Archive for November, 2017

Roof rats on my deck eating birdseed several years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A roof rat and towhee dine together peaceably.

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

A scrub jay dining with a roof rat.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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