Photography


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

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.

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.

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.

“Northern winter constellations and a long arc of the Milky Way are setting in this night skyscape looking toward the Pacific Ocean from Point Reyes on planet Earth’s California coast. Sirius, alpha star of Canis Major, is prominent below the starry arc toward the left. Orion’s yellowish Betelgeuse, Aldebaran in Taurus, and the blue tinted Pleiades star cluster also find themselves between Milky Way and northwestern horizon near the center of the scene. The nebulae visible in the series of exposures used to construct this panoramic view were captured in early March, but are just too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. On that northern night their expansive glow includes the reddish semi-circle of Barnard’s Loop in Orion and NGC 1499 above and right of the Pleiades, also known as the California Nebula.” — From NASA website, March 12. Photo by Dan Zafra.

Point Reyes and Drake’s Bay have always had a special allure, but it would be difficult to beat this enhanced view earlier this month.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

It’s been almost two weeks since my last posting — but not for the usual delays. My apparent turban seen here is, in fact, a wrapping of bandages.

In the past three weeks, my peripheral neuropathy (which deadens nerves on parts of the soles of my feet) caught up with me and contributed to a series of falls. In addition, I pulled a groin muscle stacking firewood, and that contributed to a couple of even worse falls which took me to the West Marin Medical Clinic. The worst fall of all, however, occurred Wednesday night when I fell face first into our medicine cabinet and received a two-inch gouge in my forehead.

That, in turn, took me to Kaiser Hospital where I received a CAT scan followed by 10 staples to close the cut.

A gruesome pic, to be sure, but not nearly as bloody as some of the others my wife Lynn shot.

Well, that’s my organ recital. I hope to do better next week.

 

 

 

 

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.

_______________________________________________

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.

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.

This week’s puns are from a book, which (to my surprise) I found at West Marin Pharmacy, and gave Lynn for Christmas: Dad Jokes, the Good, The Bad, The Terrible, by Jimmy Niro. Most of this posting outlines the various minor calamities that have befallen this household of late. Also included are three amazing photos of wildlife.

––––––––––

Yesterday a clown held the door open for me. I thought it was a nice jester.

––––––––––

My wife Lynn was cooking Christmas dinner when our oven quit working. She had finished most of the meal but never got to bake any potatoes. Nor was there any baked turkey. None was available after Thanksgiving. Nor could she find fresh cranberries. Supply chain issues? 

Having grown up in a Jewish household, Christmas was not part of her holidays. Lynn opted to cook eggnog-coated, breaded pork cutlets instead. Pork was a frequent meal in her childhood household, notwithstanding some stereotypes. The faux-kosher meal, which included previously baked yams and turkey stuffing sans turkey, was delicious.

After we ate, Lynn contacted large-appliance repairman David Brast of Inverness. She told him a section of the oven coil had gotten very bright, and a huge amount of steam had emerged from a stovetop coil. Then the oven stopped working. He said, “That wasn’t steam. That was smoke.” Brast quickly figured out the problem, sent away for parts, and agreed to come over and fix it this Thursday, which he did. 

–––––––––

The lady helping me at the bank has a big stain on her blouse. Should I teller?

–––––––––

The day after Christmas my car developed its own problems. Dashboard lights started telling me to “check engine” and showed tires skidding. Monday when I took my 12-year-old Lexus to Cheda’s Garage, mechanic Tim Bunce quickly figured out the problem. Rats had gotten into the engine compartment, chewed on the wiring, and started to build a nest.

Cheda’s too had to send away for parts, but it turned out the rats had also damaged an injector harness for the engine’s computer. Now I have to take the car to Santa Rosa to get the harness replaced and the computer reprogrammed. Goddamn, it doesn’t sound cheap! Which raises the question….

–––––––––

How does the Vatican pay bills? They use Papal.

–––––––––

The car and oven breakdowns came on the heels of the smoke detector in Mitchell cabin starting to give off a bird-like chirp every minute or so when the air was cold. That has now been fixed, but I’m wondering what will go wrong next.

–––––––––

“Dad, I’m cold,” his son said. “Go stand in the corner,” replied the father. “It’s 90 degrees.”

–––––––––

There are times reality can be as humorous as puns. We’ve been hearing coyotes howl every night for months, so I was particularly intrigued by the “People’s Choice” award winner of this year’s Living with Wildlife photo contest sponsored by WildCare. 

Photographer Janet Kessler managed to snap a shot of a coyote knocking down a “Don’t Feed Coyotes” sign.                                                                                                      

 

This photo of a peregrine falcon taken by Carlos Porrata of Inverness won the “Best in Show” award.

And this photo of a badger, which Porrata also submitted, was among the contest’s finalists.

––––––––––

A doctor made it his regular habit to stop at a bar for a hazelnut daiquiri on his way home from work each night. The bartender knew of his habit and would alway have the drink waiting at precisely 5:03 p.m.

One afternoon, as the end of the workday approached, the bartender was dismayed to find that he was out of hazelnut extract. Thinking quickly, he threw together a daiquiri made with hickory nuts and set it on the bar.

The doctor came in at his regular time, took one sip of the drink, and exclaimed, “This isn’t a hazelnut daiquiri.”

“No, I’m sorry,” replied the bartender. “It’s a hickory daiquiri, Doc.”

 

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.

Seven of the nine deer that often show up together these days in the field below 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 many 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. Or so says author Valerius Geist in Mule Deer Country.

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. 

“Apparently the blacktail bucks [as seen here] were able to horn in on the harems of their parent species. The result: mule deer. Mule deer are so named because of their long ears.

Our word “deer” comes from the Old English word “deor,” which referred to animals in general, of course including deer. In Middle English, the language of Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the word was spelled “der,” and The American Heritage Dictionary notes it could refer to all manner of creatures, including “a fish, an ant, or a fox.” Or as Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, “Mice and rats, and such small deer,/ Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.”

A buck sniffs a doe to determine whether she’s in heat.

“Deer rely heavily on scent for communication, especially during the mating season,” writes Jane Meggitt in Mating and Communication Behavior of Deer. “Certain gland secretions mix with urine, which gives deer information about the sex and reproductive state of other deer in their vicinity.”

“Before the actual mating, does play ‘hard to get’ for several days. The buck chases a doe, and she eventually allows him to ‘catch’ her.

“After copulating several times over a period of a few days, the buck stays with the doe for a few more days until she is [no longer in heat]. He stays by her to keep other bucks away,” Meggitt writes.

“When he leaves, he might go on to find other does with which to mate. If the doe doesn’t get pregnant during that cycle, she goes into another estrus cycle within three to four weeks…. After an approximately seven-month pregnancy, a doe gives birth to her fawn, or fawns.

“It isn’t unusual for healthy, well-nourished does to give birth to twins or triplets. Fawns found alone aren’t usually abandoned. Their mother is nearby, but out of sight. Does and fawns vocalize to let each other know of their whereabouts. If a predator threatens a fawn, the mother stamps her forefeet, snorts and might try to drive the threatening animal — or person — away,” Meggitt adds.

Two bucks ignore each in passing. The older deer in the foreground initially eyed the younger buck to see if it would try to horn in on his harem. It didn’t, and the old guy soon lost interest.

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.

Redwing blackbirds waiting for a dinner of birdseed at Mitchell cabin maintain proper social distancing (relative to size).

They say the Covid-19 pandemic is especially bad for older people. As a 76 year old, I can vouch for that. Like a lot of others my age and older, I wear hearing aids. Unfortunately, part of each aid sits outside the ear, and anti-virus masks are usually secured around the ears. As a result, our hearing aids sometimes get pulled off when we remove our safety masks. Goddamn virus.

Jackrabbit behind Mitchell cabin last Saturday.

“Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits,” according to National Geographic. “Hares are larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears. Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which initially caused some people to refer to them as ‘jackass rabbits.’ The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.”

A fence lizard with part of its tail missing.

Most of us are aware that lizards can lose a big piece of their tails and survive. To quote a Washington State University online explanation: “Lizards have a series of small bones that run down their back… called vertebrae. Along the tail are several weak spots called fracture planes… They are the places the tail can detach.

“The main reason a lizard loses its tail is to defend itself [and not only if a predator has seized its tail. A detached tail can also distract the predator]. When a lizard detaches its tail, the tail whips around and wiggles on the ground… Sometimes the tail will keep moving for upwards of half an hour.”

Lizards can regrow their tails in three to five weeks, but the new tail is usually shorter, has a different pattern of scales, and is made with cartilage rather than bone.

Another fence lizard, also warming itself  this week on our railroad-tie front steps, has regrown most of its original tail. The dark section where it broke off can easily be seen. It’s important to male lizards to get their tails back. Female lizards aren’t interested in them until they do.

—    —    —

I’ll close with a couple of my favorite poems, both set in pre-shelter-in-place times. They’re by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Alan Dugan (1923-2003).

 

On a Seven-Day Diary

Oh, I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate and talked and went to sleep./ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ from work and ate and slept./ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate steak and went to sleep./ They I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate and fucked and went to sleep./ Then it was Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!/ Love must be the reason for the week!/ We went shopping! I saw clouds!/ The children explained everything!/ I could talk about the main thing!/ What did I drink on Saturday night/ that lost the first, best half of Sunday?/ The last half wasn’t worth this “word.”/ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ from work and ate and went to sleep,/ refreshed but tired by the weekend.

Tribute to Kafka for Someone Taken

The party is going strong,/ The doorbell rings. It’s/ for someone named me./ I’m coming. I take/ a last drink,/ a last puff on a cigarette,/ a last kiss at a girl,/ and step into the hall,/ bang,/ shutting out the laughter. “Is/ your name you?'” “Yes.”/ “Well come along then.”/ “See here. See here. See here.”

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.

Stray cat. Does anyone around Point Reyes Station recognize this small, black cat? It started showing up at Mitchell cabin three days ago. I assume the owner lives somewhere in the vicinity of Highway 1 north of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. It seemed weak from hunger when we first saw it, and Lynn gave it some tuna.

Geraniums on our deck. Lynn and I spent a couple of hours yesterday rearranging pots of flowers, succulents, and a small tree on our deck to give some of them more sunlight. Three large pots of geraniums were part of the mix, and that brought to mind a poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963).

The Geranium

When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,/ She looked so limp and bedraggled,/ So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,/ Or a wizened aster in late September,/ I brought her back in again/ For a new routine — / Vitamins, water, and whatever/ Sustenance seemed sensible/ At the time; she’d lived/ So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer/ Her shriveled petals falling/ On the faded carpet, the stale/ Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves./ (Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)

The things she endured! — / The dumb dames shrieking half the night/ Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,/ Me breathing booze at her,/ She leaning out of her pot toward the window.

Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me — / And that was scary — /So when that snuffling cretin of a maid/ Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,/ I said nothing.

But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,/ I was that lonely.

—   —   —

As we get into summer, I’m seeing more and more young wildlife around the cabin.

A black-tailed doe leading her two young fawns, all three of them on full alert, across a field downhill from us last Friday.

A blackbird feeds two of her young as they noisily compete with mouths wide open for seeds she’s pecked up. This repast yesterday was enjoyed in a pine tree just outside our window.

A flock of hungry red-winged blackbirds began flying in yesterday when they saw Lynn and me spread birdseed on the railing of our deck while right below them….

two does, each with a fawn, grazed where the grass was a tad greener.

I’ll sign off with  a whimsical poem by the 1970 US poet laureate William Stafford (1914-1993). It provides a bit of humor to brighten these sad times.

Adults Only

Animals own a fur world:/ people own worlds that are variously, pleasingly, bare./ And the way these worlds are once arrived for us kids with a jolt,/ that night when the wild woman danced/ in the giant cage we found we were all in/ at the state fair.

Better women exist, no doubt, than that one,/ and occasions more edifying, too, I suppose. But we have to witness for ourselves what comes for us,/ nor be distracted by barkers of irrelevant ware;/ and a pretty good world, I say, arrived that night/ when that woman came farming right out of her clothes, by God,/ At the state fair.

 

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.

Six buzzards landed on the hill above Mitchell cabin last Saturday, immediately letting Lynn and me know that something had died.

We could see one buzzard tearing away at a carcass. But of what?

(Before going further, I should acknowledge the “buzzard” v. “vulture” dispute I occasionally get into with a few readers who apparently prefer British English to American English. For them, vulture is the only correct name for the species, and buzzard means only Buteo hawk. I disagree, and my authority is The American Heritage Dictionary. It defines the word buzzard as: “1. Any of various North American vultures, such as the turkey vulture. 2. Chiefly British. A hawk of the genus Buteo, having broad wings and a broad tail. 3. An avaricious or otherwise unpleasant person.”)

Upon closer inspection (despite the stench) I could see the deceased was a skunk. My guess is that it was killed by one of the great horned owls on this hill. Because of the likelihood of getting sprayed, coyotes and foxes reluctantly hunt skunks only when no other prey is available. Great horned owls — whose weak sense of smell is limited to supplementing their sense of taste — like to hunt skunks.

A great horned owl. (Missouri Department of Conservation photo)

Female skunks typically raise four to six kittens in a season, with the males leaving the females before the young are born. Skunks were once widely hunted for their pelts, but they now have far more to worry about from motor vehicles; skunks are so near-sighted they can’t see things clearly that are more than 10 feet away.

This buzzard arrived a day late for Saturday’s feast but still found enough skunk flesh to nibble on. Buzzards are fond of dead skunks, but they leave the skunks’ scent pouches intact.

Raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing bottoms, and (as seen here before) they also sniff skunk bottoms but for some reason don’t get sprayed. Two nights ago I saw a very young kit repeatedly sniff a skunk’s rear end. The skunk didn’t like it and kept moving away, but the kit persisted in nosing around back there until the skunk finally walked away.

At least it didn’t get killed and partially eaten by an owl with most of the leftovers consumed by a flock of buzzards.

Next Page »