Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day & Mother Oak - San Clemente, CA

My mom and I spent Mother's Day morning out in Mother Nature visiting Mother Oak in the Richard and Donna O'Neill Conservancy.  The conservancy is a privately owned preserve - a mitigation for the Talega housing development in San Clemente, California.  The land is closed to the public, so you can only access it via guided walks.  My mom and I saw it through the "Mother's Day Walk to Mother Oak" put on by The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo.

We met at the parking lot near the trail head for a 3-mile round-trip walk on Gato Road led by our most-knowledgeable guide Geordie.  Before we began she gave us each a Mother's Day gift (mothers and non-mothers alike) - a small pouch of tumbled rocks.  She gathers the rocks locally from trails she frequents and then shines them up to a glossy beauty in a rock tumbler she has in her garage.

The group of 13 began the 3-hour tour promptly at 0830, through a locked cattle gate our guide had a key to.  On the way out we stopped frequently for Jordie to identify plant, tree, and flower species we came across.  She is also a certified tracker, so we paused when we came across animal prints or scat for her to identify those as well.  I was blown away by the depth and breadth of her knowledge of all things trail worthy and wild...and I picked her brain about her journey to such knowledge so that I might replicate some of her steps myself.  She encouraged us to add our own knowledge to the discussion and ask questions as we went.

I learned quite a few factoids and we stopped to ID many plant species, so here is a bullet list of what we saw that I can recall / that I wrote down in messy chicken-scratch as we walked:

  • Golden Star

  • White Sage
  • Mariposa Lily
  • Monkeyflower 

  • California Sycamore
  • Coastal Deerweed 

  • Curly Dok
  • California Blackberry (leaves look similar to poison oak)
  • Poison Oak
  • Sweet Fennel (invasive)
  • Earthstar (mushroom!) 

  • Golden Bush
  • Coyote Gourd
  • Elderberry

  • Mistletoe
  • Lemonade Berry (you can put the berries in water for light flavoring)

  • Milkweed
  • Dove Weed
  • Witch's Hair
  • Coastal Paintbrush

  • Coyote Bush
  • Wine Cup

  • Scarlet Pimpernel (invasive)
  • Tobacco (invasive)
  • Coast Live Oak

  • Artichoke Thistle (invasive)
  • Yarrow
  • Gall / Oak Apple
  • California Sagebrush
  • Mustard (invasive)
  • Cucumber Vine
  • Mule Fat
  • Morning Glory
  • Narrow-leaved Bedstraw (my personal favorite spotting of the day)

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Scrub Jay
  • Toad (well - his prints anyways) 

  • Tarantula Hawk (type of wasp)
  • You can tell a canine print from a feline print by whether or not you can draw an "x" through the pad imprint
At 1.5 miles in you reach "Mother Oak" - a coast live oak that is 500 years old.  There is evidence of woodpeckers in her trunk and also (although we didn't see them) a family of barn owls living in the branches.

All-in-all, a great way to spend mother's day morning.  And, I highly recommend the resources, lectures, volunteer opportunities, and guided walks offered by The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo.

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