Life on Scorpion Rock

As I approached the west end of Scorpion Rock, I could see the swift rippling current sweep down coast.  Then without warning a gray whale breached about 60 feet from me, its wake tipping my kayak back and forth, its mouth agape and flushed with seawater.  If that wasn’t enough, a second gray breached but without the ferocity of its counterpart.  They showed themselves a few times more leaving their footprints, the only smooth, glassy water found on an otherwise choppy northwest wind afternoon.Scorpion RockOn most days it’s real easy to kayak around Scorpion Rock, much like the numerous rock outcroppings, witches hats and knobby, volcanic spires surrounding the Channel Islands National Park.  However, Scorpion is different.  There are some magnetic places surrounding the craggy chain where wildlife abounds and likes to congregate to. Scorpion Rock certainly is a wildlife hotspot perhaps more so than the others.  What takes no time at all to paddle around, you can conversely spend a solid couple of hours gawking at its many inhabitants.Scorpion Rock juts approximately30 0r 40 yards east of Santa Cruz Island.  On days there are minus tides you can easily wade across to its southern end (although I’ve never seen anyone attempt this).  As far as wildlife goes, it never disappoints.  There’s always something interesting going down while circling its sea urchin-encrusted base, whitewater engulfing colorful ochre starfish, sharp barnacles and sea anemones alike.It’s strikingly apparent that seabirds enjoy roosting on Scorpion Rock.  It’s quite the hangout spot for Brandt’s cormorants, California brown pelicans, western gulls, wandering tattlers and black oystercatchers.  On occasion I’ve seen flocks of least terns and once in a while a Peregrine falcon soars swiftly overhead.  It is important nesting habitat for seafaring pigeon guillemots, serpent-like cormorants and nocturnal Cassin’s auklets.  The auklets burrow underground to build their nests atop Scorpion Rock, while guillemots and cormorants prefer the dark, dank clefts and alcoves inside Scorpion Rock’s innards.  One of the best sea caves in the immediate vicinity is inside Scorpion Rock.  As far as sea grottos go it’s arguably one of the prettiest volcanic features across the entire archipelago with sunlight bouncing off the ocean floor creating an indoor swimming pool atmosphere.Once after arriving on the Island Packers ferry, I overheard a visitor ask if the extensive bird guano was in fact snow?  I guess it would appear that way to someone if it was their first time on the ocean and out to the islands.  All it takes is to be downwind of this ever-present white crust to know that it’s not.  Brown pelicans and western gulls nest on neighboring Anacapa Island, 3 miles southeast of Santa Cruz Island.  Once those chicks fledge their windswept nests, many enjoy perching and preening on knobby Scorpion Rock.Over the past three years, one of the more interesting natural wonders occurring on this popular sea stack is the cozy relationship between a black oystercatcher and an American oystercatcher, the obvious difference between the two species being the white underbelly of the American oystercatcher.  They like each other so much that they’ve created a little hybrid.  I’ve seen a wobbly, fuzzy chick waiting desperately to grow into its gangly feet, while trying to stay close to its parents due to the high predation rate on Scorpion Rock, opportunistic gulls and peregrines always on the watch.Blak Oyster CatcherIn my opinion one of the best geological features around the islands is the blowhole that froths mightily on the northeast face of Scorpion Rock.  It shows its best, true colors in the winter at low tide, during a long interval north swell.  At low tide the mouth of an underwater grotto is exposed, and with each passing swell the sea cave fills up, pressure mounts and seawater has nowhere else to go but spew outward.  The larger the swell, the bigger the blast of water, and sometimes its power is so great the blowhole delivers a canon blast of angry froth taller than Scorpion Rock itself!  There typically aren’t many seabirds spectating at this time as thick, misty whitewater carries across wave-battered Scorpion Rock.  Maybe it interrupts with their preening habits?California sea lions are also active around Scorpion Rock sometimes rafting up on the surface, their fore flippers acting as a built in solar panel to warm up while in the ocean.  They’re also constantly searching for food.  Once from my kayak I witnessed the thrashing of a sunfish, as a bull sea lion rag-dolled a blind one to death slapping it furiously on the surface of the water.  No mercy for the weak, the food chain in all its glory prolific on Scorpion Rock.For guided kayak tours around Scorpion Rock, your best bet is Channel Islands Outfitters at 805/899-4925, or go to www.channelislandso.com.For boat transportation to Santa Cruz Island, contact Island Packers at 805/492-1393, or go to www.islandpackers.com.

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