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.

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