Mon 11 Oct 2010
The most recent wildlife adventures around my cabin began three weeks ago when I started down my driveway to pick up the morning Chronicle. There in the dirt at the edge of my parking area were several large paw prints, too large for the critters I usually see around here. Roughly 25 feet away, other tracks showed where a deer had kicked up dirt as it ran off.
A check of my tracking guide confirmed a mountain lion had probably been on my property the night before. That was an exciting but not altogether surprising discovery, for I’ve heard reports of mountain lion sightings along Tomasini Canyon Road, the next road to the north.
A gray fox eating bread on my deck.
With so much wildlife on this hill, my cabin has become a sort of blind for observing it.
In the past week, up to three foxes at a time have shown up on my deck. I sometimes feed them a few pieces of bread or a few peanuts, but judging from their scat, with which they mark my property (including the roof of my car), their main diet these days is blackberries.
On several occasions, I’ve watched encounters on my deck between raccoons and a fox. Neither seemed overly alarmed by the other, and at times the fox approached a raccoon within a few feet.
This is not to say that no other wildlife alarms raccoons. One kit sprang onto a post of the deck railing tonight and was about to climb to the top when suddenly it froze and flattened itself against the lattice.
For half a minute it hung there with only its head peeking over the top. Eventually the kit climbed on top of the railing, paced back and forth, but went nowhere. About this time, a couple of deer walked by just beyond the railing. Only when they were gone did the kit feel free to resume its meandering.
The foxes, however, seem not to be alarmed by any creature around my cabin. Sunday night when I scattered some tortilla chips on the deck and left the door open, this fox was curious enough about my kitchen to look inside before chowing down on the chips.
The foxes are usually skittish enough to run off a few feet when I open the kitchen door, but they quickly return.
And twice when my friend Lynn Axelrod stuck a piece of bread out the door, a fox took it from her hand.
Three, four, and even five raccoons have shown up simultaneously on my deck in the last week. They too enjoy snacking on bread, but except for one older male, they enjoy peanuts even more.
I occasionally put out a few handfuls of honey-roasted peanuts for their dessert, and I’ve had raccoon kits so enthusiastic that on occasion they grabbed my hand with their paws before I was done. Very odd to shake hands with a raccoon. Thank God they grabbed with their paws and not their teeth.
Because raccoons use their paws in eating, they wash them in my birdbath afterward, as well as take long drinks — no doubt thirsty from the salty peanuts.
Also taking advantage of my birdbath is this pine siskin.
A pine siskin swoops down to join five other siskins eating birdseed on the railing of my deck.
Pine siskins are an irruptive species, meaning that their populations can increase rapidly and irregularly. A type of finch, they are particularly plentiful this year because their main source of food, seeds, is also plentiful.
Also enjoying birdseed on my deck are roof rats, which on some evenings show up even before the birds leave.
There are noticeable variations in coloring among roof rats, with the one on the right demonstrating why they’re sometimes called black rats. I’ve written quite a bit about roof rats previously, and I won’t repeat it all here.
Canada geese fly over my cabin almost every evening. I always know by their honking when they’re coming. Some evenings several flocks in a row will head west overhead. Naturally a migratory bird, the geese used to only winter here, but in recent years West Marin has developed a large year-round population.
Also announcing themselves around my cabin these nights (in fact, I hear their yips and howls right now) are a number of coyotes. Like the gray foxes, coyotes are members of the dog family, canidae. However, unlike gray foxes, they can’t climb trees, which is a blessing for us all.