Wildlife


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Like other wild birds, turkeys regularly show up on the deck of Mitchell cabin. We put out birdseed for smaller birds, and the turkeys try to horn in on the meal. The trouble is the turkeys will gobble it all up if they can, and they scare off the other birds. Perhaps worst of all, they leave behind huge droppings.

Benjamin Franklin disapproved of bald eagles being named our national bird, and there has long been a myth that he wanted the turkey to replace the bald eagle as our national bird. In fact, he merely compared the eagle to a turkey to denigrate the eagle. The myth grew out of a letter Franklin wrote his daughter in which he complained that the “bald eagle…is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly…[He] is too lazy to fish for himself.”

Even the turkey, Franklin wrote, is “a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America…He is besides — though a little vain and silly — a bird of courage.”

I’m glad that no one actually proposed making turkeys our national bird because Lynn and I are forever having to shoo them off our deck.

Despite our shooing, turkeys only momentarily stop showing up.

Wild turkeys are native to the Midwest and East Coast, as well as Canada and Mexico — but not to California. They got here in the 1950s when the state Department of Fish and Game, as it was then named, released some in the Napa Valley as prey for hunters.

In 1988, a few from the Napa Valley flock were transported to Loma Alta Ranch overlooking the San Geronimo Valley. Before long that small flock expanded to the valley floor and by the year 2000 had spread throughout West Marin.

The view from Mitchell cabin.

They can also be a nuisance in other ways. In an extreme case, a turkey in February 2005 blacked out the town of Tomales.

Turkeys are not great flyers, and turkeys in Tomales had taken to gliding off a steep slope to get across Highway 1.

On one occasion, a turkey misjudged the height of some powerlines and flew into them. Two 12,000-volt lines slapped together, causing an explosion with a bright flash.

The explosion surprisingly did not kill the turkey. It fell to the ground and started wandering around in dazed circles. Resident Walter Earle, who saw the flash, immediately called the county fire department to report, “Some turkey just took out the powerlines.” Fire Capt. Tom Nunes later said he at first assumed Earle was talking about a drunk driver. The blackout lasted four hours.

Despite the expectations of friends, I have little to say this week about the national election. I’m, of course, glad the predicted “red wave” never materialized and that Republican candidates who called the last presidential election “rigged” mostly lost. Now that Donald Trump has said he’ll be running for president again in 2024, I’m sure there will be plenty of malarky to write about in future postings, so I’ll wait and write about other beasts this week.

An old man, wrote Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, used to say a nap “after dinner was silver — before dinner, golden.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cornucopia (i.e. horn of plenty) in the living room of Mitchell cabin symbolizes the harvest season and dinners to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cottontail rabbit enjoys a golden nap after showing up in the field outside our bedroom window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside our kitchen window, a sleepy blacktail buck enjoys a silver nap as well as a golden nap before resuming his grazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later outside our living room window, a raccoon lay deep in a silver nap.

 

 

 

 

The San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday carried a front-page story headlined, ‘Birdseed Lady to blame for rat swarms?’ The Chronicle reported a woman, who “appears to be experiencing mental illness,” daily leaves “mounds of birdseed throughout [the] commercial corridor” of the Glen Park neighborhood.

In doing so, she appears to be “fomenting the area’s formidable rat and pigeon problems.” As the article noted, city government still hasn’t figured out how to deal with her even though “city law forbids spreading birdseed in public places.”

The problem is more than esthetic. “The issue exploded into public view this month when health inspectors temporarily shuttered Canyon Market, Glen Park’s posh and popular grocery store, after finding gnawed pasta bags, rat droppings, and other evidence of a severe rodent infestation.”

I’ve seen the pattern on a small scale at Mitchell cabin. The birdseed Lynn and I put on our deck daily for our feathered neighbors also draws a handful of roof rats.

The birds such as this towhee act as if the roof rats were just other birds and are quite content to eat alongside them.

The birds also share their bath with the rats, who like to take sips from it.

 

So far the roof rats are not an insurmountable problem although they do nibble on flowers Lynn planted in our garden and — worse yet — on the wiring for her car’s engine.

The rats are amazingly predictable. We tend to put out seed around 5:30 p.m. daily, and the roof rats show up around 6:30 p.m.

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Among the other trends in wildlife around Mitchell cabin are changes in the fox community, which had mostly kept out of sight during the past couple of years. Foxes, nonetheless, made their presence known by frequently peeing on my morning Chronicle. It’s all about marking territory. Thank goodness subscriptions are delivered in plastic bags.

Last week I spotted two foxes together on our deck until they were scared off when two young raccoons got into a noisy tiff.

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A young man in town told me he wants to wear a pest-control uniform for Halloween. I told him to gopher it.

Have you ever wondered why cats eat fur balls. They do it because they love a good gag.

And why do bears have hairy coats? Fur protection, of course.

I’m often amazed by the variety of wildlife around Mitchell cabin, but even more amazing is the variety that shows up on the cabin’s deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A possum, fox, and raccoon peacefully dine on kibble together just outside our kitchen door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These critters dine peacefully even when I’m there to encourage them. I don’t encourage petting possums in general, but I happened to know this fellow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My wife Lynn feeds a couple of slices of bread to a fox at the kitchen door.

And they bring their friends. Here are three foxes that showed up for kibble on our deck.

A raccoon and skunk share a handful of roasted peanuts.

Roof rats are unusually numerous in Point Reyes Station this year, each evening showing up for birdseed that birds left behind on our deck. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A squirrel surveys the world from our birdbath on the deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One surprising visitor on our decks awhile back was this blacktail doe near the hot tub on our lower deck.

 

 

Once upon a time, I taught this possum proper table manners.  🙂

Getting him to eat with a knife and fork instead of his fingers was the biggest challenge. 

More oddities. Last February,  this blog reported: “The oddest West Marin news in the past fortnight came in the Feb. 3 Point Reyes Light. Here it is word for word. ‘Sheriff’s Call — Sunday, Jan.10: NICASIO: At 7:42 p.m. a woman who said she was moving to town from Southern California reported that someone who works at the post office was shooting metaphorical arrows, meaning witchcraft and sorcery, and that God had told her she needed to eradicate witchcraft and sorcery. She said the man was going to make her have demonic serpent offspring and she could not report him to his supervisor because the supervisor was likely in the same region of warlocks, and she wanted to assure deputies that she had not been struck by the arrows because she was protected by the blood of Jesus — she had an X-ray to prove it.'”

Postal sorcery seems to have now spread west. A sheriff’s call in the Aug. 11 Light reported: POINT REYES STATION: “A woman moving back to the area from Los Angeles said a former postal worker was tracking her with witchcraft and sending arrows to her head.” If it is the same woman, I hope the blood of Jesus is still protecting her.

 

Three roof rats scamper around our deck eating some of the seeds we’ve put out for wild birds. A professional gardener in town this week said the local roof-rat population “exploded” this year.

 

Roof rats take advantage of our bird ‘sanctuary’  in more than one way. Here a roof rat drinks from our birdbath. The roof rat’s pale underside helps distinguish it from brownish-gray Norway rats. Despite their name, Norway rats are believed to have originated in Asia and spread westward through Russia. Once in Europe, Norway rats in the 18th century were inadvertantly introduced worldwide when they hid on trading ships, often in the cargo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norway rats are sometimes referred to as sewer rats because they are often found in big city sewers. Here a sewer rat pokes its head out its front door. Norway rats can damage homes with their gnawing and can spread diseases. MPHonLine photo

Most days I get a caffeine hit in the late morning at Toby’s Coffee Bar in Point Reyes Station. It’s a convivial place with good pastries as well as good tea and coffee. I was sitting at a picnic table inside the barn a week ago when an older gentleman came up to me and asked if I was “Dave Mitchell’s father.” Unsure whether he was joking or serious, I replied, “I’m Dave Mitchell himself.” In either case, I took his comment as reflecting how much older I look these days. My hair’s gray, I’m stoop shouldered, and I often shuffle when I walk. Old age is a bitch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another day last week, I was again seated inside the barn when I heard a loud crash. Assuming two vehicles had collided on the main street out front, I went outside to look. Instead I found that a balcony on the front of the building had partially collapsed. A forklift raised too high had slammed into a lateral beam.

A different older gentleman had been sitting on the deck under the balcony, and he too had heard the crash but didn’t realize at first that the balcony overhead might come down on him. He wasn’t upset, but since then he’s taken to sitting inside the barn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the deck encircled by a yellow warning ribbon, the feed store moved its flower display indoors too. Here Danny Holderman enjoys having lush bouquets beside his table.

 

 

 

 

 

Toby’s might as well be a community center so much goes on there. Beside the store and the coffee bar, a farmers’ market is held in the parking lot every Saturday each summer. Behind the store, art exhibitions are frequent, such as the current Marvelous Marin Landscape Show, featuring works by 14 artists.

 

As for events closer to Mitchell cabin, more rabbits than usual are around this summer. This jack rabbit, which is technically a hare, not a rabbit, frequently hops close to the cabin but never comes in.

Also seen around the house in early summer are baby cottontails, which are true rabbits.

 

 

Buoying Ukraine: West Marin residents’ opinion of Russia has fallen pretty low since its invasion of Ukraine. In a show of support, the blue and gold Ukrainian flags are being flown at the Peace Garden next to Toby’s, along Highway 1, and elsewhere around town.

As it happens, crab-pot buoys periodically break their harnesses and wash ashore in the National Seashore where I’ve found several. A couple of them have Ukraine’s colors, so a blue-and-yellow buoy now adorns our garden.

 

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.

The past few days have been filled with unexpected events. Here are a few.

On Saturday evening, urban crime drove to Point Reyes Station. To quote West Marin Feed: “Apparently a truck was stolen in SF, pulled over in San Anselmo, then led CHP on a chase through West Marin. The front tire was blown out. [The thief] circled around Point Reyes Station a couple of times, ditched truck [near the gas station], tried to run and [was] arrested.”

Photo from a video by Marc Matheson

Update as of July 22: The Point Reyes Light has now reported the truck is owned by Cathy Schoop of Fairfax. When it was stolen, one of her employees followed it to the Red Hill Shopping Center in San Anselmo and summoned the Highway Patrol as well as Ms. Schoop. The Light reported that Ms. Schoop “just bought the 2022 Isuzu for her business, Annie’s Hot Dogs, which operates several food carts in San Francisco. A coffee cart, an ice cream cart and the day’s cash were in the back when it was stolen, she said. [All this was] worth about $40,000 in total.”

Ms Shoop told The Light, “she pleaded with officers to seize the empty truck, but because they couldn’t confirm it was stolen, they waited until the driver returned and sped away from the parking lot, headed toward West Marin. They could have gotten my truck back undamaged.” Instead of doing that, she told the newspaper, the officers asked her, “How do we know it’s really your truck?” To this she added, “They completely screwed me over with their lackadaisical attitude.”

One way the truck was damaged was in being driven around Point Reyes Station after losing its right front tire (see photo) and riding on the rim until it ran off the road. Scrapes from that episode are still evident on several streets in town.

The driver, a construction worker, Dylan Kane Wilson, 21, was charged with two vehicle-theft felonies and two misdemeanors — for evading a police officer and driving without a license. In addition, he faces outstanding warrants for a probation violation, failure to appear in court, and two drug misdemeanors, The Light reported.

A skunk that got away. Sunday morning my drive into Point Reyes Station was unpleasantly smelly. Downhill from West Marin School  I spotted the problem. Across Highway 1 from the “Maddy’s Jammin'” sign, I passed a large dead skunk lying at the edge of the pavement. The better part of the day passed before someone moved it to a roadside ditch where it continued to stink.

These days, Marin Humane Society (415 883-4621, ext. 1) picks up dead skunks for $75. Back in the 1970s, county government paid a man with a pickup truck to gather the corpses of skunks, most killed by motor vehicles.

As editor and publisher of The Point Reyes Light in those days, one of my responsibilities was to deliver bundles of papers to stores as soon as copies arrived from the printer. One day, I was dropping off a bundle at the Olema Store when the skunk gatherer parked his truck out front and went inside, leaving a number of roadkill in the pickup bed. Unfortunately, their stench immediately started drifting into the market, and the grocer had to somewhat awkwardly ask the skunk gatherer to park elsewhere.

Death of an old horse. A 33-year-old horse belonging to the Point Reyes Arabian Adventures stable along Highway 1 died of a heart attack Sunday afternoon. Thirty-three horse years are equivalent to 93 human years, and it had enjoyed a good life.

The Arabian Adventures pasture stretches to within 25 feet of Mitchell cabin, and my wife Lynn soon noticed the dead animal lying on the ground and covered with blankets.

The deceased, which was named Chainsaw, had a brother in the stable’s herd, and they frequently hung out together (note the two black horses at left). Owner Susie Rowsell later told me she had seen the two running up the hill together and Chainsaw collapse when they stopped. His sibling was obviously disturbed, she noted.                                                                                                                 

Four raccoon kits dining on handfuls of kibble outside our kitchen door. These raccoons are becoming surprisingly at home at Mitchell cabin. Not only do they show up for kibble, they often head for our birdbath, from which they drink and in which they bathe. They take naps on our deck and hide quietly behind our wine barrel planters when a friend’s dog shows up.

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.

Headline in July 1 San Francisco Chronicle. I’ve been wondering in recent years whatever happened to Life magazine. Is this a clue?

Outside our kitchen, an appropriately named “wake” of eight buzzards (aka vultures) takes a rest while on a search for corpses.

As a 35-year newsman, I’ve covered a lot of grim news, such as the trailside killer in Marin County and combat in El Salvador. Nonetheless, I’ve been unsettled by the current combination of news from around the world: the Covid pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mass shootings (which have killed more than 300 Americans already this year), the US Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade abortion rights, the court’s also revealing plans to throw out a number of environmental protections.

For my own peace of mind, I’m turning my attention to goings on in the animal world around Mitchell cabin. Here’s a bit of what I’ve been seeing.

Two quail watching over nine of their chicks. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

A raccoon appearing to be in prayer. She’s probably praying that the chaos in the human world doesn’t also devastate the animal world.

A great blue heron hunts in our field for gophers. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Mother raccoons have taught their kits to show up on our deck each evening in hopes of receiving handfuls of kibble. The kits are shy but curious and sometimes show up by themselves (as these four did on Sunday afternoon) hoping for food even though mom wasn’t there yet.

A raccoon mother climbs down out of a pine tree beside Mitchell cabin while her kit prepares to follow her.

It’s this sort of domesticity in nature that gives me relief from our human world.

 

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.

Deer neighbors

This week we’ll take a look at the deerest creatures around Mitchell cabin,

A blacktail buck outside Mitchell cabin.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has estimated that well over half the roughly 560,000 deer in California are Columbian blacktails, the deer native to West Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area.

For years many people believed (and some websites still say) that blacktails are a subspecies of mule deer, a species found from the Northwest to the deserts of the Southwest and as far east as the Dakotas. DNA tests, however, have now found mule deer to be a hybrid of female whitetail deer and blacktail bucks.

Whitetails first appeared on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago. DNA evidence suggests they spread south and then west, arriving in California about 1.5 million years ago.

In moving up the coast, whitetails evolved into blacktails, which resemble them in appearance and temperament. Blacktails eventually extended their range eastward, meeting up with more whitetails coming from the east. 

A buck shows up to die

A deer skull hangs on a wall behind our woodstove.

Guests seeing this skull often wrongly assume I must have shot the critter and hung up its head as a trophy. In fact, I am not a hunter and don’t like the idea of killing wild animals for pleasure.

In this case, I did not seek out the buck but rather he sought out our front steps to breathe his last.

 

 

 

 

 

One morning when I started down my front steps en route to get The San Francisco Chronicle, I found a three-year-old blacktail buck lying dead on the ground just outside my gate. There were no signs of trauma on the deer although there were small lesions in his mouth. It turned out the buck had died of a necrobacillosis infection.

I dragged the body to the edge of my field (at left), and buzzards (AKA vultures) lined up on fence posts to dine. Maggots too soon began devouring the corpse.

Road kill

Awhile back, I was driving on Highway 1 near home when I spotted a dead fawn beside the roadway.

An upset doe kept trying to cross the highway to check on her fawn. But every time she started down to the roadway, a vehicle (such as in the upper photo) forced her to retreat back up the shoulder. For more than half an hour, she tried unsuccessfully to reach her dead offspring.

Gentle creatures

A curious doe watches a cat cleaning itself outside our kitchen door.

Deer and wild turkeys intermingle while foraging in our field, both species obviously realizing the other is a gentle neighbor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 family of raccoons enters the kitchen of Mitchell cabin in search of food. They were given some bread, but not in the kitchen.

Living in West Marin means living with nature. The surprise is how often nature manages to live with itself.

A blacktail buck and a bobcat foraging near each other on the hillside above Mitchell cabin. Each was aware of the other but didn’t seem to care.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

A possum, fox, and raccoon eat kibble nose to nose just outside our kitchen door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Likewise dining side by side are this towhee and roof rat nibbling birdseed off our picnic table.

One surprising relationship went on for years around this part of town. This peacock was often seen in the company of a flock of wild turkeys. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the peacock in recent months. I hope it’s okay. (Sad update: Obviously, not all species of wildlife are friendly toward each other, and the day after this posting went online, a neighbor told me a bobcat had killed the peacock.)

Just how close different species can live to each other was epitomized Tuesday evening. I had been lying on a couch in the living room listening to music when I got up and spotted a raccoon a few feet away eating kibble put out for our cat. The raccoon had managed to get inside because our kitchen door had been left open a few inches. It soon departed by the same route.

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