Updated: Feb 11
The rocky shoreline of Santa Rosa Island, taken from a helicopter during a summer bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) survey
Spring has fallen on the Channel Islands in stark displays of warmth and color. Transient rains bring shades of green to grassy hillsides and the dull heaviness of winter seems to have lifted. A brilliant array of colors blesses the twisted wilderness: orange petals of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) fall to the ground, turn to gold, and warm the heart; silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons) grows abundantly in the shade of gnarled island manzanita (Arctostaphylos insularis) trees; the bright white inverted bells of the morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) ring in the new season's splendor.
The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is the state flower of California
Silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons) is native to California and Oregon, where it grows along the coast and in open meadows and forest clearings
Island manzanita (Arctostaphylos insularis) is an endemic species to Santa Cruz island. It's twisted branches and reddish bark give the tree its beautiful and wild look
Island morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) is an abundant native flower found on Santa Cruz Island
Perhaps the most stunning of all island blooms is that of the giant coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea). These enchanting members of the sunflower family grow along steep cliff sides and in some areas grow so prolifically they appear to drape coastal bluffs in an amarillo blanket. Charming bouquets of yellow are supported on long, candelabra-like branches above hundreds of thin, lobe-shaped leaves. I've seen this species' mainland counterpart, the Sea Dahlia or Maritime Coreopsis, and it is dwarfed substantially in size and number by this insular masterpiece. Without the intense competition for resources that these plants experience on the mainland, the island species grows freely and uninhibited and as a result exhibits a phenomenon known as island gigantism. In many parts of these islands, spring has painted pictures only before seen in fairy tales and hallucinations.
The giant coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) grows especially large on Santa Cruz Island, a good example of island gigantism
On Santa Cruz Island, I look out over No-Man's Land Canyon and can hear the cheerful song of the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). I can always hear that series of descending gurgles so characteristic of this grassland bird, but at times I have had the pleasure of watching a lonely suitor perched on one of the island's many barbwire fences, proudly advertising himself to females. He puffs up his bright yellow breast, points his beak skyward, and rapidly flaps his wings above his head. A drab, mottled female flutters in from some undisclosed location and lands beside him on the fence. Maybe one day I too will find a woman.
Devil's Peak (2,428 ft) is found on Santa Cruz Island. It is the tallest peak on any island in the contiguous 48 states
Another Springtime novelty is the bright blooms of the California Lilac (Ceonothus arboreus). Purples, whites, and yellows shimmer among robust, aromatic bushes - the smell reminds me of honeysuckle. Hummingbirds heed the fragrant waft of sweet nectar, their seemingly motorized wings creating a sound not unlike an over-sized bumblebee. I try to snap a few pictures in hopes of later identifying this marvel of nature and wonder how to tell the difference between an Allen's and an Anna's. I am overcome by a feeling of great hope and wellness; learning the secrets of nature strengthens my soul, bringing me closer to home in a way that I don't quite understand.
A blooming California Lilac (Ceonothus arboreus) attracts bees and other insects and the seeds often attract birds like California quails (Callipepla californica) and spotted towhees (Pipilo maculatus)
The the majestic spotted Humboldt's lily (Lilium humboldtii ocellatum) is a surprise treat for the passerby. This ostentatious flowers adorn the stem that can grow up to six feet tall. It is considered "fairly endangered" in California
The California tree poppy (Dendromecon harfordii) is a shrub or small tree that is endemic to the Channel Islands. It is closely related to the mainland bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida), but genetically distinct
Spring harbors an energy and vivacity so necessary for human motivation and creativity. Like a bear waking from a deep winter slumber, I stretch my arms widely, yawn, and squint my eyes in wonder at the penetrating brilliance of a new day. Serotonin zaps my blinking brain - traffic lights pulsating in reckless abandon after that thick winter freeze. My libido seems to have peaked in a way that has the potential to turn dismal dames into voluptuous vixens as all of the barren, infertile plains bud to a blissful, nourishing sustenance.
The island is now a vivid bouquet, a rolling landscape to paint my dreams. Drifting fog leaves a splash of dew on the fragile petal of a mariposa lily (Calochortus spp.) and a I briefly catch the fiery black and yellow glow of a darting hermit warbler (Setophaga occidentalis). I soak in the moment knowing that it will be gone all too soon, but I remember that in this moments' absence I will be reveling in the presence of a new one.