Archive for November, 2011

It’s time for another look at wildlife that have been showing up this fall around Mitchell cabin.

Last week I reported finding coyote scat on my driveway and noted that neighbor George Stamoulis had not only found the scat on his driveway, he’d seen the critter itself ambling up Campolindo Road.

Finally I  saw the beast for myself. About 1:30 p.m. Saturday, I looked out the kitchen’s glass door just in time to see a coyote round the corner of the cabin. I grabbed my camera, went out on my deck, and managed to catch this shot of the coyote marking its territory by urinating and scratching the ground.

I get a kick out of seeing coyotes, but, of course, I’m not a sheepman. For 40 years, there were no coyotes in West Marin, but they never disappeared from Northern Sonoma County. After the federal government made ranchers stop poisoning them, coyotes began returning southward. They reached West Marin in 1983 and within the next 15 or so years wiped out a majority of sheep ranches in West Marin and Southern Sonoma County.

Along with sheep, coyotes sometimes hunt deer and not infrequently eat domestic dogs and cats. Among their most-common prey are small mammals, birds, snakes, lizards, and large insects. Traditionally diurnal, coyotes are becoming more nocturnal because of pressure from human development.

Hunting outside my kitchen window.

Last week I posted a couple of photos of a bobcat that had just shown up outside my kitchen window. Here’s a third image that shows it hunting. Bobcats’ favorite prey are rabbits and hares, but they’ll eat anything from insects to rodents to deer.

Gray foxes are omnivorous, eating fruits along with birds and small rodents. They also like cheap, white bread. Gray foxes tend to be nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and twilight).

Along with the Asian raccoon dog, they are the only members of the Canidae family that can climb trees. That’s one way they can raid bird nests — and avoid the coyotes.

After sizing up the situation Saturday night, a gray fox takes a slice of bread from my girlfriend Lynn’s hand.

Also visiting our deck each evening — hoping for slices of bread and honey-roasted peanuts — are two families of raccoons. While the families don’t like each other, they are at ease around us. Here a young raccoon curls up outside our kitchen door to take a nap. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)


When Lynn and I returned home from a visit to my optometrist in Terra Linda last week, we found a mirthful message on our answering machine from Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park. “Hey Dave,” she said. “I want to tell you about something beautiful I saw yesterday.

“As I was leaving here, I got to the end of the levee road. At the pumpkinhouse, there is one of the most beautiful red trees you could ever see. Get a picture.”

The pumpkinhouse gets its nickname from the pumpkin displays that once were on its front porch and fence every year. If you check Janis Ceresi’s comment, she includes a link that shows what the pumpkin house used to look like on Halloween.

Wanting more information regarding the tree’s location, I called Linda back, and a friendly young woman answered. Not recognizing her voice, I asked, “Is this Linda?” She said she was. “Just where is this beautiful tree?” I asked, and she sounded confused. “Which tree?” she responded. “The one you called me about.” She then asked me, “Where are you?” and I replied, “In Point Reyes Station.”

“Well, I’m in San Francisco,” she said. We both laughed and hung up, and I called the real Linda Sturdivant.

The tree Linda saw is not the only one around here with brilliant fall colors. This allée of maple trees is across Highway 1 from Campolindo Road, where I live.

Last week I had just started down my front steps when I heard a commotion in a pyracantha bush on Doreen Miao’s property uphill from mine. Not sure what I was seeing, I grabbed my camera and started snapping photos.

Before long the source of the disturbance became obvious when a flock of wild turkeys fluttered to the ground. What had they been doing up in the bush? I was surprised that the bush’s bitter berries are safe to eat, so I checked the Seasonal Cooking website. “Contrary to a common myth, they are not poisonous,” the site said. “Pyracantha, a relative of apples and roses, is entirely edible.”  In fact, you can use the berries to make preserves and jelly.

As we head toward winter, a variety of wildlife has begun hanging around just outside the cabin. I photographed this blacktail buck just below our deck. In addition, a doe and her fawn are so comfortable here that I can walk within a few yards of them.

Last week I was looking out my kitchen window when I spotted this bobcat looking back at me.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a bobcat so close to Mitchell cabin, but it didn’t seem to mind my presence and soon resumed hunting.

Another predator that I haven’t seen for more than a year showed up this week. I didn’t see the coyote, but I found its scat in my driveway. Neighbor George Stamoulis found a fair amount of coyote scat in his driveway and saw the animal itself moseying up Campolindo Road.

Last night, Lynn and I spotted still another creature that hasn’t been around for months. A young possum showed up on my deck to eat the remainder of peanuts Lynn had put out for raccoons. Raccoons and grey foxes have become so common during the evening at Mitchell cabin that they’ve become fairly comfortable with us. We can feed them slices of bread by hand with no problem.

I’ll close on a linguistic fact I learned from the WildCare magazine this week. There is a name for the burbling sounds mother raccoons and their young make among themselves. It’s called trilling, as in Lionel, and we’ve heard it many times.

Landscape painter Thomas Wood held a two-day show in his Nicasio studio last weekend. Although many of us are familiar with his art, the chance to see so much of it displayed together in his small studio was a special treat.

The artist with (left to right at bottom) Rock Creek Canyon, Eastern Sierra and Eastern Sierra, September. Above them is a painting of Limantour Estero.

Wood has taken part in more than 65 group shows and more than 45 solo shows. Works by Wood and Point Reyes Station photographer Art Rogers were shown together at West Marin galleries in 2008 and 2009. A year ago he held a one-man show in Toby’s Feed Barn Gallery, and every year he takes part in the Ranches and Rolling Hills art show that benefits the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

Other shows have benefited Marin Conservation League, the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary. From 1998 to 2003, his 20-foot triptych Tomales Bay was on display in the Point Reyes Station Library. In 2000, one of his paintings was selected for the State Senate Art Collection. But in what may be his most unexpected recognition, from 2005 to 2008 his painting California Hills was on display at the US embassy in the Central American country of Belize.

At left: Okanagan Lake, B.C. (top) and Port of Olympia, WA (bottom).

Wood’s only painting on display that did not depict a landscape was the maritime painting at lower left, and even it was tranquil as a landscape — certainly not the Wreck of the Hesperus. (By the way, although many people think Wreck of the Hesperus was a painting, it was originally a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)

“Born in San Francisco, Wood spent childhood summers at the family ranch (settled by his great-grandfather in the 1870s) in the Carmel Valley, where he painted the golden hills and brushy canyons in the California light, beginning his lifelong love of painting and reverence for nature,” his website notes.

“He attended the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University, earning an advance degree in English. He taught writing and literature in New York and California before deciding in the 1980s to pursue a professional career as an artist.”

A third-generation artist, “he is the son of artists Mireille and Phil Wood and the grandson of the California plein air painter and muralist Gottardo Piazzoni,” the website adds.

Although Wood’s paintings were priced at $800 and up, they were selling well last weekend despite the current recession. “My work invites contemplation of nature’s truths, beauty, and relevance to our lives,” said Wood, and obviously a number of West Marin’s art collectors agreed.

The American Postal Workers Union is urging the public to back a congressional measure, House Bill 1351, so that the Postal Service will be saved rather than gutted with mail service drastically reduced.

On Sunday, an APWU member in front of Toby’s Feed Barn handed out union fliers and collected signatures in support of the proposed legislation.

“The Postal Service is critical to our economy — delivering mail, medicine, and packages on time and for a good price,” the union notes. “Yet plans are underway to close thousands of post offices, eliminate Saturday delivery, close mail processing facilities, cut services, and lay off 120,000 employees.”

What a great idea! Throw 120,000 people out of work in the middle of a recession! Sort of like lightening the ship by tossing the crew overboard.

“The problem,” the APWU says, “is that a bill passed in 2006 is pushing the Postal Service into bankruptcy. The law imposes a burden on the USPS that no other government agency or private company bears. It requires the Postal Service to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years — to ‘pre-fund’ healthcare benefits for future retirees… The $20 billion in postal losses you heard about doesn’t stem from the mail but rather from [the] congressional mandate.

“This congressional mandate costs the USPS more than $5 billion a year, and it is the cause of the Postal Service’s financial crisis. Meanwhile the USPS has overpaid billions of dollars into federal pension accounts.”

On Sunday, Point Reyes Station postal clerk Kathy Runnion sat beside the town post office gathering signatures on petitions that ask Congress to change the 2006 law. Kathy has spent the last 22 years working for the Postal Service.

“Legislation pending in the House of Representatives would prevent a collapse of the USPS — without drastic cuts in service, without massive layoffs, and without terminating collective bargaining rights for postal employees,” APWU says.

“H.R. 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), would allow the Postal Service to apply the billions of dollars in pension overpayments to meet the Postal Service’s financial obligations.

“How much will this cost you as a taxpayer?” the union asks. “Not a single cent. That’s because the Postal Service doesn’t run on tax dollars. It’s funded solely by the sale of stamps and postage.

“Approximately 200 members of the House of Representative have signed on as co-sponsers for H.R. 1351 — both Democrats and Republicans,” says APWU, “but more support is needed.”

The union notes that “the postal service hasn’t used a dime of taxpayer money in 30 years… Customer satisfaction and on-time deliveries are at record levels, labor productivity has doubled, and for six years running the American people have named postal employees the most-trusted federal workers.”

More details can be found at SaveAmericasPostalService.

Of course, the Postal Service sometimes delivers surprises. In last week’s mail I received an offer for a free cremation. Perhaps I should rush right out and get one before the offer expires.

Dr. Corey Goodman of Marshall (left), who uncovered the National Park Service’s using bogus data to discredit Drakes Bay Oyster Company (owned by the Lunny family of Inverness), questions Pete McCloskey, a retired congressman (center), and Paul Berkowitz, a retired ranger and criminal investigator for the Park Service. Behind them and serving as moderator was Laura Watt, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Sonoma State.

During a symposium Sunday afternoon in the West Marin School gym, McCloskey and Berkowitz discussed “corruption” at the top levels of the National Park Service (NPS). Low-level rangers, they agreed, were more likely to be honest.

Berkowitz, who for 33 years was a ranger and criminal investigator for NPS, has written a book, The Case of the Indian Trader, which focuses on a particularly egregious example of corruption that occurred at the Hubbell Trading post on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. The book, however, also describes many other cases of criminal behavior by NPS staff — such as child molesting, theft of government funds, and shredding crime reports on people in NPS’s favor.

More than 115 West Marin residents showed up for the symposium, forcing organizers to put out extra chairs.

McCloskey, who spent 15 years in the House of Representatives, noted that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is chaired by Darrell Issa (R-San Diego County), will begin an investigation on Nov. 7 of Point Reyes National Seashore officials. “The alleged misconduct is serious and could result in the loss of the Lunny family’s business,” Issa wrote Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. “Time is of the essence, as the family’s reservation of use expires next year.

“In light of a damaging draft Environmental Impact Statement released on Sept. 3, 2011, it is imperative that a thorough, objective review of whether NPS’s conclusions are based on flawed science occurs immediately.”

Among those summoned to testify before the committee are: Gavin Frost of the Solicitor’s Office (he has already turned up skulduggery within the Nation Seashore administration); Don Neubacher (former superintendent of the park); Jon Jarvis (NPS director, as well as the previous director of the Pacific West Region of NPS); Dr. Marcia McNutt (adviser to the NPS; Sarah Allen (former science adviser to the National Seashore); Dr. Ben Becker (NPS scientist); and Cicely Muldoon (current superintendent of the National Seashore).

McCloskey, 84, had been a colonel in the Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for outstanding service during the Korean War. The former congressman had also been a lawyer in Redwood City, a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, and a lecturer on legal ethics at the Stanford and Santa Clara law schools. He warned that any NPS official who doesn’t testify with total honestly will be charged with perjury.

Berkowtz had taken over an NPS investigation that had been triggered by Western National Parks Association allegations against Billy Malone, who operated Hubbell Trading Post. The allegations were based only on faulty intuition, but WNPA wanted Berkowtz to find something, anything, for which the trader could be prosecuted.

Berkowitz instead found that the NPS was hiding exculpatory evidence, had lied to get a search warrant, and then had seized much of Malone’s private property although the warrant did not provide for this. The case had been going on for a few years and had become expensive. WNPA, which was well over $1 million in debt, hoped to sell Malone’s personal property to pay off its debts.

The investigator said the Army’s cavalry originally kept order in national parks, which explains rangers’ uniforms. In 1916, however, the Park Service was created as a “civilian version of the military. It was disciplined, regimented, and had a rigid application of standards.” Over time, however, the Park Service abandoned critical components of military conduct, so that there’s now “an enormous variance of management competence.”

In 1976, the law that established the Park Service was strengthened, Berkowitz said, giving NPS authority to investigate all federal-law violations in national parks. He concluded by saying he loves national parks and would never want to harm them. However, he added, NPS leaders’ corruption must be stopped.


The annual pancake breakfast was held Sunday morning in the Point Reyes Station firehouse. The event is always a fundraiser for the West Marin Disaster Council and the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department.

Having fun at the pancake breakfast was Rich Clarke of Marshall, a member of the West Marin Disaster Council.

Approximately 325 people attended the pancake breakfast, and a firefighter told me the crowd was the largest in years. He credited sunny weather for bringing out so many West Marin residents.


West Marin Commons sponsored a Halloween barn dance in Toby’s Feed Barn Friday evening. Band members (from left): Brian Lamoreaux on guitar, Sue Walters on bass, Ingrid Noyes on accordion, and Erik Hoffman on fiddle. Because the feed barn is unheated and the band sits next to an open door, there will be no more barn dances this season. It’s becoming too cold for the musicians.

However line dances, square dances, and even waltzes kept the dancers warm.

Angel mother Denise Spenard of Marshall and devil daughter Maia, 8, had a jolly time wearing Halloween costumes to the barn dance.