San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias

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Photo of albatross on Islote Afuera, looking toward Islote Adentro, with Isla Guadalupe beyond, Patricia Beller, June 2000 Photo of Francisco Pedroche collecting algae, Patricia Beller, June 2000 Photo of scientists loading up for the zodiac trip to the island, Patricia Beller, June 2000 Photo of Carlos and elephant seals, Brad Hollingsworth, June 2000 Plants hanging onto cliff with Guadalupe Palms above, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Photo of Marshal Hedin collecting spiders with Eric (journalist) at the northern pine forest, Brad Hollingsworth, June 2000 Esparza Canyon on Guadalupe Island, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Perityle incana (Guadalupe Island Rock Daisy, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Cypress Grove, with dead, fallen cypress in foreground, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, June 2000. Sent via email, by Shogun Coring a Guadalupe Pine, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Guadalupe Palm, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Lower valley on Guadalupe Island, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Pine Camp, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Portion of virtual herbarium sheet for Eschscholzia palmeri Map of the Baja California peninsula, with Guadalupe Island Map of Guadalupe Island Looking towards North Anchorage on Guadalupe Island, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 South Cypress Base Camp, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, June 2000, relayed by Shogun Helicopter on top of Guadalupe Island, photo by Brad Hollingsworth, sent by email from the Shogun, June 2000 Expedition participants on the pier,  just before departure from San Diego, photo by Dale Clark,  June 2000. San Diego: Helicopter  lands on Shogun for first time, photo by Dale Clark, June 2000

Expedition 2000 to Isla Guadalupe
A Binational Multidisciplinary Expedition

Updates from the Field

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0074462. Updates from the field were called in on QUALCOMM Globalstar satellite phones which Qualcomm generously loaned the Museum for this expedition.

14 July 2000: An afterthought to the expedition, and a prelude to conservation

Exequiel Ezcurra, director of the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias and principal investigator

In a world in which many people think that the only true frontiers lie in the deep mantle of the Earth, in molecules and subatomic particles, or in outer space, what is the assessment that we can make from a natural history expedition that may seem almost like a 19th Century anachronism? Aren't all the island species well known and well collected?

I must confess that, in the middle of the bustle of the organization of the expedition and the excitement of the trip, I often wondered about these questions myself. What is indeed the real, profound meaning of natural history exploration?

Guadalupe was my true intimate conversion to the very cause I have been preaching for years. It was a wonderful journey of discovery, even if the island is definitely not a hidden Shangri-La. It has been for years devastated by goat grazing and soil erosion, by feral domestic cats and bird extinction. Guadalupe is an ecological mess. Yet, exploring it gave us a new perspective, and hope for the conservation of the remaining biodiversity of this unique place.

In spite of the devastation, we did indeed discover many things. Francisco Pedroche found a new species of algae. Phil Unitt found that the junco that lives in the island is quite different from its mainland relatives, and is now studying the issue. The entomologists (Rolf Aalbu and Marshal Hedin) brought material that will keep them busy for a long time, with the potential for very exciting taxonomic discoveries. The botanists (Jon Rebman, Tom Oberbauer, and Jose Luis León de la Luz) found many new records, and possibly new species. The regional collections at our Museum and in Mexico will be enhanced and enriched by this trip. Our discovery goals were met.

We searched thoroughly for the Guadalupe storm petrel, and failed to find it. Sadly, we are now more ready to admit that the species is indeed extinct. Never, since the 1920s, had so much search effort been devoted to this species. At different times, more than 10 researchers looked for the elusive creature. It simply was not there. The devastation brought by the goats to the storm petrel's habitat is possibly the main culprit. There is a lesson here, and we can extract useful conclusions from our disappointment.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip was the first-time exploration of Islote Adentro (or Isla Toro), and the re-visitation of Islote Afuera (or Isla Zapato). These wonderful islands still harbor a lot of the biological richness that once populated Guadalupe. Their silent, majestic silhouettes are impressive reminders of how rich the main island may once have been. The fragility of their plants bears witness to the dramatic impact that goat introduction must have had. The tameness of the albatross fledglings, which were seeing humans for the first time, was one of the most emotional moments I have ever had. The sheer beauty of Adentro and Afuera gave me hope for the future of Isla Guadalupe. Perhaps we can dream with recovering the main island with the species present in these relicts.

Guadalupe is a unique stage of the world's evolutionary theater. In it, the ecological play of survival and extinction, of conservation and devastation, can be seen in a painfully clear way, and with all its dramatic consequence. There are few places like that in the world. Indeed, it was an outstanding expedition.

12 June 2000: Looking back

William T. Everett, expedition co-leader, looks back on the expedition:

As the Shogun pulled into San Diego Bay I heaved a huge sigh of relief. We had returned home with absolutely no injuries. Guadalupe can be an extraordinarily dangerous place. Cliffs over three thousand feet high drop straight into the ocean in many places. Loose rock defines the landscape. Working off a rolling boat with a helicopter, and making Zodiac landings near docile "appearing" elephant seals are just a few of the many hazards that could have resulted in accidents. Sheer, 700-foot high Islote Adentro, never before set foot upon before the expedition landed there by helicopter on the afternoon of 4 June, could have been the temporary home for any of the field crew if problems developed with the helicopter while they were there. Indeed, our last day, while landing on the Shogun, a helicopter blade struck a plastic bag. Seemingly a small matter, it could have rendered the machine flightless with four people stuck atop the hostile rock. Knowing this could have happened well in advance, we required that all visitors to the outer islands carry emergency kits, two-way radios, and enough drinking water to last them for three days.

But all turned out well. Even the weather was our friend. Guadalupe is notorious for rapidly changing and often violent weather. Should fog have enveloped the island, we had two all-terrain vehicles available that could have extricated our crew from the highlands. We had a depot of drums of extra water and emergency food, just in case.

The safety precaution measures were all carefully thought out in advance by Logistics Manager Robert Gannon and Ground Support Coordinator Tom Thrailkill. Their outstanding work, together with the legendary skills of helicopter pilot Mel Cain, made for the safest possible field working scenario.

Much fascinating scientific work will result from this expedition. The sad news is that we conducted an exhaustive search for the Guadalupe Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma macrodactyla) and confirmed that it is indeed extinct. Two other species of birds that were found on the island as recently as the 1970s are also now gone. Guadalupe is mostly a ghost island now. Just waiting for the last of the ancient pines, oaks, cypress, and palms to pass away. Without the trees, even the wind will make little noise. As expedition member Robert Pitman noted, all that will be heard is the silent sound of extinction.

But all is not lost yet. If steps by Mexico and the world conservation community are taken soon, the forests and their inhabitants can be saved. It will be no small task, and not inexpensive, but how can we stand by and watch this unique natural treasure be lost forever?

The expedition was another milestone in the museum's long history of exploration of Baja California, and continued our tradition of high standards for U.S./Mexico cooperative research. There is much to be done over the coming weeks and months. We will produce a synthesis of our work and, we hope, lay a compelling foundation demonstrating the need for saving the unique life forms inhabiting this remote, remarkable oceanic island.

11 June 2000: They're back!

Phil Unitt, SDNHM ornithologist, is the first of the scientists to report since arriving back in San Diego this morning.

My assignment was to survey the land birds, primarily in the grove of cypress trees near the island's summit. Guadalupe Island was home to several species and subspecies of birds found nowhere else, but after 150 years of being ravaged by introduced goats, cats, and mice, most of these are extinct and the island's terrestrial ecosystems are on the verge of collapse. There has been no regeneration of the cypress, pine, oak, and palm trees in over a century, and the remaining trees are dying at an alarming rate.

Here's our bird list for the trip:

Laysan Albatross: The colony near the military base at the south tip of the main island has moved to two of the three nearby islets offshore, where they are secure from disturbance (especially from the packs of wild dogs, reported by the local fishermen to be so vicious as to kill people). Bob Pitman and Eric Mellink visited the colonies and counted 51 chicks. They found one dead chick, about 3 months old, with the juvenile plumage half grown in. I saw one adult flying off the west side of the main island. The bad news is that the continued expansion of the albatross colony could trash the last refuge for many of the island's endemic plants on these islets and a critical source for seed for revegetating the main island should the goats be removed.

Black-vented Shearwater: Bob and Eric had them at night on the outer islet but found no active nests. Bill Everett found a single feather at the north end of the main island.

Leach's Storm Petrel: Eric and Bob had them flying at night around the islets, site of major colonies, but apparently they hadn't yet started to nest. I dissected three that flew aboard the ship at night and found they were just beginning to come into reproductive condition. Eric and Bob found that Burrowing Owls were preying heavily on them on both islets.

Brandt's Cormorant: I saw just one, and Alwin van der Heiden, a Belgian-Mexican student with the expedition, counted nine. No one found any nests, though the species has nested at Guadalupe in the past.

American Kestrel: I saw one, and other expedition participants saw a few others. The small population on Guadalupe Island has been described as an endemic subspecies, but it doesn't differ strongly from the kestrels on the mainland.

Western Gull: Probably no more than 250 around the whole island, and no large colonies. Indeed, the only nest found, on one of the islets, was encountered by the botany team.

Xantus' Murrelet: Bob Pitman and Eric Mellink found them in numbers at night on at least one islet but also many apparently abandoned eggs. I skinned one bird that flew aboard the boat and found that it wasn't in full reproductive condition. Evidently the ocean around Guadalupe Island is not very productive this year and the seabirds are finding it difficult to impossible to nest successfully.

Cassin's Auklet: Bob Pitman found them on the islet where they were known to nest previously but couldn't assess their success (their burrows are too deep and narrow for the birds inside to be grabbed by hand).

Mourning Dove: Common and reproducing vigorously. We found several nests, often from the adults falling out of the cypress trees and doing distraction displays. A recent colonist to the island, still increasing.

Burrowing Owl: I found two (one defending a burrow, I suspect with the female inside incubating) between the two cypress groves and two more near the spring. Others found more elsewhere; indeed, Tom Oberbauer commented it was the largest concentration of Burrowing Owls he had ever seen (still, it's not like the Imperial Valley). They were on both Islote Afuera and Islote Negro at the south end of the island, leaving piles of storm-petrel wings and some remains of Xantus' Murrelets. The species had been recorded repeatedly on Guadalupe in the past and is clearly a breeding resident.

Anna's Hummingbird: Uncommon around the cypress groves (7 individuals per day max) but more widespread on the island and probably increasing with the spread of the tree tobacco (which the goats eat only when they're desperate). Curiously, we saw no fully adult males, and the only one I saw singing did not have a full gorget. Could the male Anna's Hummingbirds of Guadalupe Island, in their isolation from other species with which the females might confuse them, be losing their red gorgets and frontlets? (Think of the loss of sexual dimorphism in the ducks derived from the Mallard in the Hawaiian Islands.)

Flicker: No more than 10 individuals in the cypress groves. An endemic subspecies originally inhabiting the island went extinct, then an expedition from the American Museum of Natural History and Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico two or three years ago found they had recolonized from the mainland.

Rock Wren: Common and reproducing vigorously, with many recently fledged juveniles. The endemic subspecies of Guadalupe Island is conspicuously larger and darker than the one on the mainland, and its bill is disproportionately long and thick—the difference is obvious in the field. The second syllable of the "sp-cheee!" call is noticeably shorter and lower pitched than that of the mainland birds.

Northern Mockingbird: Just one, singing territorially from the same spot near my campsite on two successive mornings. There were two previous records from the island, but this bird could represent a new colonization. Still, nobody else on the expedition noticed any.

European Starling: One adult in the north cypress grove, four juveniles near the main spring. These juveniles are the first evidence of starlings nesting on Guadalupe Island. There are enough old flicker holes and natural cavities in the many dying cypress trees to support a growing population until all the trees die.

House Finch: Common and reproducing vigorously (many fledglings being fed by their parents). The endemic subspecies of Guadalupe Island is conspicuously larger than the House Finches of the mainland, looking in the field to be nearly the size of a Western Bluebird, and have a disproportionately large bill. Their song is a little lower pitched and slower than the mainland birds' and lacks the ascending burry "zreep!" that concludes a mainland House Finch's song.

Guadalupe Junco: This is the most distinctive of Guadalupe's endemic birds and the only surviving one not preadapted to desert habitats. They are most common in the cypress groves but have spread some into other habitats (Bob Pitman found a nest in a rock crevice). My maximum daily count was about 90, and I estimate the total population to be on the order of 1000 (certainly more than 500, certainly less than 5000). They are still reproducing vigorously—almost all were in family groups, with adults still feeding fledglings. Nest sites in the cypress grove are under fallen dead trees, there being no living undergrowth left. Their feeding habits are broader than their mainland relatives—they often attempt to flycatch from the ground and forage in the cypress foliage as well as in usual junco fashion on the ground. Both the songs and calls are totally different from mainland juncos—when I first heard the song, I thought I had found a vagrant. It is a complex little warble, with much individual variation, sometimes resembling the song of a Sage Sparrow, sometimes an abbreviated Lark Sparrow's. It may have trilly elements but is never the simple elongated trill of the birds we hear in San Diego County. The call is a "chink" much more like that of a California Towhee than of a mainland junco. The plumage is not too different from a Pink-sided Junco but darker; there is almost no while down the center of the belly and the females as well as males have black lores. The bill is conspicuously larger and longer than on the mainland (notice a pattern?!). After seeing and hearing the bird in life I'm far more inclined to go along with the idea that the Guadalupe Junco is a species distinct from the Dark-eyed.

Western Meadowlark: As of 1985 there was only one record for the island (in 1886!), but the species has now colonized. I found five in the denuded area between the two cypress groves, and others found more farther south. The birds were singing and making the "lerp" call of mild alarm, but we didn't get any definite evidence of nesting.

Gray-cheeked Thrush: In early June I expected finding at least one vagrant, but this was sure a surprise! Alwin and I had good views for about 10 minutes in fallen dead cypress trees in the south grove. I was struck immediately by the upperparts being more olive than in any subspecies of the Hermit Thrush. The tail and wings were barely browner than the rest of the upperparts (tail typically held up at about a 30-degree angle). The indistinct eye ring was grayish white. The sides of the head just faded gradually from the olive gray of the crown. The only buffy color on the bird was on the throat. The breast was spotted gray on a plain whitish background, the spots trailing down the sides to pale grayish flanks. Belly and undertail coverts white. Eye dark, legs pale dull pinkish. Mandible not conspicuously pale. No song or calls. After we studied the bird for a while Alwin stalked it with his camera (lens zooming up to about 250 mm) but didn't get quite close enough and we ultimately lost the bird. After thinking through all the subspecies of all four (five, I guess now) North American species of Catharus, I don't see any alternative to the Gray-cheeked. I suppose I can't conclusively eliminate Bicknell's Thrush, but this could probably be said about any record of a vagrant unsupported by a specimen.

In any case, I'm glad to be home after seeing one of the world's most shocking environmental disaster areas, 95% of the way to being like the surface of Mars. We can only hope that the expedition's findings and recommendations are followed by a program for total removal of the goats.

9 June 2000 (evening): Anchored off Campo Sur

Brad Hollingsworth, SDNHM herpetologist, reports by satellite phone on the last day of research activities on Guadalupe Island and the southern islets.

First to answer the question that Judy sent:
No, the goats are not at all emaciated! They are extremely healthy—very fat. That's probably because there was a lot of rain here a month or so ago, so the plants are growing very well. It's just that they are all eaten down to the ground. Occasionally you come across "microplants" which do well because they are too small for the goats to nibble. They have to grow to a certain size before the goats can eat them. So, the plants are growing; the goats just keep eating them down, and are big and fat because of it.

Towards the southern end of Guadalupe Island there is less water. Every once in awhile, when you're hiking on the northern end of the island, there will be small seeps—small springs. There is a large spring down in the lower canyon, but up in the highlands and other places on the island, there are small seeps a few inches across that produce little pockets of water. It's obvious that the goats drink in these areas. But in the southern end of the island there are none of these seeps, so apparently the goats don't come down to the southern end all that often, and the plants are much healthier because of it.

So back to today, Friday:
We've been anchored off Campo Sur at the southern end of the island. The biologists are finishing up their activities. The entomologists had their first chance to explore the southern islets: Islote Adentro and Islote Afuera. They did quite well there. They think they have at least two or three new species from each of the islets. Neither islet had been explored for insect or arachnid life before, so everything on them is either a range extension or something new to science. It was a very exciting day for them. They spent at least seven hours on the two islets.

The botanists went to Islote Negro, a little further up the west coast. [Reception broke up here.]

[The ornithologists] did a survey of the Laysan Albatross which are breeding on Islote Afuera. The colony looks good—very successful reproductively. There is no human disturbance on either of the two islets: Adentro or Afuera.

The rest of the day was spent with the film crew and writer. About noon the helicopter began airlifting the logistics equipment that was on the island back to the boat: the two ATVs, the trailer that was hooked up to one of them, and all other equipment that was used on the island. The helicopter is finished being used for the trip and is being secured back to the deck. We're anchored now, but you can see the photo of how it looked on the way down. Everything is getting secured for departure. [Photo to be added.]

It's bad reception for some reason. The wind is starting to pick up. The boat is moving around a lot. The cloud bank is moving in. It looks like we're in for a windy, rough night.

The team is in good spirits. Wish I were a better reporter. Bruce, first mate on the Shogun, was great at sending the photos on the boat's satellite modem. Since we'll be home soon, we're not going to try to email more. I'll try to check on the trip home to answer any more questions. We should be back early Sunday morning, after we clear customs.

[A few more digital photos will be added to this report. Scans will be made from 35mm slides and prints taken by several of the expedition members and added to this and future reports about the expedition.]

8 June 2000 (morning): From the Cypress Grove

Mick Hager, SDNHM executive director, reports on his satellite phone conversation this morning with Exequiel Ezcurra, director of the museum's Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias .

Exequiel called from the Cypress Grove, where he was counting live and dead trees. He was doing more tree coring to determine ages and growth rates. He said the expedition has been an extreme success based on insects, plants, and interesting algae. Today the boats are moving to the southern anchorage, and the people on land will move to South Camp. Tomorrow they will explore Outer Islet (Islote Afuera). They have reports from fishermen that Black Islet (Islote Negro) is green and has interesting plant and bird life. So they will explore that, and probably do one more short trip to Islote Adentro. (See map.) On Saturday they will be sailing home.

8 June 2000 (morning): The promised report

Brad Hollingsworth compiled reports from several disciplines for this installment. Photographs will be added as they arrive.

Number one story: Guadalupe Island is ravaged by goats—possibly as many as 20,000. All habitats are affected. Cliffs are possibly the only safe place for plants to grow—and, of course, the islets off the southern tip of the main island.

Earwigs rule Guadalupe! The most abundant insect on the island are earwigs. To the delight of all the researchers, earwigs invade day and night—tents, bags, backpacks, clothing—all are great places for earwigs to crawl into. Earwigs appear to be highly aggressive. Brad found a mass of earwigs one night. When disturbed, he found that this swarm was attacking a Tenebrionid beetle. Earwigs are found in all types of habitats, from the coast to the highest mountain. Of the spiders, the most abundant species is the Black Widow. Black Widows use parachuting dispersal techniques, so they colonized the island by flying the wind currents.

Marshal Hedin (SDSU) collected insects and spiders, along with Brad. Marshall has at least doubled the number of spider species known from the island. On Tuesday, Brad and Marshall hiked from Pine Camp down the northern ridge to collect from the numerous pines and palms that live in these remote canyons. This is the same area where Jon Rebman and Tom Oberbauer found the Lonicera and called Judy at the Museum. [See "Another new record"—6 June.] Marshall uses a beating sheet to collect from the branches of the oaks, palms, and pines. In one instance, Marshall and Brad descended 1000 feet into a canyon to collect from an Island Oak. The tree was perched along a 100-foot cliff. With a little prodding from Brad, Marshall worked his way to the lower branches of the tree. It paid off! He collected highly prized adult male and female Metapeira spiders. [Photo will be posted when it arrives.] Marshall has been able to collect hundreds of individuals of various spiders to take back to the lab to examine. A number may be new species.

Rolf Aalbu has collected about 2000 specimens by pitfall and blacklight traps. He also uses beating sheets and hand collecting at night. His speciality is tenebrionid beetles. He has found adults and larvae of both tenebrionid genera. He has also collected leaf beetles, Chrysopids, live field crickets, parasitic Hymenoptera, grasshoppers, and two species of centipedes. There is an abundant fauna of carabid beetles as well. Rolf has found that the nocturnal insect activity is dominated by one species of Noctuid moth.

BOTANY—more on the Guadalupe Pine survey
Exequiel Ezcurra, Clark Winchell, and Jose Luis are making an effort to determine the age and demographics of the endemic Guadalupe Pines, relatives of the Monterey Pine. They are coring trees to estimate age. The youngest appears to be at least 150 years old; the rest of the population is likely much older. Because the goats eat the saplings, there are no young trees in the population. The trees are setting seed and saplings can be found underneath the old stands. They are estimated to be two to six months old (between one and two inches high). The demographic counts of live to dead trees: 49% of trees alive, 51% dead. Of the dead trees: 28% standing, 23% fallen. Reid Moran counted 300 plus trees over 30 years ago; now there are only 150 trees remaining. Without the goats, it is believed the stand could recover to its once splendid grandeur.

Bill Everett and Bob Pitman report that it is highly likely that the Guadalupe Storm-Petrel is extinct. Bob Pitman and Bill Everett have surveyed all suitable habitat and have found no traces of storm-petrels. The detection of the Guadalupe Storm-Petrel is fairly easy. They search burrow entrances and smell for the distinctive musk odor emitted by these birds. An active burrow is detected by the nose! Leach's Storm Petrel still nests on Guadalupe Island. One population nests in the summer; another population nests in the winter. They alternate the use of the same burrows. In the photograph [to come], Bill and Brad are examining an individual to see if it is a summer or winter nester. This is figured out, in part, by examining the size of the white rump coloration.

Phil Unitt and Alwin van der Heiden spent day after day in the cypress groves. The most unusual find is a Gray-cheeked Thrush—a vagrant, usually found in high arboreal range! They have reasoned that after days of searching, the endemic race of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula obscurus) is extinct and the Red-breasted Nuthatch is most likely extirpated from the island. Most bird extinctions are attributed to the introduced—now feral—housecats. Island birds are extremely docile and have no sense of fear from predators.

7 June 2000 (9:30 pm): Back on the boat

Brad Hollingsworth phoned in with this message tonight:

I'm back on the boat. I have a big computer file that I've typed up on a laptop about what everyone is doing—five or six different disciplines. It's a big installment, with reports from Exequiel, the entomologists, Bill Everett about the storm petrel, and others—and 21 photographs. The first mate, Bruce, will be sending them by satellite modem when he's on watch in the middle of the night.

Not much news to report today. It was a big logistical shuffle day for the researchers. Everybody moved out of Pine Camp at the northern end and were shuffled just about everywhere: many came back to the boat, other people to Cypress, others to a new camp at the eastern end of the runway in the middle of the island. They want to explore Long Canyon. Tomorrow we're going to motor over to the south and west side. Carlos will be counting fur seals.

I'm probably going to be on the boat from now on and will be typing up reports from the others: Francisco, the algae specialist, Carlos, the marine mammals person, and Erik Mellink. You're going to get bombarded now with information.

We aren't done yet! There's a lot more to expand on. I hope to get out to some of the islets and get some pictures. There are a lot of plant pictures coming in the installment later tonight.

7 June 2000 (morning): From the north end

Judy Gibson, curatorial assistant in the botany deparatment, relays this news from Jon Rebman, SDNHM botany curator:

Jon called this morning. It was brief, because the batteries are low on his phone. He said that they were going to try one more canyon on the north end, then all of them were planning to move down toward the airstrip, where things looked greener. He said that there was a lot of hiking at the north, for little reward.

I asked if he had seen many endemics, and he said that the only ones that are surviving are those hanging from the cliffs. The one exception seems to be Linanthus pygmaeus, which is apparently too small for the goats to notice. "It's all weeds up here" was his summary of the north end.

6 June 2000 (night): From Pine Camp

Called in by Brad Hollingsworth. Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.

We're all at what we're calling the Pine Camp, which is at the old lookout on the northeast side of the island, about as far as you can get that has flat ground, then it turns into a knife ridge out to north point. We're set up on a ridge underneath about seven Guadalupe pines. These are trees that are about 60 or 70 feet tall—maybe higher. We're right on the edge of the cliff looking to the north. We can look out over the entire Pacific to the north and west. It's a spectacular sight. It's an extemely windy day—the entire day. The fog has dissipated, so it's a beautiful clear night with a gazillion stars. It's a lot colder now that the wind is blowing.

Nearly the entire terrestrial team is here, except for Phil and Alwin. We left them at the Cypress Grove because apparently the birding is better up there. The spider biologist is doing really well—more than doubled the list. Of course no lizards or snakes have been found, otherwise I would have called you right away. Marshall and I hiked from the Cypress Grove to the north end of the island, here. There are two groves of cypress: the north grove is in much better condition—perhaps it's a little wetter. We had a beautiful hike along the ridge. Didn't see much in terms of plant life or wildlife. It's pretty barren between the cypress forest and the pine grove.

Tom Oberbauer reports a drastic reduction in the pine population in the last 25 years, since the last census. [See Jon Rebman's report earlier today.] It looks like the pines are dying back. You can see some little seedlings under the pine trees, but as soon as they make their way up they're certain to be eaten by the thousands of goats that wander in herds all over the island.

Exequiel has been doing some interesting work. He's using tree borers and sampling a relatively small Guadalupe Pine—the smallest he could find. He found one about a meter in diameter, and he did a core of this tree and counted about 150 rings. His interpretation is that the youngest tree here is 150 years old. That would mean that all these huge trees that we're camping under are, of course, much, much older. They're definitely decreasing in number. We can see the sprouts trying to hang on. They're coming up underneath the trees, but clearly the goats will get to them. We don't see any young pines. So with the youngest 150 years old, it really says something about the age structure of the population. If the goats were gone, maybe the population could recover. Some of the biologists think that ... [connection broke up]

Everyone here is fairly certain that the Storm Petrel does not nest here on the north end of the island, nor on the inner islets. So, the Guadalupe Storm Petrel—they're nearly 100 percent sure that it's gone by the way. Extinct. That's from Exequiel's mouth, himself.

Tomorrow many of the group will be working their way to the cypress groves. Most of the botanists will be going there. The entomologists are going down low to Barrett's Cove and do some explorations by the shoreline. On Thursday everybody is planning to get to the center of the island in a canyon called Long Canyon, so everyone should be regrouping for a southernly movement from north to south. Then on Friday we're all supposed to be down at South Camp at the very southern tip of the island.

The camera crew, reporter, and the film crew have been great. They've been tagging along with everybody. They're very understanding about what we're up to. Patricia finally got a ride in the helicopter. She came up to Cypress Camp. She sure deserved it—the ride of her life. [Patricia Beller was responsible for getting the numerous permits for the expedition—including the helicopter permit.]

I'm taking digital photos of people working—Marshall collecting, Jon with his plant press. I'll be sending more photos tomorrow night. I'll be down at the boat tomorrow. Expect to hear about spiders from Marshall Hedin and about the algae from Francisco. And the elephant seals from Carlos.

It's a mixture of emotions out here. The awe of actually being out on this island and seeing what remains, but also a sinking heart feeling to see the goats on their rampage and the barreness of soil. Mixed emotions, but everyone is still in good spirits and we're loving it out here.

6 June 2000 (evening): A botanist's report

Jon Rebman, SDNHM curator of botany, called tonight from the pine grove at the north end of the Isla Guadalupe. He reports on that and his day on Islote Adentro yesterday:

Islote Adentro was like a rock garden. I collected 31 species and one hybrid! It was beautiful! Coreopsis gigantea—spectacular. And Cistanthe guadalupensis was in full flower—everywhere it was pink with it. It was previously known only from the Outer Islet. Erysimum moranii; I think was also known from only one other locality: the Outer Islet. We found only three weedy species on all of Islote Adentro: Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum, and a Hordeum [two iceplants and a grass]. We suspect the seeds were brought by gulls or nesting storm petrels.

On arrival on the airstrip at Guadalupe Island on Saturday, within 30 feet of the plane, I found a new record for Atriplex semibaccata (Australian Saltbush); it was thriving and spreading.

The north end of Guadalupe Island is ravaged by goats. Tom Oberbauer has been surveying the pine trees: only 135 pine trees are left on the Island. When the last survey was conducted between 1965 and 1967, there were 368 trees. The goats are so numerous and so voracious that nothing can reproduce. There were almost no seedlings in the palm groves. When palm trees are bent over the goats crawl up and eat the palm fronds, and they're eating the bark off the palm trees. A group of 400 goats just passed by me. Old age is getting the trees because they just can't reproduce.

[The satellite wasn't cooperating during this report, so it isn't complete. Clarifications and corrections will be made as soon as there is an opportunity.]

6 June 2000 (4pm): Another new record

Jon Rebman, SDNHM curator of botany called his assistant, Judy Gibson, to ask her to check the herbarium collection and reference books about a new plant he found today. Judy gives this account:

Jon called this morning from a canyon on the north end of Guadalupe Island, where he had just discovered a pink-flowered honeysuckle. No Lonicera had ever been collected on this island before, so he had no way to guess what it might be. Checking references here at the museum, and examining specimens in the collection, the best guess I could make was that it might be Lonicera hispidula var. vacillans—which is known in California, including Catalina and Santa Cruz islands, though not in Baja California as far as we know. If this is correct, this again illustrates the floristic affinities between this island and the Channel Islands of California.

While the "virtual herbarium" that Jon has with him on the expedition is a very useful tool, sometimes you need the real thing.

6 June 2000 (noon): Report from the north end of Guadalupe Island

Mick Hager relayed this account of a phone conversation he had with Exequiel Ezcurra at noon today.

Mick reported that Exequiel is flying higher than a kite—that the expedition has definitely been worth it. He quoted Exequiel: "The experience on Islote Adentro was mystical. It is a grand paired comparison area with Isla Guadalupe—Isla Guadalupe destroyed by goats and other animals and Islote Adentro in its native habitat. Way better than I ever expected." Exequiel said that plants from Islote Adentro could be used to repopulate Isla Guadalupe if the goats and other critters could be controlled.

The algologist has found a new species of algae. The entomologist believes he has found new insects, but won't know for sure until further study. The botanists have found many new records of plants previously found only on the Channel Islands.

In the next few days the expedition will be moving to Outer Islet off the south end and will return to Islote Adentro. Though previously explored, the Outer Islet doesn't have goats and other animals that Isla Guadalupe does, so is in good shape and full bloom.

5 June 2000 (evening): Report from South Cypress Grove

Called in by Brad Hollingsworth. 5 p.m., Monday.

Today there was good success down at the southern end with people who were visiting Islote Adentro, which is also called Inner Islet. I don't know much about it because I'm at the northern end, but did get some feedback.

Communications are tough because everybody is so busy and they don't always have their satellite phones on, so it's hard to contact each other.

Apparently they took the helicopter to the south end of the islet. The accounts are that it was a blooming paradise of flowers. Of course the film crew was going crazy. Jon was going crazy. Everybody was really, really happy that there were so many plant species on top of Adentro.

They wrapped up activities down there and then the Shogun motored up from the south end and once again anchored at the northeast anchorage. We're establishing an additional basecamp at the northern end, further north, where the pines are. The first basecamp that we set up yesterday is in the South Cypress Grove. Now we have two basecamps to work from on the northern end We'll probably be here three or four days, then work our way once again south—and maybe get back out to the Islote Adentro.

I've sent a photodisk down to the boat just now. Bruce, a crew member on the boat, will probably send some images tonight.

5 June 2000 (morning): First report from Islote Adentro

Mick Hager, executive director of the Museum, relayed this account of a phone conversation he had this morning with Exequiel Ezcurra, expedition leader, who had just landed by helicopter on Islote Adentro as part of the first group to ever explore the islet.

Previously unexplored Islote Adentro, photo by William T. Everett © 1998

Exequiel was bubbling with excitement. He said everything on Islote Adentro was in full bloom. Bill Everett (co-leader), Jon Rebman, and Tom Oberbauer are with him. The botanists are "giddy" over what they are seeing. Since nothing has been collected there before, everything is new—a lot of range extensions. The flora bears more resemblance to that of the Channel Islands than the Baja California peninsula. There are quite a few differences, but they aren't sure yet whether they're phenotypic (environmentally-based) or genotypic (genetically-based). It will take some study before they know whether they have new species or not. Jon has found a Mammillaria, but is not sure yet if it's a new species. The ornithologists have seen petrels nesting, but haven't yet determined if there are any Guadalupe Storm petrels.

Mick added that while he was on Isla Guadalupe on Sunday he could see 20 sea turtles in the water below the cliff he was standing on, and three whitetip sharks were attacking one. He saw cats, wild dogs, burros, and goats—though not nearly as many as the group reported yesterday.

4 June 2000: They're there!

Brad Hollingsworth, SDNHM herpetologist, called in the first report from the island at 5:50 p.m. today via satellite phone.

I'm calling from the top of the Guadalulpe Island. It's completely clear. And very warm—85 degrees.

We arrived at the island at 3 p.m. It took about 23 hours. We met up with the Pioneer boat and everyone else. The helicopter airlifted six of us and our gear to the top of the island. The Shogun is heading south now and will meet up with helicopter there.

We're at the north end of the island at South Cypress Grove, just south of Mount Augusta. The elevation is 4023 feet. Our position is north 29 degrees 5 minutes 23.4 seconds and west 118 degrees 18 minutes 21.6 seconds.

There are six of us at this camp: Clark Winchell, Marshall Hedin, Phil Unitt, Alwin van der Heiden, and myself. [See participant list for disciplines and affiliations.]

It's a moonscape. We're in the cypress forest. One-quarter of the trees are falling over; the rest are in okay shape. We flew in over the flattest central part of the island. It is covered with goats—Clark estimates 20,000. It's was like flying over the Serengeti in Africa and seeing the wildebeest parting under the wake of the helicopter.

Marshall has already seen a number of spiders and discovered two new records for Guadalupe Island—not new species, but range extensions. Phil and Alvin are out looking at birds. The birds are numerous and come right up to camp. Anna's Hummingbirds of course buzz by anything that's red. Clark will be trapping tonight, looking for house mice and cats.

Jon [Rebman] arrived by plane on Saturday. He found three new plants—new records for Guadalupe Island. Jon joined up with the Shogun and is going to South Camp to explore the two islets.

I have good news: I've borrowed the ship's digital camera and will plan to send the flash cards down to the boat where they'll be able to email them to you to put on the website. You should receive some pictures Monday night or Tuesday.

The helicopter is functioning beautifully. Tomorrow they will start to survey Islote Adentro. [See Project Overview for information.]

Expect to hear soon from Phil, Marshal, Clark, and Jon.

3 June 2000: They're off!

About 4:30 p.m. this afternoon, the 92-foot sportfisher Shogun pulled away from the pier in San Diego Bay with one helicopter, two all-terrain vehicles, three zodiacs, a crew of seven, helicopter pilot and logistics crew, four filmmakers, a freelance writer and photographer—and seventeen researchers. (See photo.) It will take 24 hours to reach their destination, the rugged Guadalupe Island, 160 miles off the coast of Baja California.

It is truly a binational, multidisciplinary expedition. The eight Mexican and nine American scientists include ornithologists, botanists, entomologists, herpetologists, ecologists, and an algologist. For a week they will investigate the status of land and sea bird species, study the insect and arthropod populations, survey the plants, search for secretive reptiles and amphibians, monitor the impacts of feral goats, and recommend needed conservation measures for this troubled island, which has been severely affected by introduced nonnative species.

This expedition could yield significant information about species thought to be extinct (most notably the Guadalupe Storm-Petrel) and provide insight into the impact of introduced species to the island by visiting for the first time an offshore islet which remains undisturbed.

The four-person documentary film crew is from Northern Light Productions (NLP), an award-winning film production company based in Boston. Most recently, NLP produced all media elements for African Voices, at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and is beginning production on Yellowstone National Park's new Visitor Center film Geyser Stories! NLP sees an intriguing story in the exploration of Isla Guadalupe. By filming the scientists as they explore the island, NLP will produce a sixty-minute documentary for television that has the potential to reach large audiences.

To maintain constant communication with the expedition, Qualcomm has generously loaned our scientists six Globalstar satellite phones. In addition to supplementing the two-way radios in keeping the researchers in contact with each other as they disperse around the island, the phones will be used to provide updates on research progress.

We'll keep you posted as news is called in— just keep checking in with us here! Send questions and comments to

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0074462. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recomendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Introduction | Project Overview | Participants | Isla Guadalupe
Ornithology | Botany | Entomology | Herpetology