Entries tagged with “raccoons”.


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As often happens, just when I was wondering what to blog about this week, the wildlife around Mitchell cabin showed up to provide material.

A cliff swallow sails up to a nest under our eves. Over the past month, swallows have built the nest two stories up over our kitchen.

By now, the first clutch of eggs has hatched. Given how high the nest is, Lynn and I found it amazing that parts of three shells landed fairly intact on a woodbox below after being pushed out when no longer needed. A bit of blood can be seen in the near shell.

From what I read, “The breeding season for swallows lasts from March through September. They often produce two clutches per year, with a clutch size of 3 to 5 eggs. Eggs incubate between 13 and 17 days, and the chicks fledge in 18 to 24 days.”

This makes me suspect we’ll see another crop of chicks this summer,

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A blacktail doe and one of her fawns nuzzling each other struck Lynn and me as an extremely happy scene. However….

Lynn was far less happy when the doe and fawns headed to the nasturtium bed she recently planted, forcing her to start walking up to the deer family before they moved on.

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A bumblebee heads downhill to its swarm’s hole in the dirt. When we were getting the fields around Mitchell cabin mowed and weed whacked on June 10, as was reported here, the workers did a great job but had to leave one patch of grass untrimmed; when they went near it, they were met by a swarm of bumblebees. By being alert, I was able to sneak into the patch twice a few days later to finish the job. In the process, I finally located their well-hidden nest. I’d not seen one before.

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Some oddities are always the same, so to speak. Last week I posted the photo at left of a raccoon and fox I’d seen dining together just outside our kitchen door 10 days ago. Thursday night I spotted the same dinner companions but with positions reversed. There’s nothing like a few handfuls of kibble to bring about inter-species harmony.                                                                                                         

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.

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This week we’ll take a look at who’s been sleeping around Mitchell cabin besides Lynn, me, and our previously stray cat Newy. These days it’s not just a matter of sheltering in place but also of finding shelter.

A tranquil doe. My wife Lynn found this blacktail deer sleeping on our front steps Tuesday morning. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Snoozing raccoon. Early Tuesday evening I was surprised to find this raccoon sleeping on our deck quite close to our front door.

Sleeping place invaded. A short while later, another raccoon began snoozing a few feet from our kitchen door only to have two skunks show up to finish off the handfuls of kibble I’d given the raccoon. It appeared to pay only drowsy attention to the skunks and stayed put.

Two raccoons asleep on our front deck still later Tuesday evening. Mitchell cabin has obviously become a secure enough retreat that a variety of wildlife nap here.

Billy Hobbs (left).  Aside from his hair on a windy day, Billy is not exactly wild, but he has been homeless for more than seven years since the breakup of a 25-year marriage.

When I first met Billy, an artist, he was living on the street in Point Reyes Station. After the weather got bad in the winter of 2019-20, Lynn and I offered to let him stay in our basement. Last year I let him sleep in my second car, which I parked on Mesa Road downtown, moving it every 72 hours to comply with the law.

At present, Billy, 63, is being sheltered at Motel 6 in San Rafael, with county government picking up the tab. Wednesday afternoon, his friend Gaspar drove Billy out to Point Reyes Station so he could visit his onetime hangouts. Thank God, Billy at least for the moment has a secure place to sleep. Society too often treats the homeless as if they were all wild animals.

In the words of the poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), “Winter is icumen in,/ Lhude sing Goddamm,/ Raineth drop and staineth slop,/ And how the wind doth ramm!/Sing: Goddamm.”

In Inverness, 2.5 inches raineth Tuesday night with the wind ramming hard. On Laurel Avenue in Inverness Park, the wind blew down a tree that crushed contractor David Cordrey’s work van (seen here). In the San Geronimo Valley, winds gusted to 73 mph in Woodacre and 72 mph in Lagunitas. A travel-trailer occupant in Lagunitas, Jay Cimo, was knocked unconscious and suffered a brain injury when the wind toppled a tree onto the trailer.

 In Inverness, a falling tree also destroyed a footbridge beside Inverness Way. The wind gusted to 59 mph in Inverness. The gusts brought down power lines in both Inverness and Bolinas.

Before the storm, a family of raccoons showed up on the deck at Mitchell cabin, so I gave them handfuls of kibble.

This, in turn, brought in a fox who dined alongside the raccoons.

The local fox is fun to look at, but he has a bad habit of marking his territory by peeing on our morning San Francisco Chronicle, which thankfully comes in a plastic bag. Obviously removing the newspaper from the bag must be done with care. Equally unsettling, the fox has taken to pooping on our deck at night. Better on the deck than the newspaper, for I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with sh*tty-fox news morning after morning.

Other members of the dog family (Canidae) are coyotes such as this one walking up to a patch of coyote brush near Mitchell cabin. We hear them most nights but see them only occasionally. What we are starting to see more often is coyote scat in the field below the cabin.

I’m certainly glad it’s in the grass and not on our deck or newspaper.

Worried that high winds could topple two dead pines along our driveway, I recently hired Nick Whitney and his Pacific Slope crew to cut them down and buck them up for firewood. Our neighbors Skip and Renée Shannon followed suit by having yet another neighbor, George Grim Jr., cut a tree, buck, and split it. Grim also split the trees I had cut down. With the Shannons contributing their tree (piled above), Lynn and I are accumulating quite a firewood collection, including three smaller stacks.

For the most part we use a woodstove to heat the cabin, so the bonanza of logs is most welcome.

Enjoying the warmth, Lynn sits by the fire with Newy, the stray cat we took in last year.

 

It’s been a generally good week in this old man’s world. Old is the operative word here. I turned 77 on Monday. My gait is increasingly unsteady, but I’m still carrying about 75 pounds of firewood uphill to Mitchell cabin each day. Lynn took me out for a birthday lunch at River Front Cafe’s outdoor tables beside the Petaluma River. A beautiful scene, and everyone maintained proper distancing. On Thursday, Lynn and I celebrated Thanksgiving, with Lynn’s preparing along with the turkey, homemade stuffing, her own cranberry sauce, and squash raviolis.

And while all this was going on, the fields around Mitchell cabin began turning from brown to green thanks to the rains two weeks ago.

The green shoots attract blacktail deer, and as many as eight at a time have begun showing up for the feast. For dessert, they often dine on persimmons that have fallen from our tree on the other side of the cabin.

The rains also eliminated any further risks of a flareup from the Woodward fire. The fire, which blackened 5,000 acres in the Point Reyes National Seashore beginning Aug. 18, has taken firefighters two months to fully control. The rains should have doused almost all smoldering ashes, the Park Service reported this past week.

Thanksgiving eve raccoon lineup on our deck.

A mother raccoon with her four kits show up outside our window every evening hoping to be fed, and we usually give them a few handfuls of dog kibble.

The raccoons around here appear to be thriving although further south around Muir Beach and inland to Mill Valley distemper has begun showing up in raccoons and foxes, WildCare warned this week. Coyotes and skunks, as well as domestic dogs, are also susceptible to the disease.

The organization noted, “Wild animals with distemper may exhibit a lack of coordination or balance, approachability, seizures, and/or discharge from eyes and nose….

“Concerned residents who see an animal in distress should call WildCare’s Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-7283 or contact Marin Humane at 415-883-4621.”

Canada geese — heading to Drakes Estero for the night — fly over Mitchell cabin around sunset daily. They don’t wear masks, but they do maintain social distancing.

Also flying over head.

Something many of us said thanks for yesterday occurred in Washington. Donald Trump, who keeps denying he lost the Nov. 3 presidential election, finally said he will leave the White House by Jan. 20 if Democratic president-elect Joe Biden wins the electoral college vote on Dec. 14. Biden racked up 306 electoral college votes three weeks ago and needs only 270 to win. Trump in comparison picked up only 232 votes, which may account for his hair turning gray in the week after the election (see photo in Nov. 19 posting).

We’ll start out with the bad surprises — including one of President Donald Trump’s tweets to his backers — so that we end on a happy note:

America’s “all-time favorite President?” Is he simply dishonest or also delusional?

One sign of the President’s worrying: in the first week after his Nov. 3 election loss, which he refuses to admit, Trump’s famously blond hair turned gray.  As The New York Times reported in September, Trump paid no federal income taxes for 15 years and only $750 in 2016 and 2017. Among the “business expenses” he’s been claiming among his tax deductions are the $40,000 per year he pays for hair styling, The Times reported. Given this huge annual investment in the look of his hair, we can assume he was in favor of the color change. 

With many Americans ridiculing his behavior as juvenile, perhaps he wanted to look more mature.

Now a couple of local surprises:

Olema House. Last month Condé Nast Traveler named the local hostelry the “Best hotel in the US for 2020.” The magazine credited “its spectacular dining” for the hotel’s earning the top award. “If you eat at the hotel (and you should), the local seasonal menu at Due West pulls from the bounty of nearby ranches, farms, and the bay.”

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Oct. 13 reported, “Formerly called The Lodge at Point Reyes, Olema House has 24 rooms, including two cottages, on four acres of land.”  I myself have never stayed there, but I read in The Press Democrat that “each of the rooms is decorated in a modern Americana style.”

 Another local surprise. Travel and Leisure magazine has declared the Marshall Store (pictured above) one of “the top 30 seafood restaurants in the US.” It’s, of course, a store too, but it’s even more of a dining establishment. Here my stepdaughter Anika Zappa Pinelo, her husband Carlos, and my wife Lynn enjoy barbecued oysters seated outside overlooking Tomales Bay.

Not surprising:

Rac-communal bathing. Lynn and I see it almost nightly: a mother raccoon and her four kits all trying to squeeze together into our birdbath. They bathe in the water as well as drink it. The surprises occur when they manage to get almost the entire family into the bowl at one time.

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.

Uphill of Mitchell cabin.

Live Oak trees have grown up all around Mitchell cabin in the 43 years I’ve lived here. I’ve planted several pines and a palm on the property, but the oaks arrived without my help.

A Scrub-jay arborist on our birdbath last Friday. As it turns out, Scrub-jays planted (literally planted) most, if not all, of the oaks. 

“California Scrub-jays…. are an important part of the natural oak-woodland ecosystem of our area,” Lisa Hug, a naturalist and ornithologist, wrote in the Sonoma County Gazette this month. The magazine notes she has been an interpretive ranger in the Point Reyes National Seashore, a research assistant with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and also one with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Ms. Hug currently teaches birding classes.

Live oaks that have sprung up downhill from the cabin.

“The Scub-jay’s favorite food is acorns,” Ms. Hug explained. “In the fall, the Scrub-jays collect acorns and bury them in various places. One jay can hide up to 5,000 acorns annually and remember exactly where it has hidden most of them. They will also watch each other bury acorns and steal each other’s treasures.

“If a jay thinks it was watched when it buried an acorn, it will re-bury it later. This acorn-burying behavior is very important for the regeneration of oak forests in California.”

Scrub-jay funerals. Ms. Hugs also points out, “Scrub-jays are very intelligent, social and even sensitive [and] are known to have funerals. If one bird finds a dead jay, it will call loudly and other jays will gather around the dead bird and caw loudly for up to half an hour.”

Too tired to eat. A mother raccoon with four kits in tow showed up at our kitchen door Saturday night looking for kibble. Apparently they’d spent the evening wandering around, and no sooner did the group start eating than two kits fell asleep.

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.

“Do you see that blonde over there?” a friend asked me in town today. “She’s a little hottie.”

“A little haughty?” I replied in confusion. “That’s too bad.” Then it was my friend’s turn to be confused.

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 A livestock-feeder bowl on the railing of Mitchell cabin’s deck is used as a birdbath where numerous birds both bathe and drink. Here a towhee takes a bath.

Other critters also use the birdbath, including raccoons such as these yesterday. Almost every evening, a mother raccoon and her four kits try to squeeze into it together. And like the birds, they’re not at all squeamish about drinking their own bathwater.

The kits’ struggles for space in the bowl sometimes worry me a bit, for one side of the bowl is about 20 feet off the ground. Ironically, another side is above Mitchell cabin’s hot tub, and more than once while in the tub, I’ve been surprised by sprinklings of cold water that turned out to be splashes from a bird taking a bath.

A skunk or two also show up on our deck virtually evening to eat any kibble the raccoons leave behind. This one showed up Wednesday. They raise their tails when disturbed but never spray, at least while on the deck.

A lonely peacock, which mostly hangs out near Highway 1 a quarter mile away, occasionally wanders over to our yard, but we’re mostly aware it’s in the vicinity because of its cries at night. During the breeding season, peacocks scream to attract peahens and sometimes merely because they hear other peacocks.

Got him. Two weeks ago this blog published photos of a young great blue heron hunting gophers near our cabin, and a few days later neighbor Dan Huntsman snapped this great shot of the heron holding a gopher it had just caught.

A bobcat made one of its periodic visits to Mitchell cabin this week. Like the heron, bobcats like to hunt gophers here.

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As has been in the news a lot lately, some police actions warrant special scrutiny — both in the US and abroad. Here’s a incident reported in the June 17 San Francisco Chronicle:

A man in Vienna was fined $565 for breaking wind loudly in front of a group of policemen on June 5. The man had behaved provocatively during an encounter with officers, according to police, and when he got up from a bench, he “let go a massive intestinal wind apparently with full intent.” The man was cited for offending public decency. Police later commented online, “Of course no one is reported for accidentally letting one go,” but “our colleagues don’t like to be farted at so much.” The Chronicle headlined its account: “Farting fine,” which it clearly wasn’t.

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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?

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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.

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.

A mother raccoon and two kits on the deck at Mitchell cabin.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am fascinated by the raccoons that show up nightly on our deck, so as might be expected, I found an article in the Science section of last Thursday’s Washington Post to be particularly disturbing: ‘Caged raccoons drooled in 100-degree heat but federal enforcement has faded.’

The Post reported that “for two days running in the summer of 2017, the temperature inside a metal barn in Iowa hovered above 96 degrees. Nearly 300 raccoons — bred and sold as pets and for research — simmered in stacked cages. Several lay with legs splayed, panting and drooling, a US Department of Agriculture inspector wrote. 

“On the third day, the thermometer hit 100, and 26 raccoons were in ‘severe heat distress’ and ‘suffering,’ the inspector reported. Then a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists took a rare step: they confiscated 10 of the animals and made plans to come back for the others. 

The Ruby Fur Farm in Iowa. A USDA inspector during one check found the heat in the farm’s raccoon cages had reached 117.2 degrees. (Photo obtained by The Washington Post.)

“But after an appeal from an industry group to a Trump White House advisor, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials intervened, according to five former USDA employees. The inspectors and veterinarians were blocked from taking the remaining raccoons and ordered to return those they had seized.”

One inspector, who had worked 20 years for the Department of Agriculture, quit later that year, explaining to The Post: “It feels like your hands are tied behind your back. You can’t do many of the things you’re supposed to do when it comes to protecting animals.”

A mother raccoon sleeps comfortably in Point Reyes Station.

The Post article goes on to describe the Trump administration’s also easing bans against cruelty to horses. This particularly affects Tennessee Walking Horses, which compete in horse shows with high-stepping gaits. Some owners unfortunately short-cut their training of the horses by driving spikes into animals’ front hooves, burning away the center of the hooves’ bottoms with caustic chemicals, or tying chains tightly around their ankles. This “soring” makes it so painful for a horse to put much weight down on its hooves that it becomes used to quickly drawing them back up.

Here again, I have a personal interest in the topic. In 1970 while teaching at Upper Iowa University, I became a Fayette County delegate to the Iowa State Democratic convention where I advocated a ban on the soring of horses. Later that year, the ban became part of a new federal law that made soring a violation of USDA regulations. Sored horses could no longer be entered in competition.

Under Trump, however, the USDA has more compassion for horse owners than mistreated horses. The USDA now says that sored horses should no longer be disqualified from horse shows unless it can be demonstrated that they belonged to their current owners at the time they were sored.

I’m sure the owners of fur farms and Tennessee Walking Horses will be voting for Trump next year.