Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vermont Law School

I've decided to accept the scholarship to study at Vermont Law School for my Masters of Environmental Law and Policy. It came down to fit, both financially, and lifestyle wise. I was absolutely thrilled to be accepted to NYU, but they offered me no merit scholarships, and in this economic time, that matters. Cost of living was a huge factor.
Secondly, I felt I would feel more comfortable living in Vermont than the Big Apple. I'm still within weekend visiting distance, which is great, but ultimately I felt the noise and hustle of the city would be overwhelming to live in. I like to go birding, and quilt, and read avidly - often in bed before 10pm - not exactly the closest fit for city living ;)
Third, it was the small versus large school debate. UCI is a large school, and my experience here has been wonderful, but when it came down to it, VLS just was so much more helpful and responsive to every email and question I had, whereas NYU never once responded to any communication I sent - I have to chalk that up to the difference between a large and small institution, but I want to be at the one that took care of my questions quickly and thoroughly.
Lastly, I'm considering continuing on to law school after the masters is completed, and perhaps at that point I'll re-apply to NYU since a J.D. should be from the top institution you are accepted to. Perhaps then they'll offer me some financial incentive as well...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Night Hike in Agua Chinon

Last night I went on a 6 mile night hike up Agua Chinon to the Sinks and Bolero Springs. We began at 6:30pm. I played some tapes of great-horned owl, barn, and western-screech for the participants so they could get a sense for what we would listen for. We began slowly because there were so many great plants and wildflowers to talk about growing near the head of the trail. Continuing up we discussed ticks, the calling towhees, then our first nocturnal bird call - common poorwill. The "poor-WILL" repeated until everyone had heard it, then a booming call from the same direction. Great-horned owl! The GHOW called a few more times then flew silently overhead and landed silhouetted against the hillside in the fading light. We could even pick out ear tufts!
Moments later our first mammal of the night, a small bat, flew overhead. We talked about echo-location and discussed the species possibilities. We continued up the trail. About the time we stopped to check out the first satellite flying overhead, it was time for the first "bush bathroom" stops as well. Satellite spotted and needs relieved, we continued up the trail. Another owl flew overhead, smaller than the first, but still probably a great-horned due to it's size.
As we stood there a large bat flew over, noticeably different than the first one, this was most likely a big brown bat, very cool. The dusk was quickly deepening and we discussed flashlight use as it became harder to see. Venus was visible by this point, and we began picking out familiar constellations like Orion.
As we hiked onward the moon began to become visible, at first just as a glow over the hillside, then a sliver, then it rose and it was so bright and full it cast long shadows out behind us! It was as if someone had flicked on a spotlight, I was glad for my baseball cap to shield my eyes.
We hiked upward, gaining our first view of the sinks, which have been dubbed the "Grand Canyon of Orange County". We headed up to the water trough that has been a frequent stop for local wildlife including the resident mountain lions, bobcats, and even a golden eagle. The chorus of frogs stopped suddenly as we approached, and we discussed the branches sticking out of the water and how we placed them there to allow smaller mammals and rodents to drink safely.
A few of the hikers walked to the edge of the sinks to look down, us sensible (read: afraid of heights) people stayed away from the edge ;) We watched the Hubble as it moved across the sky then blinked into a shadow and disappeared.
Then we headed toward Bolero Springs. This little oak grove held many more frogs, and we ate some snacks and enjoyed the tree cover. We discussed the acorn woodpecker caches we couldn't see but knew were there. 
It was time to head back, and we were halfway through the program. The hike back down was much faster, and we stopped a few times to listen for wildlife, which paid off when our second owl of the night, a western screech owl, called from a distant oak tree. 
We made it back to the parking lot around 10:45pm and everyone quickly said their goodbyes and jumped into cars to warm up and head home. It was a great night hike, full of good wildlife and plenty of exercise, and I fully recommend it in the future.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Birds of the Irvine Ranch: Mountains to the Sea Driving/Hiking Tour

Today was awesome. We birded the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Lands, from Baker Canyon, along Hick's Haul Rd. through Limestone Canyon, and out Hangman's Tree. The weather was fantastic, sunny with puffy white clouds, but with a cool breeze to keep us from cooking on the ridge lines. We had a spread of abilities on the trip, but the interest level was equal across the board, everyone was so happy to be out birding. We started the day off right in Baker Canyon with a Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by a pair of American Kestrels. We racked up some great species for the brand-new birders, including Oak Titmouse, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Acorn Woodpecker. We headed up along Hick's Haul Rd. where we saw Osprey flying from Irvine Lake, Cassin's Kingbird, and dozens of swallows in a mixed flock of Cliff and Tree. From there we headed over the bridge that crosses Santiago Cyn Rd, and started to get some serious wildflowers, including CA poppies, lupins, telegraph weed, and wild hyacinth or blue dicks.
We continued birding and even stopped for a quick herp - a life species for me, the coast spiny lizard. Hope my photos turned out, I have a backlog of pics to sort through and post from last weekend too! We carried a few harvester ants into the car with us as we continued upwards. On the ridge we stopped for views and saw some Sara Orangetips, Ladies, Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger-swallowtails, and sulphur species. Butterflies are coming out!
The best bird of the day for me was a "porno view" (as my friend Torcuil would say) of a Grasshopper Sparrow. This normally sulky species was perfectly visible low in the mustard on the side of the trail. Unfortunately only our car saw it, but darn did we get a good look! Continuing on the sparrow trend, we caught Song, Savannah, White-crowned and Golden-crowned. A good sparrow day!
We dropped down to Bolero Springs where we had a picnic under the oaks. A Hutton's Vireo called persistently, as did chorus frogs. A flicker called "clear clear" as we munched. Then it was onward, and Dark-eyed Juncos wandered alongside the cars, as we exited the area. Chaparral Pea, a pretty little plant was growing alongside the trail in droves - perhaps it's a fire-follower species?
We exited through a river/creek crossing, and headed back along Santiago Cyn Rd to the staging area where we'd left our cars. It was a beautiful day and everyone felt relaxed and happy. Birding is like a drug for me, with finals and mock trial nationals coming up, I couldn't have asked for a better day to really take the stress right out of me!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Hike in Orchard Hills

Yesterday I went on a naturalist-only hike in Orchard Hills. A new set of trails operated by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy on Irvine Company land. The trails wind through avocado groves, owned and operated by the Irvine Co. Unfortunately, it's illegal to take any =/ too bad, I looove avocado. 
The trails are not open to the public yet, except through IRC hikes, but will eventually be dawn to dusk trails. At the moment the trails are like an obstacle course, trying to figure out which side of the fences to be on at each point (part of the reason it isn't open to the public yet, too confusing!)
There were plenty of wildflowers, blue bells, California poppies, mallows, popcorn flower, two species of lupins, one was likely miniature lupin, the other I'd never seen before, non-natives included filigree or storksbill, and clovers. Plants along the trail included non-native Eucalyptus, also natives like laurel sumac, prickly pear cactus.