Wildlife


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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.

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.

Caveat lectorem: Some readers have asked to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. 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 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.

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