Entries tagged with “possum”.


A year ago I was hit with a medical problem called temporal arteritis, which sent me to the emergency room at Kaiser Hospital in Terra Linda. As I wrote here at that time, it was a big headache, but left untreated it could have led to blindness.

Temporal arteritis amounts to inflammation of an artery that goes through the temples (hence the name “temporal”) and feeds blood to the eyes. The problem is common enough that rheumatologists have developed a standard treatment using the steroid Prednisone. The cause of temporal arteritis is unknown, but it mostly hits us older folks.

Well, the Prednisone worked in that it took away the headache, but I had to consume it every day, and that itself produced temporary problems ranging from less-focused thinking to a loss of balance. I began taking increasingly serious falls. The worst was on Memorial Day when I fell to the ground from a standing position. I landed on stainless-steel metal and badly bruised the right side of my ribcage.

I had just about recovered from that fall when today I stumbled on my deck and landed on the left side of my rib cage. What a pain! As a result, I’m taking it easy on myself, which is why my posting this week consists of photos from my collection— not ruminations. Most of them have appeared here previously.

Gray squirrel at my birdbath.

The raccoons around Mitchell cabin are amazingly adventurous. These walked right in when I left the kitchen door open.

Three animals who seldom hang out together in nature — a possum, fox, and raccoon — were convinced to eat peaceably together when I scattered honey-roasted peanuts on my deck. Animal populations, however, go up and down, and I haven’t seen many foxes or possums around Mitchell cabin recently.

A blacktail doe takes a rest behind my woodshed.

Two does and a flock of wild turkeys forage side by side uphill from Mitchell cabin, both species seeming oblivious of the other.

Two years ago, a lone peacock began keeping company with the turkeys. It’s pretty but its calls sound like a woman in distress.

Coyotes can often be heard at night howling around Mitchell cabin. Getting a chance to see one is far less common.

It’s far more common to see bobcats. Here one takes a rest while hunting downhill from the cabin.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they 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.

Lost in thought, a gray fix sits on my picnic table.

Jackrabbits, of course, are always around. Jackrabbits, which are also known as black-tailed hares, avoid predators by using “an element of surprise and escape that works well,” Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens notes in his Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.

“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, zigzagging across open country until it finds shelter.”

Two young does graze beside Mitchell cabin. To me all this is my home on a hill, but it could just as easily be a zoological garden.

 

 

 

Around the first of the year I sometimes post a roundup of the creatures that have shown up around Mitchell cabin.

This year I’m doing it again, starting with a butterfly and dragonfly followed by a variety of larger critters.

This exhibit ends with a coyote, a bobcat, two badgers, and two deer rubbing noses.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of these photos from past postings.

Here a buckeye butterfly rests on a chrysanthemum that’s growing in a flowerpot on the deck. ___________________________________________________________________

A dragonfly pauses on the twig of a tree that’s next to the deck. Dragonflies can easily be distinguished from damselflies because when they are at rest they leave their wings extended while damselflies close their wings over their bodies when at rest. __________________________________________________________________

A Pacific tree frog on a bamboo shoot near our hot tub.

Some people call them Pacific chorus frogs. During the winter, their main mating season, males make their way to water and then charm females to the water with a chorus of chirping.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gopher snakes are not poisonous, but they mimic rattlesnakes, coiling up and wagging their tongues when threatened. This one was near the foot of our driveway.

A jackrabbit in the field outside our kitchen window pauses to look around .

This is the only chipmunk I’ve ever seen around Mitchell cabin. I’m just glad I had my camera nearby when it showed up.

A Western gray squirrel basks in the sun after taking a drink from our birdbath.

A roof rat takes a drink from the birdbath. 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.

This cute possum used to be a regular nighttime visitor, but so many raccoons have been hanging around the cabin in the evening that we seldom see any possums these days.

Three raccoons in a tree beside Mitchell cabin. ______________________________________________________________

A gray fox enjoys the sun on our deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A coyote watches me park my car as I arrive back home.

A bobcat hunts outside our kitchen window.

A mother badger and her kit eye the world from their sett, as badger dens are called.

Two deer touch noses as a herd of six blacktails graze downhill from Mitchell cabin.

For reasons of space, no birds are included in this posting. Look for a gallery of our fine feathered friends in a week or two.

For years, this was my view of Mitchell cabin as I drove up my driveway.

The cabin was framed by a large Monterey pine on the right and two others on the left.

It was an ideal setting for a cabin, I’d always thought.

My former wife Cathy and I built the cabin in the winter of 1976-77, and we planted the pines soon after moving in.

 

 

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The pines on the west side of the house have long been perches for all manner of birds and have provided refugee for many four-footed creatures, as well.

They’ve also been people-friendly. A year ago they inspired my stepdaughter Shaili (left), who was visiting from Minnesota, to try her hand at climbing.

 

 

 

 

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The only chipmunk I’ve ever seen around Mitchell cabin showed up one summer morning at the base of one of the pines.  _________________________________________________________________

Wild turkeys have become accustomed to using the pines for lookout posts.  ________________________________________________________________

Here a bashful possum peeks around one of the pines. _________________________________________________________________

And here a coyote prowls underneath the same  trees. ________________________________________________________________

Tragically, this stand of pines became doomed. The nearer tree died in the drought, and the further tree had begun to lean precipitously over the cabin. With great reluctance, I called Nick Whitney’s Pacific Slope tree service to cut the pines down and haul away any sad reminders of them. ________________________________________________________________

The pines had become so much a part of my home that I remembered how I felt when I had to take a sick, old dog to the vet to be put down. But there was no avoiding it, and Monday morning, the Pacific Slope crew showed up and got right to work. Here climber Ignacio Franco (left) listens to my lament. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ______________________________________________________________

Despite the sadness of the occasion, Lynn and I were fascinated by the almost-gymnastic feats of Ignacio (seen here) and his brother José as they climbed the trees. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A large limb comes floating down after Ignacio cuts it loose with a chainsaw. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ________________________________________________________________

The limbs, pine needles, and cones were ground up in the orange chipper at right and then hauled away.

Here José Luis Franco, better known as Pepe, (in light-colored shirt) feeds the chipper while David Antonio Lopez (in yellow shirt) drags limbs over.

Ignacio, meanwhile, prepares to cut the top off the dead tree. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

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Pepe cuts a large limb off the top of the leaning pine. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A man can work up a thirst climbing to the top of a tree and then sawing off heavy limbs, so Pepe took a moment for a drink of water.

Hoisting the bottle from ground level was his brother Ignacio, who used a block and tackle already in place for lowering cut limbs. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ignacio (left) uses a pulley to lower part of a limb that Pepe has cut while David drags off another. The limbs were too close to the house to be simply dropped. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ________________________________________________________________

As Pepe descends at the end of the day, these skeletons were all that remained of what had once been a familiar stand of Monterey pines. Tomorrow morning, the Pacific Slope crew will be back, and these too will disappear. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) _______________________________________________________________

Late-breaking news: Pepe, Ignacio, and David returned Tuesday as scheduled and finished their logging.

Here Pepe appears to be dropping a section of trunk on David’s head, but David is tough, and the impact didn’t faze him. Perhaps because he was actually standing a safe distance away. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ________________________________________________________________

Mitchell cabin has survived, but to my eye, its west side now looks starkly naked. For the sake of decency, Lynn and I will soon adorn it with something floral, but for the moment we’re just pining for a couple of old friends.

From a butterfly to a pair of badgers, from a newt and a salamander to a bobcat and a coyote, this posting is a collection of some of my favorites from among the photos I’ve taken of wildlife around Mitchell cabin.

A Buckeye butterfly atop a chrysanthemum on my deck.

Closeup of an amphibian — an arboreal salamander.

Lying low — another amphibian.

A Pacific tree frog’s color depends on where it is at the moment. Unlike chameleons, whose colors change to match background colors, tree frogs’ colors change (between brown and green) depending on how dry or moist their surroundings are.

A poisonous amphibian.

The skin of a California newt such as this secretes a neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, that is hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide.

A macho reptile.

Male Western fence lizards do pushups to intimidate other males. In the process they reveal their blue undersides, which is why they’re sometimes called Blue-bellies.

A colorful but seldom seen reptile.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A beady-eyed garter snake warms itself in the sun 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.

Common garter snakes come in innumerable variations and are found in fields, forests and wetlands nationwide. Like this snake, adults average about four feet in length. In West Marin, their diet typically consists of tadpoles, slugs, and earthworms. But unlike other snakes, they don’t eat insects. When first born, the snakes are prey for bullfrogs. Hawks and foxes eat adults.

Gopher snakes are non-venomous although they don’t want you to know it.

“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 website notes. “These defensive behaviors, along with its body markings, frequently cause the gopher snake to be mistaken for a rattlesnake.”

Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window.

Heading for a drink at the birdbath on Mitchell cabin’s deck, a crow hops over a second crow, which stays put at their birdseed buffet.

A great blue heron hunting gophers in my field.

Chipmunks visit Mitchell cabin only occasionally, so I felt lucky to snap this photo of one.

A Western gray squirrel as seen from my bedroom window.

Every morning the ground around Mitchell cabin is littered with the freshly cut tips of pine branches because of this squirrel and his clan. Squirrels like to feed on pine trees’ cambium layer, which is immediately under the bark, and in the process they gnaw off twigs.

Trying not to be noticed.

West Marin’s large jackrabbits, which some people call black-tailed hares, are often seen in the late afternoon and evening around Mitchell cabin. To avoid catching the eye of predators, jackrabbits typically sit motionless unless the danger comes too close. Then they suddenly spring away, making sharp, evasive turns as they flee.

A gray fox on Mitchell cabin’s deck.

Young raccoons retreat to a tree when they feel threatened by other animals.

A blacktail doe nurses one of her two fawns.

Relying on its spots for camouflage, a newly born fawn tries to be invisible in tall grass by lying absolutely motionless even though I was leaning over it to take a photo.

A buck and two fawns bounding across tractor-mowed grass.

A mother badger and her cub sun themselves on the mound of dirt around their burrow (known as a “sett”).

A bobcat hunting outside my kitchen window.

A coyote heads for cover in — appropriately enough — a patch of coyote brush.

Besides photographing the wildlife around Mitchell cabin, I also enjoy having a bit of fun with it. My posting about encouraging a bodhisattva possum on her path to spiritual enlightenment has proven to be one of the best-read I’ve ever put online.

I take each species’ disposition into account when determining what it is best suited to learn. Raccoons, as you might guess, are natural bartenders.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in training wildlife has been convincing different species to get along with each other.

I felt a bit like a miracle worker when I finally got a possum, a fox, and a raccoon — none of which traditionally like each other — to dine nose to nose just outside my kitchen door.

I did it by setting out well-separated handfuls of peanuts for them and over time moving the handfuls closer and closer together. Now why can’t diplomats do that in the Middle East?

Hosting our wildlife neighbors — My girlfriend Lynn Axelrod is a reporter for The West Marin Citizen, which for the past two weeks has been publishing its annual pet issues. She and I don’t have any pets ourselves because they would drive away birds and four-footed wildlife, but in recent years I too have sometimes published an animal issue at the beginning of the new year.

Among the most common wildlife around Mitchell cabin these days are wild turkeys, and last weekend, they began showing up on the railing around our deck. Here one marches past our dining-room window.

Wild turkeys can be aggressive, and a decade or more ago, they began chasing and otherwise terrorizing school children in Tomales. This young deer, however, was not at all intimidated when it found itself grazing among a flock of turkeys between Mitchell cabin and neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman’s home last Sunday.

A turkey stares at me from behind a lamp hanging over our dining-room table.

A mother raccoon (at rear) introduces her four kits to our kitchen.

A bobcat hunting just uphill from the cabin.

A gray fox on our deck.

This possum didn’t mind being petted as long as I gave it something to eat.

A coyote in the field below Mitchell cabin two weeks ago.

A mother badger and her cub as seen from my field.

One of my favorite wildlife photos, which I’ve published before, is of a buckeye butterfly on a chrysanthemum. The plant was growing in a pot on my deck.

 

“What do you think of that Osama deal?” a guy passing through Point Reyes Station asked a couple of us in the barbershop Tuesday. I was a bit surprised by how he phrased the question but said the death of Osama bin Laden should over time make the world a safer place.

“It might have been a big deal if it had happened in 2002 or 2003,” the traveler said. “Now it’s a matter of: ‘So bin Laden’s dead, how ’bout those Giants?'”

The other two of us saw the death as more momentous, insisting that bin Laden (at left) was a ruthless fanatic who would have continued to order terrorist attacks were he still around to lead al Qaeda.

However, neither of us thought bin Laden’s death would put an end to all terrorism.

Probably most Americans are relieved that the mastermind of 9/11 has finally been brought to justice. Governments of  several Muslim countries have also expressed approval of the raid that killed him. The the man on the street in much of the Muslim world, however, is as indifferent as the traveler in the barbershop to bin Laden’s demise.

In the Middle East, bin Laden and al Qaeda have been overshadowed by rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Bin Laden had become a relic from a bygone era.

So the stranger was unquestionably right about one thing: during the 40 minutes that justice was catching up with Osama bin Laden, billions of other people were going about their lives as always. To most people, change is inevitable except from a vending machine.

On my hillside, Sunday was the start of the thistle-pulling season, but thanks to a fortnight of prickly eradication a year ago, there are far fewer thistles in my field this year. Little did my girlfriend Lynn and I know that as we labored, President Obama was preparing to announce that the biggest prick of all had been eradicated halfway around the world in an Abbottabad, Pakistan, mansion.

He was a meglomaniac who liked to blow things up and who had inherited millions of dollars by the time he was 14. Despite advocating asceticism for others, Osama bin Laden was found living in luxury with three wives, a stash of pornographic magazines and videos in his bedroom, and hundreds of marijuana plants growing in rows among cabbages and potatoes just outside his walls.

He died when shot in the eye and chest during an incredibly precise, 40-minute raid by Navy SEALs. (If you’ve ever wondered about the acronym, it stands for Sea, Air, and Land Navy Special Warfare Unit.)

When I published The Point Reyes Light, I editorialized in favor of the US going after bin Laden in Afghanistan and against our going after Saddam Hussein in Iraq. During the buildup to the Iraq War, I tried to warn then-President George W. Bush, but did he listen? Noooo. Presidents are notorious for ignoring small-town editors, and as I predicted, we ended up in a war from which we still cannot extricate ourselves.

“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else.” — Winston Churchill

 

Eradicating thistles was a bit tricky Sunday because many were hidden by unusually tall grass, the result of a wet winter. Here a fawn and a doe are barely visible as they graze below my deck.

Far from the turmoil in the Middle East, evenings around my cabin are still filled with foxes, raccoons, and the occasional possum. Here a gray fox carefully approaches a raccoon eating peanuts outside my kitchen door. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” —  Groucho Marx

The raccoon isn’t happy t0 have the fox share its dinner, but it would rather go on eating than waste time fighting over the bounty. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Watching two competing species learn to accommodate each other started me musing. Bin Laden with all his money and religious fanaticism was less civilized than a pair of wild animals. Merely attending a mosque hadn’t made him a true Muslim any more than standing in a garage would have made him a car.

The possum at right, like all the other animals in this posting, were photographed around my cabin during the past week.

Caught by surprise in Inverness Park. On Monday I stopped by Perry’s Delicatessen to buy a couple of pouches of Captain Black pipe tobacco.

“I always buy it here rather than over the hill because I want to patronize a local merchant,” I told owner Dan Thompson, only to have him correct my pronunciation. “You pat-row-nize merchants,” he said. “You don’t pay-trow-nize them.”

Regularly buying from a merchant is obviously different from condescending to him, but it had never before occurred to me that the pronunciation changed with the meaning. Might the difference be a matter of British versus American English? One point for the deli owner, as well as West Marin wildlife. Zero for bin Laden, as well as thistles.