Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hiking, Hawking and Hopping

Spring has definitely sprung in Orange County and Baily and I took a hike up to O'Neil Regional Park since Chris was engaged in a fierce bike ride around Santiago Canyon.
It's been rather rainy lately so the ground was pretty muddy. I was slower than usual going up the hills today; I realized that I was probably carrying several pounds of mud on my boots. Consequently, I'm chalking my turtle pace up to the additional mud weight.
This was a good day for wildlife, probably because we got an early start and it's still pretty cool out these days. There is a cell phone tower at the end of the hike and two hawks were fluffing themselves upon it. Click on the top picture; you can see one bird on either side. I wouldn't be surprised if a nest appeared here in a couple of months.
I would have identified these guys as red tailed hawks but their breasts look a bit too buffy and clear to me. (click on the picture to enlarge). Red tails usually have a slightly mottled breast and very distinct red tail. Any thoughts? Papa?

On the way down the hill I realized that three california vultures were circling us at low altitude (less than 50 feet). Since I still in the land of the living, this was rather disconcerting.
See? I wasn't joking about the mud. This is always a difficult hike for me in the summer because the grass has turned brown, the pond has dried up, and the earth is scorched. I remember this hike as it is right now: green grass, green cacti, a full pond, and most importantly, lots of frogs. A year ago we reached the final hill and discovered that the ground was literally hopping with thousands upon thousands of tiny frogs. It was almost impossible to walk without crushing a few. And new they're back.
I heard them as we walked up the final hill. I was so excited that I said something like: "Bailey! Can you hear the frogs? Hooray!" This prompted a nearby hiker to give me a very strange look, not a big surprise, given the fact that I was addressing my dog. Anyway, the frogs have reappeared.
I don't know where they go for 9 months out of the year but they're back with a vengeance. This must be mating season because it was pretty loud up there and they kept croaking, even when I was nosing around in the grass trying to determine their location. These guys are about two inches in length. I'm going to keep my eyes out for eggs (and tadpoles).
I've tentatively identified these guys as California Tree Frogs, despite the distinct lack of trees in the area. Click here for more information.

Frog in motion.