Field Trip: Skagg's Island
Date: Saturday February 04, 2012
Time: 7:45 AM
Leader: Robin Leong
Trip Report: by David Takeuchi.
“In 1941, the United States Navy purchased 3,310 acres of the island for military use, and developed 60 acres on the north end of the island as a cryptologic communications installation known as the Skaggs Island Naval Security Group Activity. The facility was self-sufficient, with its own domestic water and sewer systems. When the base was closed in 1993 under the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act, the Navy left behind facilities including over 100,000 square feet of office and classroom space, 80 duplex family residential units, a dormitory and food service facilities, and several dozen maintenance or recreation structures.” http://cryptome.org/eyeball/skaggs/skaggs-eyeball.htm
The base was turned over to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in June 2011, following the demolition of about 150 building starting in January 2010. It is now part of the San Pablo National Wildlife Refuge.
What was once a bustling community of headquarter buildings, gas station, mini mart, canteen, recreation center and housing, is now open fields. The only indication that there was a community here are the asphalt roads. The roads are giving way to weeds growing through cracks.
The communication towers are gone. However, an aeronautical beacon for air traffic control remains. It reminded my car riders Sara Leis and Michelle Whitney of a bowling pinball sticking out of the ground.
A farmer continues to grow hay on one-third of Skaggs Island. Some day he will leave and the levees will be breached and Skaggs Island will return to it previous wetlands. The levees keep the water from the Napa River out and it was evident as we looked over the levee and noticed the river was about seven feet higher than the low points of the island.
Birding started on the bridge to the Skaggs Island gate. We were excited to see Short-eared Owls, skimming the low growing shrubbery. We drove on surprisingly well maintained gravel roads, before entering the former area where the Navy operation and housing was located.
In the former Navy Housing, water had collected, attracting passerines. Several Says Phoebe, and Lincoln Sparrows were present, giving us good views. In one binocular view you could see a Says Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Lincoln Sparrow and Song Sparrow.
We stopped for lunch on the road. Brian Colett walked around a clump of shrubs, startling a Barn Owl. He was joined by Joanne Castro, and they picked up fresh owl pellets. Robin commented that a 2 1/2 inch pellet fetches $2.00. A group scanned the north-west horizon across the Napa River. Murray Berner spotted a Rough-legged Hawk, no bigger than a midget, at least a quarter mile away. What we saw was a spot on the ground with upper white, and dark lower. Murray also spotted a soaring immature Golden Eagle, exciting the group..
We were all intrigued by the sight of a Burrowing Owl with a burrow in the middle of the asphalt road. The road had eroded , causing a hole to form. We all strained to see the owl. Those of us who were fortunate, saw the top of the owl and its left eye. The eye was a yellow beacon. We walked up to the owl, anticipating its flight, and it did not disappoint us. Some of us examined the burrow. Robin, Wally Neville, and Murray had scouted the area a few days earlier and spotted the burrow by the white wash.
Bird List: 47 species and 1 gull species. Bird count from Murray Berner. Pied-billed Grebe , Great Blue Heron , great Egret , Turkey Vulture , Canada Goose[x], Mallard , White-tailed Kite , Northern Harrier , Red-tailed Hawk , Ferruginous Hawk , Rough-legged Hawk , Golden Eagle [1 juv], American Kestrel , Merlin , Ring-necked Pheasant, American Coot , Killdeer , Greater Yellowlegs , gull species , Mew gull , Forster’s Tern, Morning Dove , Barn Owl , Great Horned Owl , Short-eared Owl , Burrowing Owl , Anna’s Hummingbird [ 5], Nuttall’s Woodpecker , Northern Flicker , Black Phoebe , Say’s Phoebe , American Crow, Common Raven , Tree Swallow , Marsh Wren , Ruby-crowned Kinglet , Northern Mockingbird , European Starling , Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) ]20], Savannah sparrow , Fox Sparrow , Song Sparrow , Lincoln’s Sparrow  Golden-crowned Sparrow , White-crowned Sparrow , Red-winged Blackbird , Western Meadowlark , House Finch .
Pre-trip Description This is your opportunity to bird Skaggs Island, which is not open to the public at this time. This is a great area to view raptors. Short-eared Owls have been reported in this area in January, and will be a target bird. Dress accordingly as the weather dictates. Bring a snack and lunch. We will end around 2:00 PM.
Car-pooling is required for this trip. We will enter as a group and exit as a group. The gate will be locked and you will not be able to leave early.
submitted on January 19, 2012, at 12:44 PM PST