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Roof rats are a fact of life throughout West Marin, causing extensive damage by chewing on stored belonging and particularly on the wiring of automobile engines. A couple of times over the years, Cheda’s Garage has repaired rat damage to my cars.

Roof rats on Mitchell cabin’s deck eating leftover seeds scattered for the birds.

Of recent, the rats have annoyed my wife Lynn by eating the buds off a potted camellia I had given her as a Valentine’s present several years ago. On Tuesday, Newy, the stray cat we’ve adopted, went digging in a wine-barrel half that holds a clump of bamboo. Immediately an adult rat jumped out of a second hole on the other side of the barrel and ran off.

Newy kept on digging and soon caught a baby rat. Here she leans into the barrel to inspect a rat hole before sticking her claws into the creatures at the bottom. She had already snared one newborn (at left) and ultimately caught a total of four. 

The newborn roof rats were so young their eyes hadn’t yet opened. Nor had they grown fur coats. Nature red in tooth and claw reveals where Newy grabbed the first unlucky creature.


Jesus to the rescue. As noted here last week, the grass around Mitchell cabin needed to be cut ahead of the fire season. In addition, the fields were becoming dotted with clumps of prickly thistles. As I’ve done in previous years, I called Jesus Macias who showed up Monday with a riding mower and two weed-whacking helpers.

They did a great job but had to leave a small patch of grass near the kitchen uncut because of a swarm of bumblebees there. Luckily I was able to cover myself up so completely two days later that I managed to weed-whack that patch without getting stung. A small swarm did form, but I left before they went after me.

Reader Mike Gale, a Chileno Valley beef rancher, responded to last week’s reference to the Mother Goose rhyme’s timing for cutting thistles: “Cut thistles in May,/ They’ll grow in a day;/ Cut them in June,/ That is too soon;/ Cut them in July,/ Then they will die.”

As was noted, however, Mother Goose rhymes were originally penned 300 years ago in the more-northern latitudes of England and France, where the growing season starts later. Thistles in West Marin need to be cut a month earlier. “Yes, this is the time for the attack mode,” Mike wrote me. “Unfortunately thistles are probably the last species to be affected by the drought.”


Still swallowing. Another item in the last posting concerned cliff swallows building a nest in the eves above our kitchen door. We’ve now seen at least two adult swallows in the mostly completed nest, prompting me to read a startling fact about cliff-swallow nesting.

“Individuals often lay eggs in other individuals’ nests within the same colony,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports. “It has been observed that some [of these] parasitic swallows have even tossed out their neighbors’ eggs and replaced them with their own offspring.”