Wildlife


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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Can events in nature foreshadow events in the human world — e.g. a devastating storm before a  big battle?  The storm may not cause the battle but merely symbolize events to come. 

 

Mass burial. The first nine days of Russia’s shelling of Mariupol in Ukraine led to bodies of civilians being dumped in mass graves. It’s a horrid scene. Widespread death is certainly becoming a metaphor for our time.

Appropriately enough, a vulture swooped down outside our front window today and put on an impressive display. My first thought was: that’s one big buzzard! My second was: this carrion eater reminds me of Vladimir Putin hovering over Ukraine. It’s hard to get that war off one’s mind.

A true diversion. Seven blacktail deer outside our kitchen door today.

The deer made Newy, the stray cat we adopted, curious, and she wandered over for a closer look. The deer were obviously curious about her too. Newy arrived at Mitchell cabin last year with a family of raccoons, and she enjoys watching wildlife as much as we do. In fact, sometimes she seems to think of herself as wildlife, but Lynn makes sure to get her in at night and makes her bed nice and cozy.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To ressurect one of my Valentine’s Day photos, I’ll start off with a skein of Canada geese flying past Inverness Ridge.

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This posting is late because I’ve been grappling with interference from some hacker, who’s dropped hundreds of odd symbols seemingly at random in posts I recently put online and posts from years ago.

Some examples:

—Journalist!
 
— Salvadoran
 
 the Gibson
 
 
 The author

 

I suspect the hacker is Vietnamese since the symbols also show up in foreign-language comments, which Google identifies as Vietnamese.

 

 

 

____________________________________________________

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.

When I showed this to a friend in San Rafael, what he found equally amazing is that tiny Nicasio has its own post office.

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This is a belated review of an entertaining linguistic book, A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings. It was originally published five years ago by Ten-Speed Press. My wife Lynn gave it to me for Christmas.  The author, Matt Sewell, is a Canadian ornithologist, illustrator, and artist who has exhibited in London, Manchester, New York, Tokyo, and Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As most of us know, a group of geese is called a “gaggle” — but if the geese are flying in formation — the proper term is “skein,” writes Sewell. The term “comes from an old French word for ‘V’ Formation.”

Some group names are grim but accurate. Here a “wake” of vultures divvy up a skunk killed by an owl.

Virtually every night at Mitchell cabin we can hear a “band” of coyotes howling.

Groups of coyotes are called “bands” although to my mind, “choirs” would be more accurate. Sewell notes that “outside of their guarded family units, coyotes hang together in unrelated gangs, scavenging and doing whatever coyotes do.”

A “sulk” of foxes atop a shed at Toby’s Feed Barn. These were spotted by postal staff outside a postoffice window.

 

A “plague” of rats. Given my recent experience with roof rats, I would second the group name “plague.” Roof rats found their way into my car’s engine compartment around Christmas and chewed wiring, piled up debris, and damaged the car’s computer. The final tab at garages in Point Reyes Staton and Santa Rosa to repair the damage came to more than $2,500.

 

A “trip” of rabbits.

Sewell frequently indulges his ironic sense of humor. Describing how groups of rabbits came to be called “trips,” Sewell writes: “Now, some of you may be thinking: the trip would be to follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole.  Sadly not: this term is from the 15th century, not the 1960s Jefferson Airplane lyric, or even Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which inspired the song. It is, in fact, about as psychedelic as a turnip patch.

“A colony of rabbits is a flighty bunch — not surprisingly, as the whole world is their enemy…. They are rarely safe for long, not when they’re hunted by hawks and owls, weasels, foxes, domestic pets, and humans, to name just a few.”

As noted previously, “jackrabbit” is short for “jackass rabbit,” a nickname it got because of its ears.

A “lounge” of lizards. This is a blue-belly lizard on the wall of our cabin.

 

Lizards are cold-blooded “so they need to warm up from the sun or on warm stones.”

“It’s this lounging that gets them into trouble though as lizards are easy prey in this laid-back state.

“If they are cruelly snatched, lizards at least have a last-gasp mechanism for freedom: they can release their tail, which will wriggle around in the predator’s mouth, confusing the daylights out of it while the lizard makes a dash for the undergrowth.”

I hope it gets there safely.

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