Entries tagged with “Jay Haas”.


Unfortunately, my posting is a bit late this week. Three afternoons visiting physicians, five and a half hours on Sunday in Kaiser Hospital’s Emergency Room, and an MRI scan on Monday put me behind in my schedule.

The medical consensus is that a couple of weeks ago I was hit with “temporal arteritis,” which is a big headache, believe me. Left untreated it can lead to blindness. Temporal arteritis amounts to inflammation of an artery that goes through the temples (hence the name “temporal”) and feeds blood to the eyes. The problem is common enough that rheumatologists have developed a standard treatment using the steroid Prednisone. The cause of temporal arteritis is unknown, but it mostly hits us older folks.

With me just out of sick bay, my neighbor Jay Haas has graciously stepped up to help with this week’s posting. Jay shot all the photos and tells much of the story.

Like Lynn and I, he and his wife Didi Thompson, get a fair amount of wildlife around their front door — bobcats, foxes, all manner of birds, and much more. In fact, we probably share many of the same animals.

The number of bobcats showing up around Point Reyes Station homes has increased in recent years. Some townspeople believe that the pastures of the Giacomini ranch had been the prime hunting grounds for a local bobcat population, but those cats were forced out when the Park Service bought the land and in 2007 flooded it.

A bobcat walking past Jay’s and Didi’s home — I suspect this is the same individual that for a few days roamed my fields next door.

White robin

The first robin of spring in the yard of Jay and Didi five years ago was an albino. “For some reason, albinism and partial albinism have been recorded in robins more than any other wild bird species,” this blog at the time quoted the the American Robin website as reporting.

“One study found that 8.22 percent of all albino wild birds found in North America were robins. But only about one robin in 30,000 is an albino or partial albino. Most records of robins with albinism are only partial albinos, which of course live longer than total albinos.”

As the American Robin explains, totally albino birds have no pigment in their irises and retinas to protect their eyes from sunlight, and many eventually go blind.

Providing a more-recent springtime show was a family of gray foxes that began appearing around the deck where Jay and his friends have been known to share a drink at the end of the day.

“The vixen and her kits, already fairly large, showed up one night under ‘The Gin Deck’ in late May 2012,” Jay wrote on Friday. “The kits would get fairly close to me on the deck,” he added, his toes bearing evidence of the fact.

Fox in the tomato bed.

“Mom would stand farther away and scowl at me.”

“The kits clearly had fleas, as they were scratching all the time.”

“One interesting observation was that when mom brought prey home, [such as] a bunny, the kits would fight over it. Then one would take it away and fight off its siblings, eating it all.

“After a few weeks, I had some friends visiting, and we were all out on the deck for quite some time. There goes the neighborhood — This was too much for mom; the next morning they were gone. Just as well; I was tired of cleaning up all the poop.”

Saturday morning I got a call from my neighbor Jay Haas, who told me, “If you’ve been wondering about all the vultures around here for the past day, there’s a dead deer on your side of our [common] fence. I thought you might want to snap a photo.”

I’d been over the hill all day Friday and hadn’t seen the buzzards, I replied, but I immediately went down to the fence to take some pictures. (Warning: three of the following photos are fairly grim.)

It wasn’t hard to figure out where the dead deer was. The first thing I saw was this buzzard sitting on a fence post warming itself in the morning sun and looking like the imperial eagle on Kaiser Wilhelm’s banner.

Most of the flesh, hair, and internal organs of the deer, a one- or two-year-old blacktail buck, had already been stripped from its skeleton. The bones, ears, antlers, and the hair on its head were about all that remained. There was no way to readily tell how it had died — killed by a predator, injured in traffic, wounded by a hunter, or weakened by disease.

By now the buzzards were circling overhead again, waiting for me to absent myself so they could carry on eating carrion.

Buzzard, by the way, is American English for vulture. My ornithologist friends periodically tell me I should be calling the birds vultures. Buzzard refers to a buteo hawk, they insist, not a vulture.

But that’s not what the dictionary says. My American Heritage Dictionary defines buzzard as “any of various North American vultures, such as the turkey vulture.”

The use of buzzard to mean buteo hawk, the dictionary adds, is “chiefly British,” and I don’t live in England. I live in the American West, and when a fellow here calls a disreputable man an old buzzard, he sure as hell doesn’t mean an old buteo hawk. He means an old carrion eater.

Two buzzards keep an eye on the carcass as two others strip some remaining bits of meat from the skeleton.

Buzzards aren’t the only creatures, of course, that dine on carrion, and it wasn’t obvious who had eaten most of the deer.

Foxes, raccoons, and coyotes eat roadkill and other dead animals.

Mountain lions will also eat carrion when extremely hungry but normally prefer fresh meat.

Smaller carrion eaters often start with the eyes and anus because they provide easy access to the rest of the body. These holes also open passages for flies.

The role of carcasses in a fly’s lifecycle is remarkable. The average lifespan of houseflies is only three weeks, but females can lay 900 eggs in that brief period. The eggs are laid in whatever the flies are feeding on, and within a day, the first larvae (also called maggots) hatch out. It takes less than two days for the maggots to double in size, forcing them to molt and shed their exoskeletons.

After continuing to grow — and molting two more times — the worm-like maggots dig deeper into their food supply and begin their pupa stage. The pupa develops a hard shell and inside it the appendages of an adult fly. To free itself from the shell, however, requires a strange ability. The pupa grows a bump on its head which it uses to break through the shell, after which the bump is absorbed back into the fly’s head. From a newly laid egg to an adult fly on the wing takes a week to 10 days in warm weather.

Before long five buzzards were perched on fence posts, watching two others tearing away at the carcass.

Sunday morning, I decided to take another look at the skeleton and was startled by what I saw. During the night, the buck had been dragged 10 feet uphill from the fence. Now who did that? Certainly not a buzzard, fox, or raccoon. Even stripped of most of its flesh, the skeleton was still fairly heavy.

I know of only two wild animals hereabouts with the strength to drag that much weight even a short distance: a mountain lion and a coyote. Although mountain lion tracks have been found near Mitchell cabin, there certainly aren’t many cougars hereabouts. Nor could I imagine a mountain lion going to the trouble of dragging around a skeleton that didn’t have much meat on it.

That would seem to leave one of the local coyotes as the most likely suspect. Coyotes, like mountain lions, sometimes drag their dinner to places where they can eat in private, but this coyote apparently gave up after only a few feet.

I called Jay back and asked if he had heard any coyotes howling Saturday night. He hadn’t but was as surprised as I that the skeleton had been moved.

The cause of the young buck’s death remains a sad mystery. The full variety of critters that ate its carcass is likewise a mystery. But who dragged its skeleton uphill is the biggest mystery of all.