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Laguna Beach


Dianne’s Creature Feature

Discovery Hike: A walk on the wild side

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

When signing up for the Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF) Discovery Hike in Woods Canyon, one hopes to spot something wild, after all, the name starts with “discovery.” Only two weeks before, the group encountered a bobcat on the same hike. Unfortunately, this past Wednesday, we didn’t see the bobcat, but I discovered quite a lot about the trails. 

The hike wasn’t completely devoid of wildlife, we saw a reclining deer from a distance (only its head and ears). We walked past a couple of woodpeckers busily stowing away acorns. And we spied a magnificent Kestrel, chattering away on a high tree branch, and from the sound of its voice, the subject was terribly urgent. 

Our guide, LCF volunteer Dave Baden (who restarted these hikes last November), led us out on our adventure on Wood Canyon and back on Coyote Run, two serene and lovely trails. In our group were Paula Olson, LCF Outreach Manager, and Jim Foley, LCF volunteer and the photographer who took this amazing bobcat picture (and the mule deer photos published a few weeks ago). 

It’s a five-mile hike, so we had ample time to get acquainted and talk about what parts of the wilderness trails we’d visited.

Click on photo for larger image

Photo by John Foley, LCF volunteer

Bobcat spotted on January 17 hike

As Paula talks about the different hikes she’s taken (she loves hiking and fortunately in her position, she hikes a lot), she admits, “This is my dream job.” She spends about half her working time out on the trails.

Dave, a long-time volunteer, also leads the native plant hikes and is well versed on all the plants we come across. He warns us about the poison oak, pointing out the spare branches that are still poisonous even without the dreaded leaves. 

We stop at a sprawling and beautiful oak tree with a level space underneath that’s the destination of the Yoga Hike. The perfect place for meditation and yoga. Farther on, drawing our attention to a huge geological formation with caves of various sizes, Dave explains that the Native Americans used them as dwellings. But at this moment, it’s easier to imagine them as dens for various creatures, large and small. 

No coyotes, but coyote gourds that smell like hippie sweat

Rounding a slight bend, we happen onto some strange yellowish gourds on the ground among crawling vines. “They’re coyote gourds,” Dave says. “They smell bad, but the Native Americans used them for soap and shampoo. They’re food for coyotes and other animals, but the foul odor and bitter taste makes them inedible to humans. “

Although I didn’t get close enough to smell the gourds, Paula adds that on one of the hikes, a child commented, “They smell like hippie sweat.” A very specific description, and a solid reason for not eating them. 

I’m not sure what hike that child was on, but LCF brings a lot of kids to the trails. Each school year, LCF works with eleven partner schools in Orange County to schedule more than 75 field trips that bring 4,500 second through fifth grade students to the South Coast Wilderness at no charge to the schools or students.

John, who is also part of the LCF plant maintenance and restoration team, spots an invasive plant. Aside from taking stunning photos (which he says is just a hobby, John keeps his eye out for plants that threaten the native foliage. He photographs the invasive plants and sets the location with a GPS so he can find them again.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Dianne Russell

Woodrat nest

Although we don’t see any woodrats (they’re nocturnal), someone in the group spots one of their nests, a huge cone-shaped thatch of branches and debris. Dave says, “They’re notorious for stealing things for their nests, but if they take something, they leave something in return, like a bottle cap.” 

And they appear to be the master hoarders of rodents, (they’re also called packrats), because, like their human counterparts, woodrats store lots of seemingly useless items in their homes. We couldn’t look inside the nest, but I still wonder what Laguna Wilderness packrats hoard.

John notes that because of the numerous cyclists on the trails today, we might not see much in the way of wildlife. Paula reports that on one of their hikes, they saw a coyote, a deer, and a bobcat all on the same day. Now that’s hitting the wild side mother lode. 

I love being out on the trails, whether we see wild things or not. That’s just a wonderful bonus, but, truth be told, I would like to see that bobcat. Maybe next time!

The Discovery Hikes are held every other Wednesday. The next one is scheduled for Feb 14.

For more information, to register, or for a schedule of events, go to www.lagunacanyon.org.

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders…Edward Abbey

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