A Visit To An American Bald Eagle and His Possessions

American Bald Eagle
American Bald Eagle with Fish Kleptoparasitized from a Sea Otter or an Osprey on San Miguel Island

Compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek
November 2000

The prose by Blanche Trask presented below comes from an article she wrote for the LA TIMES when Charles Lummis had influence at the LA TIMES. The article was published 94 years ago in 1906. Her visit to San Miguel Island occurred between 1900 and 1905. Both Prince Island and Castle Rock, two small islets are discussed in the context of San Miguel Island. Blanche Trask was without a doubt, in my mind, the premiere naturalist of the California Channel Islands at the turn-of-the-century. She is perhaps the most important, although not widely known, woman naturalist of southern California and the California Islands at the turn-of-the-century (1895-1910). No one did better at explaining the mystical landscape and seascapes of southern California. Does the California coast have a soul and the islands at the heart? If so, Blanche Trask shows us that more than any literary and scientific naturalist of southern California. Is San Miguel Island about to see the RECOVERY of the American Bald Eagle as a year-round citizen and nesting-member of the avifauna of San Miguel Island? Yes!

A Visit to an American King and His Possessions
Blanche Trask
January 21, 1906
Excerpts from the Article

... "He is a gentleman of rare intellect and great capabilities who chooses San Miguel Island as his home."

... "Here with my sheep and cattle and dogs I am far happier than I would be anywhere else in the whole world."

... "Prince Island is especially interesting, as it is his [Cabrillo] reputed burial place, ... our pilot told us of this man who had lived here for years and was regarded as somewhat peculiar in claiming to own this island as a kingdom ..."

... "Perhaps no other cook stove ever looked so cozy or so inviting as the one which glowed in the kitchen of the ranch-house that stormy day in the far island of San Miguel; ..."

The "King of San Miguel" was very busy with his shearers during our visit, ... With his own words he confirmed the story, that he had purchased it from a Mexican to whom it had come as a Spanish grant and that it had never been formally taken possession of by the United States ... Grover Cleveland sent a civil request so the "King of San Miguel" ... turned the freedom of the island over to "the boys," ... Since the death of his wife the King spends several months of each year on the mainland ... The prevailing northwest ends blow over it continually and fog enshrouds it half the year ... It is separated from Santa Rosa Island by a narrow but dangerous passage about two miles in width ... "Green Mountain" rises like an emerald in the middle of the island; ... at its very feet the sand dunes are scattered in all directions, while its soil is dark and rich and supports a luxuriant vegetation."

... "A flower-crowned jetty, sweet with red and pink sea verbenas, shoots out from Point Bennett windward, and along this wild shore the seals play and the strand is gay with the red abalone shell. To the east and south it is true that the little canons are yet in existence and flowers abound, while many a green tree rears his head in old-time battlement, notwithstanding his relatives are strewn over the yellow sands on all the heights like the bones of some extinct race long since turned to ebony! These same roots burned merrily in the grates at night in the ranchhouse; so hard they are almost like coal when ignited, and give a remarkable heat."

... "Cardwell Point rises to eastward, and from its strewn lichen-hung caves can be seen the dangerous reef which dips its golden sands into San Miguel Passage for a half mile, and with its foul ground and rocky bottom is a menace to vessels."

"In one dark cave which had to be entered on the hands and knees, human bones were found deeply tinged with green. In the same cave lovely flower-like stalactites were gathered, like outspread cream-colored daisies on the walls."

... "In under the lees of Cardwell Point live and thrive vast numbers of "blue points," shells you are always glad to find because of their beauty; besides, they appear to vary on the different island; colors ranging from white to yellow, olive and the well-known deep blue-lipped one ..."

... "This island was surveyed over twenty-five years ago and the beacons are yet to be seen as well as the United States survey marks ... San Miguel is the most dangerous of all the islands to approach, having many sunken rocks and reefs and much foul ground. Even Cuyler's Harbor is not good holding ground, nor is it sheltered, although well protected from all but north and east winds."

... "The rocky islets off the north and northwest coast of San Miguel are the homes of vast numbers of seals and hundreds of sea-birds rest there. In olden times there were also many others and sea lions."

... Castle Rock is prominent, lying a half mile north by east of from Point Bennett. It is 145 feet high and its three pinnacles were long since separated, while Richardson Rock lies five and a half miles out from the western point, its jagged edges piercing the blue.

... "One and one-half miles from Castle Rock there is supposed to be an oil spring, as the water there bears the appearance of coming in contact with petroleum and patches of asphaltum are found on shore. This same indication is seen on all the Channel Islands, and at times barrels of asphaltum are cast ashore on both San Clemente and San Nicolas islands, and are to be seen ever after as a stain of tar upon the rocks."

... "Nowhere are there days more calm nor nights more lovely than in San Miguel Island in good weather. The shadows fall from the cliffs and lie upon the sands, and the seaweeds sway to and fro and furrows which the wind have plowed look like the tracks of some forgotten monsters. Birds sing in the little arroyos and streamlets trickle away ... ever in your memory San Miguel arises "phantom fair" with the gray mantle of fog falling off the bare shoulders of the cliff whose yellow hair is streaming in the seaweed."

Closing Thoughts, 94 Years Later,
Another Naturalist at the Turn-of-the-21st-Century
on the
Writings of Blanche Trask

As the author of this web page, I must acknowledge my bias for California Wild Nature, in this case the California Channel Islands. Blanche Trask was undeniably a naturalist for California Wild Nature. She uses the word "wild" repeatedly in much of her writing. I think that San Miguel Island needs to see the RECOVERY of the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Sea Otter, and the other special native plants and animals. This island, we call San Miguel has a Native American Chumash Indian name, but we don't use it. Blanche Trask would agree, wouldn't you?

Is the real "king" of San Miguel Island the American Bald Eagle? Yes!

Is the Guadalupe Fur Seal, the rarest and most endangered of any of the seals found in California making a comeback at San Miguel? Yes!

Hooray for the seals and the sea-birds that Blanche Trask praises in her elegantly written words.