Where were you on the night of June 22, 2017?

Don’t worry; we’re not asking for your alibi, but if you weren’t at the Nix Nature Center at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, you missed something special. With stellar support from Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers, OC Parks Resource Specialist Laura Cohen treated more than 50 visitors to a beautiful and educational night in the park.

The visitors – of every age – could engage in several activities, including participating in a constellation scavenger hunt, learning about the sizes of planets and why each might be a difficult environment for living things, and understanding the difference between astrology and astronomy.

OC Astronomers set up six powerful telescopes. Science Heads brought their mobile observatory in which aspiring astronomers could tour a “virtual solar system.” While the actual night of June 22 had a bit of a marine layer limiting celestial observations, visitors learned that this was the best time to see Saturn and Jupiter.

So, where will you be on August 21, 2017?

You might want to consider planting yourself in one of a few selected states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri…and continuing across the middle of the USA down to North and South Carolina. Why? Because it is in these states where the total solar eclipse can be seen on August 21, 2017.

A total solar eclipse occurs when a new moon comes between the sun and the earth, aligning just perfectly. It is a rare occurrence. The last time a total solar eclipse could be seen from the United States was in 1979 and only from a few Pacific Northwest States. If you’re a planner, check out the Washington Post’s interactive webpage, illustrating when your next shot would be.

What will we see? The better question might be: what will we experience? Imagine, during a bright sunny day in August, the moon covers – eclipses – the sun…dim, dim, dimming the sun’s light as it moves across the sky, until the day’s sky reveals stars and planets. Venus and Jupiter, for example, should be visible. Remarkable, right? The moon almost taking over the day from the sun, creating a dark circle in the sky, with the sun’s corona fanning around it like a muted, silvery sunflower.

Our universe is, of course, amazing. We at Laguna Canyon Foundation – staff, volunteers, board and partners – love learning about our earth and our surroundings. It helps us better understand how we can protect and preserve this canyon that we love.

OC Parks Resource Specialist Laura is already planning the next Astronomy night at the Nix, on October 28, 2017. On this night, International Observe the Moon Night, we will share lots of fun activities. So please join us for a wonderful – full of wonder – evening.

National Pollinator Week is June 19-25! Pollinators are incredibly important to the plants and animals that live in our local wildlands. The process of pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another through the wind or with the help of an animal that is looking to make nectar its next meal. These animals inadvertently get pollen attached to their bodies and carry it along to the next flower. Once a flower has been pollinated, it will produce fruit which provides resources for animals as well as seeds to make new plants.

The ideal home for a pollinator includes a wide variety of native plants that are clustered together. Pollinators need food all year round, not just in the spring when the wildflowers bloom, so it’s essential to have late flowering plants such as Epilobium canum (California fuchsia) and Deinandra fasciculata (clustered tarweed) mixed into the habitat.

From the miniscule Ceratina bee to the iconic monarch butterfly, pollinators come in many different shapes and sizes. According to the Xerces Society, there are 1,200 – 1,500 native bee species and over 200 butterfly species in California. Butterflies and bees aren’t the only pollinators that you can find while out exploring. Even bats and male mosquitoes can be pollinators! Next time you’re out enjoying the open space, watch for flowers that have hummingbirds, ants, flies, and flower beetles collecting nectar and pollen.

Help Laguna Canyon Foundation celebrate National Pollinator Week by doing your part to protect our open space. To promote diversity of pollinators, we need to work together to protect, preserve, and restore as much native habitat as possible. Sign up for an event at the Native Plant Nursery in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to help participate in seed collecting, seed starting and plant care on the second Saturday of every month. With your help, these native species will be planted into the park and will help to support our local pollinators.

While most of Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education programs are held amidst the beautiful coastal sage scrub landscape in the canyon, we do host a few field trips at Crystal Cove State Park‘s Reef Point tide pools.

Meeting the bus full of sixty fourth graders in the parking lot overlooking the beach, our trained Laguna Canyon Foundation educators debriefed both the adults and students about safety and caring for the delicate ecosystem before we headed to the shore. We learned not to remove anything and not to disturb the animals. We learned to walk slowly and carefully, keeping in mind that we are guests in these animals’ habitat. The eager children, their parents, and the teachers were excited to spend the morning on the beach.

Who wouldn’t love that?

So, imagine our surprise as we descended the dozens of stairs toward the sand to see a stranded sea lion on the very rocks and tide pools we were ready to explore. She bobbed and twisted her head slowly before lying still, her eyes closed. She didn’t look well, and the students, having just heard the rules of the tide pools, showed great respect for the animal. They kept their distance. The parents helped the educators guide the students around the sea lion’s area, going to tide pools further down the beach. One helpful parent took charge of 15 children while an educator texted Pacific Marine Mammal Center with a photo of the sea lion.

We continued our tide pool exploration, enjoying the sea air and observing hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea hares and many other amazing creatures, but most children focused their questions on the sea lion. “What’s wrong with her?” “What’s going to happen to her?” “Why is she so dry?” “Do we know if it’s a girl or boy?”

At that point, the educators didn’t have answers. What they could share, though, was that a great organization in the very canyon where we often hike, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, was on their way to come rescue her and take care of her.

And that is what happened. Less than an hour later, the PMMC truck came driving down the sand and the fourth graders of Pio Pico Elementary got to witness, firsthand, a sea lion rescue.

That was April 18, 2017. The staff at Laguna Canyon Foundation visited Pacific Marine Mammal Center several times to see how the sea lion was doing. PMMC named her Betty Boop. She had domoic acid poisoning, which is caused by eating fish that have, themselves, fed on toxic algae blooms. These toxic algae blooms were caused by fertilizers and runoff from the rains earlier this year.

When we think of land and sea – greenbelt and bluebelt – it is easy to see how intertwined they are. What we do on land affects our oceans and vice versa. Particularly here, in Laguna Beach and Laguna Canyon, we can each make a big difference if we are responsible for how we dispose of chemicals, if we pick up trash on streets and on trails that would otherwise go into the ocean, and if we keep our distance and respect plant and animal life.

So, what happened to Betty Boop? We were nervous. The Orange County Register had reported that eight of 12 sea lions picked up during the early weeks of April had died, most showing signs of domoic acid poisoning.

It was with great relief that we heard from the PMMC technicians during one of our visits that Betty Boop was “a pistol.” She was eating on her own, acting very bossy and “ready to leave.”

After a few more days with PMMC, the staff was confident that she had a good chance to be back out on her own. With the staff eager not to keep her in captivity any longer than necessary, and with Betty Boop making it clear she wanted out, Betty Boop was released, healthy, on May 1, 2017.

Betty Boop after release

Have you noticed a dramatic splash of color while out on the trail? Spring and summer are the peak blooming season for the mariposa lily, a spectacular plant that is part of the lily family (Liliaceae) along with chocolate lilies and humboldt lilies. Mariposa lilies are in the genus Calochortus, which is derived from Greek and means“beautiful grass.” Although their narrow leaves do resemble grass, they are actually perennial bulbs – meaning they live for more than two years.

There are six species found in Orange County, including two rare species, Catalina mariposa lily and intermediate mariposa lily. Here are a few of the mariposa lilies that you may come across while out exploring the South Coast Wilderness.

Splendid mariposa lily (Calochortus splendens) is our most common local mariposa lily and flowers from April through early June. Look for the pale lavender-to-pink petals among openings in oak woodlands, as well as in coastal sage scrub and grassland habitats.

Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae) is designated as a rare plant (CRPR 4.2) by the California Native Plant Society, although it is fairly common in Orange County. At first glance the white petals resemble a morning glory, but the dark centers help to distinguish these flowers. This species can be seen flowering from February through May.

Weed’s mariposa lily (Calochortus weedii) and Intermediate mariposa lily (Calochortus weedii var. intermedius) show off a variety of brillant colors, including yellows, oranges and purples. Both of these species can be seen flowering from the end of May through mid-July, although they are in bloom a bit early this year!

Looking to find these beautiful flowers out in the South Coast Wilderness? Check out the Wood Canyon Trail in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and the Mariposa Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Fill in the blank: American __________

Flag! Citizen! Express! Apparel!

Not many guesses would be American…Badger and do you know why? Cuz they’re not here anymore.

At Laguna Canyon Foundation, our staff, volunteers, board and community strive to protect and preserve the South Coast Wilderness. This land, which literally encircles Laguna Beach, makes Laguna Beach unique and far more than just another beach town.

Native populations of wildlife struggle against a combination of predator control, rodent poisoning, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation – meaning we, as humans, might plow through their space with anything from unauthorized (social) trails to domestic dog walking to roads and urban development.

The American Badger hasn’t been sighted in the South Coast Wilderness in decades. The last local verified sighting was in 2014, near Santiago Oaks Regional Park. Little research exists on the Southern California badger population, but experts agree that its population decline is likely due to urban development of housing, highways and overall habitat encroachment.

Let’s add to the list of the gone or going…

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, used to roam the South Coast Wilderness. It is estimated that a single cougar needs, at a minimum, 10 square miles of hunting habitat, though given the chance their range can extend over hundreds of miles. Our South Coast Wilderness, checkered with habitat fragmentation, is about 22,000 acres (or approximately 34 square miles). Add to that the biggest social trails of the 5 and 405 freeways bifurcating the coast and its neighboring mountain ranges (San Jacinto, San Bernardino and San Gabriel), and any cat would have a tough go of getting here, let alone surviving. The last confirmed sighting of a mountain lion here was 2001.

Gray Fox. It is true, through OC Parks partnering with nonprofit organizations to track wildlife through motion-detecting cameras, that one gray fox has been seen recently in the South Coast Wilderness – one. Are there more? Based on tracking, scat, and other evidence, most experts say it is highly unlikely. While gray foxes are solitary most of each year, both male and female will share in the raising their kits. Does this gray fox have a mate? Does it have a chance of finding a mate? We don’t know.

Big-Leaved Crownbeard (Verbesina dissita). Sounds a bit like some old-man plant, but it is a rare, beautiful semi-woody shrub with bright yellow flowers. It is a California threatened plant species protected by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and is found in and around Laguna Beach. Our ecosystem counts on biodiversity and, as we lose native habitat, so we lose our diverse wildlife.

Other species that once called the South Coast Wilderness home but are now no longer here include the spotted skunk and the black bear. And there are a multitude of native plants on the brink as well, including the Laguna Beach Dudleya (Dudleya stoloniferea).

It takes time, commitment, patience and research to undo a population decline. Take the California condor. In the 20th century, due to habitat loss, poisoning (in this case, lead from the shot remaining in the carcasses of hunted animals), and pesticides (in this case DDT), the California condor population dropped to just 22 individuals in the 1980s, all in captivity. Through a shared effort among scientists, legislators, and concerned citizens, through breeding programs and regulations to eliminate use of harmful pesticides, the population was brought up to its current numbers. There are about 140 now flying free in California.

While hiking in Laurel Canyon recently, I was stunned when a geologist, who, let’s remember, thinks in terms of millennia, mused that even with climate change, pollution, and warming seas, Mother Earth will be “…just fine. She will survive,” he said. Then he added, “…maybe not the way we would want, with the beauty and life we see now, but she’ll be here.”

Hmm. Brings new meaning to Newton’s law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

If we build roads and housing developments, lo, even if we just create a “new” trail, we fragment wildlife habitat. If we kill predators, say, coyote, we get an overpopulation of rodents, say gophers, who mess up our yards, so we use pesticides, which get in our food webs and into our oceans, creating disease and death for animal and plant life.

We are part of Mother Earth; we belong here, too. As such, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve for generations to come.

Every one of our actions – every one – has an equal and opposite reaction.

Spring is in the air in California, and as the weather warms up, it’s a treat to see some of the animals that call our open space their home. Everyone likes seeing butterflies, birds and bobcats while out exploring the trails, but who enjoys seeing snakes? I know that I do, but many people’s initial response to encountering a snake is fear or disgust. Why do snakes get a bad rap? A fear of snakes runs deep through ancient mythology and the Bible, but our disdain is misguided.

Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles that are secondary consumers (they eat animals that eat plants) and fall into the middle of the food web. They play an important role in our local ecosystem by controlling rodent populations and by providing food for raptors.

People are often scared of snakes, but in reality, snakes are also scared of people! The best defense a snake has is to avoid confrontation by slithering away or by warning others to stay away (like rattlesnakes do). Although you don’t need to be scared of snakes, you should be careful when you see one and give them their space.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be alert during warmer weather and in the evening when snakes are most active.
  • Never put your hands or feet where you can’t see them.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes on the trail.
  • Stick to the trail! Snakes can be hard to see in tall grass and in rock crevices.
  • Learn to identify the common species in the OC.
  • Remember not to panic if you see a snake – this is their home!

Next time you’re out on the trail and see a snake, stop and observe it for a while. You might be surprised to find yourself enjoying snakes after all! 🙂

Nineteen different species of snake make their home in Orange County. Snakes most often encountered in the wild in Orange County include:


Gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer)


Southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri)


California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae)

Interested in learning more about snakes, and even getting the opportunity to touch one yourself?
Register now for our RATTLESNAKE! event in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park on Saturday, April 29th. See and even touch live, non-venomous snakes displayed by snake researcher Steve Bledsoe of Southwestern Field Herping Associates. Enjoy fun crafts. Learn to ID rattlesnakes and what to do if you encounter one. Come prepared to have your most interesting snake questions answered!

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are…!” – Hamilton

Today, April 6, is California Poppy Day. Those of us who grew up in California know that when we see poppies starting to bloom, spring is here. Driving up the coast or hiking in the hills, orange is everywhere. Having learned in my SoCal elementary school (way back in the day) that it is our state flower, the sight of poppies always gives me a great sense of pride for “my” beautiful state, California.

The California poppy, with its bright orange and gold colors, generally opens only in bright sun and represents California well: California’s beautiful orange sunsets; California’s gold rush; our very own Orange County. The color orange is composed of equal parts of red (energy) and yellow (happiness). And while many outside of California might think of us as a little laid-back, I’d like to think, living in this wonderful place, we simply have a great balance of energy and happiness.

Even its many names give homage to the California poppy’s brightness and light: golden poppy, California sunlight, and copa de oro (cup of gold).

So it wasn’t a surprise that back in 1890 when the California State Floral Society held an election to determine California’s state flower, the California poppy was a home run winner over the other two beautiful flowers in the running: the matilija poppy and the mariposa lily. In 1903, the California legislature officially named the California poppy our state flower.

And, even before that “official” proceeding, local Native Americans, keenly sensitive to their land, knew the value of the poppies. They used the plant parts in various ways to alleviate aches and pains and as an anti-anxiety remedy.

It should be noted that although the California poppy is a distant cousin to the opium poppy, the California Poppy contains no opiates. WebMD states the California poppy contains chemicals that may cause relaxation.

Where do we see them?

California poppies grow in southern California, of course, as well as desert areas such as the Mojave Desert. They are seen as far north as southern Washington and as far south as Baja, Mexico.

When do we see them?

While usually the biggest bloom is in the spring, California poppies can flower from February through September, sometimes longer, depending on the weather and rain.

What are those things?

The California poppy plant has green-grey leaves. The flower buds under calyx cap. The calyx cap lifts off as the flower blossoms, exposing a furled flower ready to open. The California poppy closes, as a defense mechanism, if it becomes cloudy, opening again to the sun. How California cool is that!?! And, if you’re wondering what that longer “bud” (not really a bud) is, it is the poppy’s seed pod.

The California poppy lives up to its sunshine hype. “Look Around, Look Around…” Find a field of them and it will surely give you happiness and energy.


Happy California Poppy Day!

Aliso Creek stretches for 19 miles through our cities and canyons, originating in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains and culminating in a tidal lagoon at Aliso Beach. In the 1800s, Spanish explorers named the creek Aliso, meaning alder, in reverence of the existing riparian vegetation. The creek was the historical boundary between the Acjachemem and Tongva tribes and contains sensitive archaeological resources.

The Aliso Creek watershed is primarily urban and suburban. Very little wilderness or undisturbed land remains in the watershed outside of the immediate vicinity of Aliso Creek and the 4,000+ acre Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, making the this area particularly crucial for a range of wildlife. A variety of native habitats, including willow scrub, riparian woodland, and mulefat scrub, exists within the watershed. This diverse habitat is the home of several endangered or threatened species, including Least Bell’s Vireo, Southwestern Pond Turtle, Coast Horned Lizard, and others.  The creek is a critical corridor for wildlife moving into the South Coast Wilderness, allowing animals safe passage even through developed areas while providing access to food, water and shelter.

Today, the creek needs our help. Aliso Creek and the plant community it sustains is possibly the most degraded major riparian corridor in Orange County, having suffered from a long history of pollution, development, invasive Arundo (giant cane) infestation, access limitations, and neglect. For over 40 years, local land managers, nonprofit organizations, state and federal wildlife agencies, and the public have all advocated for restoration of the creek and its banks. Laguna Canyon Foundation and its partners have led a multi-year effort to initiate the restoration of Aliso Creek from its headwaters to its ocean outflow. The 55-acre Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Measure M Aliso Creek project has removed 30 acres of Arundo from the watershed and begun to restore native vegetation to a critical section of the creek.

In order to preserve the creek and the wildlife it supports, Laguna Canyon Foundation and its partners and volunteers work to remove invasive vegetation and replant natives. A diverse native plant community provides habitat for a variety of local wildlife, including endangered species like the Least Bell’s Vireo, and helps the ecosystem resist destruction by drought, fire, flood, or future takeovers by invasive species such as Arundo.

The Aliso Creek Regional Bikeway, Riding and Hiking Trail runs for 15 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains to Laguna Beach, offering many opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and scenic beauty of Aliso Creek.  Interested in getting off the trail and adopting the creek and areas surrounding it? Join us at one of our monthly Keep It Wild events in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park to help out with planting natives, weed removal or trash pick-up!

What Smells?

After all this glorious rain, the canyon is alive with earthy scents that linger in the cool, moist air of the trails. One of the many experiences that Laguna Canyon Foundation’s educators share with the young students as they hike through the canyon is what to smell: white sage (pictured), California sagebrush, everlasting, and bladderpod, just to name a few.

The educators teach the children how the local Native Americans, the Acjachemen, used white sage as a purifying incense at ceremonies and gatherings (and still do today). “Tar,” “cannabis,” and “lemon” are some of the words used to describe the scent of white sage. Quite a variety, right? And that is the beauty of the whole olfactory experience. We all sense scents differently.

The Acjachemen used California sagebrush as insect repellent and as bedding to drive away fleas. Folklore has it that it was also used by cowboys to mask their sweaty body odor after a long day herding cattle, thus its nickname “cowboy cologne.” For the most part, California sagebrush gets the children’s top vote for the best smelling. “Kinda minty,” says one student. “Smells like something my mom uses in the kitchen,” says another.

Everlasting, also known as cudweed, has a very interesting name as well as an interesting scent. Most people think of maple syrup when they smell it; a few think of vanilla. Recently, a fifth grade student, Angel, said it smelled like a pencil, to which the educator gave him a high five. “I get that connection,” she said. “A pencil is made from wood, or bark; maple syrup comes from wood and bark.”


What Stinks?

Then there are the less celebrated creatures and plants of the canyon that may rival in pungency but don’t get as much love, because frankly, they stink.

When hiking by a bladderpod, the students chuckle at the name and the “bladders” dangling from its stems. Most don’t like the smell, which has been likened to “burnt hair” and “burnt popcorn,” but, the educators explain, the bladderpod is a source of pollen for bees, nectar for hummingbirds, and shade for many animals, providing vital resources for the ecosystem.

If you’ve ever hiked in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, you’ve likely seen the stink beetle – a long-legged black bug about an inch in length – usually wandering around a little aimlessly. Most of the children will scream when they see it or try to poke it, which, of course, the educators forbid. With all the commotion, the stink beetle will do what stink beetles do: stick up its hind end into the air, as if doing a headstand, ready to squirt its chemical-smelling liquid to ward off predators. The scene turns into yet another teaching moment. The students learn that stink beetles, with their rather humble moniker, provide a great service in the open space. They are decomposers, breaking down organic matter, including animal waste.

Who wouldn’t take the dare to grab a big whiff of a plant called stinking gourd? Most of us would shun the idea, and with good reason. You don’t have to be anywhere close to that plant to smell what some describe as “dirty socks,” “body odor,” and “sulfur.” But, as with all native plants in our open space, stinking gourd has its role. The Acjachemen used its seeds for meal and its roots as soap. Sometimes called the “coyote gourd,” its fruit is a source of food for the coyote.


Stinks? Smells? Potato? Potahto?

With all our social media use, we can share much, including many of the beautiful sights and sounds of the open space. We cannot share smells digitally. That experience needs to be in person. So, go smell for yourself! What stinks to some is beautiful perfume to others. As the saying goes, “That’s why God made chocolate and vanilla.”

We live in such a special – and important – place. The South Coast Wilderness is a unique area that is included in the California Floristic Province, which is designated as a global biodiversity hotspot. To qualify as a global biodiversity hotspot, an area must have at least 1,500 endemic species (species found nowhere else on the planet), and have lost at least 70% of its native vegetation.

Our mission at Laguna Canyon Foundation is to protect, preserve, enhance and promote the South Coast Wilderness. A great way to do all of these things is to participate in stewardship activities. Stewardship in this sense means taking responsibility for the care and management of the land. This may take many forms, including removing invasive species from sensitive native habitats, adding native plants in degraded areas to restore them to their historic condition, or educating the general public about the beauty, ecology and threats to our wild lands. All of these activities can greatly impact the native habitats that are found in the open space, and help the unique, threatened, and endangered species that make the South Coast Wilderness such an important place to preserve and protect.

An undisturbed native habitat supports a diverse population of plants and wildlife, while a disturbed habitat does not make a good home.Take a moment to imagine a hillside of mustard versus a hillside full of native plants like sagebrush (Artemisia californica), buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia). While wildlife can use mustard for food and shelter, most species greatly prefer the native hillside, with a variety of insect hosts, different seed types, and a varied blooming schedule.

There are no requirements or special skills needed to be a steward except the motivation to show up and participate. So, what are you waiting for? Come join the fun and learn more about stewardship with LCF! Sign up for a volunteer day on our Eventbrite page, and find out for yourself what it’s all about.

Upcoming LCF stewardship events:
• Sat 2/25 Nursery and Plant Care at Willow – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
• Tues 2/28 LCF Restoration Stewardship Day – Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
• Sat 3/18 Keep it Wild Volunteer Day – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park


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