Entries tagged with “horses”.


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A coyote prowling, appropriately enough, near our coyote brush.

Coyotes were loudly howling Thursday night down at the foot of our cul de sac, creating the impression that something big was occurring. But as the Human-Wildlife Interactions journal explained in 2017, some mistakenly believe howling indicates that a group of coyotes has made a kill.

Coyotes howl for various reasons, and it is not likely because they have downed prey. Doing so would draw attention and might attract competing coyotes or other predators to their location, which is not something a hungry coyote would want to do. Coyotes howl and yip primarily to communicate with each other and establish territory. They may bark when they are defending a den or a kill. When coyotes are noisy, it often creates an exaggerated impression as to how many are on hand, largely because of the mixing of howls and yips.

There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because of poisoning by sheep ranchers in northwest Marin and southern Sonoma counties. However, coyotes never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, and after the Nixon Administration banned the poison 10-80, they started spreading south and showed up here again in 1983. Since then coyotes have put an end to well over half the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.

Three horses belonging to Point Reyes Arabian Adventures grazing outside our bedroom window last week.

By chance, I’ve recently listened several times to the Irish singer Van Morrison singing his 1989 composition Coney Island. It’s a pastoral song, which seems to contain an odd reference to cocaine: “Coney Island/ Coming down from Downpatrick/ Stopping off at St. John’s Point/ Out all day birdwatching/ And the crack was good.”

The reality, of course, is that he’s actually saying “craic,” which is a relatively new Irish word for fun or entertainment. It was borrowed in the last century from Ulster and Scotland, where it is pronounced crack.

Jackrabbit outside Mitchell cabin.

Coney Island in Van Morrison’s song does not refer to the amusement park in Brooklyn but to an island off County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. And here’s where the story gets interesting. By most accounts, Dutch settlers named Ireland’s Coney Island after the many rabbits found there, konijn being a Dutch word for rabbit.

In the late 1700s, a merchant ship, Arethusa, regularly sailed between Sligo and New York City. After seeing an abundance of rabbits on a New York island, Peter O’Connor, the ship’s captain, named the place Coney Island because it reminded him of the Coney Island in Sligo Bay. During the 1920s and 1930s, Coney Island, New York, became a peninsula when a creek separating it from the rest of the city was filled in.

Raccoons are nightly visitors at Mitchell cabin, and I’ve come to see at least two sides of their personalities. They’re cute and able to beg for handouts, but they get skittish if I’m too close, quickly backing away when I open a door. And that’s probably for the best. Over the years, West Marin’s raccoons have prompted numerous calls to the Sheriff’s Office from people who thought they heard a prowler on their porch or roof at night.

Skunks drop by Mitchell cabin most nights, aggressively competing with the raccoons for food. They don’t spray but forcefully shoulder aside raccoons, even though the latter are noticeably bigger. I’m fascinated by all this and find it shameful how misguided county policy towards the two species was six decades ago. In 1958, Marin County supervisors began offering $1 bounties for skunk and raccoon tails. Fortunately after three weeks, the board reversed itself and dropped the offer — not because it was cruel but because young hunters with small-bore rifles were shattering too many windows.

Despite appearances, this raccoon is not trying to look fierce. It’s merely chomping down hard on a piece of kibble.

If raccoons show up on our deck wanting to be fed and realize we don’t know they’re out there, some will make us see them through our living room windows by standing on their hind legs atop a small bench or the woodbox and staring in at us. If we still don’t see them, they often create a squeal by dragging the pads of their front paws down the glass.

Wild turkeys are native to Canada, Mexico, the American Midwest, and the East Coast but not West Marin although they are now found throughout this area. In the 1950s, the state Department of Fish and Game released some wild turkeys in Napa County because they were so popular with hunters. In 1988, Fish and Game biologists took a few birds from the Napa flock and released them on Loma Alta Ridge between Big Rock and Woodacre.

Few people hunt the turkeys these days, flocks have increased in number and size, and the turkeys have become rather bold. In 2001, two Tom turkeys went after a couple of school children riding scooters in Tomales. The children had to escape on foot, leaving their scooters behind. Now who’s doing the hunting?

When I drove up to Mitchell cabin last Wednesday, nine blacktail deer were grazing in the front meadow.

It’s common to have deer in my fields. Nine was the most in recent months although in times past I’ve had as many as 16.


Jackrabbits are also more abundant at present than they’ve been for a while.

The rabbits appear fairly comfortable around the deer, and it’s not uncommon to see them grazing side by side.

Unfortunately, cars and trucks take a toll on both the deer and the rabbit populations, so please keep an eye out for them when driving, especially at night. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)


The rain we’ve been having in Point Reyes Station certainly enhances the scenery.

Here a tea rose on our deck sparkles with droplets after a wet morning. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)


 

 


Horses grazing next to Mitchell cabin don’t seem to mind chilly weather, but on truly cold days, the folks at Point Reyes Arabians outfit them all with horse blankets.


 

 


Having escaped another yuletide feast, a wild turkey takes a leisurely stroll beside the cabin.

 

 

 

 


Perhaps the most emotionally compelling critter around Mitchell cabin this yuletide has been a young, three-legged raccoon that started showing up here in November. My partner Lynn was concerned about the little guy and soon named the raccoon “Peanut” because it was the runt of the litter. Maybe it hadn’t been getting enough to eat. We don’t know how Peanut lost his front-left leg. Perhaps in a fight with another raccoon. When we first noticed him, all that was left of the leg was a bloody spot.

By now the injury has healed over, and Peanut manages to get around fairly well with only three legs. He’s able to climb trees and even the lattice along our deck.

The name Peanut, however, periodically makes me chuckle. As it happens, back in the 1980s, I was part of a group that studied Spanish one evening a week in the old Dance Palace. Meeting at the same time elsewhere in the building were Mexican immigrants learning English.

Once when two of the instructors were to be away for a week, they arranged for the Spanish-speaking students to teach us English-speaking students Spanish and vice versa.

The approach was fairly straight forward. A Spanish-speaking student who was already fairly fluent in English would tell one of us the meaning of a Spanish word and then have the student use it in a sentence. When it was my turn, the woman conducting the class gave me the word cacahuetes, and I was immediately flustered when heard her say it meant “penis.”

I could pronounce ka-ka-wah-tays, but that wasn’t the problem. I now had to use the word in a Spanish sentence without embarrassing myself in front of the class. Then it struck me. The Marin Community Foundation had just awarded a $5,000 grant to a Stinson Beach filmmaker who was producing a physiological study titled Dick. “A Stinson Beach man is making a movie about cacahuetes,” I said in Spanish. The teacher looked surprised but quickly moved on.

When I got home from class that night, I told my then-wife Cynthia, “You’ll never guess what word they taught us tonight…. cacahuetes. Cynthia, who spoke Spanish fairly well, looked puzzled and asked, “What’s unusual about peanuts?”


Happy New Year!

 

If you’ve ever been around a pile driver sinking the steel supports for a big building into the ground, you know what a racket that can be. But I bet you don’t know the origin of the term “pile driver.”

According to The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper Collins, 1962), “In the colorful language of the West, a pile driver is a horse that, in bucking, comes down to earth with all four legs stiff.” ______________________________________________________________

No pile drivers here. (Photo by Scott Stine)

My neighbor Scott Stine and I two weeks ago hiked up a hill next to Mitchell cabin to photograph the foot of Tomales Bay and the landscape around it. The scene was stunning, but the real wonderment occurred when I sat down to pull some stickers out of my socks.

Immediately a herd of horses moseyed over, probably hoping I was carrying something to feed them. They took turns nuzzling me, sometimes two at a time, and before long one was scratching the top of its head on my back.

It was a carefree lovefest until one horse went too far and began nibbling on a cuff of my pants. I then had to play coy and tuck the leg under me. _______________________________________________________________

Mostly hidden by tall grass, a fawn grazes on another part of the hill. As the year wears on and the fawn gets larger, it strays further and further from its mother but returns to her side every few minutes.

Deer can also be dear. In Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare uses deer as a metaphor for lover. Speaking to the ancient Greek god of attractiveness and desire, Venus tells him: “I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;/ Feed where thou wilt, on mountain, or in dale:/ Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,/ Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.” _____________________________________________________________

Two mother quail and four chicks. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Another of the bard’s sensual creatures.

“For reasons not entirely clear,” The Morris Dictionary notes, “the quail has long had a reputation for what one source calls ‘an inordinately amorous disposition.’

“In Shakespeare’s time harlots were known as quails and he refers in Troilus and Cressida to Agamemnon as ‘an honest fellow enough who loves his quails.’

“A variation on this sense was common in mid-century US slang.

“A San Quentin quail referred to females below the age of legal consent. Misconduct with one such might lead to jail, San Quentin being one of the most notorious of the federal prisons.” _______________________________________________________________

A foxy lady takes a nap on our deck. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

In one of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, The Wedding of Mrs. Fox, a fox pretends to have died to test his wife’s fidelity. When suitors then show up, the vixen rejects them because they aren’t foxes but bears, wolves, and so forth.

Finally a fox shows up who looks like her supposedly dead husband, arrangements are made for a wedding, but her husband appears and drives off the groom and wedding guests. ____________________________________________________________

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), meanwhile, has gone the furthest in promoting a loving compassion for animals.

In its campaign against wearing animal fur, PETA has enlisted numerous celebrities to pose in the buff, albeit with their strategic parts covered.

Celebrities taking part in PETA’s campaign range from retired NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman to these former Miss USA winners — Alyssa Campanella, Shanna Moakler, Shandi Finnessey, and Susie Castillo.

Their message is always a version of: enjoy your own skin and don’t wear an animal’s. Who can resist entreaties such as these?

Watching wild animals is a lot like watching people. We form judgements about their dispositions based on their movements.

The lone peacock that showed up back in November is still around, as can be seen in this photo shot from the deck of Mitchell cabin on Jan. 29. The type of peacock we have in California originated in India. It was introduced onto the US mainland in this state back in 1879.

Three months after I first noticed, I still see the lone peacock finding companionship in a flock of wild turkeys, which seems fine with them.

The bobcat I mentioned a week ago is also still hanging around Mitchell cabin. Leaning out my kitchen window, I shot this photo of it hunting rodents on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

However, I wasn’t the only one watching the bobcat. Lynn pointed out to me that the blacktail buck at left was also interested in it.

Before long the bobcat disappeared into a patch of coyote brush. The buck cautiously approached the clump of brush and sniffed around but didn’t seem particularly concerned. The bobcat didn’t stir. Apparently it wasn’t about to attack a standing buck.

Before long other deer began arriving, and right behind them were some more wild turkeys. The horse at the right then showed up to watch what might be happening.

I too started wondering what would happen when the turkeys began pecking around the edge of same patch of coyote brush the bobcat was in. Bobcats will eat wild turkeys, but this one continued to lie low.

The deer meanwhile crawled through a barbed-wire fence to join horses grazing in the field beside Mitchell cabin. For one sunny afternoon, there was peace in the world of peacock, wild turkey, bobcat, deer, horse, and human. Like the young doe seen here watching me, everyone watched someone else, but no one bothered anyone.