Entries tagged with “gray foxes”.

Lynn had repeatedly commented on the beautiful markings framing the face of one particular female raccoon that drops by Mitchell cabin each evening for a few slices of bread.

“Our Beautiful Raccoon,” a photograph from June 8 by Lynn Axelrod.

The same raccoon with three young kits on June 26.

We’d been wondering if Ms. Raccoon was feeding a family, and last week she confirmed our suspicions when she brought a set of young triplets along with her one evening. The kits for the most part stayed close to their mother.

Mom, as would be expected, was protective of them. Here she keeps an eye on another raccoon as it approaches the cabin.

As is often the case, one of the kits is bolder than the others. While its siblings (upper left) try to stay out of sight behind the woodbox, this one joins mom out on the deck hunting for scraps of bread.

If I accidentally drop a slice of bread before I can hand it to her, mom doesn’t hesitate to reach into the kitchen for it. That, of course, is hardly surprising. My late buddy Terry Gray, who had slept near his kitchen, told me more than once of waking up to find a raccoon, which had come in through the cat door, close to his bed hunting for food.

Besides being unsettling, the raccoons were nuisances, for Terry would have to get up and scare them back out the cat door.

All this inspired me to experiment. Would a fox do the same thing? Apparently it will at least pick a slice of bread off the kitchen floor near the door. But would it come in through a cat door if we had one? My guess is that it would be more hesitant than a raccoon to enter the cabin but might do so if it were convinced there was food inside and no human around. After all, foxes are famous for raiding hen houses.

If I’m right, it certainly would be unsettling to be awakened by some fox hunting close to my bed.

One difference in their personalities I have observed is that raccoons are content with dining restaurant style, eating their food where it’s served. Foxes prefer takeout dining. Unlike their human neighbors, they protect their privacy, which is yet another reason why you’ll never find a fox with phone or Internet service.

A coyote walked past Mitchell cabin five minutes ago, which brings up the question: what other critters are around at this time of the year? Summer will begin Friday, but on this hill some creatures still have quite a bit of spring in their step, as these photos from the past week illustrate.


A female gray fox has become a daily visitor to Mitchell cabin.

Foxes are tricksters, as many cultures realize.

And the expression “crazy as a fox” has been around far longer than any of us have.

So it was no accident when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp decided to call its off-the-wall reporting “Fox News.” ____________________________________________________________

Finding dinner ready on the picnic table.

This vixen shows up in late afternoon shortly after Lynn and I put out birdseed for our cage-free aviary, which at the moment includes: red-winged blackbirds, tri-color blackbirds, scrub jays, stellar jays, sparrows, finches, towhees, doves, crows, ravens, quail, ring-tailed pigeons, juncos, chickadees, and doves. We call their feeding time “the evening bird show.”

Foxes love birdseed as much as birds do, and I recently witnessed the vixen licking birdseed off my deck while a white-crowned sparrow just overhead pecked birdseed off the railing. _____________________________________________________________

By now the vixen sort of trusts Lynn and me. Here Lynn hands her a couple of slices of bread. It’s a friendly exchange. This particular fox’s table manners are surprisingly dainty — no snapping at the hand that feeds her. ____________________________________________________________

After receiving her bread, the vixen usually foxtrots off a short distance to eat, apparently preferring to do her chewing in private. ________________________________________________________________

A second fox, a male, visits us after dark.

However, that’s also the time when two or three raccoons show up to be hand fed their own slices of bread.

If the raccoons aren’t fed immediately, they often doze by the kitchen door, waiting to be noticed.

The fox and raccoons never fight, but they’re leery of each other.

The more-nimble fox, however, always finds a way to avoid confrontations with them. And I’ve sometimes watched while the quick gray fox jumps over the sleeping coon.

I learned a few years ago that I can get them to eat side by side by putting out two handfuls of peanuts in close proximity on the deck. The lure of honey-roasted peanuts is obviously stronger than their suspicion of each other, as this photo from last week demonstrates. ___________________________________________________________

One critter that no doubt is pleased we’re feeding the foxes is the jackrabbit that hangs out in my fields. I’m sure a hungry fox would be delighted to dine on hare if it could catch one. But it would find it far easier to catch the jackrabbit’s slower-footed cousin, the cottontail rabbit.

Well, that’s our fair and balanced fox news for this week. Stay tuned for Sean Hannity’s harangue against these atheists in foxholes.

She’ll be missed. Thursday was the last day of February, which also meant it was Kathy Runnion’s last day working in the Point Reyes Station Post Office. With the Postal Service eliminating employees, closing post offices, and stopping Saturday deliveries to save money, Kathy accepted an early retirement offer.

Kathy on Thursday said her goodbyes while serving refreshments in the post office’s lobby. One of the reasons for doing so was to assure postal customers she was in good spirits and hadn’t “gone postal,” she joked. With her are Oscar Gamez from Toby’s Feed Barn (at left) and David Briggs from The Point Reyes Light (at center).

Kathy, who lives in Inverness Park, worked 24 years for the Postal Service, 14 years as a clerk in the Point Reyes Station Post Office, four in the Bolinas Post Office, and one in the Inverness Post Office plus five years as a rural carrier in Glen Ellen.

It’s not that Kathy had been angling for early retirement. Seated at a Toby’s Feed Barn table near the post office, Kathy (at right) in November 2011 distributed American Postal Workers Union literature. The flyers urged the public to back a congressional measure, House Bill 1351, so that the Postal Service would be saved rather than savaged.

“The problem,” the APWU explained, “is that a bill passed in 2006 is pushing the Postal Service into bankruptcy. The law imposes a burden on the USPS that no other government agency or private company bears. It requires the Postal Service to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years to ‘pre-fund’ healthcare benefits for future retirees. The $20 billion in postal losses you heard about doesn’t stem from the mail but rather from [the] congressional mandate.”

Unfortunately, Congress as usual wasn’t up to protecting the public interest once politics got involved.

Another lost cause. Kathy (right) in May 2008 joined other West Marin residents in trying to dissuade the Vedanta Society from letting the Point Reyes National Seashore use Vedanta property as a staging area for slaughtering a herd of fallow deer. Estol T. Carte (center), the Vedanta Society’s president, listened to the polite group of demonstrators but promised nothing and delivered just that.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, then-Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, then-Lt. Governor John Garamendi, famed zoologist Jane Goodall, and the senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, John Grandy, PhD, were likewise on record as opposing the impending slaughter, but the Park Service was out for blood.

Nearly all the fallow and axis deer in the park were gone within months despite recent assurances from the National Seashore that the killing would be carried out over 11 years, which would allow time to take another look at whether to get rid of all the exotic deer. It was one more frustrating flip-flop by the Park Service, which in 1974 had insisted the deer belonged in the National Seashore because they were “an important source of visitor enjoyment.”

Kathy feeding denizens of a Planned Feralhood enclosed shelter at a Nicasio barn.

Retiring from the Postal Service will not take Kathy out of the public eye, however. For 12 years she has headed Planned Feralhood, an organization that traps and spays or neuters feral cats.

More than 700 of them have been adopted for pets. Some of those which could not be domesticated were let loose but with feeding sites established so they don’t have to fight over scraps of food and garbage. Others are being cared for in Planned Feralhood shelters.

Planned Feralhood recently became a non-profit corporation after operating for years under the fiscal umbrella of other nonprofits. Donations can be sent to Box 502, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

Two gray foxes basking in the sun as seen from a rear window of the Point Reyes Station Post Office. The foxes are on the roof of a shed that’s part of Toby’s Feed Barn and adjoins the Building Supply Center’s lumberyard.

In December 2009, I was at home one morning when I got a call from Kathy at the post office. I’d probably like to get a photo of a pair of foxes sleeping just outside a post office window, she said. I grabbed my camera and rushed into town, managing to get there in time to record the scene.

Two days before she retired, I received a similar message from her: “I’ve got a downtown wildlife story for you that needs investigation.” Naturally, I asked what was up. Kathy said she had seen some kind of hawk, although not a red-tailed or a red-shouldered hawk, walking on the cement floor just inside the Feed Barn next door.

People were at the coffee bar in the entranceway, but they didn’t seem to worry the hawk, which was surprising because hawks tend to avoid humans. Kathy added that all the small birds that used to nest among the rafters of the Feed Barn had disappeared.

I asked Feed Barn owner Chris Giacomini about this, and he confirmed the birds had disappeared, but he didn’t know about the hawk. It seems a hawk had discovered good hunting at Highway 1 and Second Street. All the pigeons that used to perch on top of the Grandi Building also disappeared for awhile, Kathy told me, but a few have returned.

With Kathy’s retirement from the post office, Point Reyes Station is losing not only a first-rate postal clerk but also a first-rate observer of the wildlife to be found in the town’s commercial strip.

It’s time for another look at wildlife that have been showing up this fall around Mitchell cabin.

Last week I reported finding coyote scat on my driveway and noted that neighbor George Stamoulis had not only found the scat on his driveway, he’d seen the critter itself ambling up Campolindo Road.

Finally I saw the beast for myself. About 1:30 p.m. Saturday, I looked out the kitchen’s glass door just in time to see a coyote round the corner of the cabin. I grabbed my camera, went out on my deck, and managed to catch this shot of the coyote marking its territory by urinating and scratching the ground.

I get a kick out of seeing coyotes, but, of course, I’m not a sheepman. For 40 years, there were no coyotes in West Marin, but they never disappeared from Northern Sonoma County. After the federal government made ranchers stop poisoning them, coyotes began returning southward. They reached West Marin in 1983 and within the next 15 or so years wiped out a majority of sheep ranches in West Marin and Southern Sonoma County.

Along with sheep, coyotes sometimes hunt deer and not infrequently eat domestic dogs and cats. Among their most-common prey are small mammals, birds, snakes, lizards, and large insects. Traditionally diurnal, coyotes are becoming more nocturnal because of pressure from human development.

Hunting outside my kitchen window.

Last week I posted a couple of photos of a bobcat that had just shown up outside my kitchen window. Here’s a third image that shows it hunting. Bobcats’ favorite prey are rabbits and hares, but they’ll eat anything from insects to rodents to deer.

Gray foxes are omnivorous, eating fruits along with birds and small rodents. They also like cheap, white bread. Gray foxes tend to be nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and twilight).

Along with the Asian raccoon dog, they are the only members of the Canidae family that can climb trees. That’s one way they can raid bird nests and avoid the coyotes.

After sizing up the situation Saturday night, a gray fox takes a slice of bread from my girlfriend Lynn’s hand.

Also visiting our deck each evening, hoping for slices of bread and honey-roasted peanuts, are two families of raccoons. While the families don’t like each other, they are at ease around us. Here a young raccoon curls up outside our kitchen door to take a nap. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)


The most recent wildlife adventures around my cabin began three weeks ago when I started down my driveway to pick up the morning Chronicle. There in the dirt at the edge of my parking area were several large paw prints, too large for the critters I usually see around here. Roughly 25 feet away, other tracks showed where a deer had kicked up dirt as it ran off.

A check of my tracking guide confirmed a mountain lion had probably been on my property the night before. That was an exciting but not altogether surprising discovery, for I’ve heard reports of mountain lion sightings along Tomasini Canyon Road, the next road to the north.

A gray fox eating bread on my deck.

With so much wildlife on this hill, my cabin has become a sort of blind for observing it.

In the past week, up to three foxes at a time have shown up on my deck. I sometimes feed them a few pieces of bread or a few peanuts, but judging from their scat, with which they mark my property (including the roof of my car), their main diet these days is blackberries.

On several occasions, I’ve watched encounters on my deck between raccoons and a fox. Neither seemed overly alarmed by the other, and at times the fox approached a raccoon within a few feet.

This is not to say that no other wildlife alarms raccoons. One kit sprang onto a post of the deck railing tonight and was about to climb to the top when suddenly it froze and flattened itself against the lattice.

For half a minute it hung there with only its head peeking over the top. Eventually the kit climbed on top of the railing, paced back and forth, but went nowhere. About this time, a couple of deer walked by just beyond the railing. Only when they were gone did the kit feel free to resume its meandering.

The foxes, however, seem not to be alarmed by any creature around my cabin. Sunday night when I scattered some tortilla chips on the deck and left the door open, this fox was curious enough about my kitchen to look inside before chowing down on the chips.

The foxes are usually skittish enough to run off a few feet when I open the kitchen door, but they quickly return.

And twice when my friend Lynn Axelrod stuck a piece of bread out the door, a fox took it from her hand.

Three, four, and even five raccoons have shown up simultaneously on my deck in the last week. They too enjoy snacking on bread, but except for one older male, they enjoy peanuts even more.

I occasionally put out a few handfuls of honey-roasted peanuts for their dessert, and I’ve had raccoon kits so enthusiastic that on occasion they grabbed my hand with their paws before I was done. Very odd to shake hands with a raccoon. Thank God they grabbed with their paws and not their teeth.

Because raccoons use their paws in eating, they wash them in my birdbath afterward, as well as take long drinks, no doubt thirsty from the salty peanuts.

Also taking advantage of my birdbath is this pine siskin.

A pine siskin swoops down to join five other siskins eating birdseed on the railing of my deck.

Pine siskins are an irruptive species, meaning that their populations can increase rapidly and irregularly. A type of finch, they are particularly plentiful this year because their main source of food, seeds, is also plentiful.

Also enjoying birdseed on my deck are roof rats, which on some evenings show up even before the birds leave.

There are noticeable variations in coloring among roof rats, with the one on the right demonstrating why they’re sometimes called black rats. I’ve written quite a bit about roof rats previously, and I won’t repeat it all here.

Canada geese fly over my cabin almost every evening. I always know by their honking when they’re coming. Some evenings several flocks in a row will head west overhead. Naturally a migratory bird, the geese used to only winter here, but in recent years West Marin has developed a large year-round population.

Also announcing themselves around my cabin these nights (in fact, I hear their yips and howls right now) are a number of coyotes. Like the gray foxes, coyotes are members of the dog family, canidae. However, unlike gray foxes, they can’t climb trees, which is a blessing for us all.