May 13 – 14: A four-day trip to California for a weekend wedding in Santa Monica gave us a chance to make a two-day “twenty-six (it’s actually only twenty-two) miles across the sea” excursion to picturesque Santa Catalina Island (the high-speed one-hour Catalina Express trip from Long Beach to Avalon. Nancy and I arrived in the late afternoon at the Pavilion Hotel, just a short walk from the pier and featuring a lovely garden courtyard from which, on the way to the hotel’s gracious breakfast the following morning, I could already hear the call of the one bird I hoped to find on the island – Spotted Dove (ABA no. 718 for birdspix.com). Santa Catalina is presently the most if not the only remaining reliable place in North America to find this species.
We spotted the first Spotted Dove on top of a telephone pole at the corner of Tremont and Summer Streets, but over the course of the day we saw about seven and heard several more in various nearby locations, including on the grounds surrounding the Nature Conservatory building past the ball field on Avalon Cyn Road.
There were a few other species of note, including the Channel Island sordida subspecies of Orange-crowned Warbler, the sedentarious subspecies of Allen’s Hummingbird, and the Channel Islands race of Pacific-slope Flycatcher. One would never have guessed that the most common species seen would turn out to be Acorn Woodpecker. They were conspicuous most everywhere.
If you visit Santa Catalina it is well worth renting a gas-powered golf cart, the island’s favored mode of transportation (there are hardly any cars). In three hours (the third hour is free) one can easily cover the entire Avalon area which includes some superb cliffside vistas, including the famous old round casino building and any number of good birding spots.