Wildlife


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Thanksgiving, Nov. 22 this year, is only a week away, and the flock of wild turkeys that hangs out on this hill doesn’t seem especially worried. However, 10 years ago when this photo was taken, the turkeys seemed much plumper. Must be the drought.

Last week, the fruit on our persimmon tree was starting to get ripe. What could be more cheerful looking?

The setting sun seen through smoke over Inverness Ridge last Friday.

The cheery scenes of fall began darkening last Thursday when the “Camp Fire” 185 miles east of here in Butte County began filling West Marin skies with smoke day after day. As of this writing [updated 8:53 p.m. Nov. 25], the fire had destroyed the town of Paradise and was already the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

It is known to have killed at least 85 people with more than 1,275 others still missing. It blackened more than 2,500 square miles before it was fully contained around 7 a.m. Sunday. The Camp Fire razed nearly 14,000 homes.

As welcome as the smoke, a roof rat this evening crawled out from under a planter barrel on our deck to poach birdseed.

An egret walking past our kitchen door a couple of weeks ago. In the past, egrets have shown up around Mitchell cabin infrequently. This bird, however, has shown up several times of recent and twice perched on our deck railings.

 A blacktail buck. My neighbor Dan Huntsman seemed to look this buck in the eye when he photographed it standing between our homes in the sun.

The same buck a few days later resting in the shade on the far side of our house.

This bobcat near my driveway was photographed late last month by my neighbor Dan Huntsman.

There’s more to the animal life around Mitchell cabin than wildlife. Here student riders with Point Reyes Arabian Adventures circle on a nearby hill.

Twice this week raccoons again ate kibble on our deck with a skunk, and as in the past, they audaciously sniffed — and even pawed — its rear end but didn’t get sprayed.

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Sorting through pumpkins. On Wednesday, Lynn and I headed over to Nicasio’s enormous pumpkin patch and bought a medium-sized squash for our harvest-season horn of plenty. 

Each year we celebrate the harvest with an old-fashioned cornucopia in our front room.

This fall we’ve become used to seeing what I once would have considered an odd event, a skunk eating with a family of raccoons. Like dogs, raccoons confirm each other’s identity by sniffing rear ends, and they don’t hesitate to sniff a skunk’s backside. This skunk raises its tail as if it’s going to spray, but it never does. The raccoons and skunk sometimes shoulder each other as they compete for kibble on our deck. At first, I would occasionally hear faint growls during these matchups, but no more.

When I started photographing them Friday night, the camera’s flashes immediately caught the raccoons’ attention. The skunk, on the other hand, didn’t even look up.

Bobcats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around dusk and dawn. In recent months, we’ve repeatedly seen them around Mitchell cabin. This one was sitting in a spot of sunlight outside our kitchen window this past week. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Male bobcats do not help raise their young, which are born blind. The kits stay with their mothers more than half a year. Adults are said to roam up to seven miles per night. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Two or more blacktail deer show up daily. Judging from the fur on this buck’s rump, he’s probably been chewing on an itchy spot.

For Lynn and me, this fall is off to a good start. May you too enjoy the autumn.

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.

Shoreline along Cannery Row in Monterey with a memorial to author John Steinbeck, who gave the area a special allure with his romanticized novel Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday.

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married April 27 at Civic Center. The following month, we drove 80 miles up the coast to Gualala, where we went canoeing on the Gualala River, for the first half of our honeymoon. This past week we drove (actually Lynn did the driving) 160 miles down the coast to Monterey for the second half of our honeymoon.

The second photo down shows the living room in our suite, the Borogrove, with its view of Monterey Bay.

We stayed at an inn with a storybook quality, The Jabberwock, which is located in a mansion built in 1911. I’m sure many of you remember The Jabberwocky. It’s a nonsense poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The Jabberwocky begins: 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.
 
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”
 
However, the young man armed with a vorpal sword  is able to slay the beast, and his father is ecstatic:
 
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?/ Come to my arms, my beamish boy!/ O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”/ He chortled in his joy.
 
 
Complementing our joy: we found red and white wine, sherry, and hors d’oeuvres set out each evening in the inn’s enclosed sun porch. We also found a bottle of champagne, a decanter of brandy, and a plate of chocolate-fudge-coated strawberries in our room when we arrived.
 
 
Part of the Monterey County shoreline is within Asilomar State Park, and Lynn and I enjoyed several strolls along the water.
 
 
Flocks of pelicans could be seen frequently as they glided above the shore break.
 
 
Since I wasn’t smoking in the inn, these walks also provided opportunities to enjoy my pipe.
 
 
An official sign in a public restroom in Asilomar State Park. I wonder how many dogs can read it.
 
 
A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was one of the highlights of our trip. Probably the aquarium’s most popular exhibit is a tank of sea otters swimming casually around, typically on their backs.
 
 
Another particularly popular exhibit is a tank of puffins that paddle about seemingly oblivious of the crowds watching them.
 
 
A sea turtle swam above us.
 
 
As we wandered from one exhibit to another, schools of fish would sometimes give us the eye.
 
 
We saw exotic jellyfish and ….
 
 
…some of their luminescent cousins.
 
 
Throughout our stay in Monterey, we enjoyed sunny days, even when a few light sprinkles fell. What rain we had fell at night. At left a jet flies under a dramatic rainbow, which we could see from the inn for almost 40 minutes Wednesday late in the afternoon. From our perspective, we’d found the pot of gold.
 
 

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A chestnut-backed chickadee yesterday pauses in its meal of birdseed to take a drink from the soon-to-be scoured birdbath on our deck.

A Cooper’s hawk occasionally hunts the birds that drop by our deck. Surprisingly, these hawks prefer medium-sized birds, such as doves, to small birds such as chickadees.

Cooper’s hawks, which seem to enjoy strutting, are also fond of jays, quail, and chickens. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Back to the hunt — the Cooper’s hawk flies off over the garden nextdoor. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Five raccoons use the birdbath as a raccoon bath. Tonight they all tried to squeeze into the bowl at one time, but four turned out to be the limit.

Jack rabbits in the fields around Mitchell cabin seem to enjoy a tranquil life, but when something scares them, the rabbits become frantic in their flight. It’s a good thing they aren’t following the Congressional demolition derby in Washington or they’d never stop running, at least until hit by a GOP-led committee hellbent on their destination no matter how many stop signs they blow by along the way.

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A line of wild turkeys advances on Mitchell cabin.

This week’s posting mostly concerns the unrecognized origins of everyday words. But it will be pun-tuated by lines of animals. My authority is the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago.

Let’s start with “hobnob.” Although it sounds like slang, it’s actually “a word of impeccable ancestry,” according to the dictionary. It first showed up at the time of Chaucer as habnab, meaning “to have and have not.” The word originated in the 14th Century as a term for “the social practice of alternating in the buying of drinks.” Eventually it came to mean having social exchanges with someone.

Or how about “boondocks?” After all, don’t we West Mariners live in them? “Boondocks” comes from the Tagalog word bandok, meaning “mountains.” During their occupation of the Philippines in World War II, US servicemen picked up the word and used it as a general term for “rough back country.” In time, “the boondocks” came to mean “the sticks.”

Deer tend to approximate a line when crossing fields while grazing. If one of them is alarmed by something, it inevitably alerts the rest.

Most Americans who use the word “ramshackle” know nothing of its origin. As the dictionary notes, it comes to us straight from Iceland, where the word is ramskakkr, meaning “badly twisted.” In English that term came to mean “about to fall to pieces.”

Horses in the field seem to line up only when walking on a trail in rough terrain.

Canada. My mother was a Canadian immigrant, but I never knew the origin of the name Canada until I read the Morris Dictionary: “According to the best authority, canada was originally a word in the Huron-Iroquois language meaning ‘a collection of lodges.'” The French explorer Jacques Cartier coined Canada when he wrote in 1535 that he had talked with an Indian chief who waved his arms about when he said kanata, apparently referring to all the land in the region. In fact, the chief was merely referring to a nearby village. But mistakes happen.

Corduroy is an especially sturdy fabric, which is one reason I usually wear cords. But despite its workhorse connotation in English, the word originated in French as corde du roi, meaning “cord fit for the king.” In fact, corde du roi was once used exclusively by kings as part of their hunting regalia. Quant à moi, je suis ce que je suis, as Popeye says when in Paris.

Paul Manafort (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I first heard the news from gleeful friends whom I ran into downtown around noon. This morning, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted of eight felonies. The corruption charges should mean he will now spend the rest of his life in prison — unless Trump pardons him. That could happen. After Manafort’s verdicts were announced, Trump made a point of calling the crook “a good man” and calling his conviction “a disgrace.”

Equally significant, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen in another courtroom pled guilty to eight felonies, including tax fraud, false statements to a bank, and campaign finance violations on behalf of Trump. Cohen, you’ll recall, is the bag man who paid off porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal before the 2016 election to keep quiet about Trump’s exta-marital affairs with them. Cohen has apparently now agreed to provide information to help the Justice Department’s investigation of the President’s repeated wrongdoing.

Cohen wasn’t the only one singing. A dark-eyed junco on my deck sang when he began eating his supper.

Lynn and I scatter birdseed on the deck railings a couple of times a day for all the jays, doves, crows, towhees, juncos, sparrows, finches, chickadees, quail and more that stop by on a regular basis.

A scrub jay drops by Mitchell cabin for his dinner. Like the junco, he is for me a symbol of a tranquil world away from national politics.

Meanwhile, a roof rat helps himself to the birds’ seed and the birds’ bath. 

The junco is a bit wary of the rat but doesn’t stop pecking up seed.

Dining on the deck along with the birds and rats, are raccoons. They too avail themselves of the birds’ bath. And like some birds, they don’t hesitate to bathe in the water they’re drinking.

Even without the general schadenfreude over the Trump team’s starting to get its comeuppance, my home and animal friends would have seemed especially cheerful today.

 

Looking out the kitchen door earlier this week I saw a handsome bobcat among the dandelions.

It’s been a periodic visitor around Mitchell cabin, but of late its visits have become more frequent. When the bobcat’s around, it spends most of its time hunting gophers, often sitting or standing like this waiting to pounce. I can only assume it’s seen a gopher head pop out of the dirt for a moment or that it can hear a gopher scratching underground.

A smelly surprise this past week was a triad of young skunks marching in close formation back and forth across the hill. I have no idea why they arranged themselves in that fashion, but it was fun to watch.

But the biggest surprise I encountered this week was in a 28-year-old copy of Hustler magazine that I came upon.

As part of a photo feature in the men’s magazine, there was a picture of a wind farm with a couple of scantily clad young ladies standing in front of it. All that was typical Hustler. The odd part was the accompanying quotation from Wade Holland of Inverness, who back then was manager of the Inverness Public Utility District.

Before I asked Wade today about the quote, he was unaware he’d been in Hustler and found the revelation quite amusing. Wade said the remark dated from an abandoned proposal by IPUD directors to use windmills to generate part of the town’s electricity. God only knows how the magazine came upon his comment. Did someone at Hustler have a subscription to The Point Reyes Light (where coincidentally Wade is now copy editor)?

Less amused was a different Wade B. Holland. When I initially tried to call West Marin’s Wade B. Holland, I found the number I was using had been changed. I then searched online for another number and found one that looked like it might be his cellphone.

I called the number, and when a man answered, I asked if he was Wade Holland. He said he was, so I asked him if he were aware he’d been quoted in Hustler back in 1990. The man, who turned out to be in North Carolina, was astounded.

And when I read the quotation to him, he become a bit indignant, saying he was not the Wade B. Holland in that magazine. So I said goodbye and left him to tell his friends about the bizarre call he had just received from California.

There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because of poisoning by sheep ranchers in northwest Marin and southern Sonoma counties. However, coyotes never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, and after the Nixon Administration banned the poison 10-80, they started spreading south and showed up here again in 1983.

A lean coyote on my driveway last week. (Photo by my neighbor Dan Huntsman)

In the years since then, coyotes put an end to more than half of the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.

A coyote eyes my car as I park at Mitchell cabin.

Ranchers initially proposed outfitting their sheep with poison collars since coyotes typically go for the throat. The collars would not save the sheep that was bitten but would prevent the attacker from killing more sheep. The collars were not allowed, however, on grounds that a coyote which died from poisoning could, in turn, poison buzzards and other carrion eaters that came upon it.

A coyote runs past my kitchen door.

In 1995, Tomales sheep rancher Roy Erickson told The Point Reyes Light he had lost six ewes — most of them pregnant — to coyotes in the previous two weeks. Back then, each ewe sold for $85, and the unborn lambs would have been worth the same amount the following year. Financially, “it’s like someone slashing a pair of new tires every few days,” Erickson said.

Unless the state loosened its ban on toxic collars, the sheep rancher sarcastically remarked, “they’ll have to rename our place Fat Buzzard Ranch.” Fortunately, the ranch was able to survive.

Coyotes can walk at more than 20 mph and run considerably faster than 30 mph.

Tomales sheepman Dan Erickson today told me that thanks to special fencing, guard dogs, and hunting, there are still 10 or more sheep ranches in the Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford region. Coyotes continue to kill a few sheep, but they haven’t won yet. I’m happy to report we’re not hearing the ranchers howling, as the coyotes do almost every evening.

A sad afterward: Friday evening, July 20, Lynn and I were on Lucas Valley Road when we saw a young coyote walking in the grass beside the road. This was on the flats about a mile and a half east of Big Rock, and since there are no sheep ranches in the area, seeing it was a treat. Alas, later that evening when we passed the same spot while driving home to Point Reyes Station, we came upon a flattened coyote in the roadway. What a shock! Dammit, we all need to slow down at night.

 

It’s been a mixed week.

Last evening I was amazed to look out a bedroom window and see a red ball shining in the eastern sky. Lynn and I realized that the Lake County fire was the explanation. News reports said smoke from that fire was blowing south into the San Francisco Bay Area. As of this writing, the Pawnee Fire in Lake County has burned 14,150 acres and is only 73 percent contained.

 

Not wanting any wildfires here, I’d hired some guys to mow the fields around Mitchell cabin and neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman’s home. All went well except for this one patch in the middle of a field that wasn’t cut all the way down. Much of the land was mowed using a tractor, but when the tractor operator got to this spot, he suddenly came under attack from a colony of yellow jackets which had a hive in the ground. I could have had the hive destroyed but opted not to since yellow jackets can be beneficial: they dine on flies and spiders.

This gopher snake showed up at the edge of the garden the same weekend two months ago when Lynn and I were married. I decided that was a good omen since we were overrun with gophers.

Today, Lynn spotted this four-foot-long gopher snake on our front steps. To give you a sense of scale, the railroad ties that make up the steps are three feet long. This snake’s tail winds through the grass up to the step and back down where it disappears on the left side of the photo. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

I was impressed by the snake’s girth and snapped this photo of it.

There are numerous variations in the coloring of gopher snakes, but most retain a rattlesnake-like hide. In fact, when gopher snakes feel threatened, they try to imitate rattlesnakes, hissing, coiling up, and shaking their rattleless tails. A week ago I was driving home up Campolindo Road when I spotted a gopher snake that looked like this one, lying across the narrow roadway. Not wanting anyone to drive over it, I stopped, got out, and walked over to the snake, which did not move. I then leaned over and grabbed the snake right behind its head. The snake hissed and tried to turn its head but couldn’t, and I carried it into the grass and let it go.

Garter snakes could be found around here fairly often 25 years ago, but the only ones I’ve seen recently were along the levee road. When I moved one of those out of the roadway a while back, I got a dose of the stench garter snakes spray when they feel under attack.

A rubber boa with a slight eye injury. These seldom-seen snakes (they hunt in the evening or at night) can also emit a stinky spray when frightened. Mice and voles are among their main prey.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood, as was reported here awhile back. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A mother raccoon and her four kits receive a few handfuls of dog kibble when they show up in the evening. The kits are usually weaned by the the time they are four months old but often stay with their mothers for up to nine months.

A blacktail doe with two offspring are also staying together. Here the family rests contentedly after crossing the barbed-wire border between fields without getting separated. Under the current Administration, human refugees apparently deserve less.

 

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married on April 26. The first installment of our honeymoon began June 5 when we headed up the coast to enjoy a few days in Gualala, Mendocino County. The second installment will come later this summer when we’ll probably head down the coast to Monterey County.

Gualala makes for a romantic getaway, and we’d previously vacationed there a couple of times. The downtown sits beside an ocean bluff at the foot of forested hills. Every year ocean waves restore a sandbar that closes the mouth of the Gualala River. This creates a lagoon that lasts until the next rains swell the river enough that it can burst through the sandbar.

The Gualala River is a large part of what keeps bringing us back. (Lynn took this photo of me during a 2012 trip.) Adventure Rents, which operates from a clearing on the bank just downstream from the Gualala Bridge, offers kayaks as well as canoes; we always rent a canoe. The river’s current is fairly weak at this time of year, making it easy to spend an afternoon paddling upstream. Because of wind off the ocean, paddling downstream into the lagoon and back would have been far more laborious.

A bald eagle regularly perched in a dead tree near our inn. We were told it had a mate, but we never saw it.

A covey of mostly very young quail greeted us when we returned to Point Reyes Station after being away four days. In fact, young animals of other species had also begun hanging out around Mitchell cabin.

A blacktail fawn stays alert in this unfamiliar world.

A couple of small jackrabbits were among the other youngsters. Rabbits are weaned when they’re a month old or less. They then start grazing away from the nest but return to sleep. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

A rapid rabbit: While I was watching this adult rabbit last week, it started and bounded off downhill as fast as it could go. When I looked uphill to see what had alarmed the rabbit, I saw ….

a male bobcat. He was acting pretty much like a male dog: peeing on posts to mark territory and rolling on the ground on his back with his feet in the air. He didn’t chase the rabbit.

A raccoon with four small kits now show up on our deck every evening, and we usually give them handfuls of dog kibble. Unfortunately, a skunk recently figured out the routine and has begun arriving around the time the raccoons are done eating. Neither animal alarms the other. This mother raccoon sometimes takes a nap while the skunk eats. On other nights, they eat side by side. It’s really too bad that humans don’t have the gentility of raccoons and skunks.

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