Entries tagged with “badgers”.

To get away from the present grim realities of human society, as were discussed here last week, this week we’ll take a few looks at the fascinating realities of the non-human society that’s seen around Mitchell cabin.

This past week, my wife Lynn spotted a bobcat in a persimmon tree next to our front steps. It’s not that we live in a literal zoo. Bobcats are fairly common here and elsewhere in Point Reyes Station.

Pouncing. A bobcat pounces on a gopher not far from our deck.

Coyotes. Predators even more noticeable are the coyotes. This one is looking at my parked car. Most nights the coyotes on this hill howl to establish territory. Contrary to widespread opinion, coyotes do not howl to announce a kill, for that would invite other coyotes to steal the prey. 

Grey foxes are another set of predators we see fairly often. These are just outside the kitchen door scouring up the last of the kibble I had earlier given to some raccoons.

Badgers. Where did they go? When I first moved to this hill 45 years ago, there were a number of badger burrows. I spotted this pair one morning when I looked up from the breakfast table. They were easily visible on a nearby hillside. From their burrow’s entrance, the sow and cub were keeping an eye on the world. New badger holes used to be annual events here, but I haven’t seen a new one in five years or more.

Chipmunks are totally absent from our hill. This one apparently wandered over from Inverness Ridge a decade ago, but it didn’t stick around.

Gray squirrels can be a nuisance, and controlling them is an annual topic for discussion around here. The squirrels like to eat the cambium layer just under the bark on pines, often killing the ends of the limbs they munch on.

The possums we see around here are Virginia Opossums, which are native to North America. Their lifespan is typically around four years. Possums are marsupials with counterparts found in Central and South America, New Zealand, and Australia.

To quote Wikipedia: “A marsupial is a mammal that raises its newborn offspring inside an external pouch at the front or underside of their bodies. In contrast, a placental is a mammal that completes embryo development inside the mother, nourished by an organ called the placenta.”

A jack rabbit in our backyard. As noted here before: “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.”

Raccoons and skunks end up eating together so often they get along with each other fairly well.

A blacktail buck makes his daily appearance grazing beside Mitchell cabin. Of all the creatures I see, the bucks seem to have the most regal bearing.

A year ago I was hit with a medical problem called temporal arteritis, which sent me to the emergency room at Kaiser Hospital in Terra Linda. As I wrote here at that time, it was a big headache, but left untreated it could have led to blindness.

Temporal arteritis amounts to inflammation of an artery that goes through the temples (hence the name “temporal”) and feeds blood to the eyes. The problem is common enough that rheumatologists have developed a standard treatment using the steroid Prednisone. The cause of temporal arteritis is unknown, but it mostly hits us older folks.

Well, the Prednisone worked in that it took away the headache, but I had to consume it every day, and that itself produced temporary problems ranging from less-focused thinking to a loss of balance. I began taking increasingly serious falls. The worst was on Memorial Day when I fell to the ground from a standing position. I landed on stainless-steel metal and badly bruised the right side of my ribcage.

I had just about recovered from that fall when today I stumbled on my deck and landed on the left side of my rib cage. What a pain! As a result, I’m taking it easy on myself, which is why my posting this week consists of photos from my collection— not ruminations. Most of them have appeared here previously.

Gray squirrel at my birdbath.

The raccoons around Mitchell cabin are amazingly adventurous. These walked right in when I left the kitchen door open.

Three animals who seldom hang out together in nature — a possum, fox, and raccoon — were convinced to eat peaceably together when I scattered honey-roasted peanuts on my deck. Animal populations, however, go up and down, and I haven’t seen many foxes or possums around Mitchell cabin recently.

A blacktail doe takes a rest behind my woodshed.

Two does and a flock of wild turkeys forage side by side uphill from Mitchell cabin, both species seeming oblivious of the other.

Two years ago, a lone peacock began keeping company with the turkeys. It’s pretty but its calls sound like a woman in distress.

Coyotes can often be heard at night howling around Mitchell cabin. Getting a chance to see one is far less common.

It’s far more common to see bobcats. Here one takes a rest while hunting downhill from the cabin.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.  Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows.

Lost in thought, a gray fix sits on my picnic table.

Jackrabbits, of course, are always around. Jackrabbits, which are also known as black-tailed hares, avoid predators by using “an element of surprise and escape that works well,” Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens notes in his Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.

“When a potential predator is detected, the hare will usually take shelter in the shade of a convenient clump of vegetation or behind a rock and freeze motionless. If the predator approaches very closely, the hare leaps into stride, zigzagging across open country until it finds shelter.”

Two young does graze beside Mitchell cabin. To me all this is my home on a hill, but it could just as easily be a zoological garden.




Around the first of the year I sometimes post a roundup of the creatures that have shown up around Mitchell cabin.

This year I’m doing it again, starting with a butterfly and dragonfly followed by a variety of larger critters.

This exhibit ends with a coyote, a bobcat, two badgers, and two deer rubbing noses.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of these photos from past postings.

Here a buckeye butterfly rests on a chrysanthemum that’s growing in a flowerpot on the deck. ___________________________________________________________________

A dragonfly pauses on the twig of a tree that’s next to the deck. Dragonflies can easily be distinguished from damselflies because when they are at rest they leave their wings extended while damselflies close their wings over their bodies when at rest. __________________________________________________________________

A Pacific tree frog on a bamboo shoot near our hot tub.

Some people call them Pacific chorus frogs. During the winter, their main mating season, males make their way to water and then charm females to the water with a chorus of chirping.







Gopher snakes are not poisonous, but they mimic rattlesnakes, coiling up and wagging their tongues when threatened. This one was near the foot of our driveway.

A jackrabbit in the field outside our kitchen window pauses to look around .

This is the only chipmunk I’ve ever seen around Mitchell cabin. I’m just glad I had my camera nearby when it showed up.

A Western gray squirrel basks in the sun after taking a drink from our birdbath.

A roof rat takes a drink from the birdbath. These rats originated in southern Asia, and you’ll recall it was their fleas that spread the Black Death throughout Europe in the 14th Century, killing roughly half the people.

This cute possum used to be a regular nighttime visitor, but so many raccoons have been hanging around the cabin in the evening that we seldom see any possums these days.

Three raccoons in a tree beside Mitchell cabin. ______________________________________________________________

A gray fox enjoys the sun on our deck.








A coyote watches me park my car as I arrive back home.

A bobcat hunts outside our kitchen window.

A mother badger and her kit eye the world from their sett, as badger dens are called.

Two deer touch noses as a herd of six blacktails graze downhill from Mitchell cabin.

For reasons of space, no birds are included in this posting. Look for a gallery of our fine feathered friends in a week or two.

When I awoke Sunday morning, skies were overcast. A light rain was falling. Never before had a gloomy day looked so good. Just maybe the present drought won’t be quite as severe as we Californians have been fearing.

Sunday afternoon Lynn and I drove through through the drizzle to Marshall, where there was an opening party for an exhibition of art by Jon Langdon of Point Reyes Station.

Jon Langdon with his Cubist painting “Oops!”

The show is titled Beyond Geometry, and the subjects for all the works displayed are geometric shapes. This painting, in which the fourth cube appears to be falling off the plane, is called “Oops!”

Notwithstanding the rain and its being Super Bowl Sunday, Art by the Bay Weekend Gallery was packed for Jon’s opening, and a number of people who showed up were other artists. I immediately spotted Russell Chatham, Martha Borge, Toni Littlejohn, Chuck Eckart… I’m sure there were others whom I lost track of in all the coming and going.

Jon was a well-known contractor in West Marin for many years, and in January he gave another artist, Christine DeCamp, an interview in which he explained why he took up painting eight years ago. (The interview can be heard by clicking here.)

“I was recently divorced, and I had retired,” Langdon told Christine and then added with a laugh, “I thought, ‘I got to do something to keep myself out of the bars.’ I had done a little bit of art throughout my life. My dad was an artist, so I feel I have sort of a genetic background… It all just fell together.”

The exhibition at Art by the Bay Weekend Gallery will continue through March 30. The gallery is located at 18856 Highway 1, across the road from Tony’s Seafood.

Saturday morning brought its own special news. When I looked down into the field below my deck, I saw mounds of freshly dug dirt.

My fields are pocked with gopher holes, but I quickly realized I wasn’t looking at gopher mounds.

If that’s all they were, I reasoned, I wouldn’t notice them at that distance.

“There may be some new badger holes in our field,” I called to Lynn and went down to take a look.

Badger holes in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what I found. Five large badger holes, each about a foot in diameter. The only creature I’ve seen around here that digs a hole that big is a badger, and I haven’t seen many of them — just their setts, as badger burrows are called.

In the classic children’s story The Wind and the Willows written by Kenneth Grahame in 1908, when Ratty (a water vole) and Mole get lost in an English forest during a snowfall, Mr. Badger shelters and feeds them in his spacious sett with its long and wondrous chambers.

There’s no mistaking the entrance to a gopher hole for an entrance to a badger’s hole.

Unlike storybook badgers in Edwardian England, Point Reyes Station’s badgers eat moles and voles. Badgers are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs. They generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows. It is not uncommon for badgers to take over the burrows of prey they’ve eaten.

A mother badger (known as a “sow”) and her cub (sometimes called a “kit”) sunning themselves on the mound of dirt around their sett near Mitchell cabin five years ago.

Two “Gypsy cob” horses. Their owner, Kim Daniels of Point Reyes Station (in green jacket at left), says cobs originated in the British Isles and Europe where they were once used to pull wagons.

Although bystanders were surprised, everyone agreed it was perfectly appropriate for these two long-haired horses to show up at the main street door of Point Reyes Station’s saddlery, Cabaline, on Jan. 15.

Even the name of the day was a bit of a surprise, at least to me. As it happened, the Full Wolf Moon occurred on Jan. 15. That’s what some people call it, The Old Farmer’s Almanac says. That name for January’s full moon originated with Native Americans in the northeast, according to the almanac. Apparently wolves howled in hunger outside Indian villages during the full moon of mid-winter.

I’m going to remember that for next year when the Full Wolf Moon occurs on Jan. 5. Ahoooo!

The weather has been so pleasant the last few days that even horses in the field next to mine have taken to lying down and basking in the sun.


Meanwhile, a badger has excavated a burrow (also known as a “sett”) in the grass in front of Mitchell cabin.

As was noted here four years ago, “Badgers mate in late summer,” according to the Parks Canada website. “However, the fertilized egg does not implant into the uterus and begin to develop until February.

“This delayed implantation means that breeding can occur in the summer when the adults are most active, and young are born in the spring when food is abundant….

“They live off their mother’s milk until August when they strike off to establish their own home range.”


Badgers live in setts up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are extremely efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.

Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows.

Its common for badgers to take over the burrows of prey they’ve eaten. Given the overabundance of gophers on this hill, I suspect that’s how this sett came to be.

I’ve found a couple of other holes along my driveway where a badger apparently chased gophers into their burrows. However, the holes were small compared to the sett’s opening, leading me to infer the badger gave up the chase in these other locations.


A mother badger is known as a sow while her offspring are called cubs or kits. In May 2009, I photographed this sow and kit sunning themselves atop their sett in the horses’ pasture.


Hank Snow (1914-1999).

On old song from the western countryside. While letting my thoughts wander a week ago, I happened to remember the late Hank Snow. He was without a doubt Country and Western music’s preeminent singer from Nova Scotia.

In 1962, the highly popular performer recorded the tongue-twister hit I’ve Been Everywhere (Click here to hear). The song required awesome elocution, and it inspired more than a 125 knockoff versions.

Snow himself had taken an Australian song and reworded it for North American audiences. Many of the knockoffs localized the song’s place names to appeal to listeners in different parts of the US. Through a friend from Florida, I knew of a version aimed specifically at certain cities and towns in that state. (The singer, however, couldn’t begin to match Snow’s virtuosity.)


A mysterious turn of events: In my March 31 posting, I noted that according to Google Analytics, which tracks visits to this blog, the number of readers in my hometown of Point Reyes Station had plummeted to zero during the first few days of last month while readership in Sunnyvale mushroomed. Offhandedly I  joked, “Has Silicon Valley hijacked West Marin?”

The posting must have caught somebody’s eye. Within a week of its going online —according to Google Analytics statistics — visits to this blog  from Sunnyvale fell off to virtually none.


Meanwhile — again according to Google Analytics statistics — the number of visits to this blog  from Point Reyes Station residents returned to normal. Could this be coincidence? The history of the Old West is replete with unsolved mysteries.

From a butterfly to a pair of badgers, from a newt and a salamander to a bobcat and a coyote, this posting is a collection of some of my favorites from among the photos I’ve taken of wildlife around Mitchell cabin.

A Buckeye butterfly atop a chrysanthemum on my deck.

Closeup of an amphibian — an arboreal salamander.

Lying low — another amphibian.

A Pacific tree frog’s color depends on where it is at the moment. Unlike chameleons, whose colors change to match background colors, tree frogs’ colors change (between brown and green) depending on how dry or moist their surroundings are.

A poisonous amphibian.

The skin of a California newt such as this secretes a neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, that is hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide.

A macho reptile.

Male Western fence lizards do pushups to intimidate other males. In the process they reveal their blue undersides, which is why they’re sometimes called Blue-bellies.

A colorful but seldom seen reptile.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A beady-eyed garter snake warms itself in the sun on my driveway.

Garter snakes are the most-common genus of reptile in North America. Although they are venomous, their venom is too mild to harm humans. However, when they’re disturbed, garter snakes emit a foul-smelling secretion from a gland near their anus.

Common garter snakes come in innumerable variations and are found in fields, forests and wetlands nationwide. Like this snake, adults average about four feet in length. In West Marin, their diet typically consists of tadpoles, slugs, and earthworms. But unlike other snakes, they don’t eat insects. When first born, the snakes are prey for bullfrogs. Hawks and foxes eat adults.

Gopher snakes are non-venomous although they don’t want you to know it.

“When disturbed, the gopher snake will rise to a striking position, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly and shake its tail at the intruder,” the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website notes. “These defensive behaviors, along with its body markings, frequently cause the gopher snake to be mistaken for a rattlesnake.”

Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window.

Heading for a drink at the birdbath on Mitchell cabin’s deck, a crow hops over a second crow, which stays put at their birdseed buffet.

A great blue heron hunting gophers in my field.

Chipmunks visit Mitchell cabin only occasionally, so I felt lucky to snap this photo of one.

A Western gray squirrel as seen from my bedroom window.

Every morning the ground around Mitchell cabin is littered with the freshly cut tips of pine branches because of this squirrel and his clan. Squirrels like to feed on pine trees’ cambium layer, which is immediately under the bark, and in the process they gnaw off twigs.

Trying not to be noticed.

West Marin’s large jackrabbits, which some people call black-tailed hares, are often seen in the late afternoon and evening around Mitchell cabin. To avoid catching the eye of predators, jackrabbits typically sit motionless unless the danger comes too close. Then they suddenly spring away, making sharp, evasive turns as they flee.

A gray fox on Mitchell cabin’s deck.

Young raccoons retreat to a tree when they feel threatened by other animals.

A blacktail doe nurses one of her two fawns.

Relying on its spots for camouflage, a newly born fawn tries to be invisible in tall grass by lying absolutely motionless even though I was leaning over it to take a photo.

A buck and two fawns bounding across tractor-mowed grass.

A mother badger and her cub sun themselves on the mound of dirt around their burrow (known as a “sett”).

A bobcat hunting outside my kitchen window.

A coyote heads for cover in — appropriately enough — a patch of coyote brush.

Besides photographing the wildlife around Mitchell cabin, I also enjoy having a bit of fun with it. My posting about encouraging a bodhisattva possum on her path to spiritual enlightenment has proven to be one of the best-read I’ve ever put online.

I take each species’ disposition into account when determining what it is best suited to learn. Raccoons, as you might guess, are natural bartenders.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in training wildlife has been convincing different species to get along with each other.

I felt a bit like a miracle worker when I finally got a possum, a fox, and a raccoon — none of which traditionally like each other — to dine nose to nose just outside my kitchen door.

I did it by setting out well-separated handfuls of peanuts for them and over time moving the handfuls closer and closer together. Now why can’t diplomats do that in the Middle East?