Entries tagged with “possum”.


To get away from the present grim realities of human society, as were discussed here last week, this week we’ll take a few looks at the fascinating realities of the non-human society that’s seen around Mitchell cabin.

This past week, my wife Lynn spotted a bobcat in a persimmon tree next to our front steps. It’s not that we live in a literal zoo. Bobcats are fairly common here and elsewhere in Point Reyes Station.

Pouncing. A bobcat pounces on a gopher not far from our deck.

Coyotes. Predators even more noticeable are the coyotes. This one is looking at my parked car. Most nights the coyotes on this hill howl to establish territory. Contrary to widespread opinion, coyotes do not howl to announce a kill, for that would invite other coyotes to steal the prey. 

Grey foxes are another set of predators we see fairly often. These are just outside the kitchen door scouring up the last of the kibble I had earlier given to some raccoons.

Badgers. Where did they go? When I first moved to this hill 45 years ago, there were a number of badger burrows. I spotted this pair one morning when I looked up from the breakfast table. They were easily visible on a nearby hillside. From their burrow’s entrance, the sow and cub were keeping an eye on the world. New badger holes used to be annual events here, but I haven’t seen a new one in five years or more.

Chipmunks are totally absent from our hill. This one apparently wandered over from Inverness Ridge a decade ago, but it didn’t stick around.

Gray squirrels can be a nuisance, and controlling them is an annual topic for discussion around here. The squirrels like to eat the cambium layer just under the bark on pines, often killing the ends of the limbs they munch on.

The possums we see around here are Virginia Opossums, which are native to North America. Their lifespan is typically around four years. Possums are marsupials with counterparts found in Central and South America, New Zealand, and Australia.

To quote Wikipedia: “A marsupial is a mammal that raises its newborn offspring inside an external pouch at the front or underside of their bodies. In contrast, a placental is a mammal that completes embryo development inside the mother, nourished by an organ called the placenta.”

A jack rabbit in our backyard. As noted here before: “Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which initially caused some people to refer to them as ‘jackass rabbits.’ The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.”

Raccoons and skunks end up eating together so often they get along with each other fairly well.

A blacktail buck makes his daily appearance grazing beside Mitchell cabin. Of all the creatures I see, the bucks seem to have the most regal bearing.

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.

This week we’ll look animals, both domestic and wild, in the eye to get a sense of what they see.

Newy, the stray cat we’ve taken in and who has been mentioned here before, can have an intense gaze when she’s looking off at something. It’s noticeable enough that it prompted me to look into, so to speak, the eyes of not only cats but other animals as well. A cat’s vision is not as all-powerful as it appears. A cat is most sensitive to blues and yellows and does not see colors like red, orange, or brown.

A blacktail doe looks up from grazing outside our bedroom window. The pupils in a deer’s eyes are horizontal, not round, and a flash camera makes them look blue.

A coyote displays his predatory nature as he stares into a field. As it happens, just now as I type this, coyotes are howling outside Mitchell cabin. (Photo by neighbor Dan Huntsman)

The no-nonsense look of a bobcat in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Foxes too are predatory, but their gaze makes them appear more curious than vicious.

Possums have good night vision but don’t distinguish between colors very well. Overall, their vision is so weak they must depend on smell and touch to find food.

Skunks, like possums, have very poor vision and navigate largely via their senses of smell and hearing.

Wild turkeys, on the other hand, see in color and “have an excellent daytime vision that is three times better than a human’s eyesight and covers 270 degrees,” according to ‘Facts about Wild Turkeys.’ “They have poor vision at night, however, and generally become warier as it grows darker.”

‘Livingbird Magazine’ reports that “Great Blue Herons can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.” Near Mitchell cabin, a gopher with the baleful stare of death hangs from the heron’s beak.

Buzzards have such “keen eyesight,” Seaworld claims, that “it is believed they are able to spot a three-foot carcass from four miles away on the open plains.”

A stern stare. Coopers Hawks are skillful hunters and like other hawks have excellent vision.

The smirk of a Western Fence Lizard (also known as a Blue Belly for obvious reasons). It’s one of the most common lizards around Mitchell cabin. As for their vision, most lizards have excellent eyesight, and some can see into the UV spectrum. 

Somehow my work glove hand ended up on the persimmon, and my bare hand on the barbed-wire fence. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

This moment became a test of my vision — and not in looking at the persimmons growing between the fields of Mitchell cabin and Arabian Horse Adventures. After some staring, I concluded that the Arabian waiting patiently for a persimmon is, in fact, a female mule. Nonetheless, I eventually gave her some fruit.  Later I found out the mule had arrived in the pasture not long ago after its owner died. So far I’ve never seen any of the stable’s trail riders on it. Arabian Mule Adventures? 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Canada Geese at Mitchell cabin.

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The behavior of a crazed loser did not originate with Donald Trump, as this 1982 New Yorker cartoons illustrates.

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Formal debate had already begun replacing aggressive prosecution in another 1982 New Yorker cartoon. I had considered the gladiators-versus-lions in the Roman Coliseum the ultimate high-stakes event. It never occurred to me a lion might have to to impeach a histrionic gladiator who had overindulged his sense of entitlement.

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As noted here before, my obligation to encourage wildlife a few years back led me to teach this possum dining etiquette. You could safely invite him in for your Valentine’s Day dinner. He’s certainly no Covid-19 carrier.

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Is this a Senate committee hearing or just another hungry-and-thirsty American in search of sustenance?

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From a 1958 New Yorker

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As part of my program to refine wildlife, I once mentored a bodhisattva possum on its path to enlightenment.

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What was Édouard Manet picturing in Le Déjeuner sur l’herb’? Lunch on the grass.

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And a hearty “Happy Valentine’s Day!” from the raccoon I’ve trained to work as a flower vendor and who, I might add, would be only too happy to provide the bouquet for your celebration.

I hope all this provided a ray of sunshine in these semi-dark times.

 

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.

Needing a break from the political scene, I spent much of the past week photographing the critters that show up at Mitchell cabin.

Eleven blacktail deer grazing near Mitchell cabin last Saturday.

Following the deer up the hill were 21 wild turkeys.

Which led to an unusual stare-down.

For almost three years there’d been a dearth of possums around Mitchell cabin, but this past week two showed up on our deck after dark to nibble kibble.

Here a possum and raccoon dined together with no confrontations Sunday evening.

Raccoons, of course, are fairly comfortable around a number of other animals. Here four of them ate kibble alongside a skunk last fall.

And here a possum dined contentedly between two gray foxes just outside our kitchen door awhile back.

But the most integrated dining I have seen were this possum, fox, and raccoon, which I photographed together next to the kitchen door in 2011.

Monday morning Lynn woke me up so I could see this sharp-shinned hawk on the railing of our lower deck. The young hawk’s expression is mighty stern, and I fear it may be hunting the birds that show up on our upper deck to eat birdseed. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

In short, not all wildlife live in harmony around here.

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.

Some critters get along with their animal neighbors better than we might expect. Here’s a look at some inter-species neighborliness that’s caught my eye around Mitchell cabin.

A curious black-tailed doe watches a housecat clean itself.

A great blue heron goes gopher hunting near Mitchell cabin beside a grazing deer.

Seven wild turkeys hunt and peck alongside four black-tailed deer.

Wild turkeys, in fact, can often be found roaming around with other creatures, such as this lone peacock.

A scrub jay and a roof rat comfortably eat birdseed side by side on our picnic table.

Towhees are nowhere near as brazen as jays, but this one seems unconcerned about eating next to a roof rat.

Raccoons and skunks manage to dine together on our deck almost every night. As previously noted, raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing rear ends, including the backsides of skunks. The skunks often shoulder aside raccoons while competing for food but for some reason never spray them.

Another milepost in inter-species mingling: a possum, fox, and raccoon eat nose to nose to nose outside our kitchen door.

A year ago I was hit with a medical problem called temporal arteritis, which sent me to the emergency room at Kaiser Hospital in Terra Linda. As I wrote here at that time, it was a big headache, but left untreated it could have led 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.

Well, the Prednisone worked in that it took away the headache, but I had to consume it every day, and that itself produced temporary problems ranging from less-focused thinking to a loss of balance. I began taking increasingly serious falls. The worst was on Memorial Day when I fell to the ground from a standing position. I landed on stainless-steel metal and badly bruised the right side of my ribcage.

I had just about recovered from that fall when today I stumbled on my deck and landed on the left side of my rib cage. What a pain! As a result, I’m taking it easy on myself, which is why my posting this week consists of photos from my collection— not ruminations. Most of them have appeared here previously.

Gray squirrel at my birdbath.

The raccoons around Mitchell cabin are amazingly adventurous. These walked right in when I left the kitchen door open.

Three animals who seldom hang out together in nature — a possum, fox, and raccoon — were convinced to eat peaceably together when I scattered honey-roasted peanuts on my deck. Animal populations, however, go up and down, and I haven’t seen many foxes or possums around Mitchell cabin recently.

A blacktail doe takes a rest behind my woodshed.

Two does and a flock of wild turkeys forage side by side uphill from Mitchell cabin, both species seeming oblivious of the other.

Two years ago, a lone peacock began keeping company with the turkeys. It’s pretty but its calls sound like a woman in distress.

Coyotes can often be heard at night howling around Mitchell cabin. Getting a chance to see one is far less common.

It’s far more common to see bobcats. Here one takes a rest while hunting downhill from the cabin.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.  Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows.

Lost in thought, a gray fix sits on my picnic table.

Jackrabbits, of course, are always around. Jackrabbits, which are also known as black-tailed hares, avoid predators by using “an element of surprise and escape that works well,” Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens notes in his Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.

“When a potential predator is detected, the hare will usually take shelter in the shade of a convenient clump of vegetation or behind a rock and freeze motionless. If the predator approaches very closely, the hare leaps into stride, zigzagging across open country until it finds shelter.”

Two young does graze beside Mitchell cabin. To me all this is my home on a hill, but it could just as easily be a zoological garden.

 

 

 

Around the first of the year I sometimes post a roundup of the creatures that have shown up around Mitchell cabin.

This year I’m doing it again, starting with a butterfly and dragonfly followed by a variety of larger critters.

This exhibit ends with a coyote, a bobcat, two badgers, and two deer rubbing noses.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of these photos from past postings.

Here a buckeye butterfly rests on a chrysanthemum that’s growing in a flowerpot on the deck. ___________________________________________________________________

A dragonfly pauses on the twig of a tree that’s next to the deck. Dragonflies can easily be distinguished from damselflies because when they are at rest they leave their wings extended while damselflies close their wings over their bodies when at rest. __________________________________________________________________

A Pacific tree frog on a bamboo shoot near our hot tub.

Some people call them Pacific chorus frogs. During the winter, their main mating season, males make their way to water and then charm females to the water with a chorus of chirping.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gopher snakes are not poisonous, but they mimic rattlesnakes, coiling up and wagging their tongues when threatened. This one was near the foot of our driveway.

A jackrabbit in the field outside our kitchen window pauses to look around .

This is the only chipmunk I’ve ever seen around Mitchell cabin. I’m just glad I had my camera nearby when it showed up.

A Western gray squirrel basks in the sun after taking a drink from our birdbath.

A roof rat takes a drink from the birdbath. These rats originated in southern Asia, and you’ll recall it was their fleas that spread the Black Death throughout Europe in the 14th Century, killing roughly half the people.

This cute possum used to be a regular nighttime visitor, but so many raccoons have been hanging around the cabin in the evening that we seldom see any possums these days.

Three raccoons in a tree beside Mitchell cabin. ______________________________________________________________

A gray fox enjoys the sun on our deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A coyote watches me park my car as I arrive back home.

A bobcat hunts outside our kitchen window.

A mother badger and her kit eye the world from their sett, as badger dens are called.

Two deer touch noses as a herd of six blacktails graze downhill from Mitchell cabin.

For reasons of space, no birds are included in this posting. Look for a gallery of our fine feathered friends in a week or two.

For years, this was my view of Mitchell cabin as I drove up my driveway.

The cabin was framed by a large Monterey pine on the right and two others on the left.

It was an ideal setting for a cabin, I’d always thought.

My former wife Cathy and I built the cabin in the winter of 1976-77, and we planted the pines soon after moving in.

 

 

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The pines on the west side of the house have long been perches for all manner of birds and have provided refugee for many four-footed creatures, as well.

They’ve also been people-friendly. A year ago they inspired my stepdaughter Shaili (left), who was visiting from Minnesota, to try her hand at climbing.

 

 

 

 

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The only chipmunk I’ve ever seen around Mitchell cabin showed up one summer morning at the base of one of the pines.  _________________________________________________________________

Wild turkeys have become accustomed to using the pines for lookout posts.  ________________________________________________________________

Here a bashful possum peeks around one of the pines. _________________________________________________________________

And here a coyote prowls underneath the same  trees. ________________________________________________________________

Tragically, this stand of pines became doomed. The nearer tree died in the drought, and the further tree had begun to lean precipitously over the cabin. With great reluctance, I called Nick Whitney’s Pacific Slope tree service to cut the pines down and haul away any sad reminders of them. ________________________________________________________________

The pines had become so much a part of my home that I remembered how I felt when I had to take a sick, old dog to the vet to be put down. But there was no avoiding it, and Monday morning, the Pacific Slope crew showed up and got right to work. Here climber Ignacio Franco (left) listens to my lament. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ______________________________________________________________

Despite the sadness of the occasion, Lynn and I were fascinated by the almost-gymnastic feats of Ignacio (seen here) and his brother José as they climbed the trees. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A large limb comes floating down after Ignacio cuts it loose with a chainsaw. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ________________________________________________________________

The limbs, pine needles, and cones were ground up in the orange chipper at right and then hauled away.

Here José Luis Franco, better known as Pepe, (in light-colored shirt) feeds the chipper while David Antonio Lopez (in yellow shirt) drags limbs over.

Ignacio, meanwhile, prepares to cut the top off the dead tree. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

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Pepe cuts a large limb off the top of the leaning pine. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A man can work up a thirst climbing to the top of a tree and then sawing off heavy limbs, so Pepe took a moment for a drink of water.

Hoisting the bottle from ground level was his brother Ignacio, who used a block and tackle already in place for lowering cut limbs. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ignacio (left) uses a pulley to lower part of a limb that Pepe has cut while David drags off another. The limbs were too close to the house to be simply dropped. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ________________________________________________________________

As Pepe descends at the end of the day, these skeletons were all that remained of what had once been a familiar stand of Monterey pines. Tomorrow morning, the Pacific Slope crew will be back, and these too will disappear. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) _______________________________________________________________

Late-breaking news: Pepe, Ignacio, and David returned Tuesday as scheduled and finished their logging.

Here Pepe appears to be dropping a section of trunk on David’s head, but David is tough, and the impact didn’t faze him. Perhaps because he was actually standing a safe distance away. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) ________________________________________________________________

Mitchell cabin has survived, but to my eye, its west side now looks starkly naked. For the sake of decency, Lynn and I will soon adorn it with something floral, but for the moment we’re just pining for a couple of old friends.

From a butterfly to a pair of badgers, from a newt and a salamander to a bobcat and a coyote, this posting is a collection of some of my favorites from among the photos I’ve taken of wildlife around Mitchell cabin.

A Buckeye butterfly atop a chrysanthemum on my deck.

Closeup of an amphibian — an arboreal salamander.

Lying low — another amphibian.

A Pacific tree frog’s color depends on where it is at the moment. Unlike chameleons, whose colors change to match background colors, tree frogs’ colors change (between brown and green) depending on how dry or moist their surroundings are.

A poisonous amphibian.

The skin of a California newt such as this secretes a neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, that is hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide.

A macho reptile.

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 colorful but seldom seen reptile.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A beady-eyed garter snake warms itself in the sun on my driveway.

Garter snakes are the most-common genus of reptile in North America. Although they are venomous, their venom is too mild to harm humans. However, when they’re disturbed, garter snakes emit a foul-smelling secretion from a gland near their anus.

Common garter snakes come in innumerable variations and are found in fields, forests and wetlands nationwide. Like this snake, adults average about four feet in length. In West Marin, their diet typically consists of tadpoles, slugs, and earthworms. But unlike other snakes, they don’t eat insects. When first born, the snakes are prey for bullfrogs. Hawks and foxes eat adults.

Gopher snakes are non-venomous although they don’t want you to know it.

“When disturbed, the gopher snake will rise to a striking position, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly and shake its tail at the intruder,” the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website notes. “These defensive behaviors, along with its body markings, frequently cause the gopher snake to be mistaken for a rattlesnake.”

Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window.

Heading for a drink at the birdbath on Mitchell cabin’s deck, a crow hops over a second crow, which stays put at their birdseed buffet.

A great blue heron hunting gophers in my field.

Chipmunks visit Mitchell cabin only occasionally, so I felt lucky to snap this photo of one.

A Western gray squirrel as seen from my bedroom window.

Every morning the ground around Mitchell cabin is littered with the freshly cut tips of pine branches because of this squirrel and his clan. Squirrels like to feed on pine trees’ cambium layer, which is immediately under the bark, and in the process they gnaw off twigs.

Trying not to be noticed.

West Marin’s large jackrabbits, which some people call black-tailed hares, are often seen in the late afternoon and evening around Mitchell cabin. To avoid catching the eye of predators, jackrabbits typically sit motionless unless the danger comes too close. Then they suddenly spring away, making sharp, evasive turns as they flee.

A gray fox on Mitchell cabin’s deck.

Young raccoons retreat to a tree when they feel threatened by other animals.

A blacktail doe nurses one of her two fawns.

Relying on its spots for camouflage, a newly born fawn tries to be invisible in tall grass by lying absolutely motionless even though I was leaning over it to take a photo.

A buck and two fawns bounding across tractor-mowed grass.

A mother badger and her cub sun themselves on the mound of dirt around their burrow (known as a “sett”).

A bobcat hunting outside my kitchen window.

A coyote heads for cover in — appropriately enough — a patch of coyote brush.

Besides photographing the wildlife around Mitchell cabin, I also enjoy having a bit of fun with it. My posting about encouraging a bodhisattva possum on her path to spiritual enlightenment has proven to be one of the best-read I’ve ever put online.

I take each species’ disposition into account when determining what it is best suited to learn. Raccoons, as you might guess, are natural bartenders.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in training wildlife has been convincing different species to get along with each other.

I felt a bit like a miracle worker when I finally got a possum, a fox, and a raccoon — none of which traditionally like each other — to dine nose to nose just outside my kitchen door.

I did it by setting out well-separated handfuls of peanuts for them and over time moving the handfuls closer and closer together. Now why can’t diplomats do that in the Middle East?