and fruit in its cheek pouches and stores the food in burrows, puts on a thick layer of fat, and hibernates in winter. Golden-mantled ground squirrels eat their stored food in early spring, when seeds and fruit are scarce. In addition to seeds and fruit, the omnivorous ground squirrel eats fungi, insects, bird eggs, small vertebrates, and carrion.

Though the golden-mantled ground squirrel can vocalize, it remains silent most of the time. When alarmed, it chirps and squeals. Though not especially aggressive, it growls when fighting with other ground squirrels. Though tempting, it’s not a good idea to feed these or any other wild animals; it distracts them from searching for natural foods, which they must eat in large quantities to survive. Unlike most other ground squirrels, the golden mantle is a loner. It only spends time with others of its kind as a youngster with its mother and siblings.

5. North American Beaver teeth marks on the trunk of an oak tree

Beaver (Castor Canadensis) are known for building dams, canals, and lodges (homes). Their colonies create one or more dams to provide still, deep water to protect against predators, and to float food and building material. While they don’t generally use trees of the size pictured here in their dams, it is fascinating to watch the process of a beaver dam under construction which play a critical role in the ecology of our streams. Learn more in my post, The Industrious Beaver: Nature’s Engineers.

Wildlife Biology for Middle School: Develop Skills with Animal Cams

animalbehaviorWildlife Biologists are scientists that observe and study the behaviors of animals. They frequently observe the features of certain wildlife and determine the role these animals have in their specific ecosystems. Many Wildlife Biologists specialize into a particular area of study defined by ecosystem or species. Some of these fields include: Entomology (insects), Ichthyology (fish), Ornithology (birds), or Marine Biology.

Youth interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife can learn a great deal from the comfort of their home via a webcam. Though limited in scope, animal cams can provide a glimpse into the lives of animals and are one tool to help develop our understanding of animal behavior.

I have compiled a list of some of my favorite animal cams from around the world. Take time to browse them all or utilize the printables I’ve provided below to develop a more in-depth wildlife biology study on your favorite animal.

ethologyOur Favorite Animal Cams

Birds

Bald Eagles

Location: Decorah, Iowa
Best time to watch: Eggs may begin hatching between March 25 and March 29 based on a 35 to 39 day incubation period.

The Decorah bald eagles nest atop a large white oak tree in a secluded valley. Their eggs hatch roughly 35 days after they are first laid, which means that three eggs within the nest right now are due any time now.

Location: Turtle Bay Eagle Cam (Redding, California)

We became captivated by this breeding pair when we first moved to Redding in 2011. The female Bald eagle has successfully fledged 14 eaglets and in 2015 had 3 youngsters in the nest!  This is not the first time she has done this, as she did the same in 2009 and 2010.  Only 5% of Bald eagles successfully lay and fledge three eaglets. Though this animal cam is currently offline (the eagle pair have moved), their story is fascinating.

Hummingbirds

Location: La Verne, California
Best time to watch: March (chicks are hatching any minute)

Bella the Hummingbird has been nesting for more than 10 years. Her nest is about the size of a golf ball, and her eggs are only about the size of a mint. Every spring she lays eggs and a couple weeks later the world watches new life being born. This year, she last laid her eggs on the 6th and 8th of March. When I checked in with her as I wrote this post, they’d recently hatched.

Great Horned Owls

Location: Montana
When will you see babies? Due in roughly 2-3 weeks.

The Montana owlets are due two or three weeks from now. Since owls are nocturnal, this is a live feed worth checking out later at night when the other animal cams have little or no activity.

Spotted Owls

Location: High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon)

When we lived in Bend, the spotted owl pair at the High Desert Museum were receiving a lot of media attention. It had previously been believed that Spotted Owls required old growth forest to survive yet here were a rehabilitated pair who had successfully reared several consecutive clutches of chicks. Sadly, I believe the owl cam is presently offline.

Penguins

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, California)
Best time to watch: All the time.

The above the water cam shows the edge of the rocky beach, where penguins hop in and out of the water. You can watch as they swim and float on the surface. They also have a below the water cam to view the penguins as they dive and dart below the surface.

Mammals

Bears

Location: Katmai National Park, Alaska
Best time to watch: In July when their babies are born.

A mama bear and her three bear cubs is what you’ll get if you tune into the Brooks Falls animal cam, which features big shaggy brown bears catching fish, wading around, and just generally having a good time in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Since bear cubs are only due in July, this cam currently hosts a continual stream of highlights gathered from several live cams.

Manatees

Location: Blue Spring State Park (Maitland, Florida)
Best time to watch: Winter and early Spring
We first discovered the Save the Manatees Club when we were planning a family holiday to the Florida Keys. Though the manatee season has ended, favorite clips are still accessible. The live cams will resume again next season.

Sea Otters

Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)

You can watch sea otters here from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time. Daily feeding times are 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. And who knows? Maybe you’ll spot an otter pup somewhere in there.

Sloths

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

This sloth cam, part of Zoo Atlanta, lets you become virtual best friends with two-toed sloth Cocoa, his lady friends Okra and Bonnie, and baby sloth Raisin. Though it’s currently offline, you can still log in at 1:30 pm ET every other Wednesday for sloth chats.

Reindeer

Location: “North Pole”
Best time to watch: Holiday season
Reindeer who aren’t employed by St. Nick live in the colder climates of North America and Europe where they feast on a diet of moss, leaves, and grass. They are sometimes referred to as Caribou in Canada.

Fish

Sea Dragons

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Los Beach, California)

Found only in Australian coastal waters, Sea Dragons are bony fish related to seahorses, pipefish, and seamoths.

Invertebrates

Jellyfish

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Los Beach, California)

Few things are more calming than watching these serene, colorful jellyfish float their lives away.

Ecosystems

Kelp Forest

Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)

Watch this underwater kelp forest cam to see an astonishing array of diverse fish and invertebrates. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a wolf-eel chow down on a squid or some fish.

Coral Reef

Location: National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD)

African Savanna

Mpala Live – Meet the animals that roam Mpala in Kenya’s Laikipia area. Their website also provides field guides, lesson plans, and activities that you can download free to get more out of your viewing.

~ ~ ~

For a comprehensive collection of animal webcams, visit Live Animals TV, the world’s largest collection of animal webcams.

wildlifebiologyWildlife Biology Lesson Plans & Printables

I have put together a simplified ethogram or inventory of behaviors and actions exhibited by an animal. The free printable will be available for my newsletter subscribers later this week. Take a moment to subscribe today. It will be available only for a limited time.

Most aquariums, zoos, and wildlife centers around the country have developed activity guides and animal observation lessons. You’ll find curriculum and materials for many of the animal cams shared above at the original host site. Many of these can be modified for use with animal cams as well as during your site visit. Browse their education links to see what you can find.

e·thol·o·gy
noun: ethology
  1. the science of animal behavior.
    • the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective.

The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois provides a wonderful Zoo Observation Data Sheet whereby students use an ethogram-based data sheet to record animal behavior. Thereafter, students use the data they have collected to develop their own animal behavior research project. Their materials can be adapted to wildlife viewing locations around the world.

You may also wish to download this very informative Animal Behavior slide show presentation to become familiar with the range of animal behavior and understand the methods that ethologists use to study animal behavior.

 

Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast

A few months ago, I shared a number of Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms. But winter storms are not the only thing that draws the crowds to our shoreline. Gray whales, which migrate farther than any mammal on Earth, can also be observed and volunteers all along the coast are eager to share their knowledge with you. Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast.

Whale Migration

Each winter in the warm waters of Mexico, gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north in spring. They swim 5,000 miles along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the waters of the Arctic. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. In fall, they travel back to Mexico again to complete a round trip annual journey of 10,000 miles.

DepoeBayWe enjoyed a little weekend getaway this past weekend, driving north along Highway 101 to Newport. We stopped at numerous scenic points along the way to observe the waves crashing on rocky shoreline. In Depoe Bay, we visited with the Oregon Parks and Recreation volunteers who helped us to spot the gray whales migrating offshore.

The first phase (non-calves) of the northbound gray whale migration appears to have peaked and the second phase (moms with babies) is just beginning – just in time for Spring Whale Watch Week, March 19 – 26.

Whale Anatomy

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay was constructed during the postwar period designed to serve the rapidly increasing ranks of the motoring public, while taking advantage of a unique scenic vista—the world’s smallest navigable harbor at Depoe Bay.

While here, we also took time to enjoy the touch tables and pictorial history inside the center. What fascinated me most was the whale ear bone pictured here.

whaleearbone

In land mammals, the fleshy pinna or the outside part of the ear helps collect sound and funnel it into the ear. That works because the acoustical properties of the air and flesh are different, so sound  gets channeled into the ear canal where it vibrates the eardrum and the ossicles (or ear bones).

In water, the acoustical properties of flesh and water are pretty similar, therefore the fleshy outside part of the ear serves no function. Though hearing in baleen whales is not well understood, in toothed whales, instead of sound coming in through the ear canal, sound comes in through fatty tissues in the jaws which are attached to an acoustic funnel. Scientists believe that the ossicles vibrate this fluid-filled inner ear.

whalebaleen

Baleen whales like the Grey Whale do not have teeth, instead they have 130 to 180 baleen plates that hang down each side of their upper jaws, like a fringed curtain. The plates are made out of fingernail-like material called keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. It makes the baleen strong, but still flexible.

Baleen is a filter-feeder system inside the mouths of baleen whales. The baleen system works when a whale opens its mouth underwater and the whale takes in water. The whale then pushes the water out, and animals such as krill are filtered by the baleen and remain as food source for the whale.

Inside the center, there was also a display that discussed how man has hunted the whale in the past for oil and baleen. It provided a fascinating reflection of how man has impacted our natural resources and how times have changed.

depoewildlifeOther Wildlife

Whales are not the only wildlife one can observe here at the Whale Watching Center. In addition to the whales we glimpsed with spotting scopes, we also observed the following at wayside viewing center:

  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
  • Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
  • Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
  • Several species of gulls
  • Ground Squirrel – species yet unidentified, but resembles Belding Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi)

Whale Watching Sites

Beginning north and traveling south along highway 101, the following locations are excellent view points from which to watch for whales.

  • Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Cape Disappointment State Park
  • Neahkahnie Mountain, south of Cannon Beach
  • Cape Meares State Park
  • Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
  • The Whale Watching Center, Depoe Bay
  • Cape Foulweather
  • Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter
  • Sea Lion Caves Viewpoint
  • Umpqua River Whale Watching Station
  • Shore Acres State Park
  • Cape Arago State Park
  • Face Rock State Park
  • Battle Rock Wayfinding Point
  • Cape Sebastian
  • Klamath Overlook

For more detailed information on Whale Watching, download the brochure from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Discovering Peru: Majestic Machu Picchu {GIVEAWAY}

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machu Picchu District in Peru. In native Quechua, machu means old person while pikchu means peak or mountain.

We departed the Aranwa Hotel shortly after breakfast and made our way to Machu Picchu Pueblo at the base of the mountain via train.

trainstationUpon arrival, we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch at the train station. There is a nice little deli on site with picnic tables beneath shade umbrellas for comfort. International Expeditions had arranged for our meals in advance so there was no need to wait in line. Porters transported our luggage to the motel so we didn’t have to worry about anything.

Something hidden. Go and find it.

Go and look behind the Ranges –

Something lost behind the Ranges.

Lost and waiting for you. Go!

~ Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Explorer

We walked through town relatively swiftly – there would be time to shop and browse in the early evening if we desired. We boarded a bus on the edge of town and made our way along the switch backs to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

machupicchupuebloMajestic Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu stands in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily majestic setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height; its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the slopes of the Andes, encompasses a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

machupicchuMachu Picchu is among the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere. The World Heritage property covers 32,592 hectares of mountain slopes, peaks and valleys surrounding its heart, the spectacular archaeological monument of “La Ciudadela” (the Citadel).

majesticmachupicchuBuilt in the fifteenth century, it was abandoned when the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. It was not until 1911 that the archaeological complex was made known to the outside world by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since then, Machu Picchu has become the largest tourist attraction in South America.

huaynapicchuWe entered the site with our IE guide, Harvey, in the early afternoon and were not surprised by the number of people.  He led us to a few key locations within the citadel, speaking at length about the historical significance and the incredible architecture of the area. I loved listening to our guide as he shared his anecdotes, peppered with Quechua. We got a real feeling for the lifestyle of the Inca before the arrival of the Spanish.

stairsThe Incan homes were built with a slight trapezoidal construction to withstand earthquakes. Niches, built into the walls, release weight and pressure – each perfectly matched to another directly across the room from it. Where there is a door or entrance-way, two niches balance.

terracesThe design is modeled after nature. What is not visible are the more than 130 underground channels that divert and redirect water through the city. Most evidence shows that Machu Picchu was built in the 1400s. The engineering feats are outstanding – a skill that is NOT matched even with today’s technology.

rockcontrastsAquas Calientes

In the early evening, we returned Aquas Calientes where we meandered the stalls of the open market only briefly. The altitude coupled with the intensity at which we traversed the ruins led us home to our hotel. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, where we resided the next two nights, was incredible. As before, however, I will reserve my review for another time.

The small town of Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo is the village/town in the Urubamba Valley, northeast of the ruins of Machu Picchu. This is where trains come in from Cuzco and from where buses take tourists all the way up to the famous archaeological site. The Vilcanota River rapidly rushes near the town.

trainyard

While it is estimated that a million tourist come to Aguas Clients each year, most don’t take the time to walk around and explore the pueblo. It has its own attractions and it might be interesting for you to check them out, if you have the time. There are many hotels and restaurants in the town, which lives primarily out of the travel industry. From cheap hotels to expensive ones in the luxury segment, you will find almost anything here.

Return to Machu Picchu

The following day, we had hoped to be amongst the 200 to hike Huayna Picchu, but it didn’t work out. This is likely for the best considering it had rained over night and the rocks were undoubtedly slick – making an already narrow trail all the more treacherous.

Instead, we spent the morning within the citadel of Machu Picchu. Harvey was with us for only a short time – providing a little more interpretive information bur thereafter we were on our own.

llamasGeneva wasn’t feeling all too well so we didn’t stay too long. We hiked up to one of the higher viewpoints to take more photos. Patrick tried to do a short time-lapse video, but the park ranger asked him to move along.

In the afternoon, we returned to the Inkaterra where we enjoyed a leisurely orchid walk on the hotel grounds. I’ll share highlights from that walk in my review of the hotel.

Discovering Peru @WellTraveledFamily.netJoin me later this week as I share our discoveries in:

Arriving in Cusco & the Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo Temple & Peruvian Paso (coming Wednesday)

Cusco – The Imperial City (coming Thursday)

Lima – The City of the Kings (coming Friday)

travelguidesWhen we travel, I always purchase a DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to familiarize myself with the country and the culture. Updated annually, each book provides a detailed description of popular tourist attractions, restaurants, and lodging options.

Each guide divides the country (or city) into color coded regions enabling quick browsing while on the road. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are comprehensive guides that provide everything to see at a location. While comprehensive, the books give just the right amount of information to spark interest in the particular sights you want to see. They are organized intelligently for the traveler, and they always provide a map.

As a special expression of gratitude to you, I am giving away one DK Eyewitness Travel Guide of choice to a lucky reader. The contest closes on the 20th of September at 12 a.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing. You might also be interested in my post, 5 Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them, on my homeschool blog.

Hopcotch2015

California’s Central Coast: Ventura Beach

The past couple of years, we have enjoyed a week long holiday road trip in the spring. This year, we chose California’s Central Coast via Highway 1.

Ventura Beach @WellTraveledFamily.netWe departed Anaheim mid-day on Wednesday and headed to Ventura where we began our road trip northward along California Hwy 1. Upon checking into our hotel, the Ventura Beach Marriott, we ventured out to explore the area.

Ventura is home to beautiful beaches, a vibrant downtown, and a fun-filled harbor. Here, Island Packers’ crews transport guests via boat to the extraordinary Channel Islands National Park – one of three key destinations on our trip.

Our first stop was San Buenaventura State Beach which consists of a 1,700 feet pier featuring a snack bar, restaurant, and bait shop. People often come to this beach to surf, swim, and picnic. Biking is also done here and there are bike trails that lead to other nearby beaches.

While there, we observed a group of young people playing volleyball, another passing the time idly, as well as several runners and walkers. We eagerly began to explore the beach according to our interests – Patrick sat along the pier and watched for whales, Jeffrey rolled in the sand building an imaginary airstrip, while Geneva and I looked for small invertebrates.

Wildlife on Ventura Beach @WellTraveledFamily.net

We were were rewarded handsomely finding hundreds of Pacific Mole Crabs (Emerita analoga). Belonging to the superfamily, Hippoidea, these decapod crustaceans are adapted to burrowing into sandy beaches. These delightful little sand crabs cannot walk; instead, they use their legs to dig into the sand and beat their uropods to swim.

Geneva and I spent time watching them surf the waves and burrow down into the sand for protection. I shared stories of the investigation I undertook in graduate school one summer looking at whether particle size influenced what beach the larvae settled upon.

We also observed many By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella).  Velella is a cosmopolitan genus of free-floating hydrozoans (very small, predatory animals) that live on the surface of the open ocean. There is only one known species. The deep blue, by-the-wind sailors that are recognized by many beach-goers are the polyp phase of the life cycle. Each “individual” with its sail is really a hydroid colony, with many polyps that feed on ocean plankton.

Snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) nesting sites are monitored here and temporary informational/warning signs and fences (or ropes) are erected near nest sites during the breeding season. To help in the recovery of the bird, non-native vegetation that threatens the beach habitat has been removed and beach goers are educated to the sensitive nature of the area.

After a couple hours on the beach, we began to get hungry.  Craving fish & chips, we sought out a local eatery and chose Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company. Their signature item is most definitely the Giant Fish Taco and it was delicious! Geneva ordered the Ceviche – also very good but heavy on the vegetables.  The boys each chose traditional fish & chips which were average.

Spencer MacKenzie's review @WellTraveledFamily.netThey have communal benches along one side of the building outside as well as shady tables out front. We chose to dine inside, however, and came to regret that decision as the sun was beginning to set and there were no shades or blinds on the window.

 

A Day in the Islands: Channel Islands National Park

Located offshore, these five islands, known as the American Galapagos, inspire with wildlife viewing, hiking, sea cave kayaking, and world-class diving. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.

Channel Islands National Park

These islands, on the edge of the North American continent, were never connected to the mainland. During the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower, the four northern islands were joined as a single island known to geologists as Santarosae. When the sea rose again it created the four northern islands we see today.

Channel Islands National ParkWe had a chance to visit these islands and I delight in sharing the highlights of our trip with you.  We booked a tour with Island Packers, who visits all five of the islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. Our tour included whale watching and allowed a full day of exploration on Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Island

At over 96 square miles in size and the largest island in California, Santa Cruz contains three mountain ranges; the highest peak on the island (rising above 2000 feet); a large central valley/fault system; deep canyons with year round springs and streams; and 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, giant sea caves, pristine tide pools and expansive beaches.

Scorpion Ranch HarborAround Scorpion Ranch area, where we moored, volcanic rock mixes with siliceous shale made of mud and tiny sea plants and animals that lived when the island was part of the seabed. It was fascinating to walk along the shoreline and look for fossils. My daughter even braved the chilly waters for a short swim.

This area was once a lively ranch complex. French and Italian artisans, farmers, and workers collaborated here to raise sheep, roosters, and other farm animals. Residents had to adapt to the limited resources and barren landscape.

Remnants of the ranching era can be seen throughout the landscape.  Adobe ranch houses, barns, blacksmith and saddle shops, wineries and a chapel all attest to the many uses of Santa Cruz in the 1800 and 1900s.

We visited in May and thus the water was too cold yet to swim so we spent the day hiking along the many trails and roads that traverse the islands. We began on Cavern Paint Loop and connected to the North Bluff Trail out to Potato Harbor.

Santa Cruz Island FoxAnimals & Plants

Owing to millions of years of isolation many distinctive plants and animal species have adapted to the island’s unique environment. The Channel Islands are home to nearly 150 endemic plants and animals – species that are found here and nowhere else.

Dozens of species are endemic to the archipelago in general, for example: Island Western Fence Lizard, Island Gopher Snake, and Island Deer Mouse. The Santa Cruz Island Fox, Silver Lotus, and the Island Jay are found only on Santa Cruz Island. Plants include Santa Cruz Island Manzanita, Whitehair Manzanita, and the Santa Cruz Island Lacepod and Gooseberry, amongst others.

Channel Islands SucculentChumash People

The islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago. The Chumash made ingenious use of all the island’s resources. They depended heavily on the ocean – fishing, gathering shellfish, and hunting sea lions, seals, birds, and other animals.

They also harvested plants for food, medicine, bedding, building materials, and to make beautiful baskets. Rock collected on the island was used to craft tools for harvesting and preparing food, building plank canoes or tools, and making beads.

Saxipak’a ~ Once upon a time.

The Chumash also traded with communities on the mainland and other islands for things that were limited or unavailable on Santa Cruz. Shell beads, fishhooks, otter pelts, fish and shellfish were traded for products like acorns, bow and arrows, seeds, plants, and deer bone.

The native peoples were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military now uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location. The National Park Service (NPS) lead the conservation efforts to maintain the islands’ endemic species as well as provide education for future generations.

Cavern Paint Loop TrailIntegrated Learning Experiences

The award-winning book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, was inspired by the true story of an American Indian woman left alone on one of the Channel Islands for 18 years in the 1800s. She’s come to be known as the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island and is thought to have been of Gabrielino-Tongva descent.

Though San Nicolas Island is closed to the public, you can experience island isolation and the natural resources described in the book by visiting the islands. The National Park Service and other partners have developed resources to guide those interested in learning more.

Students and teachers can explore the unique ecology and geology of the Channel Islands, learn about the marine and island ecosystems, their human history, and the challenges of managing and protecting these areas via the curriculum materials available from the NPS as well.

Santa Cruz Potato HarborWe would have loved to see more of the island but this was a day trip – we’ll be back! After a day of hiking and exploring (I believe we hiked about 5 miles), we returned to the mainland in the evening and enjoyed a Santa Maria style barbecue at Shaw’s Restaurant. It was the perfect way to conclude our day in the islands.