Entries tagged with “blacktail deer”.


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.

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.

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As often happens, just when I was wondering what to blog about this week, the wildlife around Mitchell cabin showed up to provide material.

A cliff swallow sails up to a nest under our eves. Over the past month, swallows have built the nest two stories up over our kitchen.

By now, the first clutch of eggs has hatched. Given how high the nest is, Lynn and I found it amazing that parts of three shells landed fairly intact on a woodbox below after being pushed out when no longer needed. A bit of blood can be seen in the near shell.

From what I read, “The breeding season for swallows lasts from March through September. They often produce two clutches per year, with a clutch size of 3 to 5 eggs. Eggs incubate between 13 and 17 days, and the chicks fledge in 18 to 24 days.”

This makes me suspect we’ll see another crop of chicks this summer,

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A blacktail doe and one of her fawns nuzzling each other struck Lynn and me as an extremely happy scene. However….

Lynn was far less happy when the doe and fawns headed to the nasturtium bed she recently planted, forcing her to start walking up to the deer family before they moved on.

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A bumblebee heads downhill to its swarm’s hole in the dirt. When we were getting the fields around Mitchell cabin mowed and weed whacked on June 10, as was reported here, the workers did a great job but had to leave one patch of grass untrimmed; when they went near it, they were met by a swarm of bumblebees. By being alert, I was able to sneak into the patch twice a few days later to finish the job. In the process, I finally located their well-hidden nest. I’d not seen one before.

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Some oddities are always the same, so to speak. Last week I posted the photo at left of a raccoon and fox I’d seen dining together just outside our kitchen door 10 days ago. Thursday night I spotted the same dinner companions but with positions reversed. There’s nothing like a few handfuls of kibble to bring about inter-species harmony.                                                                                                         

This week we’ll look animals, both domestic and wild, in the eye to get a sense of what they see.

Newy, the stray cat we’ve taken in and who has been mentioned here before, can have an intense gaze when she’s looking off at something. It’s noticeable enough that it prompted me to look into, so to speak, the eyes of not only cats but other animals as well. A cat’s vision is not as all-powerful as it appears. A cat is most sensitive to blues and yellows and does not see colors like red, orange, or brown.

A blacktail doe looks up from grazing outside our bedroom window. The pupils in a deer’s eyes are horizontal, not round, and a flash camera makes them look blue.

A coyote displays his predatory nature as he stares into a field. As it happens, just now as I type this, coyotes are howling outside Mitchell cabin. (Photo by neighbor Dan Huntsman)

The no-nonsense look of a bobcat in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Foxes too are predatory, but their gaze makes them appear more curious than vicious.

Possums have good night vision but don’t distinguish between colors very well. Overall, their vision is so weak they must depend on smell and touch to find food.

Skunks, like possums, have very poor vision and navigate largely via their senses of smell and hearing.

Wild turkeys, on the other hand, see in color and “have an excellent daytime vision that is three times better than a human’s eyesight and covers 270 degrees,” according to ‘Facts about Wild Turkeys.’ “They have poor vision at night, however, and generally become warier as it grows darker.”

‘Livingbird Magazine’ reports that “Great Blue Herons can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.” Near Mitchell cabin, a gopher with the baleful stare of death hangs from the heron’s beak.

Buzzards have such “keen eyesight,” Seaworld claims, that “it is believed they are able to spot a three-foot carcass from four miles away on the open plains.”

A stern stare. Coopers Hawks are skillful hunters and like other hawks have excellent vision.

The smirk of a Western Fence Lizard (also known as a Blue Belly for obvious reasons). It’s one of the most common lizards around Mitchell cabin. As for their vision, most lizards have excellent eyesight, and some can see into the UV spectrum. 

Somehow my work glove hand ended up on the persimmon, and my bare hand on the barbed-wire fence. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

This moment became a test of my vision — and not in looking at the persimmons growing between the fields of Mitchell cabin and Arabian Horse Adventures. After some staring, I concluded that the Arabian waiting patiently for a persimmon is, in fact, a female mule. Nonetheless, I eventually gave her some fruit.  Later I found out the mule had arrived in the pasture not long ago after its owner died. So far I’ve never seen any of the stable’s trail riders on it. Arabian Mule Adventures? 

 

Located on a grassy hillside, Mitchell cabin is constantly in the midst of various wildlife — at least 40 species and subspecies of birds, along with various snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, deer, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, gophers, roof rats, field mice, squirrels, cottontails, jack rabbits (which are actually hares), bobcats, and the occasional badger.

I’m always impressed by how often the different species manage to get along with each other.

A flock of wild turkeys casually wander past a couple of grazing deer.

The turkeys, in fact, are so indifferent to the deer that when a young buck challenges a weary companion, they don’t even notice.

And even when the two bucks start actually sparring, the turkeys just continue their hunting and pecking.

A flock of Canada geese fly overhead honking as they go.

Add a domestic cat to this mix and the wildlife come to resemble zoo animals. Here Newy, the stray cat we adopted last summer, climbs a persimmon tree to take it all in. Last week’s posting showed her in the grass interacting with deer and wild turkeys.

Many of Newy’s wildlife displays, however, present themselves at our kitchen door. Here she studies a gray fox eating dog kibble left behind by raccoons.

The fox soon spots Newy but just gives her a quick glance.

Newy was traveling with several raccoons when she first showed up in late July. A veterinarian, who later spayed her and trimmed her claws, estimated her age as five to six months. While she enjoys keeping an eye on her raccoon friends, the unfamiliar skunks particularly fascinate her. Like the fox, a couple of skunks regularly show up to enjoy the last of the raccoons’ dinner. For her, the scene is all part of the zoo in which she finds herself now living

This posting is a bit late, but I’ve been having various problems with the computer program that loads the photos. Finally tonight a friend in Glenview, Illinois, David LaFontaine, over the phone helped me solve the problems, so now we’re off and running again.

This hurry-up posting, now that I can get back online, is simply a random mix of animal photos shot this past week, political cartoons, and religious humor that relatives have sent me.

A bonding experience. A blacktail doe near Mitchell cabin cleans her fawn’s ear last Monday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The bonding is complete as the fawn responds by nuzzling its mother. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The stray cat we have taken in, Newy, joins a couple of deer grazing in our field last Sunday. Despite their close proximity, none of them seem at all nervous. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Newy, however, is a bit nervous as wild turkeys stroll past the cabin right behind the deer. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

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Goodnight, West Marin.

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And now for some religious humor that my cousin Leck Mitchell and his wife Pat sent me from Colorado.

A Sunday school teacher asked her class, “What was Jesus’ mother’s name?”  One child answered, “Mary.”

The teacher then asked, “Who knows what Jesus’ father’s name was?” 

A little kid said, “Verge.”

Confused, the teacher asked, “Where did you get that?” 

The kid said, “Well, you know, they are always talking about Verge n’ Mary.” 

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I had been teaching my three-year old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer.

Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer:

“Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us from email.”

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A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” 

One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”

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Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang, and talked outloud. Finally, his big sister had enough.

“You’re not supposed to talk outloud in church.”

“Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked.

 Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, “See those two men
standing by the door? They’re hushers.”

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It’s been a generally good week in this old man’s world. Old is the operative word here. I turned 77 on Monday. My gait is increasingly unsteady, but I’m still carrying about 75 pounds of firewood uphill to Mitchell cabin each day. Lynn took me out for a birthday lunch at River Front Cafe’s outdoor tables beside the Petaluma River. A beautiful scene, and everyone maintained proper distancing. On Thursday, Lynn and I celebrated Thanksgiving, with Lynn’s preparing along with the turkey, homemade stuffing, her own cranberry sauce, and squash raviolis.

And while all this was going on, the fields around Mitchell cabin began turning from brown to green thanks to the rains two weeks ago.

The green shoots attract blacktail deer, and as many as eight at a time have begun showing up for the feast. For dessert, they often dine on persimmons that have fallen from our tree on the other side of the cabin.

The rains also eliminated any further risks of a flareup from the Woodward fire. The fire, which blackened 5,000 acres in the Point Reyes National Seashore beginning Aug. 18, has taken firefighters two months to fully control. The rains should have doused almost all smoldering ashes, the Park Service reported this past week.

Thanksgiving eve raccoon lineup on our deck.

A mother raccoon with her four kits show up outside our window every evening hoping to be fed, and we usually give them a few handfuls of dog kibble.

The raccoons around here appear to be thriving although further south around Muir Beach and inland to Mill Valley distemper has begun showing up in raccoons and foxes, WildCare warned this week. Coyotes and skunks, as well as domestic dogs, are also susceptible to the disease.

The organization noted, “Wild animals with distemper may exhibit a lack of coordination or balance, approachability, seizures, and/or discharge from eyes and nose….

“Concerned residents who see an animal in distress should call WildCare’s Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-7283 or contact Marin Humane at 415-883-4621.”

Canada geese — heading to Drakes Estero for the night — fly over Mitchell cabin around sunset daily. They don’t wear masks, but they do maintain social distancing.

Also flying over head.

Something many of us said thanks for yesterday occurred in Washington. Donald Trump, who keeps denying he lost the Nov. 3 presidential election, finally said he will leave the White House by Jan. 20 if Democratic president-elect Joe Biden wins the electoral college vote on Dec. 14. Biden racked up 306 electoral college votes three weeks ago and needs only 270 to win. Trump in comparison picked up only 232 votes, which may account for his hair turning gray in the week after the election (see photo in Nov. 19 posting).

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.

While sheltering at home, Lynn and I are taking even more photos than usual of the creatures around the cabin. Here are a few new shots.

Seen out our front window. A blackbird feeds birdseed to her chick as a Band-tailed Pigeon watches and a crow shows up to share in the birdseed.

A female Brewers Blackbird looks up from pecking birdseed off the railing of our deck to find a large, dark creature looming over her.

The creature turned out to be a Band-tailed Pigeon, one of the many who started showing up in numbers near Mitchell cabin in the past year.

A young Scrub Jay scans the hillside from a bamboo stick being used to prop up a young pine. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Probably the most-interesting bird hanging around Mitchell cabin this past week has been an immature Great Blue Heron, who has repeatedly shown up to hunt gophers. (Coincidentally, the previous posting here features an egret likewise hunting nearby.)

After standing poised above a gopher mound for several minutes, the young heron suddenly speared a gopher the moment it stuck its head up to look around. The alignment of a heron’s neck allows it to shoot its beak forward in a split second.

A Blacktail doe yesterday led her fawn on a walk around the cabin.

The fawn appeared to thoroughly enjoy the adventure, but when it got even a short distance ahead of the doe, it would look back to make sure its mother was close behind.

A moth caterpillar on our deck railing approaches an unrecognizable fellow insect. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

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.

With Covid-19 regulations causing everyone to stay at home most of the time, we who have the good fortune to live in rural small towns at least have nature to keep our days interesting. Along with all the raccoons, deer, skunks, rabbits, and coyotes (which we hear most nights) around Mitchell cabin, Lynn and I also have an immense variety of birdlife to entertain us.

An egret walking at the edge of Mitchell cabin’s parking area last week.

We sometimes don’t see egrets near the cabin during the winter, but in springtime, they usually start showing up.  Around the end of the 19th Century, it became popular to use egret feathers to adorn hats, and in North America, egrets were hunted for their feathers almost to the point of extinction. Thankfully, they were saved by passage of the federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918. Each spring, colonies of egrets and great blue herons, can now be seen nesting high in evergreens at Audubon Canyon Ranch beside Bolinas Lagoon.

The strike. After standing motionless for a brief time, the egret suddenly spears a frog in the grass.

Holding a dark green frog (barely visible) with the end of its beak, the hunter contentedly walks off.

The beauty of an egret taking flight.

High flyer. On Sunday, I spotted a heron sitting near the top of a tall pine tree on which ravens frequently perch to survey their kingdom.

A blacktail doe running lightly along the edge of our driveway on Monday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Her fawn meanwhile had to bound through the grass to keep up with her. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Just like national affairs, West Marin’s sunsets have been dramatic of recent — but the drama’s been happier here. This is how Sunday ended. Yea for nature.

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.

Many of the blacktail deer around Mitchell cabin appear to have large sores on the inside of a back leg. If they were indeed sores, that would be worrisome. What is going on? Do their knees bump against each other when they run? As it turns out, all’s well. It’s just a matter of deer being able to do things we humans would never try.

In this photo of deer-turkey Siamese twins I posted a few weeks back, the spot on the deer’s left hind leg looks downright bloody. But as I have now read on a whitetail hunting website, what we’re seeing is not a sore but a tuft of hair whose purpose is to catch urine for the deer’s “tarsal gland”:

“Each hair is associated with an enlarged sebaceous or ‘fat’ gland that secretes an oily material that coats the hair. When a [squatting] deer ‘rub-urinates’ — allowing urine to soak the tarsal gland —  the oily secretions absorb certain compounds in the urine. Studies have shown a diverse population of different species of bacteria living in the tuft of hair that makes up the tarsal gland. These bacteria interact with the compounds from urine in a way that creates the characteristic color and odor.

“Does, bucks and even fawns rub-urinate year-round, but bucks do it more often in the breeding season, which is why the stain and odor of a buck’s tarsal gland is more prominent during the rut. Changes in the composition of a buck’s urine also likely contribute. Older, more dominant bucks tend to rub-urinate more frequently, so the stained area is larger. In some cases, the stain extends down the inside of each leg.

“The exact mix of bacteria is unique from deer to deer, which may give each deer a unique scent that other deer can recognize. This scent is likely deposited in scrapes when a deer rub-urinates and urine flows over the tarsal gland onto the ground. It is likely tarsal-gland scent carries information about the dominance status, sex, health condition and possibly other characteristics of the deer it came from.”

A tarsal gland on a whitetail deer.

Turning to other oddities, I’ve had two recently at the Safeway in San Anselmo’s Red Hill Shopping Center. The first occurred around the beginning of the year on a day I was driving my backup car, a 28-year-old Nissan, to give it some exercise. I parked in Safeway’s lot, but when I later tried to drive away, the battery was dead. A neighboring driver let me attach jumper cables to his battery, but it did no good. I thanked the man and went looking for a phone to call AAA.

I don’t own a cellphone, and there was no payphone to be found. Luckily a friendly woman in a real estate office let me use their phone, and I called AAA but got a dispatcher in God knows what part of the world. After I explained I needed a tow operator to get my car started, I told her it was a white, 1992 Nissan with its hood open, parked in front of the Red Hill Safeway in San Anselmo.

“Is Safeway a store?” the dispatcher wanted to know. “Yes,” I told her. “It’s a supermarket.”

“What state is San Anselmo in?” I told her “California.”

“What’s the street address….?” The dispatcher went on and on like this as the woman in the real estate office rolled her eyes. Finally the dispatcher told me a tow truck would come by in 45 minutes to an hour and a half.  I groaned, thanked the woman in the real estate office, and the tow truck was there in 10 minutes. The call took almost that long.

More bizarre yet, while in the same store one day last week, I went into the men’s room and entered a stall only to have a metal panel that formed the main wall of the cubicle fall over on me. I was startled but not hurt, and I subsequently informed a store clerk that the men’s room needed attention.

The deer, at least, never have to worry about such mishaps.

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.

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.