San Nicolas Island and American Osprey
by
Blanche Trask
1897 & 1901

Dying San Nicolas Navy Base
or
Living San Nicolas Park

American Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle with Fish Kleptoparasitized from a Sea Otter or an Osprey
on San Nicolas Island in 1897 or 1901?


Compiled by Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
May 27, 2001

Blanche Trask first visited San Nicolas Island in 1897 and again four years later in 1901. Perhaps she visited San Nicolas other times as well? Her essay, Dying San Nicolas, was written and published between these two trips. Her essay was submitted to Charles Lummis (editor) for the magazine called LAND OF SUNSHINE, apparently sometime in 1899. The article was published 101 years ago in 1900. The excerpts of the article presented below pertain only to the Osprey and other wildlife discussed in her essay. To read the entire essay Dying San Nicolas by Blanche Trask, simply scroll down to BLANCHE TRASK ANTHOLOGY under Wild Nature on the web page of www.californiawildnature.org.

Blanche Trask was without a doubt in my mind the premiere naturalist of the California Channel Islands, 100 years ago. She is perhaps the most important, although not widely known, woman naturalist of southern California and the California Islands of the early 20th Century. No one could do better at explaining the mystical landscape and seascapes of southern California. It might be true that the southern California coast has a soul and the islands are the heart. If so, Blanche Trask shows us that more than any literary and scientific naturalist of southern California.

Please note that the four photographs that accompany her article are black & white photographs. Two of these are of rock outcrops in profile view with a silhouette that resembles the heads of dragons looking quite angry. The other two photographs are of the reefs at low tide and the cliffs at the east end of San Nicolas.

Is San Nicolas Island, a Park to be?

Blanche Trask was undeniably a naturalist for California Wild Nature. She used the word "wild" at least 3 times in her essay and she ends the essay with her home as "Avalon, California" and not as Avalon, Catalina. I think that San Nicolas Island could be added to Channel Islands National Park, as the sixth island of the National Park. The Navy could leave San Nicolas. The Island could be returned to the Osprey,Bald Eagle, and 100+ Sea Otters. We will need to remove all the trees that the Navy has planted there. We will need to remove Fox, Cat, Dog, Mouse, Chukar, and Rat which were brought by Native Americans and Navy personnel. The Navy must go! Let us have no flying planes on San Nicolas, but rather flying birds such as Osprey, Eagle, and additional seabirds. Let us recover the runway to large fields of yellow-flowering Giant Coreopsis and other native wildflowers! Let us, as humans, experience the 60 mile trip by boat to San Nicolas, as Blanche Trask did 100 years ago in 1901, to see the Osprey, Eagle, and seals as we approach the "Island" by water.

This island, we call San Nicolas, could also make a great STATE PARK! Blanche Trask would agree, wouldn't you? She does refer in her essay to San Nicolas with its colorful flowers as a "PARK." It might be interpreted that San Nicolas was a "WILD PARK" in the mind of Blanche Trask.

As discussed above, Blanche Trask first visited San Nicolas Island in 1897, however she came back again at least once more, in 1901, just one year after her Dying San Nicolas essay was published. Her 1897 expedition is well known, not just from her essay, but also from the plants she collected and letter sent to Alice Eastwood of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The first FLORA of San Nicolas Island was published soo after; you might say published jointly by Blanche Trask and Alice Eastwood.

In contrast to the 1897 trip, not much is known of her 1901 trip. However we do know that she collected an OSPREY egg, because there is a specimen in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California in Berkeley. In 1980, Lloyd Kiff, ornithologist at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, but now with the Peregrine Fund, published his research on Raptors of the Channel Islands in the Second Channel Islands Symposium by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It was in perusing this article that I discovered that an Osprey egg had been collected by Blanche Trask. Lloyd Kiff relied on this collection as evidence for historical nesting on San Nicolas Island. By the 1930s, Lloyd Kiff shows us that the Osprey had all but disappeared from the Channel Islands as a nesting bird. Here we are today, in 2001, over 100 years after Blanche Trask's recording of nesting Osprey, with about an 80 year hiatus of no nesting Osprey on San Nicolas Island. It is shameful indeed of the citizens of this great nation as well as the U.S. Navy not to have recovered the Osprey back to San Nicolas. It would only cost a few tens of thousands of dollars to conduct an Osprey chick translocation/rehabilitation program on San Nicolas. Having Osprey on San Nicolas could draw the Bald Eagle back to San Nicolas as well. Osprey are also great at chasing Raven, hence assisting seabird colony success on San Nicolas Island. These would be side-benefits to having just the sheer beauty and poetry of Osprey on San Nicolas, something Blanche Trask wrote about in her essay of 101 years ago.

I began research into the history of the Osprey on the Catalina and the Channel Islands in 1996. While residing on Catalina Island in Avalon as the supervising naturalist-manager of the Interpretive Nature Center of Natural Areas Divison of L.A. County Department of Parks & Recreation, I set up an OSPREY EXHIBIT. The exhibit included a life-sized model of an Osprey in flight with a fish in its talons. In addition, there was an Osprey in a perched position which was taxidermied from a road-kill specimen in Orange County. Many photographs were part of the exhibit as well as the prose of writers such as Blanche Trask and John Steinbeck. In 1998, I corresponded with Dr. Barbara Stein (bstein@socrates.berkeley.edu) of the Musuem of Vertebrate Zoology regarding an inquiry as to the status of an Osprey egg collected by Blanche Trask on San Nicolas Island. In her reply, it was confirmed that there was such an egg, collected by Blanche Trask in 1901, which was catalogued as MVZ Egg#4236. I contemplate to myself now, how she must have brought the egg back to Avalon on Catalina, and then at some later point in time, mailed it to Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley. In 1901, there was no Museum at Berkeley yet. Joseph Grinnell would not start the Museum until about 1908. However, I learned from an email by Dr. Stein to me (November 18, 1998), that the egg was transferred from the Museum in the Anthropology Department in 1941. In another email correspondence with a curator of the Anthropology Museum, I learned that there is some correspondence and artifacts from Blanche Trask at that Musuem. My time, finances, and preoccupation with other natural history studies, has precluded me from visiting the Anthropology Museum.

As of 2001, young baby Osprey have been brought to Catalina, and have been reared on platforms in Middle Ranch Canyon, by the Institute for Wildlife Studies. It is of interest to note that it was 21 years ago, that the Bald Eagle recoverey program on Catalina, began in just the same way. I am excited by the promise of now having Eagle and Osprey, both present the year-round on Catalina. One question that comes to mind is: Why hasn't the Osprey and Eagle been recovered on the other seven Channel Islands? Another question is: Why didn't the Osprey recovery program begin 21 years ago, at the same time as the Eagle recovery?

It was more than two years ago now, that as I kayaked with Jake Brannock early one morning in September 1998, we observed two Eagles charge out from the cliffs on Catalina at an Osprey that was flying in its migration. We both saw it as a vision, that soon, the Osprey would return as a RESIDENT YEAR-ROUND to Catalina. And now that is coming to fruition in 2001. And now let us consider bringing back to Catalina more animals, such as the Guadalupe Fur Seal, Elephant Seal, and the Sea Otter! Why stop with just the Eagle and Osprey. As we recover each Animal that was on Catalina Island in 1850 at California statehood, let us remove an animal that was not here, such as the Buffalo, Deer, Pig, Turkey, Harvest Mouse, Cat, Horse, and Rat. Let us consider bringing back the Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sea Otter, Elephant Seal, Guadalupe Fur Seal back to the Malibu coast.



OSPREY & WILDLIFE EXCERPTS FROM
Dying San Nicolas
by
Blanche Trask
1900
LAND OF SUNSHINE
Volume 13, Number 2, page 95-100

It is but an isle, nine miles long, about seventy-five miles out from Port Los Angeles; the tops, it would seem, of submerged peaks. Narrow and lean, it yet stands firmly in the sea; reef-bound and without a harbor.

Day after day and week after week the battle endures. The snows of the sea chill yet deeper the heart of the black lava reefs; a hopeless battle witnessed only by the shags, the gulls, the otters and the seals.

. . . the bones of the whale, otter, seal, . . . and sea birds . . .

Rarely a raven, like those of Santa Catalina, flies past, and two or three foxes are seen; these too, like those on Santa Catalina, a species which is said to be found only on the coast islands. One of these foxes ( lame) afterward identified as one the mate had shot a year previous.

Far down the southern coast are the pyramids, dark peaks, grim and heavy with age; rising out of the sand, shaking it from their shoulders as the black shag shakes aside the white foam.

. . . the man making his living by shooting otters at night; for at night the otters would come up on the rocks and munch the abalones. Being interested in their work they were easily shot.

It is possible to walk entirely around the island on the reefs; with seal and otter, gull and osprey, to forget the human creature and all his ills, to watch the black shag build her nest of bright and happy sea-weeds, the osprey hers of drift-wood.

For aye there is silence in the briny heights; on the reefs, the solemn roll of the breakers and the cries of the sea-birds . . .



 
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