Mon 30 Jul 2012
Not all wildlife has fared as poorly as bears, wolves, and buffalo in the wake of the settlers spreading their brand of civilization across America. Indeed, the deck of Mitchell cabin bears testimony to how well other creatures have adapted to changed environs. Here’s a look at wildlife photographed on or from the deck during two weeks in July.
From the limbs of a pine tree, three young raccoons observe activity on the deck below. The raccoons around Mitchell cabin rarely ransack trash cans in search of garbage to eat. Ick! They instead supplement their foraging with nightly stops on the deck for rations of dog kibble.
For the past several weeks, mother raccoons have been introducing their new kits to the nightly repasts on my deck. That happens every summer. This year, however, the kits have taken to wrestling on the deck after dining. Here one kit struggles on its back after being tackled by a sibling.
It’s great fun to watch although the wrestling occasionally lasts well into the night, and it’s not unusual for Lynn and me to be awakened by the sound of outdoor furniture being knocked around. Worse yet is the damage they do to our flowers, as the rough-housing sometimes takes the kits into our planters. The youngster at left is sparring with a fourth kit that’s behind the planter barrel.
A young raccoon climbs down lattice in getting off the railing. Raccoons have the ability to twist their rear paws to point backwards. This greatly enhances their climbing because they can hang from their rear claws as they descend.
Red-winged blackbirds flock to the deck each evening when Lynn or I scatter birdseed on the railing and picnic table. By some estimates, the red-winged blackbird is the “most-abundant and best-studied bird in North America.”
Male redwings are all black except for a red bar and yellow patch on the shoulders while females are a nondescript dark brown.
Given his stately bearing, it’s appropriate that the California quail is the official state bird of California.
Pecking seeds — Here’s another look at the colorful head and tail of the male quail (at bottom). The female (at top) is less colorful but also has a crest. In between are two of their chicks. As with fawns, spots help camouflage young quail.
A march of quail chicks, with their mother (bottom left) keeping an eye out for trouble.
A rufus-sided towhee eats birdseed off the picnic table. The towhees breed from Canada to Guatemala and typically have two broods a year. The male helps feed the chicks, which fledge (can fly) in 10 to 12 days.
A White-tailed kite glides over my field while hunting for rodents. (They rarely eat birds.) Although the White-tailed kite was on the verge of extinction 75 years ago in California as a result of shooting and egg collecting, white-tails have now recovered to where their survival is no longer a concern to government ornithologists.
Two buzzards — taking advantage of fence posts on the east side of Mitchell cabin — warm themselves in the morning sun. What to call these birds, by the way, is hotly contested. For some, the only correct name is “vulture.”
The American Heritage Dictionary says a buzzard is “any of various North American vultures, such as the Turkey vulture.” A “chiefly British” meaning for the word buzzard, notes the dictionary, is “a hawk of the genus Buteo, having broad wings and a broad tail.”
The word can also refer to “an avaricious or otherwise unpleasant person,” the dictionary adds. For reasons that seem odd to me, ornithologists around West Marin seem to be chiefly British. Hey, this is Old West Marin, as the sign on the Old Western Saloon affirms. When a cowboy calls a bum “you old buzzard,” he means “you old carrion eater.” He certainly doesn’t mean you old “hawk [with] broad wings and a broad tail.”
A couple of roof rats visit the deck every evening to eat birdseed that the birds overlooked. Adult roof rats are 13 to 18 inches long, including their tails which are longer than their bodies.
They have been known to eat bird eggs, but they, in turn, are eaten by barn owls. As it happens, I saw one family of barn owls nesting at a neighbor’s house last week, so nature may still be in balance hereabouts.
The jackrabbit that this summer began hanging out around the hill sees me on the deck but remains motionless so as not to attract my attention.
A blacktail buck takes a rest next to the front steps a short distance from the deck. Although two of us took turns photographing him, he must have felt safe, for he stuck around.
The buck, in fact, seems fairly comfortable around people. Here he watches my neighbor Mary Huntsman gardening. She was unaware of his presence until I later showed her this photograph.
Almost every evening around 11 p.m., a gray fox shows up at the kitchen door, looking for bread. Lynn and I typically spend half an hour feeding him cheap, white bread one slice at a time.
Then he’ll disappear in search of more substantial fare. How do I know this? He leaves his seed-filled scat in prominent places around the property. The fox obviously has great balance, for he even leaves deposits on top of fence posts. I don’t know whether to be disgusted or impressed.