2000 to Isla Guadalupe
A Binational Multidisciplinary
Updates from the Field
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.
July 2000: An afterthought to the expedition, and a prelude
Exequiel Ezcurra, director
of the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias and
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 thickthe
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
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
vigorouslyalmost 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 relativesthey
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 juncoswhen
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.
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 healthyvery
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
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 seepssmall 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
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 goodvery
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.]
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.
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 goatspossibly
as many as 20,000. All habitats are affected. Cliffs are possibly
the only safe place for plants to growand, of course, the
islets off the southern tip of the main island.
INSECTS & ARACHNIDS
Earwigs rule Guadalupe! The most abundant insect on the island
are earwigs. To the delight of all the researchers, earwigs
invade day and nighttents, bags, backpacks, clothingall
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
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.
BOTANYmore 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 Thrusha
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 introducednow
feralhousecats. Island birds are extremely docile and have
no sense of fear from predators.
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 doingfive or
six different disciplines. It's a big installment, with reports
from Exequiel, the entomologists, Bill Everett about the storm
petrel, and othersand 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
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.
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
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.
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 tallmaybe 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 daythe 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 wellmore 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 conditionperhaps 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 Pinethe
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
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 Petrelthey'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 itthe ride
of her life. [Patricia Beller was responsible for getting the
numerous permits for the expeditionincluding the helicopter
I'm taking digital photos of people workingMarshall 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.
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 giganteaspectacular.
And Cistanthe guadalupensis was in full flowereverywhere
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.]
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. vacillanswhich 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.
June 2000 (noon): Report from the north end of Guadalupe
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 kitethat
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 GuadalupeIsla 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
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 southand
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.
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.
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 newa 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 goatsthough not nearly
as many as the group reported yesterday.
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 warm85 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 goatsClark 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 Islandnot 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
plantsnew records for Guadalupe Island. Jon joined up with
the Shogun and is going to South Camp to explore the two
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.
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 photographerand seventeen researchers. (See
photo.) It will take 24 hours to reach their destination,
the rugged Guadalupe Island, 160 miles off the coast of Baja
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
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