Wildlife


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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 that 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 morning at about 6:30 a.m., Lynn heard a kit’s usual gurgling type call sound more like a screech. This is a bit past the time raccoons begin heading to their dens unless they’re still searching for a last bit of food. She 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 it and provided the young raccoon with water and sliced grapes, which it gobbled right down, popping out from its temporary shelter in the dark under our lower deck. This alternated with more circling and calls until the pooped pup 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. Although it needed a thorough reattachment, it’s probably close to full weaning. 

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 scaredy-cat raccoon 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?”

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.

This is the second of two postings that show some of the animals which thrive around Mitchell cabin. The first posting focused on mammals I’ve seen and managed to photograph. Part 2 will feature amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

We will begin with some of the amphibians.

A Pacific Tree Frog chirps and then takes a rest on our deck.

An Arboreal Salamander crawls away from a tree.

A California Newt beside our front steps.

And now for reptiles

A male Western Fence Lizard, commonly known as a ‘Blue Belly,’ performs pushups to attract females and to warn off other males.

A Gopher Snake basking in sun near our driveway.

A Rubber Boa with a tick just below its left eye. Rubber Boas, which can measure more than 2.75 feet, are extremely docile with humans and will give off a stench rather than bite. They feed on young mice, snake eggs, lizard eggs, and young birds.

A Pacific Ringneck Snake that I found in a rotten log.

Birds

We put out birdseed on our deck every day, but what turns out to be almost as important to some birds is our birdbath, from which they regularly drink and in which they periodically bathe — and even prepare dinner, as you’ll see.

Two sparrows immodestly bathing together.

A raven uses the birdbath for skinning a caterpillar.

Two California scrub jays stop by the birdbath for a drink.

A crow gracefully hops over another crow to get to the birdbath.

A Golden-Crowned Sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window. The Golden-Crowned Sparrow’s distinctive, three-note song is essentially Three Blind Mice sung in a minor key.

Redwing Blackbirds eating birdseed on the railing of our deck.

A Brewer’s Blackbird feeds seeds to its young. Along with seeds, Brewer’s Blackbirds eat insects, spiders, and berries.

A (Tom) Wild Turkey near Mitchell Cabin. In 1988, a hunting club working with the State Department of Fish and Game introduced non-native turkeys into West Marin on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. By now there are far more turkeys than turkey hunters, and their flocks have spread throughout West Marin.

A (hen) Wild Turkey leads her offspring uphill outside our kitchen window.

Seven Wild Turkeys forage with four Blacktail deer near our woodshed.

Wild turkeys, at least on this hill, have remarkably easy relations with several other species, including this lonely peacock that sometimes hangs out with them.

A White-Tailed Kite hovers over our field hunting for rodents. (They rarely eat birds.) Eighty years ago, the White-Tailed Kite was on the verge of extinction in California as a result of shooting and egg collecting, but White-Tails have now recovered to where their survival is no longer a concern to government ornithologists.

A turkey buzzard dines on carrion just below our deck. As for how the cat died and how it got there, I have no idea. Everything has to end somewhere, I suppose, and I guess this is the time and place to end this posting.

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.

A raccoon looking down on my front steps keeps an eye out for non-family members invading his territory.

Happy New Year! As longtime readers know, I’ve periodically started off the new year with a look at the wildlife around Mitchell cabin. This year I’m  going to do it in two postings, the first focusing on the mammals I’ve seen and managed to photograph. The second will feature amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

Begging for food at our door. This raccoon was missing its left front foot. Lynn took pity on the creature, dubbed it “Peanut,” and tried to make sure it got to eat without more-robust raccoons driving it away from the food.

Several raccoons show up on our deck every night hoping to get kibble or food scraps. Outside our front windows, they try to catch our attention, sometimes making noise by dragging the pads of their feet down the glass.

They bathe in our birdbath as well as drink from it. We’ve seen as many as four young raccoons crowd into it at one time it although its far side is 15 feet off the ground.

By now most of them are comfortable on our deck, and a few show up some evenings to take naps, especially those who are pregnant and need sleep.

We also see jackrabbits on this hill quite often but they’re not as punctual as raccoons.

The jackrabbits manage to get along easily with our local blacktail deer. The only time I’ve seen a rabbit particularly wary around these deer occurred when a fawn wandered over to the edge of a field to sniff it. The rabbit hopped off a few yards but stuck around.

Two young bucks, the far one with an antler missing perhaps from butting heads with another buck.

A fawn hiding in the grass. It’s fun to have blacktail deer around the cabin, but they tend to eat our roses and persimmons.

Even more of a problem in the garden are the scores of gophers that live in this hill. Their mounds perforate our fields.

But the gophers don’t have total free run of the place. Here a bobcat pounces on a gopher leaving its burrow near our cabin.

Bobcats have been far more common on this hill in recent years than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

A gray fox occasionally suns itself on our picnic table. Fox populations around here regularly rise only to fall during distemper outbreaks.

A coyote beside our parking area.

Coyotes can be seen in our fields every two or three months, but Lynn and I hear them howling several nights a week. There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because sheep ranchers regularly poisoned them. After the poisoning was banned during President Nixon’s administration, coyotes began showing up here in 1983. They had spread south from northern Sonoma County, where they never disappeared.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.  Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows. We occasionally find badger burrows in our fields, but we rarely get to see the animals themselves.

Lest I leave you with the impression that on this hill it’s all “nature red in tooth and claw,” to quote Tennyson, I’ll end this posting with two examples of the many peaceful mammals living here.

A gray squirrel drinking from the birdbath. As I photographed it through a living-room window, the squirrel began eyeing me but didn’t run off.

Skunks are another species that increasingly populates our yard. They’re a bit worrisome, but so far they haven’t caused a stink here.

And may you too have a stink-free new year.

 

 

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.

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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