Entries tagged with “raccoons”.


Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Some critters get along with their animal neighbors better than we might expect. Here’s a look at some inter-species neighborliness that’s caught my eye around Mitchell cabin.

A curious black-tailed doe watches a housecat clean itself.

A great blue heron goes gopher hunting near Mitchell cabin beside a grazing deer.

Seven wild turkeys hunt and peck alongside four black-tailed deer.

Wild turkeys, in fact, can often be found roaming around with other creatures, such as this lone peacock.

A scrub jay and a roof rat comfortably eat birdseed side by side on our picnic table.

Towhees are nowhere near as brazen as jays, but this one seems unconcerned about eating next to a roof rat.

Raccoons and skunks manage to dine together on our deck almost every night. As previously noted, raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing rear ends, including the backsides of skunks. The skunks often shoulder aside raccoons while competing for food but for some reason never spray them.

Another milepost in intra-species mingling: a possum, fox, and raccoon eat nose to nose to nose outside our kitchen door.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

A mother raccoon and two kits on the deck at Mitchell cabin.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am fascinated by the raccoons that show up nightly on our deck, so as might be expected, I found an article in the Science section of last Thursday’s Washington Post to be particularly disturbing: ‘Caged raccoons drooled in 100-degree heat but federal enforcement has faded.’

The Post reported that “for two days running in the summer of 2017, the temperature inside a metal barn in Iowa hovered above 96 degrees. Nearly 300 raccoons — bred and sold as pets and for research — simmered in stacked cages. Several lay with legs splayed, panting and drooling, a US Department of Agriculture inspector wrote. 

“On the third day, the thermometer hit 100, and 26 raccoons were in ‘severe heat distress’ and ‘suffering,’ the inspector reported. Then a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists took a rare step: they confiscated 10 of the animals and made plans to come back for the others. 

The Ruby Fur Farm in Iowa. A USDA inspector during one check found the heat in the farm’s raccoon cages had reached 117.2 degrees. (Photo obtained by The Washington Post.)

“But after an appeal from an industry group to a Trump White House advisor, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials intervened, according to five former USDA employees. The inspectors and veterinarians were blocked from taking the remaining raccoons and ordered to return those they had seized.”

One inspector, who had worked 20 years for the Department of Agriculture, quit later that year, explaining to The Post: “It feels like your hands are tied behind your back. You can’t do many of the things you’re supposed to do when it comes to protecting animals.”

A mother raccoon sleeps comfortably in Point Reyes Station.

The Post article goes on to describe the Trump administration’s also easing bans against cruelty to horses. This particularly affects Tennessee Walking Horses, which compete in horse shows with high-stepping gaits. Some owners unfortunately short-cut their training of the horses by driving spikes into animals’ front hooves, burning away the center of the hooves’ bottoms with caustic chemicals, or tying chains tightly around their ankles. This “soring” makes it so painful for a horse to put much weight down on its hooves that it becomes used to quickly drawing them back up.

Here again, I have a personal interest in the topic. In 1970 while teaching at Upper Iowa University, I became a Fayette County delegate to the Iowa State Democratic convention where I advocated a ban on the soring of horses. Later that year, the ban became part of a new federal law that made soring a violation of USDA regulations. Sored horses could no longer be entered in competition.

Under Trump, however, the USDA has more compassion for horse owners than mistreated horses. The USDA now says that sored horses should no longer be disqualified from horse shows unless it can be demonstrated that they belonged to their current owners at the time they were sored.

I’m sure the owners of fur farms and Tennessee Walking Horses will be voting for Trump next year.

 

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Separated mother and kit find each other after a day apart.

Two or three families of raccoons show up on our deck each evening, hoping we’ll reward them with some kibble, which we usually do. The families range in size, and the kit seen here with its mother is one of four siblings.

Last Sunday around 6:30 a.m., Lynn heard a kit’s usual gurgling calls sounding more like screeches. This was a bit past the time raccoons begin heading to their dens unless they’re still searching for a last bit of food. Lynn watched the kit for a while as it circled Mitchell cabin, calling for its mother and sniffing the deck where the family had been the night before. The call became increasingly shrill and prolonged as early morning turned into bright day. At some point, Lynn took pity on the kit and set out water and sliced grapes. The kit soon popped out from its temporary shelter in the dark under our lower deck and gobbled up the grapes. Then came more circling and calls until the tired youngster went silent under the lower deck for more than an hour.

Around sunset Sunday, Lynn noticed the kit was on the upper deck peering out between the rail posts. Shortly thereafter, the mother showed up. After they thoroughly sniffed each other to confirm identities, the kit became increasingly excited, even crawling under the mother and trying to suckle. She not only nursed it but gave her little one a good overall licking as it stretched out underneath her. The kit’s suckling may have been as much for emotional reattachment as milk, for it’s probably close to fully weaned.

Blue Fish Cove Resort at Clear Lake consists of a cluster of cottages on the shore of the lake. I first discovered this well-worn gem of a resort back in the 1990s while researching an article for The Coastal Traveler, which was then a supplement of The Point Reyes Light. What I found were unpretentious rooms looking out into glorious scenery, so when Lynn and I a few weeks ago started discussing our taking a short trip, Blue Fish Cove immediately came to mind.

Our cottage came with a cozy deck where I could escape the 100-degree weather thanks to cooling breezes off the water.

The view from our deck as well as from the decks of several other cottages was so beguiling we briefly discussed staying an extra day. We didn’t, but Blue Fish Cove is only a 2+ hour drive from Point Reyes Station, so we’ll probably go back again before long.

In its joy at having its mother back, a kit nuzzles her, and she returns the affection.

Wednesday night after we had returned to Mitchell cabin, Lynn anxiously watched to see if the traumatized kit and its mother were still together. Yes, they were! In fact all four tiny kits were on hand. It was the perfect ending to our trip.

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.

Animal populations around here fluctuate noticeably from year to year with weather, disease, and predators all having an impact. This week we’ll discuss two species that have been affected in recent years: common raccoons and Tricolored Blackbirds.

A common raccoon in a pine tree next to Mitchell cabin where there’s no hunting allowed.

During my 39 years in West Marin, I’ve seen the number of raccoons and grey foxes simultaneously soar, plunge, and soar again. It’s happened several tines, and the culprit has usually been distemper, a viral disease that’s spread by inhalation and is fatal about half the time. It attacks the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, as well as the spinal cord and brain.

At the moment, the coast’s raccoon population appears to be thriving. In fact, raccoons are doing well nationwide. This wasn’t always the case. In the first three decades of the last century, the popularity of raccoon coats — especially for riding in convertibles — resulted in the animals being so heavily hunted and trapped that the common raccoon became far less common.

When prices for raccoon pelts eventually dropped, the number of raccoons made a comeback. Then it was television that took a toll on their population. For example, only about 388,000 were killed in the 1934-35 hunting season, Virginia C. Holmgren writes in Raccoons: In Folklore, History & Today’s Backyards. But in the 1950s, three TV episodes about Davy Crockett started popularizing coonskin caps to where 5.2 million animals were taken in the 1976-77 hunt. The average pelt sold for about $20.

A drop in pelt prices once again greatly reduced the take in subsequent years. This past February, 490,361 raccoon pelts were sold at the North American Fur Auction in Nevada, but fetched only $14.05 to $21.61 apiece. “Raccoon and bobcat prices [$73.25 to $393.49] didn’t exactly tank, but were lower than previous levels,” the Nevada Trappers Association reported afterward.

Fall colors on the deck.

Around Mitchell cabin, a few of the birds that at first glance appear to be Red-winged blackbirds are actually Tricolored Blackbirds. Just below the red patch on their wings is a small patch of white feathers, which is hard to see except when their wings are outspread. ______________________________________________________________

When flying, a Tricolored Blackbird’s white feathers are visible below and behind its red feathers. — Audubon photo by Linda Pittman

The color of that patch of feathers is the key to identification. If it’s yellow, you have a Red-winged blackbird. If it’s white, you have a Tricolored.

Tricolored Blackbirds were once one of the most common birds in California and until recent years lived on Point Reyes in great numbers. A few years back, ornithologist Rich Stallcup, who died in 2012, wrote that 30 years of bird surveys had found that “on outermost Point Reyes…. the winter population has ranged from 4,500 to 11,000 individuals…. Perhaps 8 to 10 percent of the world population.”

However, when the Horick Ranch folded in 2000 and the Point Reyes National Seashore took possession of it, the Park Service removed the cows and the dairy shut down, Stallcup noted. “This significant reduction in foraging opportunities may have — and have had — a serious impact on the size of the colony, which has dropped from about 1,500 nests in 2000 to less than 650 in 2003.”

Although Stallcup initially conceded that the dramatic drop in the number of Tricoloreds on Point Reyes could be within the range of normal fluctuation, several months later he sounded an alarm. “For the first time in many years, Tricolored Blackbirds are not now (August 2004) nesting in Point Reyes National Seashore. This condition is probably due to reduced foraging opportunities.”

In other parts of the state, Tricoloreds are also struggling to survive. _________________________________________________________________

A variety of blackbirds show up together at least twice a day to peck birdseed off the railing of the deck. But as seen in this photo from 2013, there were far more of them around here a year ago.

“In the 19th Century, Tricolored Blackbird flocks were described as so numerous ‘as to darken the sky,'” the Audubon website notes. “Over just the last 70 years, the Tricolored Blackbird population has decreased by more than 80 percent.” And the decline is continuing. The number of Tricoloreds in California fell by 44 percent to 145,000 in the past three years alone, The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 5.

“The reasons for this decline are many, but the loss of marsh and nearby foraging habitats along the coast and in the Central Valley is the main issue,” according to Audubon. “In more recent years, the species has become dependent on agricultural lands, with most of the largest colonies nesting in grain fields.

“A real dilemma develops because Tricolored young typically have not yet left the nest before the time farmers harvest their crop, and harvesting destroys Tricolored Blackbird nests and young. In some cases as many as 20,000 nests have been lost in a single field.”

“As part of an effort to save the species, Audubon California and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are leading a program that pays dairy farmers to delay harvesting their silage crops through the nesting season,” The Times added.

Here at Mitchell cabin we’re trying to do our part by making sure that hungry blackbirds regardless of age or species can find the birdseed they need to thrive. ________________________________________________________________

News from the great outdoors is often fascinating, of course. Here’s a headline I spotted online last week.

Now let’s get this straight. Who’s ambushing whom? — Reuters article as headlined in Google News

The autumnal equinox of 2014 is upon us. Fall has begun. If we were in Great Britain — still including Scotland, hip, hip, hooray! — we would probably say that “autumn” has begun. Transatlantic linguistic differences, you know, old chap. Sort of like “truck” v. “lorry.”

Until the early 1600s, the English name for the season was “harvest,” but as more and more people moved off the farm and into cities where there was no harvesting, they began to call the season “fall of the leaf.” After all, it’s the time of year when leaves fall from trees. Eventually, the phrase was shortened to just “fall.”

From what I read, the word “autumn” is at least three centuries older, but its origins are unclear. However, the French word for “autumn” is “automne,” so that may be a clue.

The cold-blooded countenance of a Western Fence Lizard.

The mostly dry, mostly sunny days of summer’s end were welcomed by a cold-blooded crew of Western Fence Lizards that daily warm themselves on the railroad-tie steps leading up to Mitchell cabin.

I’ve seen as many as three lizards at a time on the steps. Some scoot out of sight the moment they feel the vibration of my tread, but some don’t move at all, forcing me to be careful I don’t step on them. Actually, I don’t think that’s likely. Their staying still as long as possible is probably a form of camouflage they would abandon if I got too close.

The Western Fence Lizard diet mostly consists of insects and spiders.

Their nickname is “blue bellies” because of the color of their undersides, which can be seen when the males do pushups. It’s their equivalent of pumping iron in order to impress females and intimidate other males.

A Pacific tree frog right after I rescued it from my hot tub.

When I opened the lid of my hot tub Thursday to check the amount of chlorine and other chemicals in the water, a tree frog that had been hiding between the lid and the top of the tub took a flying leap into the caldron.

At 104 degrees, the water is hot enough to quickly kill a frog. I’ve seen it happen. This time, however, I had a sieve with me and was able to scoop the frog out in time to save it.

Autumnal raccoon kits begging at the kitchen door.

Three raccoon mothers and their kits show up immediately after sunset each evening to dine on whatever rations we’re willing to provide — slices of bread, corn chips, peanuts etc.

The kits are curious enough about the source of this bounty that they’ll sometimes take a step or two into the house when Lynn or I open a door to toss them their rations. However, most of the raccoons back away the moment we get close. The exception is one mother who sits beside the door and uses her front paws to unhurriedly take slices of bread directly from our hands.

Four wild turkeys uphill from Mitchell cabin.

It would be fun to be able to call them turkeys in the straw, but they’re really turkeys in the hay. Straw is basically grass with its seeds removed.

In 1988, a hunting club working with the State Department of Fish and Game introduced non-native turkeys into West Marin on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. By now, however, there are far more turkeys than turkey hunters, and their flocks have spread throughout West Marin.

A turkey pauses to dine on grass seeds.

A jackrabbit likewise dines on grass uphill from Mitchell cabin.

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.

Jackrabbits have been clocked running at up to 36 mph for short distances.

“The effect on the startled predator is momentary confusion, which may afford the hare the advantage it needs to escape.” Their smaller cousins, the cottontail rabbits, prefer brush to open land. They have “poor running ability,” Evens explains, and “frequently fall prey to foxes, bobcats, weasels, hawks, and owls.”

A four-point buck, probably about a year and a half old, also forages in the grass uphill from Mitchell cabin.

“Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the subspecies of blacktails native to the Bay Area,” Bruce Morris writes for Bay Nature. “According to the California Department of Fish and Game, there are now approximately 560,000 deer in all California, about 320,000 of which are Columbian blacktails….

“Blacktails have a typical lifespan in the wild of seven to 10 years, but they can survive in suburban habitat for as long as 17 to 20 years if unmolested,” Morris adds. “Suburban deer have minuscule home ranges, measuring three or four blocks for females whereas wild deer inhabit territories that extend for several miles.”

The other day I was walking up the front steps when I was so startled to see a deer right in front of me that I tripped and started to fall forward. Fortunately, I was able to catch myself and spring back, so I didn’t land on my nose. I’ll try to remember that sequence on Nov. 2 when daylight savings time ends and I have to reset the clocks.

The old dichotomy of “nature v. nurture” may be a false one. As a couple of photos shot at Mitchell cabin last week demonstrate, nature also nurtures its own.

These photos are hardly remarkable in and of themselves, but they record what a remarkable variety of nature is just outside my window.

The sunset on July 14 gave the western sky the dazzle of a technicolor movie.

Even more dazzling was this simultaneous rainbow in the eastern sky. Numerous people around Point Reyes Station saw it, and several posted photos of the rainbow on West Marin Feed-Facebook.

After relentless begging with its beak open and its wings fluttering, a juvenile blackbird finally gets a parent to feed it birdseed even though it’s perfectly capable of feeding itself.

Last week Lynn spotted a fox on our picnic table peering in our living room between the slats of a chair. Its presence kept the blackbird at left on the railing and off the table.

The Gray fox was on the table to eat seed Lynn had scattered for the birds.

Staying well away from the fox, a jackrabbit eats grass just outside our kitchen window.

A doe and her fawns can be seen around Mitchell cabin virtually every day.

One of the sweetest-looking little animals around, a blacktail fawn walks past our bedroom window.

Fawns seem to be often on the run. At their age, it would appear, they enjoy being able to dash from here to there.

A young blacktail buck grazes by itself in the field below our deck.

A cross between a House sparrow and a Great horned owl?

Lynn and I correctly guessed the bird is actually a young House finch, but we had no explanation for its “horns,” so we dropped by the Point Reyes Station office of the Institute for Bird Populations.

Dave DeSante, the institute’s president and founder, was in the office, and we asked him what was going on with this bird. After pondering the bird’s unlikely appearance, he concluded the horns are actually pin feathers that somehow got ruffled on opposite sides of the finch’s head.

An adult, male House finch eats birdseed next to our birdbath. As I noted here back in May, their coloration is derived from the fruits and berries in their diets. Adult female house finches tend to be light brown with white streaks.

Nor is all peaceful around Mitchell cabin. A redtailed hawk — I believe it was this one — killed a collared dove on our deck last week. We heard the impact when it swooped down and seized the dove, leaving behind a mass of white feathers as evidence of nature’s savagery.

A raccoon, which had been showing up each evening on our deck begging for scraps of bread, showed up this past week with three kits in tow. No wonder she’d been looking so tired of recent.

Here the raccoons scour the grass around the deck for slices of bread Lynn threw there to keep them away from another, feisty raccoon on the deck.

And while the kits are perfectly able to eat bread, they still try to get mom to nurse them. They sort of remind me of juvenile blackbirds that want to be nurtured.

As I drove down my driveway Sunday afternoon, a jackrabbit was sitting at the edge of the gravel eating grass. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I stopped and waited awhile for it to hop along. When it didn’t, I restarted my car and approached the rabbit slowly. The rabbit hopped away from the driveway 10 feet or so and watched me drive past.

Twenty minutes later when I returned, there were two jackrabbits beside the driveway, so I parked and walked up through a field to the cabin and got my camera. By the time I returned to my car, one rabbit had disappeared, but this one had stuck around.

I got back in my car and again drove toward the rabbit very slowly. Once I got close enough to snap a photo, I stopped, leaned out the car window, and shot several. Then I started slowly driving toward it again.

When I had almost reached the jackrabbit, it hopped behind a coyote bush, and I watched to see it if would continue on across the field. It didn’t. And as I drove past the bush, I spotted the rabbit hunkered down only a few feet from my car. Again I stopped and shot some pictures before driving on.

Unfortunately for the rabbits, this bobcat has taken to hunting around Mitchell cabin. I’ve seen it catch a gopher or two, but so far there’s been no evidence of its catching a jackrabbit.

The bobcat casually walks across Mitchell cabin’s parking area between my car and the barrier we call “Woodhenge.” (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Birds, of course, are not the only creatures with pecking orders. Here a raccoon at the top of the pecking order grabs a slice of bread off my kitchen floor Sunday night while a subordinate raccoon (barely visible at left) waits its turn.

Once the dominant raccoon has taken a slice, the subordinate raccoon reaches inside for its own bread.

It was raining cats and dogs last week, so when the sky finally cleared, these horses in a pasture next to Mitchell cabin lay down for a sunbath. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

As for the origin of the phrase “raining cats and dogs,” it’s nothing like the malarkey that has been circulating on the Internet for the past 15 years. Repeatedly forwarded emails claim the phrase dates back to the thatch roofs on the huts of medieval peasants. The thick straw supposedly was the only place for little animals to get warm, so all the pets — dogs, cats and other small animals — lived in the roof. When it rained, the roof would become slippery and the animals would sometimes slip off. This is said to account for the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

The phrase does indeed date to the Middle Ages, the venerable Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins agrees, but only because of the superstition of an era when people believed in witches, ghosts and goblins. “The cat was thought by sailors to have a lot to do with storms, and the witches that were believed to ride in the storms were often pictured as black cats,” the dictionary explains.

“Dogs and wolves were symbols of the winds, and the Norse storm god Odin was frequently shown surrounded by dogs and wolves. So when a particularly violent rainstorm came along, people would say it was ‘raining cats and dogs’ — with cats symbolizing the rain and the dogs representing the wind and storm.”

In light of that, I’d say West Marin could use a few more cats this spring — but no more dogs.

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.