Wildlife


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With a world of chaos emanating from the White House all week, I once again took Thoreau’s advice and looked to nature for solace.

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

PG&E blacked out the West Marin towns of Bolinas, Stinson Beach, and Muir Beach for three days beginning last Wednesday night, as the troubled utility braced for a heavy windstorm that never materialized here. In the aftermath, a helicopter checked powerlines on Inverness Ridge.

ALSO LAST WEDNESDAY, FOUR RACCOONS AND A SKUNK got together here for dinner. As regular readers know, such get-togethers are becoming commonplace on the deck at Mitchell cabin. 

What’s changing is the number of skunks that show up at one time. On occasion nowadays, we’ll get as many as three on the deck at once.

A black-tailed buck with a deformed left rear leg, which caused him to hobble when he walked. I don’t know how he got injured, but I suspect he was hit by a motor vehicle. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The buck repeatedly scratched its head on a pine sapling outside our kitchen door. The scratching bent a few branches, but the tree survived. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The bird bath on our deck lures a constant stream of bathers and — especially — drinkers: not only birds but also roof rats and raccoons, foxes and yellow jackets. Yellow jackets? Yes, yellow jackets. They often show up for a drink when the water level is almost up to the rim.

Yesterday when I went to refill the birdbath, I found a yellow jacket struggling in the water. I didn’t know how it fell in, but I cupped the water around it with my hand and flipped it off the deck. As it sailed down to the ground, the yellow jacket no doubt felt greatly relieved to be rescued, but I wondered if he had any idea how his rescue occurred.

As long as one doesn’t get stung, it’s good to have yellow jackets around. They eat flies and fly larvae, along with insects that damage gardens.

A golden-crowned sparrow paused on the deck railing at sunset last Wednesday. Here in Point Reyes Station it had been a mostly peaceful day.

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Some critters get along with their animal neighbors better than we might expect. Here’s a look at some inter-species neighborliness that’s caught my eye around Mitchell cabin.

A curious black-tailed doe watches a housecat clean itself.

A great blue heron goes gopher hunting near Mitchell cabin beside a grazing deer.

Seven wild turkeys hunt and peck alongside four black-tailed deer.

Wild turkeys, in fact, can often be found roaming around with other creatures, such as this lone peacock.

A scrub jay and a roof rat comfortably eat birdseed side by side on our picnic table.

Towhees are nowhere near as brazen as jays, but this one seems unconcerned about eating next to a roof rat.

Raccoons and skunks manage to dine together on our deck almost every night. As previously noted, raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing rear ends, including the backsides of skunks. The skunks often shoulder aside raccoons competing for food but for some reason never spray them.

Another milepost in intra-species mingling: a possum, fox, and raccoon eat nose to nose to nose outside our kitchen door.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

One of the joys of living in West Marin is the abundance of wildlife that shows up in our yard and even on our doorstep. Here are some examples of critters we spotted in just the past two days.

Gopher hunting: A bobcat apparently heard a noise under the grass in front of our cabin Sunday and prepared to pounce. Unfortunately, the gopher remained hidden.

Also hunting: A young Cooper’s hawk sat on a fence post near the cabin yesterday to scan the field for small birds. The Cooper’s hawk captures birds with its feet and kills them with repeated squeezing. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Deer fight? Well sorta: Two young black-tailed bucks provided entertainment yesterday near our parked cars as they practiced head butting.

The sparring was so non aggressive, however, that it sometimes looked more like nuzzling.

The antlers of black-tailed deer develop under a layer of skin called velvet. Once the antlers are fully grown, the velvet dries and peels off. We had seen one of these bucks earlier use a post for scraping off dead velvet, and the locking of antlers almost seemed like a continuation of the process. Come winter, the bucks will shed their antlers and next year grow bigger ones.

Raccoons and a skunk will now provide this posting with a familiar coda. The raccoon mother (second from right) showed up on our deck last night with four kits in tow, and we gave them a bit of kibble. One of the four (probably the kit at right) was featured in an Aug. 15 posting about a kit getting separated from this mother for a day.

A skunk has taken to watching the raccoons and following them up onto the deck to share their kibble. As seen in several photos in previous postings, the skunk sometimes shoulders the raccoons out of the way but doesn’t spray them. For awhile last night, one raccoon was eating nose to nose with this stinker.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Separated mother and kit find each other after a day apart.

Two or three families of raccoons show up on our deck each evening, hoping we’ll reward them with some kibble, which we usually do. The families range in size, and the kit seen here with its mother is one of four siblings.

Last Sunday around 6:30 a.m., Lynn heard a kit’s usual gurgling calls sounding more like screeches. This was a bit past the time raccoons begin heading to their dens unless they’re still searching for a last bit of food. Lynn watched the kit for a while as it circled Mitchell cabin, calling for its mother and sniffing the deck where the family had been the night before. The call became increasingly shrill and prolonged as early morning turned into bright day. At some point, Lynn took pity on the kit and set out water and sliced grapes. The kit soon popped out from its temporary shelter in the dark under our lower deck and gobbled up the grapes. Then came more circling and calls until the tired youngster went silent under the lower deck for more than an hour.

Around sunset Sunday, Lynn noticed the kit was on the upper deck peering out between the rail posts. Shortly thereafter, the mother showed up. After they thoroughly sniffed each other to confirm identities, the kit became increasingly excited, even crawling under the mother and trying to suckle. She not only nursed it but gave her little one a good overall licking as it stretched out underneath her. The kit’s suckling may have been as much for emotional reattachment as milk, for it’s probably close to fully weaned.

Blue Fish Cove Resort at Clear Lake consists of a cluster of cottages on the shore of the lake. I first discovered this well-worn gem of a resort back in the 1990s while researching an article for The Coastal Traveler, which was then a supplement of The Point Reyes Light. What I found were unpretentious rooms looking out into glorious scenery, so when Lynn and I a few weeks ago started discussing our taking a short trip, Blue Fish Cove immediately came to mind.

Our cottage came with a cozy deck where I could escape the 100-degree weather thanks to cooling breezes off the water.

The view from our deck as well as from the decks of several other cottages was so beguiling we briefly discussed staying an extra day. We didn’t, but Blue Fish Cove is only a 2+ hour drive from Point Reyes Station, so we’ll probably go back again before long.

In its joy at having its mother back, a kit nuzzles her, and she returns the affection.

Wednesday night after we had returned to Mitchell cabin, Lynn anxiously watched to see if the traumatized kit and its mother were still together. Yes, they were! In fact all four tiny kits were on hand. It was the perfect ending to our trip.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

It’s a strange week. At 2 p.m. today the thermometer at Mitchell cabin reached 101 degrees. Just after 3 p.m. I received a recorded telephone alert from the Sheriff’s Office saying there was a vegetation fire in West Marin but that so far no evacuations had been ordered. That was pretty vague, so I checked the fire department’s website which said: “Units are responding to the Drake Fire, a fire along Inverness Road near Limantour. Currently, the fire is approximately two acres in size with a slow rate of spread. One structure threatened.”

Sheriff’s photo of the Drake Fire.

No one seemed to know where “Inverness Road” is, but around 4 p.m. the fire department posted that the fire was in the National Seashore, was near Vision Road (not Inverness Road), was 50 percent contained, and had been held to less than three acres.

My wife Lynn, who’s the Point Reyes Disaster Council coordinator, urges everyone to sign up for alertmarin.org and nixle.com. The sheriff, via Alertmarin, has your home phone number, but you need to register your cell phones. You can hear about such things when you’re over the hill. Nixle will reach you on smartphones; she automatically received messages that way today, while I received the home robocall. And, she says, check the Marin County Fire twitter feed (you don’t need a twitter account). If you have no internet devices, tune in to KWMR on the radio for current information. 

The Drake Fire, which was started by a tree limb falling on a powerline, follows a small fire Sunday on Mount Tamalpais near Panoramic Highway and Muir Woods Road. A PG&E transformer has been blamed for that fire.

Meanwhile, the Sand Fire in Yolo County has burned 2,200 acres and as of Monday afternoon is only 30 percent contained. Smoke from that fire drifted over West Marin Sunday, and made Monday’s sunrise particularly dramatic. (Photo by Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park)

Snake handling. As I started up our road Saturday, I spotted a  three-foot-long gopher snake stretched out across the pavement sunning itself. Lest another car run over it, I stopped, got out, and grabbed the snake around its neck just behind its head. Holding the tail out with my other hand, I carried it uphill to a grassy area and released it. The snake quickly slithered off. It was the second time in the last year or so I carried a snake off the road. This time I didn’t get at all nervous.

Different species cohabiting at Mitchell cabin. A flock of wild turkeys casually walks past a doe and young buck, which hardly notice.

A wild turkey hen guides her chicks along the edge of the field.

Dinner mates eating kibble. A raccoon and gray fox dined nose to nose on our deck last night, and neither seemed to worry the other.

A raven moistens bread in our birdbath to make it easier to swallow. God only knows where he found the bread, but then he’s always coming up with biscuits, cookies, birds eggs, and animal parts. Last week Lynn and I watched this raven kill a gopher in the grass and then tear it apart.

Protecting its nest, a red-winged blackbird (top right) repeatedly buzzes and pecks the raven (lower left) as it flies away.

“The population of the common raven is exploding across the American West, where it thrives on human refuse and roadkill,” The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. “As the large, strutting predators piggyback on the spread of human civilization, they are expanding into territories where they have never been seen in such large numbers. This expansion has come at the expense of several threatened species, including the desert tortoise, whose soft-shelled hatchlings and juveniles have been devoured by the birds.” Scientists are now trying to reduce the number of desert ravens by using drones to spray oil on their nests.

Two roof rats gobble up birdseed before the birds eat it all.

In addition to all that excitement, Lynn in the past week managed to photograph some of our more exotic wildlife:

 

An egret walking beside our driveway last Thursday.

One of our local bobcats a week ago heading toward our garden, which it traversed without disturbing any flowers.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

In the past month a raven has taken to frequenting the birdbath on our deck. Yesterday Lynn was startled when she looked up from breakfast in time to see a raven eating a mouse-sized critter next to the birdbath. “What could that have been?” we both wondered. 

When I later checked the birdbath, however, there was no flesh or bones, but I could see where the raven had left part of an egg shell and its inner lining.

This morning the birdbath held the remains of a bird that had been eaten by the raven. That, along with the egg shell, suggested an unpleasant pattern, so I checked a National Geographic website to find out what ravens eat. It confirmed they “prey on eggs and nestlings of other birds, such as coastal seabirds, as well as rodents, grains, worms, and insects. Ravens do dine on carrion and sometimes on human garbage.”

We’ve seen red-winged blackbirds buzz the raven both when it’s flying and when it’s standing, making us suspect their nests are getting targeted by the raven and its mate.

Here a raven arrives at the birdbath with a mouse in its beak. After dunking its prey in the birdbath several times, he set it down to eat.

Holding the mouse carcass with one foot, the raven tears off hunks of flesh. It’s not a pretty sight, but I don’t mind ravens eating mice. If ravens must kill to eat, I’d rather have them eat rodents than songbird eggs and chicks.

As a hunter, the raven is more aggressive than I had realized. “Teams of ravens have been known to hunt down game too large for a single bird,” National Geographic noted.

Ravens are extremely intelligent animals and can mimic the sounds of other birds, as well as wolves and foxes. In captivity, I read elsewhere, ravens can learn to talk better than some parrots, and they’re as smart as chimpanzees and dolphins.

Two critters that sometimes show up on our deck in the evening looking for kibble. Both have been featured in various postings. 

Since this blog first went online 13 years ago, I have put up 595 postings notwithstanding a 14-month hiatus in 2015-2016 while recovering from botched eye surgery.

Out of these nearly 600 postings, a few seem to draw the most attention year after year. I was reminded of this fact during the weeks before and after Easter when a perennial favorite, What does the Easter Bunny have to do with Jesus’ resurrection?, drew hundreds of viewers despite having already been online for eight years.

It wouldn’t be possible to be aware of every posting on this blog, so I thought I’d start listing links to some well-read postings you may have missed. I’ll start with the Easter posting since it’s already come up:

1. What does the Easter Bunny have to do with Jesus’ resurrection? 

2. You’ll Never Walk Alone — an unlikely story

3. As expressions come and go, do you know what you’re saying? 

4. A chat with the trailside killer

5. Unintentional double entendres in press

6. Some Nicasio Reservoir history is seldom seen, and some is seldom recognized

7. A photographic history of Inverness Park

8. ‘Lust on Trial’; art professor tells the bizarre story behind America’s once-absurd obscenity laws

9. Wildlife at Mitchell cabin: Part 1

10. Wildlife at Mitchell cabin: Part 2

11. Small town slumbering and cows stampeding

12. List and links of the first 529 postings on SparselySageAndTimely.com

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

As has been noted here before: raccoons are like dogs in that they identify each other by sniffing rear ends, and strangely enough, they do the same with skunks, at least around Mitchell cabin.

In this instance, three raccoons were eating a few handfuls of kibble off the deck when the skunk, as it had before, showed up to eat with them. I spotted one raccoon repeatedly sniffing the skunk’s backend but never getting sprayed. By now I’ve seen this unexpected phenomenon several more times.

At first, they often shouldered each other around, but they no longer seem to have a problem eating nose to nose.

But that is not to say the skunk never sprays. Over the weekend Lynn and I heard unusual screaming  outside one night, and when we opened our door to find out what was going on, the stench of skunk was everywhere. Using a flashlight, we were able to spot one skunk attempting to mate with a second a few yards away in the grass, but the lady wasn’t interested and fended off the attempt by repeatedly spraying the aggressor.  It proved to be an effective form of self-defense.

As of a couple of weeks ago, this grey fox began showing up occasionally to also snack with the raccoons.

After the fox showed up one day last week, I watched while a raccoon walked behind it and sniffed the fox’s rear end. The fox barely noticed. Perhaps cops in trying to identify fugitives should also use this technique. It’s obviously not invasive.

Photos of bobcats are fairly common on this blog. A few days ago, Lynn snapped this fairly colorful image of one at the edge of our garden.

Asters came into full bloom this morning in the field outside our kitchen. Lynn photographed these wildflowers right away, wanting a visual record, especially after reading that jackrabbits just might come along and eat them.

And wasn’t today a scorcher? It was so hot the deer took part of the afternoon off.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Hail hitting the deck at Mitchell cabin on Feb. 15. Nor was that the end of it. As recently as Saturday morning, spots on Inverness Ridge were hailed. As it turned out, the hail three weeks ago gave a strong hint that West Marin was heading into a spell of heavy weather.

Spring weather, so to speak. By Feb. 26, so much rain had fallen that an artesian spring bubbled up from a gopher hole near Mitchell cabin.

The rain created a much grimmer scene downtown that day. All the roads in and out of Point Reyes Station and other West Marin towns were flooded, mudslides caused structural damage, trees came down on houses, roads, cars, and utility lines, resulting in a series of blackouts.

And it was at least as bad elsewhere in Marin County that week. Three homes in Sausalito were destroyed by a mudslide. Multiple homes in the hills above San Anselmo were isolated by downed trees and mud. Highway 37 east of Novato was completely flooded for days.

Papermill Creek as seen from the Green Bridge on Feb. 26. Homes and businesses on the eastern end of the levee road in Point Reyes Station were flooded when the creek rose. One person was evacuated by canoe.

A doe takes shelter from the rain under a coyote bush in our field.

Even though larger wildlife are generally stuck outdoors when it rains, most animals handle bad weather amazingly well although I suspect that some of them don’t fully understand what’s going on. I was watching a nearby fawn today when light rain began falling. From the fawn’s reaction, it appeared that she at first mistook the droplets hitting her head for flies and tried to shake them off and brush them away with a hoof.

A bobcat goes on a gopher hunt in wet grass during a pause in the rain a week ago. The fields around our cabin are filled with gopher holes, making them a good hunting ground, for we’re seeing the bobcat almost every day now.

After the rains had subsided, I spotted 25 doves in a tree uphill from our cabin, and it almost seemed Biblical.

“Noah sent forth a dove from him to see if the waters were abated off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him in the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.” A week later Noah sent the bird out again “and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew the waters were abated from off the earth.” Nonetheless, Noah remained in the ark for another week and again “sent forth the dove which returned not again to him any more.” — Genesis 8

In the aftermath of the floods, a lot of repair work is needed around Marin County. People who lost homes or cars are suffering. And I keep trying to stop small-scale erosion in my driveway.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Amanita muscaria growing beside our driveway.

Amanita muscaria, with its red cap and white flecks, can be hallucinogenic if eaten, but it’s also poisonous if not prepared correctly. Amanitas are native to this area, and the Miwok are said to have consumed these mushrooms for the visions they produced.

Without actually ingesting any amanitas, I’ll now attempt to conjure up the sort of hallucinations they might create, especially in West Marin.

Preserving possums. The late Seeva Cherms, daughter of Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, years ago noticed my interest in serving the local possum population, so one Christmas she created this sign for me. Unfortunately few possums have come around in the past three or four years, so the sign is now hanging in the basement.

Probably one reason I used to get more visits from possums is that back then, when I could afford it, I fed them honey-roasted peanuts. This possum so loved the snacks that he didn’t mind my petting him while he ate.

Fine dining. And since the same possum was becoming a regular dinner guest, I took time to teach him proper table manners, as has been noted here before.

Bodhisattva. One of the most popular photos I ever posted involved my using the same peanuts to encourage a bodhisattva possum along his path to enlightenment.

More amanitas. Another hallucination that ingesting amanitas might inspire is of civilizing raccoons too. There certainly are a lot more raccoons than possums around these days. 

A beautiful bouquet for your lady? My first raccoon-training dream was to teach this one the floral business. The raccoon learned customer service so well that its picture hung in Flower Power, the florist in downtown Point Reyes Station, for more than a year. Really.

More of a trick was teaching this raccoon bartending. The only watering spot I know where patrons can still smoke a pipe these days is at the back of the No Name Bar in Sausalito, so that’s the job for which he’s probably in training. “Drambuie, you say?”

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