Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History on Sunday revived from a 1990 show a fascinating exhibit of some of the architectural styles notable in West Marin during the past 150 years.

Tocaloma — This farm house on Platform Bridge Road went up around 1865. As the display notes, it is “a simple Italianate house modified by a gable roof with dormers. The projecting architectural moldings supported on consoles at the head of the windows are typical [of the style].”

Southwest of Tocaloma  in Olema stands Druids’ Hall. It was built in 1885 as a social hall for the Ancient Order of Druids, a fraternal organization founded in London in 1781. It is now operated by Sir and Star inn and restaurant.

The museum display describes the building as “handsomely proportioned with details similar to the Olema Hotel” where Sir and Star is located. The design of both buildings is “attributed to Joseph Codoni, the carpenter craftsman who combined his skill in traditional building using local materials, with pictured details from pattern books.”

The first house in Inverness was built by Capt. Alexander Baily. About 1900 Baily enlarged it to accommodate children and other family members. “A wing with gabled roof was added, thus creating more attic and the name ‘The Gables,'” according to the exhibit. For years it was the home of historian Jack Mason, his wife Jean, and daughter Barbara. Jack left the home for use as a museum when he died in 1985. The exhibit notes that the late architect “Ted Boutmy skillfully did the architectural remodeling.”

Point Reyes Station — There are some surprises in the display. Most West Marin residents are familiar with the Mission Revival architecture of the derelict Grandi Building, which was built as Hotel Point Reyes after an earlier brick building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

The surprise is in Visalia, Tulare County, where the Hyde Business Block included this near-identical twin of the Grandi Building (as seen in a 1906 sketch). The architect is listed as B.G. McDougall.


Still standing at the corner of Third and C streets in Point Reyes Station is an old, brick structure which was built around 1907 as the Taddeucci Bakery with an adjoining house. The bricks and corrugated iron roof “perhaps … were there to make the bakery fireproof,” the museum display speculates.

Home on pilings over Tomales Bay —  “Since early days, over-water houses have been a characteristic feature in West Marin,” the exhibition notes. “Two types of construction are evident: buildings which rest partially on land above the high-tide line and extend over the bay on pile supports, and structures built entirely over the water at some distance from the shore and approached on oiled, wooden walkways.” This Inverness home built in 1955 was designed by architect Harold Wagstaff. The display comments this is “perhaps the last of the over-water houses because of coastal regulations.”

Highland Lodge, as seen in its “heyday,” on Callendar Way in Inverness was built in the early 1900s by Mary Florence Burris. She immediately set up the two story house as a full-board hotel, and in 1908, she had another two-story house built nearby for her home and as a residence for her staff, most of whom were relatives.

The lodge began attracting many prominent guests, including future President Warren G. Harding, and in 1909, Mary advertised that “Highland Lodge is open only to those who give satisfactory references.” 

Mary put her young niece Grace through teachers’ college in San Francisco, and Grace went on to teach for two years (between 1915 and 1917) at the one-room Marshall School. Grace later became a teacher and then principal at Belvedere School. “As Mary grew older, her niece Mabel took on more and more responsibility,” Meg Linden wrote in the exhibit’s program, and when Mary “died on Dec. 3, 1942, Mabel soon closed down the lodge.”

In recent years, it has been the home of former Marin County Planning Commissioner Wade Holland and his late wife Sandra.

Indoors we may be celebrating the holiday season sitting around the fire with a glass of egg nog, but outdoors it’s still “nature red in tooth and claw,” as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described it.

A bobcat has repeatedly shown up around Mitchell cabin this fall, and Tuesday at Toby’s Coffee Bar I chatted about it briefly with neighbor Carol Horick. Carol told me the bobcat had eaten one of her chickens the night before. It was an old and tottering chicken she’d owned a long time, so the financial loss was small. Nonetheless, the incident had put her on alert, and she was on her way to Building Supply Center to buy some metal mesh to further safeguard her remaining chickens.

The moment of impact

An unrelated avian mishap occurred Monday morning before breakfast at Mitchell cabin, but Lynn and I don’t know if the bird survived. A dove taking off from our deck flew under the eaves and slammed into a living-room window.

The crash was loud, and the dove left an image of how it looked at the moment of impact. It managed to fly off, but it might very well have suffered major injuries.

Old blue eyes. Flash photography often gives humans red eyes. Blacktail deer come out with blue eyes while raccoon eyes can end up white or green or both. Possums get pink eyes. Elsewhere in the United States, flashes turn prairie dog eyes orange and alligator eyes red.

Blacktail doe at sunset a week ago, eating persimmon leaves. Flash photo by Lynn Axelrod

As SparselySageAndTimely.com originally explained 10 years ago, the reason flashes — which are often vital for photographing nocturnal wildlife — give these animals’ eyes their various colors is not the same reason flashes can make human eyes look red. 

Among mammals, the iris of the eye expands and contracts to let in the optimum amount of light as conditions become darker or brighter. When a camera flashes, the human iris cannot contract fast enough to keep bright light from reaching the back of the eye; as a result, red blood vessels of the retina reflect light and show up in photos as “red eye.”

Unlike humans, many other mammals, especially nocturnal creatures, have a mirror-like surface, the tapetum lucidum, behind their retinas. The eyeshine of a deer caught in the headlights is a reflection off the tapetum lucidum.

The tapetum lucidum helps nocturnal animals hunt and forage in low light. Here’s how. Light from outside the eye passes through the iris and the retina and then bounces off the tapetum lucidum back through the retina. This magnifies the intensity of the light reaching the rods and cones of the retina, which are what sense light.

However, the color of the tapetum lucidum differs from species to species, which is why rabbits have orange or red eyeshine while dogs are often green or blue. Nor is having a tapetum lucidum an unmixed blessing. As Wikipedia notes, the tapetum lucidum “improves vision in low light conditions but can cause the perceived image to be blurry from the interference of the reflected light.”

So the next time you see some ‘old blue eyes’ in nature photos shot with a flash in low light, please remember that they were never unique to old Frank.

Roof rats on my deck eating birdseed several years ago.

Roof rats can be found throughout West Marin. At our home, they used to eat many of the seeds I scattered on our deck for birds. They still do but far less often these days.

Before we continue, you should remember it was the fleas of these rats, which originated in southern Asia, that spread the Black Death throughout Europe in the 14th Century, killing about half the people.

A roof rat takes a drink from the birdbath on our deck.

Over the years here at Mitchell cabin, I’ve managed to trap numerous roof rats that found their way into the basement where they tore up old boxes and clothes for bedding material. In addition, they twice gnawed through the dishwasher drain hose. This has also happened to other West Marin residents including our neighbors.

Some of their worst damage, however, has been to our cars. Woodrats like to use automobile ventilation systems for shelter, and they bring in bits of foliage for bedding. Cheda’s Garage twice cleaned out the mess for me.

Finally Tim Tanner at the garage told me to make sure I use dashboard controls to close the cooling system at the end of each day so the rats couldn’t get in. I started doing this, and the problem stopped. Last month, however, Lynn had to learn the same lesson with her car.

A woodrat’s ability to construct a nest is impressive. Lynn on Sunday inspected a humongous nest that rats built atop some scraps of firewood in our woodshed. Unfortunately for the rats, we had to tear down their home to get the wood.

By chance, I hired Danny Holderman of Point Reyes Station to carry the last of the logs to a woodbox on our deck. Before we drove to Mitchell cabin, we stopped by Danny’s home downtown. While waiting for him, I started looking at chickens in his coop, which is equipped with a vertical metal tube that works like a bird feeder.

While I watched, a roof rat suddenly appeared in the coop, ran up a wooden gangplank to the feeder, and disappeared inside it. When I later told Danny what I’d seen, he told me it happens fairly often.

A roof rat and towhee dine together peaceably.

Adult roof rats are 13 to 18 inches long, including their tails which are longer than their bodies. While they have been known to eat bird eggs, they, in turn, are eaten by barn owls. 

A scrub jay dining with a roof rat.

Despite their taste for eggs, roof rats often manage to get along with adult birds — perhaps because they’re so cute.

 

With Thanksgiving coming up next Thursday, it seems appropriate to start off with some turkeys.

Now that turkey hunting is mostly a thing of the past in West Marin, wild turkeys such as this tom are constantly prowling my property.

A couple of weeks back, a flock of turkeys wandered from my field over to my neighbors’ fence where one tom caught sight of his own reflection in the glass of their greenhouse. Apparently thinking another tom had invaded the flock’s turf, he started pecking at his likeness, but it wouldn’t leave until he did.

Leaving a limb (but not as part of a Thanksgiving dinner). Turkeys aren’t much good at flying, but this one managed to make it up into a pine tree; however, it didn’t stay long.

There’s been a bobcat around Mitchell cabin more often this fall than in the past. Here it lurks below Woodhenge. (To prevent cars from accidentally driving off the edge of our parking area, we erected our own version of England’s Stonehenge, but because ours is made from old lumber and sections of logs, we call it Woodhenge.)

The bobcat prowls our fields hunting gophers. It’s not that bobcats don’t eat other prey, but there are so many gophers around that this one may not need to. It’s fairly common to see the bobcat catch a gopher.

More of a concern is this fellow. He’s been wandering about our hill for a couple of months, and even when we don’t see him, we can sometimes tell that he’s been around.

A few evenings ago, a bunch of raccoons showed up on our deck, so I threw a handful of dog kibble out the front door. Raccoons, of course, love kibble — as people who feed their dogs outside know. On this particular night, a skunk showed up on our deck to dine with the raccoons. Neither species seemed to alarm the other, which fascinated me, so I cautiously stepped outside to photograph the scene.

My presence didn’t alarm the skunk either, but the battery in my camera was dead. Shucks. As I gingerly retreated back inside, the skunk to my surprise tried to follow me. It’s not unusual for rural residents to get raccoons in their homes, but skunks. I quickly shut the door in its face, managing to avoid hitting it, and the skunk went back to eating kibble with the raccoons.
Persimmons for two bucks. From the deck, Lynn was able to photograph this pair of blacktail bucks eating fruit that had fallen from our persimmon tree. She and I don’t eat many persimmons, so the main competition the deer have for the fruit are birds and the raccoons.

No doubt, they’ll all be feasting too next Thursday.

 

The bank in Point Reyes Station has been an unpredictable place for a century while operating under a series of ownerships. On Monday, it surpised the town yet again.

Here’s how it all began. The Bank of Tomales in 1910 bought land on the main street for a branch, which opened in 1913 in a wooden building where Flower Power is now located. In 1923, Dairymen’s Coast Bank took over the bank and built the brick building occupied by the florist today.

While this was happening, the wooden structure was jacked up and moved to Mesa Road where it became a two-woman brothel. The late Lefty Arndt, who noted he never patronized the place, once told me it was the only brothel that ever operated in Point Reyes Station — despite what people say about the Western Saloon building and the Grandi Building. In 1928, Bank of America acquired Dairymen’s Coast Bank.

The bank went through its first crisis in August 1959 when a 31-year-old tree trimmer armed with a pistol and sawed-off shotgun robbed it of more than $14,000. Tellers and the one customer in the bank were forced into the vault. The robber kidnapped bank manager Al Cencio but released him in Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

A week later the robber, who was named William Jerry “Dugie” Williams, turned himself in, but the money was never recovered. Williams said he had buried most of it near a tree in Lagunitas but couldn’t remember which tree.

During the previous 15 years, Williams had been arrested for draft evasion, burglary, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and passing bad checks; he was on parole at the time of the robbery.  That September, a federal judge in San Francisco sentenced Williams to 15 years on Alcatraz.

The present bank building was erected in 1976 at a cost of $215,000 but not without a major setback. During its construction, an arsonist on May 20 set the structure on fire, causing $100,000 worth of damage. A $1,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist, but he was never identified.

Nonetheless, the new Bank of America was able to open that Oct. 19. In 1994, BofA sold the branch to the Bank of Petaluma, which in 2008 sold it to Wells Fargo.

The trees around the bank were always a major part of its site’s appearance. Over time, a small sapling on the Palace Market side of the bank’s parking lot grew tall enough to become the town Christmas tree and a site for caroling.

That made yesterday’s tree cutting a shock to many people. This blog on Dec. 18 noted that the pine was scheduled to be cut down because it was considered sick and might drop limbs on people. Nonetheless, I was stunned to see actual logging. 

As seen from the bank’s rear parking lot, a Pacific Slope tree-trimming crew also cut down a pine on the north side of the bank.

And they trimmed a third pine at the back of the bank’s parking lot. I understand the bank’s concern about “widow makers,” as they’re called. I was around one. As a reporter in Sonora during the early 1970s, I covered the death of a man who was picnicking in a park on a windless day when without a sound a dead limb fell on top of him.

As of Wednesday, the “stump” of the former town Christmas tree had been lightly decorated with prayer flags. Until the stump is removed, other decorations can be expected, one of the Wells Fargo staff told me.

 

Two middling-large celebrations were held this past weekend in Point Reyes Station. Both were fun — but reflected grim reality.

Saturday was Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Among families from south of the border, it’s a day to pay homage to loved ones who are no longer with them. In West Marin these days, a number of Gringos also observe Dia de los Muertos. (The word Gringo, by the way, did not originate in Mexico but in Spain during the 1800s. For some Spaniards, Gringo was used to mean Greek (Griego) and referred to people speaking a language that was Greek to them.)

In Point Reyes Station, the celebration began at Gallery Route One with a parade featuring music, dancing, and colorful costumes. Leading music for part of the march were Debbie Daly on accordion and Tim Weed on banjo.

Artist Ernesto Sanchez provided face painting at his studio in Point Reyes Station. Adults and young people both took advantage of the offer.

Main street merchants, including Chris Giacomini, owner of Toby’s Feed Barn, and Sheryl Cahill, owner of the Station House Café, went outdoors to watch the parade go by.

After dancing and making music for the entire length of downtown, all three blocks of it, the marchers headed for the Dance Palace Community Center. Providing special color, music, and dancing were the Aztec Dancers, who regularly perform in Point Reyes Station parades.

Inside the Dance Palace, artist Sanchez had created a giant altar where members of the crowd placed pictures of loved ones no longer with us or mementos of their time on earth. Here Socorro Romo, the program director of West Marin Community Services, rests in front of the altar.

Following these rites celebrants enjoyed Mexican food, drinks, and traditional music.

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But Point Reyes Station was just warming up. On Sunday morning, the annual Pancake Breakfast was held in the town firehouse. It’s a benefit for the Point Reyes Disaster Council which helps residents prepare for — or deal with — wildfires, major earthquakes, and flooding.

The council sprang into action during the recent wildfires in the wine country, which forced hundreds of evacuees to seek shelter in Marin County. Although the disaster was not local, the council acted as an intermediary between various organizations helping evacuees, numerous volunteers, and people staffing shelters.
At the firehouse, firefighters cooked a variety of pancakes (regular, vegetarian, or gluten free), sausages and eggs, which they served along with milk, orange juice and coffee. Seen frying sausages is Ken Eichstaedt, manager of Inverness Public Utility District; the district administers Inverness Volunteer Fire Department’s finances.

Approximately 400 people showed up for breakfast in the firetrucks’ garage.

A raffle to raise funds for the Disaster Council was also held, and youngsters had a chance to ride around town in a firetruck.

The Point Reyes Disaster Council’s account of how it came to be, what it does, and how to take part can be found at pointreyesdisastercouncil.org.

 

Halloween, which will be celebrated Tuesday, is our second Irish holiday of the year. The celebration is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago with a Celtic harvest festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). During the eighth century, the Catholic Church Christianized the celebration as “All Hallows’ Eve,” hallows being a word for saints. The name “Halloween” is a contraction of “all hallows eve” because it falls on the night before All Saints’ Day.

Halloween is the night that the dead supposedly return, which accounts for all the ghosts and goblins on the street. 

My fiancée Lynn buying a pumpkin this week at Nicasio’s popular pumpkin patch.

The Celts inhabited Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, along with Brittany in France. This helps explain why many Halloween traditions are basically Irish: the costumes (to scare off and confuse ghosts of the dead), the games (e.g. bobbing for apples), and especially the jack-o’-lanterns. When it came to carving jack-o’-lanterns, however, the Irish used large turnips, not pumpkins.

Immigrants to the US brought the jack-o’-lantern tradition with them and found that American pumpkins were far better than turnips when carving jack-o’-lanterns. Thus the Halloween tradition took another interesting turn.

Because Halloween falls during the harvest season, a traditional cornucopia (horn of plenty) is assembled annually at Mitchell cabin.

Also marking the fall are ants. As nature dries out, battalions of ants annually invade our kitchen in search of water. We place saucers under our houseplants to catch any seepage, and the ants head straight for the saucers. I often wipe them away with a damp sponge; if they’re on plants, I spray them with Windex, which doesn’t seem to bother the plants.

“The evening rabbit show,” as we call it, provides predictable entertainment daily at Mitchell cabin.

It’s in the same tradition as our “evening bird show.” Here a couple of sparrows take their daily shower in our birdbath.

So as we head into Halloween night, let’s be sure to remember Ireland’s role in shaping it. “Halloween” may not sound like a Celtic rite, but it’s as Irish as St. Patrick’s Day and even more Irish than the constellation O’Ryan over our heads.

 

 

 

At least 42 people have lost their lives and another 90 are missing in Northern California’s ongoing rash of fires, the deadliest in the state’s history. But the end appears to be coming soon. “Full containment of all the fires is expected Friday,” Cal Fire Incident Cmdr. Bret Gouvea said today (Wednesday).

Fighting the fires have been 1,100 firefighters, a number of them arriving from other states and from as far away as Canada and Australia.

Some 200 to 250 homes have been lost in Mendocino County fires, State Sen. Mike McGuire told KWMR yesterday (Tuesday). Another 100 to 130 homes were lost in Lake County, he added.

More than 3,000 homes and businesses were lost in Santa Rosa’s inferno but only one fire station.

In all of Sonoma County, 21,000 acres have burned, and 75,000 people were evacuated. Four Marin County firefighters lost homes in the fires, as did another six Marin County employees, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said on KWMR Monday.

As of yesterday, 36,000 of Sonoma County’s evacuees were being allowed to return home.

When the evacuations began Oct. 9, hundreds of Sonoma County and Napa County residents headed for Marin County. More than 200 people were in and out of the Dance Palace, with 80 sleeping there that first night. Another 20 spent the night sleeping in their cars nearby, so they could be with their pets. 

The evacuees’ love for their pets was epitomized in this widely circulated photograph of Lauren Mesaros of Santa Rosa escaping the fire with her pony Stardust in the backseat.

On Tuesday, Oct 10, most of those at the Dance Palace relocated to Marconi Conference Center in Marshall. The Dance Palace, however, continued to provide some of their food. The conference center, which is officially an emergency shelter within the Point Reyes Disaster Council plan, provided beds for about 120 people Tuesday night.

San Geronimo Valley Community Center meanwhile provided shelter for 35. Tomales Bay Resort (the former Golden Hinde) took in 80 or so.

In all, 500 evacuees were sheltered in West Marin, many of them in private homes. Dillon Beach homeowners were impressively forthcoming. Last weekend, about 231 evacuees were estimated to have found beds in Dillon Beach homes, and more than 135 received campsites in the town’s campground, Lawson’s Landing.

The numbers in all locations in West Marin fluctuated as evacuees would leave in the day to check on their homes up north. Many would return, but as the week progressed more were able to go back to their homes because the air quality improved or they would relocate to shelters nearer their homes or former homes.  

Dry conditions and high winds that, according to Sen. McGuire, gusted to 79 mph so far are getting much of blame for the fires, but wind damage to power lines is also being cited. Yesterday a Santa Rosa couple filed the first lawsuit against PG&E.

Not yet getting much attention is the fire’s likely effects on landfills in the area. There will be so much debris, State Sen. McGuire predicted, that it will add “over a decade’s worth of garbage into the landfills.”

 

Folks in several West Marin towns today stepped forward to aid victims of two of the 16 massive fires blazing 30 to 50 or more miles away. The Dance Palace Community Center in Point Reyes Station and the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center are providing shelters for tonight, as is Marconi Conference Center in Marshall. Lawson’s Landing in Dillon Beach is providing campsites while the Presbyterian church in Tomales is providing food.

West Marin School’s gym cannot be used as a shelter, as many had expected. School is in session, and the gym is needed because there is so much smoke in the air children cannot safely take recess outdoors. At the same time, numerous West Marin residents have offered the evacuees a bed. All told, more than 200 evacuees from Sonoma and Napa counties are receiving a night’s lodging in West Marin.

The Dance Palace Community Center, as did the others, provided food. It also offered clothing to evacuees. Since the majority are Spanish speaking, bilingual local volunteers have been assisting as translators. Other West Marin residents have told evacuees they can stay in their homes.

In Sonoma County, the Sheriff’s Office reported, seven people [later revised to 42] are known to have lost their lives to the fires, and hundreds more are unaccounted for. In Napa County, at least two lives have been lost. The fires have also destroyed more than 5,700 homes and businesses in the two counties. Eight people have died in Mendocino County fires, and three have perished  from fire in Yuba County.

At midday today (Monday), the California Department of Fire and Fire Protection reported that in neighboring Sonoma County: 1,500 acres were burning at Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway; 5,000 acres were burning north of Glen Ellen; and 1,000 acres were burning in Geyserville.

In nearby Napa County, Cal Fire also noted, fires that are still spreading had by mid-afternoon burned:  25,000 acres in Calistoga; 25,000 acres south of Lake Berryessa, and 3,000 acres west of the City of Napa.

Smoky sunrise — When I awoke this morning, the smell of smoke was in the air, and the rising sun glowing through the haze formed a red disk on the horizon. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

My fiancée Lynn is coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council, and although today’s fires aren’t technically Point Reyes disasters, she soon began getting phone calls from people wanting to know if shelters would be opened here? Where would supplies come from? Lynn has ended up spending her day as an intermediary between various organizations, numerous volunteers, and people staffing shelters at the Dance Palace Community Center and at Marconi Conference Center.

In the midst of all this, I set off for Kaiser in San Rafael where my new eye glasses were ready to be picked up. However, before I left town, I dropped off Lynn’s mail at the postoffice, which turned out to be closed for Columbus Day. The detour, however, let me see an unexpected mass of cars and trucks jamming Point Reyes Station. There were so many that Green Bridge Gas & Auto, the only gas station in the area, had run out of gasoline. 

Volunteering at the Dance Palace, where West Marin residents donated piles of clothing for survivors of the fires. Some evacuees had lost much of what they owned.

One of West Marin’s many wonderful qualities is how quickly community members volunteer to help when there’s almost any kind of dire need. Wearing my new eyeglass lenses while driving home, I began checking the passing scene and soon noticed another group of volunteers. A series of horse trailers was heading east on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I’ll bet those folks are en route to helping evacuate horses, I thought.

As it happened, not long after I got home, Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber called to speak with Lynn about a Disaster Council matter. I gave him her cell phone number, and while I had him on the line, I used the opportunity to ask about all the horse trailers. The chief said they’d probably be used to evacuate not just horses but other large animals as well. Mystery solved.

The Marin County Fire Department from the start was well represented on the front lines. The county reported dispatching 22 engines, 5 ambulances, 3 “chief officers,” 1 bulldozer, 1 hand crew, and 7 special firefighters to help neighboring fire departments. Eventually, almost 8,000 firefighters from all over were attacking the blazes, along with 550 firetrucks (including 170 from out of state), 73 helicopters, and more than 30 airplanes.

Meanwhile over at Civic Center, the Marin Sheriff’s Office and the Red Cross have opened a shelter in the Veterans’ Auditorium and report having served meals to 675 evacuees. Terra Linda High School has opened a shelter to house 49 people. Altogether, Marin County is sheltering at least 2,000 evacuees.

Olema Hill, Sept. 21. Nor is West Marin invulnerable to wildfires, having survived five in the past month alone. Thankfully, all of those were contained before they could do much damage. This fire was limited to eight acres. (Photo by Richard Dillman)

Still to be determined is why more than a dozen major fires broke out around the same time Sunday night in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. One hypothesis blames a combination of dry vegetation and high winds that damaged power lines and spread the resulting fires rapidly. Fire officials are investigating.

Rabbit redux — As was reported here a couple of weeks ago, there are more jackrabbits in the fields around Mitchell cabin this summer than in past years. I quoted one neighbor who pointed out there are fewer foxes this summer and suspected that might explain the increase in rabbits. However, a few foxes remain, and other predators, such as coyotes, are also around.

Not a housecat — Still another predator, which shows up from time to time, is a bobcat. I spotted one last week in the field below  Mitchell cabin. From a distance, a person might mistake a bobcat for a large housecoat since they’re roughly similar in general appearance. There is, however, a key difference that allows us to quickly tell them apart; bobcats don’t wear pet collars.

A Turkish convoy — No doubt a bobcat would also enjoy a turkey dinner if it could get one. This flock of wild turkeys has been showing up in my fields for months. The turkeys are not native to West Marin. For the benefit of hunters, state Fish and Game biologists in 1988 released a small flock on Loma Alta Ridge just north of Woodacre.

The flock quickly grew, and before long wild turkeys were gobbling throughout West Marin. Some birds spread as far north as Tomales, where they were known to chase school children. In fact, the turkeys’ most-impressive bit of mischief also occurred in Tomales. Here’s what happened back in February 2005.

 A turkey gliding down off a hill on the west side of the main street (Highway 1) clipped a 12,000-volt power line, causing a “loud explosion and bright flash of light,” residents Walter Earle and Margaret Graham told Point Reyes Light reporter Peter Jamison at the time. The couple said the turkey, which was not set on fire, landed on Highway 1 and in a daze walked around in circles before ambling off across a field and disappearing into the brush.

Earle immediately called the Tomales firehouse and reported, “Some turkey just took out the power lines.” Fire Capt. Tom Nunes later said he thought Earle was talking about a drunk driver, not a bird.

As it turned out, the turkey had sparked a four-hour blackout in town.

Hiding in the grass — Among the most common wildlife around Mitchell cabin are blacktail deer. Their fawns are typically born in early summer, and as of this week, still had their spots. The spots provide excellent camouflage from predators, as can be seen here.

Raccoonoitering Raccoons show up around Mitchell cabin virtually every evening. Raccoon kits are born in the spring and raised by their mothers until late fall. No doubt the biggest killer of raccoons around here is the motor vehicle, but once they’re in my fields, the main threat they face is each other. Unrelated raccoons frequently fight among themselves. We’ve seen raccoons that had lost part of an ear — or even a foot — in these skirmishes.

Chinook, like the salmon — An unfamiliar animal I encountered in the past week was this parrot named Chinook (seen perched on my wrist inside Sausalito’s No Name bar). Chinook wasn’t at all skittish around people although all the noise eventually irritated the 25-year-old bird and it nipped my finger — but not hard enough to draw blood.

More wild life — The Michael Aragon Quartet performs at the No Name every Friday night. The band plays jazz in the genre of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly, and they do it so well that drummer Aragon, the bandleader, has had the Friday gig for more than 30 years. On a couple of Fridays recently Nicasio-based Miwanza Furaha (above) sat in for a few songs. She’s a dynamic blues singer, whose passionate style reminds me of an intense Billie Holliday, and every time she sang, the crowd went wild.

 

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