Sun 3 Jan 2010
The end of one year and the start of the next is traditionally a time for the news media to compile retrospectives, and this blog is no exception. Here are some of my favorite wildlife photos from the past all shot around my cabin in Point Reyes Station.
A mother badger (known as a “sow”), along with her cub (sometimes known as a “kit”), sunning herself last May on the mound of dirt around their burrow (known as a “sett”).
Adult badgers 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.
Like skunks, badgers have perineal glands that emit quite a stench. What with the stench, the claws, and extremely strong jaws, adult badgers can hold their own against any potential attackers — including bears and coyotes — although they’d rather hide.
And speaking of coyotes, they too are becoming increasingly common on my hill. There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years, but when the federal government made sheep ranchers stop poisoning them, they began showing up here again in 1983.
In the last 25 years, they have put more than half the sheep ranches in West Marin and southern Sonoma County out of business. Of course, if you’re not a sheepman, it’s fun to see them and hear them yip and howl at night.
Raccoons are jolly neighbors unless they’re knocking over your garbage can or sneaking through your cat door. My cabin doesn’t have a cat door, and my garbage can is secured; however, when a mother and four kits were crossing my deck and found my kitchen door open, they walked right in.
Possums are not native to California but to the South. In his book The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, naturalist Jules Evens writes: “After the first known introduction into California at San Jose about 1900 (for meat, delicious with sweet potatoes), opossums spread rapidly southward.
“By 1931, they were common on the coastal slope from San Francisco Bay south to the Mexican border.” To the north, however, San Francisco Bay, along with the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, created a natural barrier, and they did not reach Point Reyes in any numbers until 1984, Evens notes.
Columbian blacktail deer. A young buck drowsily chews his cud outside my bedroom window.
A newly born fawn hides in tall grass less than a yard from my driveway. It remained motionless despite my standing overhead. Naturalist Evens speculated it probably thought it was invisible.
A wild turkey seen out my kitchen window. Like possums, wild turkeys are not native to California. In 1988, California’s Department of Fish and Game planted three toms and 11 hens for hunting at Loma Alta Ranch (on the ridge between Woodacre and Lucas Valley Road).
From there the turkeys spread to nearby Flander’s Ranch and the Spirit Rock property in Woodacre — and eventually to Nicasio, Olema, and even as far north as Tomales, where they have been known to intimidate small children and scratch the paint of cars on which they perch.
A Pacific gopher snake almost four feet long on Campolindo Road at the foot of my driveway.
“When disturbed, the gopher snake will rise to a striking position, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly and shake its tail at the intruder,” the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum reports. “These defensive behaviors, along with its body markings, frequently cause the gopher snake to be mistaken for a rattlesnake.”
The gopher snake is actually a constrictor, and it plays an important role in keeping my hill’s rodent population under control. However, it can also climb trees, and it will eat birds and eggs when the opportunity arises.
A garter snake on my driveway. Garter snakes are the most-common genus of reptile in North America. Although they are venomous, their venom is too mild to harm humans. However, when they’re disturbed, garter snakes emit a foul-smelling secretion from a gland near their anus.
An arboreal salamander beside my front steps. Cold-blooded animals require much less energy to survive than do warm-blooded animals. In fact, many cold-blooded animals try to keep their body temperatures low when food is scarce.
Pacific tree frogs, such as this one on my deck, depend largely on camouflage to escape predators. Notice how the facial stripe hides this frog’s eyeball. In addition, the frog’s color changes as it moves around. But unlike the chameleon, which changes its color to match background colors, the Pacific tree frog’s color depends on how moist or dry its location is.
A buckeye butterfly atop a chrysanthemum blooming on my deck. Probably it’s just my zen-like psyche, but of all my nature photos, this is the one I like best.