Archive for February, 2020

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A coyote prowling, appropriately enough, near our coyote brush.

Coyotes were loudly howling Thursday night down at the foot of our cul de sac, creating the impression that something big was occurring. But as the Human-Wildlife Interactions journal explained in 2017, some mistakenly believe howling indicates that a group of coyotes has made a kill.

Coyotes howl for various reasons, and it is not likely because they have downed prey. Doing so would draw attention and might attract competing coyotes or other predators to their location, which is not something a hungry coyote would want to do. Coyotes howl and yip primarily to communicate with each other and establish territory. They may bark when they are defending a den or a kill. When coyotes are noisy, it often creates an exaggerated impression as to how many are on hand, largely because of the mixing of howls and yips.

There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because of poisoning by sheep ranchers in northwest Marin and southern Sonoma counties. However, coyotes never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, and after the Nixon Administration banned the poison 10-80, they started spreading south and showed up here again in 1983. Since then coyotes have put an end to well over half the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.

Three horses belonging to Point Reyes Arabian Adventures grazing outside our bedroom window last week.

By chance, I’ve recently listened several times to the Irish singer Van Morrison singing his 1989 composition Coney Island. It’s a pastoral song, which seems to contain an odd reference to cocaine: “Coney Island/ Coming down from Downpatrick/ Stopping off at St. John’s Point/ Out all day birdwatching/ And the crack was good.”

The reality, of course, is that he’s actually saying “craic,” which is a relatively new Irish word for fun or entertainment. It was borrowed in the last century from Ulster and Scotland, where it is pronounced crack.

Jackrabbit outside Mitchell cabin.

Coney Island in Van Morrison’s song does not refer to the amusement park in Brooklyn but to an island off County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. And here’s where the story gets interesting. By most accounts, Dutch settlers named Ireland’s Coney Island after the many rabbits found there, konijn being a Dutch word for rabbit.

In the late 1700s, a merchant ship, Arethusa, regularly sailed between Sligo and New York City. After seeing an abundance of rabbits on a New York island, Peter O’Connor, the ship’s captain, named the place Coney Island because it reminded him of the Coney Island in Sligo Bay. During the 1920s and 1930s, Coney Island, New York, became a peninsula when a creek separating it from the rest of the city was filled in.

Raccoons are nightly visitors at Mitchell cabin, and I’ve come to see at least two sides of their personalities. They’re cute and able to beg for handouts, but they get skittish if I’m too close, quickly backing away when I open a door. And that’s probably for the best. Over the years, West Marin’s raccoons have prompted numerous calls to the Sheriff’s Office from people who thought they heard a prowler on their porch or roof at night.

Skunks drop by Mitchell cabin most nights, aggressively competing with the raccoons for food. They don’t spray but forcefully shoulder aside raccoons, even though the latter are noticeably bigger. I’m fascinated by all this and find it shameful how misguided county policy towards the two species was six decades ago. In 1958, Marin County supervisors began offering $1 bounties for skunk and raccoon tails. Fortunately after three weeks, the board reversed itself and dropped the offer — not because it was cruel but because young hunters with small-bore rifles were shattering too many windows.

Despite appearances, this raccoon is not trying to look fierce. It’s merely chomping down hard on a piece of kibble.

If raccoons show up on our deck wanting to be fed and realize we don’t know they’re out there, some will make us see them through our living room windows by standing on their hind legs atop a small bench or the woodbox and staring in at us. If we still don’t see them, they often create a squeal by dragging the pads of their front paws down the glass.

Wild turkeys are native to Canada, Mexico, the American Midwest, and the East Coast but not West Marin although they are now found throughout this area. In the 1950s, the state Department of Fish and Game released some wild turkeys in Napa County because they were so popular with hunters. In 1988, Fish and Game biologists took a few birds from the Napa flock and released them on Loma Alta Ridge between Big Rock and Woodacre.

Few people hunt the turkeys these days, flocks have increased in number and size, and the turkeys have become rather bold. In 2001, two Tom turkeys went after a couple of school children riding scooters in Tomales. The children had to escape on foot, leaving their scooters behind. Now who’s doing the hunting?

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Needing a break from the political scene, I spent much of the past week photographing the critters that show up at Mitchell cabin.

Eleven blacktail deer grazing near Mitchell cabin last Saturday.

Following the deer up the hill were 21 wild turkeys.

Which led to an unusual stare-down.

For almost three years there’d been a dearth of possums around Mitchell cabin, but this past week two showed up on our deck after dark to nibble kibble.

Here a possum and raccoon dined together with no confrontations Sunday evening.

Raccoons, of course, are fairly comfortable around a number of other animals. Here four of them ate kibble alongside a skunk last fall.

And here a possum dined contentedly between two gray foxes just outside our kitchen door awhile back.

But the most integrated dining I have seen were this possum, fox, and raccoon, which I photographed together next to the kitchen door in 2011.

Monday morning Lynn woke me up so I could see this sharp-shinned hawk on the railing of our lower deck. The young hawk’s expression is mighty stern, and I fear it may be hunting the birds that show up on our upper deck to eat birdseed. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

In short, not all wildlife live in harmony around 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.

The president isn’t just two-faced (Huffington Post graphic).

 You may recall the violence when white nationalists including the Ku Klux Klan held a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, NC, in 2017.  They were protesting the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.  As The New York Times then reported, “Groups such as the Neo-Nazi movement and the KKK have felt emboldened since the election of Donald J. Trump as president.” 

David Duke, former imperial wizard of the KKK, told the rally they were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump to take back our country.”  However, a peaceful counter-demonstration then followed, and this prompted one of the white nationalists, James Alex Fields, 20, of Ohio, to speed his car into the group, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 34 others.

Fields was quickly charged with second-degree murder and three counts of malicious wounding, but Trump refused to publicly criticize the white nationalist and instead falsely claimed there had been “violence on many sides.” In fact, Trump often amazes us by sticking up for disreputable public figures, such as Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, whom he says is “smart” and whom he credits with having “done an amazing job.” The result can make for some strange alliances.

From within Russia, US citizen Rinaldo Nazzaro runs an American Neo-Nazi group. He “left New York for St. Petersburg less than two years ago,” the British Broadcasting Company reported on Jan. 24.

“The American founder of a US-based, militant Neo-Nazi group, The Base, is directing the organization from Russia, a BBC investigation has found…. The Base is a major counter-terrorism focus for the FBI. Seven alleged members were charged this month with various offenses, including conspiracy to commit murder.

“Court documents prepared by the FBI describe The Base as a ‘racially motivated violent extremist group’ that ‘seeks to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethnographies-state,'” the BBC added.

Perhaps Putin’s hosting one of our domestic terrorists is yet another international “favor” our president wants.

First Lady Melania Trump previously modeled for the British ‘Gentleman’s Quarterly’ magazine. Obviously Trump considers her “hot” since he has made a point of prizing “hot” women. Two decades ago, he went so far as to openly promote his teenaged daughter’s sexiness.

In 1997 when his daughter Ivanka was 16, she hosted the Miss Teen USA pageant, and while she was on-stage, Trump turned to the then-Miss Universe and asked, “Don’t you think my daughter’s hot? She’s hot, right?” 

Never before in this country’s history has there been such a bizarre administration, and hopefully there’ll never be another. 

Candidate Bill Bailey (at far right) listening to jazz in Sausalito’s No Name Bar last Friday.

Thankfully, American politics on the local level are generally more traditional and draw more reasonable candidates, at least in this county. In West Marin, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni is currently running for reelection against challenger Alex Easton Brown. In Southern Marin, the Board of Supervisors seat is open, and Bill Bailey is one of the candidates for it. He’s a technical engineer running on a platform of fiscal reform.

Bailey frequently shows up for the Friday jazz performances at the No Name, just as I do. I’m not familiar with his campaign, but I’ve come to recognize him. Even when he’s squinting into my camera’s flash, his low-key, movie-star looks are unmistakeable.

Joining Lynn and me and our homeless friend Billy Hobbs at the No Name Friday was another friend, Guido Hennig of Switzerland, an engineer who visits San Francisco annually for business conferences. Given our nation’s political turmoil, I asked him about Europe’s impression of Trump and was told that it’s generally not very good. No surprise there.

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 shoulder of Highway 1 uphill from downtown Point Reyes Station is not all that wide, as one unfortunate couple discovered Saturday. I have no idea why they left the road.

Creeping discrimination: We’ve all heard President Trump railing against refugees from south of the border because, according to him, many of them are murders and rapists. And last week he banned immigrants from still more Muslim countries as supposed threats to national security. Now, if you believe the headlines, the State of California wants to take all this a step further and get rid of all its teenagers.

San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 29, 2020

And:

Teenagers, I suppose, have always been considered troublemakers, but how far should we go in protecting ourselves? Perhaps we could let most of them remain in California but keep them under house arrest.

I

It certainly seems as if the sun is setting on that promising new world in which I grew up.

Many in the country, though, have been working hard on electoral matters, including informing voters who have been “deregistered” in various Republican-controlled states (i.e. letting them know how to check their registration to make they can vote). Voter suppression has been a method of disenfranchisement for almost as long as the Republic has stood, but now it is being confronted by various groups, including The Center for Common Ground’s Reclaim Our Vote project. Residents involved with Indivisible West Marin organized a talk last week by Andrew Miller, the ROV founder. There are ways to help, from telephoning to post carding to texting voters in other states.  All hope is not lost.