Entries tagged with “foxes”.


I’m using the start of the new year as an occasion to exhibit a number of wildlife photos I’ve shot around Mitchell cabin during the past three or four years. I make no pretense to having produced photographic masterpieces, for I still use a Kodak EasyShare, a primitive digital camera that’s no longer made.

Wild animals in unlikely juxtapositions, whether deliberate or serendipitous, are some of my favorite subjects, so let’s begin with a few.

Deer in particular are curious about other creatures that are not big enough to be threatening. Friendships such as that of Bambi and Thumper are not all that unusual in the real world. Indeed, I once saw a young deer trying to cozy up to a jackrabbit; the rabbit, however, retreated under a bush when the fawn got too close.

Here a blacktail doe sticks around to watch Linda Petersen’s late Havanese named Sebastian when the dog wandered down my driveway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The blacktail around Mitchell cabin appear particularly interested in housecats.

Here a nosy doe watches a cat on a woodpile cleaning its fur.

 

 

 

 

 

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Deer and housecats seem pretty much at ease around each other — somewhat in the same way that deer get along with cows and horses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A bit more surprising — to me at least — was seeing this doe and great blue heron hunting together in my pasture. The deer was there to dine on new clumps of green grass while the heron was there to dine on gophers. ________________________________________________________________

Some creatures, however, need encouragement to fraternize. Foxes and raccoons aren’t terribly fond of each other, but they will show up to the same feast — which in this case consisted of honey-roasted peanuts I’d scattered on the deck. __________________________________________________________________

Possums and raccoons are even less companionable under normal circumstances. If a raccoon gets too close, a possum will often bare its fangs although it’s all a bluff. But both critters will peaceably attend ecumenical dinners when honey-roasted peanuts are served. _________________________________________________________________

Possums, in fact, can be convinced to undertake almost any endeavor if the reward is honey-roasted peanuts. In one notable case, I was able to use sweet-roasted goobers to teach a possum table manners. __________________________________________________________________

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. Word of the photograph must have gotten around. For months after I posted it, one of the more-frequently Googled terms bringing people to this blog was “bodhisattvva possum.” __________________________________________________________________

Turning now to birdbaths — A towhee keeps its feathers in good condition by washing in the birdbath on the deck of Mitchell cabin. Such ablutions are why we call the these basins birdbaths. _________________________________________________________________

And, of course, many birds count on birdbaths for their source of drinking water. Here a mourning dove leaves the birdseed to a towhee for a moment while it takes several gulps. Because so much of their food is dry, these birds need regular drinks to wash it down. I place a couple of bricks in the birdbath for birds that like to stand in water. ___________________________________________________________________

Birds are not the only creatures who use the basin for bathing and as a source of drinking water. I’ve seen as many as four raccoons squeeze into the birdbath to wash their paws after eating. Here three kits balance effortlessly 15 feet above the ground on the narrow railing of my deck as they clamber in and out of the basin at night. ______________________________________________________________________

Nor do I discriminate. My birdbath also provides drinking water for any creature that can get to it. Honeybees frequently show up to drink although a few inevitably fall in.

Probably the drinkers with the worst reputation are the roof rats. These rats originated in southern Asia, and you’ll recall it was their fleas that spread the Black Death throughout Europe in the 14th Century, killing roughly half the people.

I don’t mind roof rats’ drinking from the birdbath and stealing birdseed from my deck, but I’ve periodically had to trap rats that got into my basement. The problem is their unfortunate habit of gnawing on everything chewable from paper to dishwasher drain hoses to electrical-wire insulation.

It’s really too bad they’re such nuisances because, as you can see, they’re awfully cute.

Summer will begin on Wednesday, so it is appropriate that a full array of wildlife, especially young wildlife, has been showing up at Mitchell cabin. On Sunday, two adult quail and eight chicks scurried in front of my partner Lynn Axelrod and me as we were about to get into my car.

Sunday evening, a female raccoon, which shows up on our deck each evening for a tray of kibble, surprised us by bringing along four kits. The kits were only a few months old, but already they revealed differing personalities. One brave kit followed right behind its mother as she prowled the deck. Another spent much of its time hiding behind our woodbox.

Raccoons tend to mate around the end of winter, with kits being born about two months later. Baby raccoons are born deaf and blind. Their ear canals open in about three weeks, and their eyes open a few days later.

Kits are usually weaned by the time they’re four months old although they stay with the mother until late fall while she shows them burrows and feeding grounds. After that, the kits — especially the males — begin leaving the family group and setting out on their own.

The mother, whom we had previously dubbed Samantha, tends to be remarkably relaxed on our deck. She often falls asleep leaning up against the glass door to our kitchen and is prone to eating like Roman nobility, lying on her side and sticking a paw into the food.

A couple of foxes also show up on our deck each evening, and they like to be hand fed slices of bread; however, they also like the raccoons’ kibble.

Samantha jealousy guards the kibble until she becomes satiated and loses interest in it.

At right she enjoys an after-dinner snooze notwithstanding a fox eating her kibble.

Lynn and I have seen a fox grab a slice of bread out from under the tail of a raccoon, and we have seen raccoons grab bread that was intended for a fox.

While both species are wary of each other, they’ll often run past each other only a few inches apart.

Even when one doesn’t see them, Western gray squirrels, such as this, often make their presence known by nibbling the tips off pine branches. The squirrels like to eat the cambium layer, which is immediately below the bark, and in the process eat through the tips, which then fall to the ground.

Are squirrels dangerous? Quoting Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, the BBC in 2005 reported: “Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park… Passersby were too late to stop the attack by black squirrels in a village in the far east….

“They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh. A pine cone shortage may have led to the squirrels to seek other food sources, although scientists are skeptical.”

Did the attack really happen? Whatever happens in Russia, to quote Winston Churchill, “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” All I can tell you is that squirrels are omnivorous and will eat small birds, along with acorns. Moreover, Komosmolskaya Pravda reported that just a few months earlier, chipmunks had “terrorized cats” in the area.

Also making its presence known around Mitchell cabin of recent is this jackrabbit seen here on our front steps.

Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens notes in his book The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula that the large jackrabbits, also known as black-tailed hares, around here have “elongated hind limbs” which enable them to “spring long distances and make sharp turns. To avoid predation, the black-tail uses an element of surprise and escape that works well.”

“When a potential predator is detected, the hare will usually take shelter in the shade of a convenient clump of vegetation or behind a rock and freeze, motionless. If the predator approaches very closely, the hare leaps into stride, zig-zagging across open country until it finds shelter.”

“The effect on the startled predator is momentary confusion, which may afford the hare the advantage it needs to escape.” In contrast, its cousin the cottontail or brush rabbit has “relatively poor running ability,” Evens adds. They “rarely venture far from bushes, to which they retreat for safety when danger approaches.

“Nevertheless, this species frequently falls prey to foxes, bobcats, weasels, hawks, and owls.” I personally have seen cottontails peeking out from chaparral beside roads in the Point Reyes National Seashore and beside Highway 1 south of Stinson Beach.

With so many critters wanting to eat rabbits, where does the idea come from of a lucky rabbit’s foot? The tradition of carrying a rabbit’s foot as an amulet has long been practiced in Europe (since 600 BC), North America, South America, China, and Africa.

The superstition in North America is believed to have originated with African magic known as hoodoo, and not just any foot will do. It has to be the left, hind foot.

Some people believe that for its foot to be an effective good-luck charm, the rabbit must have been shot or captured in a cemetery. The phase of the moon can also be important. Some believe the rabbit must be killed during a full moon while others say it must be a new moon. Still others insist the rabbit must be killed on a Friday, a rainy Friday, or on a Friday the 13th.

This rabbit, as can be seen, considers the luckiest use of its left hind foot is for hopping away from potential danger.

Last week I reported that a Guatemalan wife and mother of two, Cristina Siekavizza (at right), disappeared July 7.

Authorities suspect she was murdered by her husband, Roberto Barreda de León, and that he has probably fled to the United States, taking the couple’s two children, Roberto Jose, 7, and María Mercedes, 4, with him.

As I wrote, I became interested in the case because my former wife Ana Carolina Monterroso is a friend of Cristina’s relatives. She and Cristina’s brother Pablo have notified me that roughly 25,000 people are currently using social media to track down Roberto.

I believe it. Last week’s posting drew a record 1,217 visitors in the first three days after it went online. Some 432 of those were in Guatemala. Readers have posted links to this blog on their Facebook pages and on other websites. Truly social media in action.

An international warrant for the English-speaking husband’s arrest has been issued. If people spot him, they should notify local law enforcement or the FBI. Please note that the email address in Guatemala for reporting his whereabouts is incorrect on the wanted poster. It should be busquedacristina@gmail.com.

Point Reyes Station — Mitchell cabin with its red roof is near the center of the photo.

Around Mitchell cabin two foxes are making themselves more and more at home with every passing week. Lynn and I can hand feed them slices of bread although one is more skittish than the other. The first sits around the kitchen door waiting for me to hand it dinner. Usually we have to throw the slices to its partner.

For a year or more we had been feeding our foxes and raccoons honey-roasted peanuts along with bread, but that became fairly expensive.

Our problem was solved by Gayanne Enquist of Inverness.

She recommended we forget about peanuts and feed our critters dog kibble. It was a brilliant idea.

Once we determined through experimentation which brand they prefer — Kibble and Bits — we could eliminate peanuts and most bread from their dinners.

However, the kibble is so popular that we might as well be feeding two large dogs.

Along with the foxes, we get five or six raccoons every night.

One raccoon is a solitary male. The others belong to two families that don’t like each other, so we have to put out two trays of kibble on the deck and keep refilling them.

That adds up to about 40 pounds of kibble per week.

The foxes wait their turn for the kibble until the raccoons leave although the raccoons are also a bit wary of the foxes.

Of course, we’re not always Johnny on the spot in setting out their dinners, and here a fox waits patiently while a raccoon approaches cautiously.

We also feed a variety of birds, including towhees, sparrows, doves, and scores of redwing blackbirds. They have a set feeding time, somewhere between 4:30 and 5 p.m. However, the birds aren’t the only beneficiaries of the birdseed. Roof rats, those cute little rodents, show up almost as soon as the blackbirds leave.

Blacktail deer are ubiquitous around Mitchell cabin. This year I’ve seen as many as 14 at one time. Here a fawn sleeps right outside our kitchen window while two does graze nearby.

The deer are so comfortable around us that I can often approach them within a few feet.

Although we’re in the middle of winter, these are great days to relax. Just keep your eyes out for a murder suspect fleeing Guatemala.

When Lynn and I returned home from a visit to my optometrist in Terra Linda last week, we found a mirthful message on our answering machine from Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park. “Hey Dave,” she said. “I want to tell you about something beautiful I saw yesterday.

“As I was leaving here, I got to the end of the levee road. At the pumpkinhouse, there is one of the most beautiful red trees you could ever see. Get a picture.”

The pumpkinhouse gets its nickname from the pumpkin displays that once were on its front porch and fence every year. If you check Janis Ceresi’s comment, she includes a link that shows what the pumpkin house used to look like on Halloween.

Wanting more information regarding the tree’s location, I called Linda back, and a friendly young woman answered. Not recognizing her voice, I asked, “Is this Linda?” She said she was. “Just where is this beautiful tree?” I asked, and she sounded confused. “Which tree?” she responded. “The one you called me about.” She then asked me, “Where are you?” and I replied, “In Point Reyes Station.”

“Well, I’m in San Francisco,” she said. We both laughed and hung up, and I called the real Linda Sturdivant.

The tree Linda saw is not the only one around here with brilliant fall colors. This allée of maple trees is across Highway 1 from Campolindo Road, where I live.

Last week I had just started down my front steps when I heard a commotion in a pyracantha bush on Doreen Miao’s property uphill from mine. Not sure what I was seeing, I grabbed my camera and started snapping photos.

Before long the source of the disturbance became obvious when a flock of wild turkeys fluttered to the ground. What had they been doing up in the bush? I was surprised that the bush’s bitter berries are safe to eat, so I checked the Seasonal Cooking website. “Contrary to a common myth, they are not poisonous,” the site said. “Pyracantha, a relative of apples and roses, is entirely edible.”  In fact, you can use the berries to make preserves and jelly.

As we head toward winter, a variety of wildlife has begun hanging around just outside the cabin. I photographed this blacktail buck just below our deck. In addition, a doe and her fawn are so comfortable here that I can walk within a few yards of them.

Last week I was looking out my kitchen window when I spotted this bobcat looking back at me.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a bobcat so close to Mitchell cabin, but it didn’t seem to mind my presence and soon resumed hunting.

Another predator that I haven’t seen for more than a year showed up this week. I didn’t see the coyote, but I found its scat in my driveway. Neighbor George Stamoulis found a fair amount of coyote scat in his driveway and saw the animal itself moseying up Campolindo Road.

Last night, Lynn and I spotted still another creature that hasn’t been around for months. A young possum showed up on my deck to eat the remainder of peanuts Lynn had put out for raccoons. Raccoons and grey foxes have become so common during the evening at Mitchell cabin that they’ve become fairly comfortable with us. We can feed them slices of bread by hand with no problem.

I’ll close on a linguistic fact I learned from the WildCare magazine this week. There is a name for the burbling sounds mother raccoons and their young make among themselves. It’s called trilling, as in Lionel, and we’ve heard it many times.

In researching his 2008 book Vital Diversities: Balancing The Protection of Nature and Culture, Inverness writer Mark Dowie later recounted in the West Marin Review, “A Yupik native scientist [in Alaska] told me, ‘We have no word for ‘wilderness.’ What you call wilderness, we call our backyard.'”

This mother raccoon brought her three kits to my deck for the first time a week ago.

The Yurik concept of wilderness makes perfect sense to me. My backyard — even my deck — could easily be called “wilderness.”

My wilderness includes deer in my fields on a daily basis. On rare occasions I’ve seen coyotes, bobcats, and badgers, and every night a group of smaller animals shows up on my deck.

The critters at night are usually foxes, raccoons, and possums looking for bread or peanuts.

It’s often easy to hear the call of the wild in my backyard. Some alpha males — especially among red-winged blackbirds and raccoons — seem more intent on driving other males away from food than with getting some for themselves.

The second time the three kits showed up (right), their mother was not with them.

Before long, an adult raccoon began growling at them, and they took refuge in a narrow gap between my woodbox and the wall of my cabin. When the adult stuck around, they were too frightened to leave, so I finally went outside. This caused the adult to run off a short distance and provided the kits with a chance to escape.

After all, someone has to keep order on my deck, and it’s fallen to me to enforce the law of the wild.

The foxes get along with each other better than the raccoons do, and because they’re not intra-species rivals, the raccoons will often eat side by side with foxes when I put out peanuts. I’ve even had a possum join in, creating an ecumenical dinner for local wildlife.

Red-winged blackbirds look over my deck prior to landing on it.

Every day in the late afternoon I put out birdseed, which attracts pigeons, doves, quail and juncos, but most of all it brings in bluejays, towhees and red-winged blackbirds.

The birdseed also attracts roof rats. These cute little critters with long tails are amazingly good at climbing walls and railings, jumping onto the picnic table, and squeezing through tiny openings.

A fortnight ago, Linda Petersen of Inverness, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, took a week’s vacation and left her Havanese dog Eli in the care of my girlfriend Lynn and me.

Late one afternoon, he, Lynn and I were sitting on my deck at sunset when Eli spotted one of the roof rats, which spotted Eli at the same time. I grow flowers on my deck in wine-barrel halves, and the rat scurried under one of the barrels. Immediately Eli was sniffing under the barrels, barking and growling.

It was pandemonium. While Eli would try to drive a rat out from under one barrel, another rat would pop out from under a nearby barrel and dash across my deck to safety. Before he was done, Eli had flushed seven roof rats. It was an exciting drama, but it made me glad that — at least for the moment — I’ve been able to seal off my basement against the rats. For now, they show up only when the birdseed is first scattered.

Quietly watching the drama but staying out of it was this Western fence lizard on my wall. It moved very little, depending on its coloring for camouflage. Fence lizards, I should note, are often dark when they first get up in the morning and become lighter as the day grows warmer. Kind of like the rest of us.

When Sarah Palin said in a Nov. 24 radio interview, “Obviously, we gotta stand by our North Korean allies,” it was impossible to say who was more surprised: the US government, Korean War vets, South Korea, or…. North Korea?”

If General MacArthur were still alive, he’d be rolling over in his grave, so to speak.

This week, however, another politician surprised the world even more. At a fundraiser in St. Petersburg for children with eye diseases and cancer, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sang in English Fats Domino’s signature ditty Blueberry Hill.

If you haven’t watched Putin’s performance, I urge you to do so. It’s pure opera buffa. Although he pronounced it “Blueberry Heeel,” Putin managed to stay on key and delighted his audience, which included a host of Hollywood celebrities.

Meanwhile, my efforts to negotiate peace among this hill’s foxes and raccoons have run into a bit of a snag. Although there have been no outbreaks of hostility, each has taken to stealing the other’s food.

This initially caused me to leave bread for the foxes just inside my kitchen door, where the raccoons couldn’t see it, but the stratagem worked only briefly.

It didn’t take the raccoons long to figure out what was going on, and they began grabbing the bread before the foxes could get to it.

This left the foxes sadly contemplating the disappearance of their dinner.

Then I remembered what the late Jerry Friedman once demonstrated. Friedman, a Marin County planning commissioner, was also co-founder of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin.

Back when I edited The Point Reyes Light, Friedman showed up one day with a photo, which we published, of his hand-feeding a fox that lived near him. If the EAC co-founder could hand food to a fox, I figured, I could too, thereby making sure the food was distributed evenly.

So far, Friedman’s system is working, and I’m feeding three foxes a night, along with three or four raccoons. The foxes and raccoons remain a bit wary of each other, and they all consider me as much a danger as a benefactor.

As for Putin, the US remains wary of him, but whether he constitutes a danger to this country is unclear. Also unclear is whether Palin is dumb like a fox or just plain dumb.