August 19, 2012: Throughout the year, guided nature walks are offered by the Reserve staff, guest biologists, and trained docents. The summer months are always our quietest in these special Orange County wildlands – but that doesn’t mean that life is at a standstill. On a recent Family Nature Walk, participants got to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of an early morning out the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy. The children (and some of the adults) participated in a fun scavenger hunt. Who is the first person that can find an oak gall? And, who can spot a plant with a purple flower? It was a hunt that made us all look closer at the life around us. As we walked down the Gato Trail, it was a treat to see the colorful monarch butterflies landing on milkweed plants – who would think that plants could bloom so beautifully, with no recent rain to nourish them? The goldenbush, with its buttery odor, was making the landscape along the trails all the more enticing. We stopped to listen to the occasional bird songs – each had their own musical flair.
Along the way, we became wildlife detectives and looked at animal tracks. They can reveal much information. Basic track shapes, sizes and arrangements can tell you who has been on the trail. We found the prints of coyotes, bobcat, deer and quail. We stopped to listen to the stillness of being out in the wildlands. We looked closely at the ground to find fallen acorns and then noticed the Blue Elderberry tree with its white wispy flowers blowing in the wind. We spotted more butterflies, heard the call of a hawk, and saw even more flowers that were hidden along the canyons and cliffs of this trail. During the walk we also visited the Sister Oak. To get to this 250 year old oak tree, we easily crossed a deepening gully by using the newest Eagle Scout bridge which was completed this past winter. Standing in the shade of the massive Sister Oak, we all took a deep breath before heading back happily along the Gato trail. What a wonderful way to start out the day.