Entries tagged with “roof rats”.


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.

“The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth,” wrote the French existentialist Albert Camus. As an existentialist myself, I’ve long believed that if this were a rationally ordered world, it would be much different.

This is true not only in the human world but in the animal world as well. The results can be good or bad — or just ridiculous. Let’s take a look.

Although roof rats sometimes eat birds’ eggs, they can — counter-intuitively — get along with adult birds. Here a scrub jay and a roof rat eat birdseed side by side on my picnic table.

The small, beady eyes of roof rats may make them look malicious, but this little junco feels safe enough to keep on pecking only inches away from one.

In fact, adult birds — such as this towhee — and roof rats are almost indifferent to each other when they both happen upon the same birdseed buffet.

The rats and birds not only share the same scatterings of seeds, they drink from the same birdbath. Because animals have no sense of absurdity, these arrangements no doubt seem perfectly natural to them.

Harder to understand are everyday absurdities in the human world.

Is it: ‘Speed up or be cited’? Or: ‘Slow down or be cited’?

This ambiguous road sign is beside Highway 1 a mile and a half north of Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Marshall. In recent years, signs announcing the ending of various speed limits have been sprouting up along the state highway and county roads in West Marin. Unfortunately, they don’t always say what speed limit is beginning.

It makes sense that the 55 mph limit along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road ends here at Platform Bridge. As the word STOP painted on the pavement makes clear, motorists are approaching a stop sign.

The question is: what’s the speed limit on the other side of the stop sign?

To stay on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, westbound motorists after stopping turn right and cross Platform Bridge; in slightly over a tenth of a mile, they eventually come to a 50 mph speed-limit sign. But what if they continue straight on Platform Bridge Road? They find no speed-limit signs whatsoever. Are unstated speed limits “radar enforced”?

In contrast to the paucity of speed-limit information at Platform Bridge, there’s an over abundance of it a couple of miles east at Four Corners. (Four Corners is the T-intersection where Nicasio Valley Road ends at the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. A ranch road provides the third and fourth corners.)

Most of us would assume that one, if not two, of the three speed-limit signs above is superfluous, especially when they’re all so close together. The excess is basically a distraction from the deer-crossing sign.

Which gets me back to my original assertion: if this were a rationally ordered world, it would be much different.

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.

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.

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.