Entries tagged with “cliff swallows”.


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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.                                                                                                         

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.

My wife Lynn dealt with the tedium of the shelter-in-place lockdown in part by watching British murder mysteries in the evening. I myself seldom watch TV and instead endured the lockdown by watching the wildlife around Mitchell cabin. Here’s what I’ve been seeing.

 

A raccoon and a gray fox got together for an ecumenical dinner outside our kitchen door Monday night. Raccoons can be aggressive when other raccoons try to horn in on their kibble snacks, but foxes and skunks get a free pass.

 

Wild turkeys are regular visitors to our fields, often accompanied by a lonely peacock whose screams sound like a woman crying out for help.

 

 

A stinky trio, three skunks march around the field above Mitchell cabin in tight formation.

 

 

Jackrabbits are showing up more as summer approaches.

 

A squirrel stops by our birdbath for a drink.

 

A roof rat and towhee have an ecumenical dinner of their own, quietly snacking on birdseed atop our picnic table.

 

The local bobcat walked downhill toward Lynn Monday while she was transplanting nasturtiums in our garden. When the bobcat saw her, it didn’t abruptly flee but merely trotted off into a neighboring field. My homeless friend, Billy Hobbs, tells of having an unconcerned bobcat walk quite close to him while he was sleeping along Papermill Creek near the Green Bridge. “I’ll bet it’s the same one,” he said Tuesday when I told him of Lynn’s encounter. (For the moment, Billy is being housed in Motel 6 at county expense.)

 

Other predators that keep us company are coyotes who howl for our entertainment more nights than not.

During the pandemic lockdown, enough people were staying at home that coyotes began more freely wandering about in nearby San Francisco, with experts estimating there are 40 to 70 of them.

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.

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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.

Italian thistles in our field.

A clump of thistles in a field outside Mitchell cabin ambushed me this week. I tripped over one and fell into the clump. It was so painful I told myself, “I need Jesus’ help. He’s rescued me before.”

So I called Jesus Macias and asked him to bring his tractor mower and weed-whacking brethren over next week to chop the thistles. They’ll all be here Monday.

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. — Mother Goose rhyme.

Mother Goose rhymes were, of course, 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.

Eleven years ago I published a posting titled the Mother Goose Method for Getting Rid of Thistles (click here to read), and to my surprise it continues to garner readers every year, making it one of my best read ever. Somehow people keep finding it.

However, I don’t know how much you can infer from that. The best-read posting by far on this blog is A Chat with the Trailside Killer (click here to read). which I also posted 11 years ago. The fact that mass murders continue to haunt this country may explain readers’ continued interest.

Blacktail doe hidden by tall grass. Important as it is to cut back our thistles it’s probably even more important that Jesus’ crew will be cutting the grass just ahead of the fire season.

A cliff swallow sits in mud nest it’s helping build.

Last week I wrote about the various creatures that sleep at Mitchell cabin. Now we’re adding another. A family of cliff swallows is building a nest above our kitchen door. It happens every year, and other swallows will probably soon build neighboring nests.

They’re fun to have around, but it’s always sad when one of the nests comes loose, falls off the wall, and shatters on our deck below. For now we’re being careful to avoid shutting the kitchen door hard enough to shake the nest.

If you go out in the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today
You’d better go in disguise.

For ev’ry bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Ev’ry teddy bear who’s been good
Is sure of a treat today.
There’s lots of marvelous things to eat
And wonderful games to play.

Beneath the trees where nobody sees
They’ll hide and seek as long as they please
Cause that’s the way the teddy bears have their picnic.

If you go down to the woods today
You’d better not go alone.
It’s lovely down in the woods today
But safer to stay at home.

Written by the Irish composer Jimmy Kennedy (1902-84), who also wrote Red Sails in the Sunset.

A Western fence lizard basking in the sun on my front steps last week. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

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 pair of Cliff swallows tried for three weeks to build a mud nest under the second-floor eaves of Mitchell cabin only to have the mud come loose from the wall and the nests come crashing down. Each collapse was disheartening for me and no doubt worse for the swallows. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Finally a couple of swallows got a nest going, building it with pellets of mud from the nearby stockpond. A typical nest is made up of approximately 1,000 pellets, which represents 1,000 roundtrips to the stockpond. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

A week ago the swallows completed their nest. Stain on the bottom of the eaves shows where previous nests had been attempted. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

The female lays three to five eggs, and both parents take turns incubating them. The eggs typically hatch in 12 to 17 days. The young begin to fly when they’re 20 to 25 days old. The young live in or near the nest for a few days for their parents to feed them, and they remain in the area for several weeks. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Rounding out this tour of nature around Mitchell cabin, a covey of quail hunt for birdseed that has blown off my deck and landed in the grass below. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

We’ll end this week’s program with a faux-Irish lullaby sung by Bing Crosby. Click here, then sit back, feel nostalgic, fall asleep, and we’ll see you here next week.