Entries tagged with “Institute for Bird Populations”.


The old dichotomy of “nature v. nurture” may be a false one. As a couple of photos shot at Mitchell cabin last week demonstrate, nature also nurtures its own.

These photos are hardly remarkable in and of themselves, but they record what a remarkable variety of nature is just outside my window.

The sunset on July 14 gave the western sky the dazzle of a technicolor movie.

Even more dazzling was this simultaneous rainbow in the eastern sky. Numerous people around Point Reyes Station saw it, and several posted photos of the rainbow on West Marin Feed-Facebook.

After relentless begging with its beak open and its wings fluttering, a juvenile blackbird finally gets a parent to feed it birdseed even though it’s perfectly capable of feeding itself.

Last week Lynn spotted a fox on our picnic table peering in our living room between the slats of a chair. Its presence kept the blackbird at left on the railing and off the table.

The Gray fox was on the table to eat seed Lynn had scattered for the birds.

Staying well away from the fox, a jackrabbit eats grass just outside our kitchen window.

A doe and her fawns can be seen around Mitchell cabin virtually every day.

One of the sweetest-looking little animals around, a blacktail fawn walks past our bedroom window.

Fawns seem to be often on the run. At their age, it would appear, they enjoy being able to dash from here to there.

A young blacktail buck grazes by itself in the field below our deck.

A cross between a House sparrow and a Great horned owl?

Lynn and I correctly guessed the bird is actually a young House finch, but we had no explanation for its “horns,” so we dropped by the Point Reyes Station office of the Institute for Bird Populations.

Dave DeSante, the institute’s president and founder, was in the office, and we asked him what was going on with this bird. After pondering the bird’s unlikely appearance, he concluded the horns are actually pin feathers that somehow got ruffled on opposite sides of the finch’s head.

An adult, male House finch eats birdseed next to our birdbath. As I noted here back in May, their coloration is derived from the fruits and berries in their diets. Adult female house finches tend to be light brown with white streaks.

Nor is all peaceful around Mitchell cabin. A redtailed hawk — I believe it was this one — killed a collared dove on our deck last week. We heard the impact when it swooped down and seized the dove, leaving behind a mass of white feathers as evidence of nature’s savagery.

A raccoon, which had been showing up each evening on our deck begging for scraps of bread, showed up this past week with three kits in tow. No wonder she’d been looking so tired of recent.

Here the raccoons scour the grass around the deck for slices of bread Lynn threw there to keep them away from another, feisty raccoon on the deck.

And while the kits are perfectly able to eat bread, they still try to get mom to nurse them. They sort of remind me of juvenile blackbirds that want to be nurtured.

I was rounding a curve while driving up to Mitchell cabin last week when I encountered a doe in my driveway. I stopped so she could calmly move on, but while I watched, two small fawns struggled out of tall grass and crossed the driveway in front of my car to catch up with their mother.

No doubt the mother would have preferred to proceed into the field in front of her, but in order to feed her hungry offspring, she was willing to accept my being present.

The fawns were so small they frequently disappeared while walking in tall grass.

When following their mother through the grass, the fawns at times had to bound over it to make any progress.

The fawns never got too far away from the doe, but they were even more intent on staying close to each other.

As I observed them from the driveway and later from my deck, the ability of their spots t0 camouflage them became all the more evident.

If their mother leaves them on their own while she forages, the fawns lie down in the grass. Should danger approach, they don’t move and even slow their breathing. This trait has in the past allowed me to stand over a motionless fawn, bend the grass aside, and snap a photo.

I later asked Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens about the fawn’s not flinching while I photographed it from just a couple of feet overhead. “He probably thought he was invisible,” Jules replied.

The fawns, however, can no longer count on their spots and diminutive size for hiding in my grass. Tractor operator Gary Titus of  Tomales came by last Thursday and mowed my fields and my neighbors’. The county fire department requires us to do this every year in the interest of homeland security.

Making a few spring days agonizing is the annual removal of thistles. I’ve already put in five full days cutting hundreds of thistles and weed whacking others that I could not easily cut by hand. My partner Lynn Axelrod spent three days at it.

I also cut thistles in two neighbors’ fields because if I don’t reduce their thistle problems, they will quickly add to my thistle problems.

As a result, the garbage company in the last month has hauled four green-waste containers’ worth of thistles from Mitchell cabin. That represented the contents of 12 tightly packed contractors’ bags.

Days later, Lynn and I are still finding thorns in our arms, hands, and socks. (The stickers don’t all come out in the wash.) Our faces are sunburned, and we’ve both been exhausted by the end of several thistle-cutting days.

Back on the ecstasy front, we have more quail pecking around Mitchell cabin this spring than I’ve seen in the last several years.

Looking every bit as self-important as a courtier during the reign of King George I, this portly fellow struts along the railing of my deck.

A little ecstasy cum agony: For the first time last week, a peacock showed up here. Perched on the limb of a tree next to the house, it was the first peacock I’ve ever seen at Mitchell cabin although I used to frequently see them around Nicasio.

By the way, it’s true what people say: their calls sound like a woman screaming in distress. At first, having a peacock around was fun, but after its piercing screams started waking Lynn up in the early morning, she soon became impatient with the bird.

Signs of life. Lynn was walking down our outside steps last week when she noticed on the ground half the shell of a small egg. With it were a couple of shell fragments and a bit of a nest.

On our next trip downtown, Lynn and I stopped by the Institute for Bird Populations where Rodney Siegel determined that — based on the egg’s size and spots— it belonged to a towhee (left).

There was no tree over the spot where the egg was found, but Rodney told us towhees nest on the ground. After the eggs hatch, the mother towhee often takes parts of the shell out of the nest, flies a short ways, and dumps them on the ground.

Lynn and I were worried that another bird or four-footed predator had stolen the egg from the nest and eaten its contents. Rodney, however, said the broken edge of the shell was typical of what remains after a chick pecks its way out.

Since a woodstove is the only source of heat in Mitchell cabin, I need to regularly haul loads of firewood from a woodshed uphill to the house. Carrying the loads used to require a fair amount of exertion, but Anastacio Gonzalez of Point Reyes Station advised me to try carrying heavy loads the way campesinos (field workers) do.

Great idea. One’s legs, not one’s back or arm muscles, bear most of the load, making it seem light. I’d put this revelation in the ecstasy column.