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Archive for January, 2006

“The City Creeks Journal”

"The City Creeks Journal" is a unique introduction to the natural history of the creeks of Walnut Creek, Calif. It is a field guide AND a journal for recording your observations and sketches of the natural world.  This is a handy book for students and people who just care about our creeks. It features the section of Walnut Creek between Civic Park and the Iron Horse Corridor, introduces riparian communities as complex systems of beauty and great value to wildlife, and explains how they are impacted by urbanization.

Journals are on sale every Sunday at the Walnut Creek Farmer’s Market at Lincoln and Broadway. Cost is $10.95 (including tax). To order by mail, make checks payable to LifeGarden and send to: 860 Bellows Court, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-5867. Please include $3.50 for postage and handling.

The Journal is a collaboration between LifeGarden and Diablo Nature Adventures and was funded by a Walnut Creek Civic Pride Grant. Profits from Journal sales support watershed education and restoration programs of LifeGarden.

LifeGarden is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable land use through publications, classes, tours, and community projects. Diablo Nature Adventures offers field trips in Mt. Diablo State Park and other open space areas that enhance classroom curriculum in a variety of subject areas for students in grades 2-12.

Get more details from Judy Adler, 925-937-3044; e-mail:

Posted on Friday, January 27th, 2006
Under: Book Review, Creeks | 1 Comment »

Listen to what your pets have to say

We need to pay close attention to our pets. They communicate with us in a lot of obvious ways with their body posture, tail movements, special sounds (purrs, whines, growls, meows) and in the ways they look at us. But it’s the subtle and unusual things they do that we need to be particularly alert for. They usually indicate something’s wrong.

My Abyssinian cat, Tut, has been following me around and meowing at me for the last couple of days. Not a lot, and nothing really obvious. A soft mew here, a gentle bump against my leg there. I really didn’t give it much thought until the other morning when I got up in the predawn darkness to go to work. Tut was waiting for me outside our bedroom door to give me a bump against my leg with his head. Hum. OK, now I’ve noticed.

Last night I brought it up with my wife, Lois. "Maybe he’s cold," she said. "I nearly froze last night."

So we got the wool comforter out of the closet and fixed up a nice warm nest for Tut in the area of the couch where he usually sleeps at night. He climbed in it right after dinner. Later, just before we went upstairs to bed, I carefully tucked the comforter over and around Tut until we could only see his eyes peering back at us out of his woolen cave.

This morning Tut was still in his warm cave as I left for work. And Lois said he was still there when she got up an hour so so later. Obviously nice and warm and happy.

Keep that in mind the next time you feel a little bump against your leg.

Posted on Tuesday, January 24th, 2006
Under: animal communication, Animals, Cats, Pets | 4 Comments »

Are you THE John Madden?

Gary: Please provide me with a copy of your Raccoon Fact Sheet. Your column in the Times was interesting and fun. /John Madden

John: Are you THE John Madden? /Gary

Gary: Sorry, I’m only THE to members of the family (and sometimes I wonder about that!). Since I’m older than the coach, I consider myself THE.

Thanks for the raccoon material. I live in Altadena, CA, an unincorporated area between Pasadena and the mountains. Our last house had a family of the critters (raccoons) living under a large deck. There must have been five in the family. It seems there was enough food around (probably set out for dogs) so that we had no lawn damage in 25 years. Eight years ago we moved to an area that abuts the National Forest and the bandits have been doing all of the things described in your fact sheet.

We also have deer, skunks, opossums, coyotes (the largest male I have ever seen came through the backyard last week), an occasional mountain lion, and, a small black bear (brown phase) who has been sighted along a 10-mile stretch of the forest. Love it. We are at the 1,780-ft. elevation and can see Catalina and Santa Monica Bay on a good day. I’ll put up with minimal danger and an occasional lawn-feeding beasty anytime. Live and let live.

I logged onto and found it to be quite good. So I have it delivered to my computer every day and keep up with the Northern California news. /John

Posted on Thursday, January 19th, 2006
Under: Animals, Raccoons, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Turn on the tea water and the warm nectar

It was really cold this morning. I glanced out the back window and saw that the frost on the neighbors’ rooftops was shimmering in the moonlight. After turning on the tea water for my wife, I carefully slid across the icy back deck and hopped across the lawn to recover the hummingbird feeder from where it was hanging from a limb on the apple tree.

One look when I got back into the kitchen showed that the nectar in the feeder was frozen. I thawed the frozen nectar and replaced it with a new batch made from warm water and then returned it to the apple tree. Out little male Anna’s hummer would get a warm drink of morning nectar and a pleasant surprise in a half-hour or so when the sun came up.

That’s my job every morning when I get up before the sun to go to work. Turn on the tea water so my wife can make herself a cup of hot tea when she gets up in another hour to head for her job. And then replace the frozen liquid in the hummingbird feeder with a fresh warm batch of nectar so that little winged tiger can get energized and start guarding the backyard.

Then when I get to work I can get a hot cup of coffee out of the machine and start writing about it.

Posted on Monday, January 16th, 2006
Under: Animals, hummingbirds, wild birds, Wildlife | 2 Comments »

It’s cold. Do you know where your pets are?

During the winter months, we sometimes forget that our dogs and cats can feel the effects of the cold just as much as we can. Sometimes worse.

I’m curious. What do you do to make sure your pets stay warm and comfortable?

Posted on Friday, January 13th, 2006
Under: Animals, Cats, dogs, Pets | 2 Comments »

I could use a little help from my friends

I could use a hand if you’ve got a moment. I’m researching information to help me answer a couple of reader questions. If anyone reading this has encountered one or both of these problems and has a successful solution for dealing with them, I’d appreciate you sharing what you did with me so I can add it to my own ideas and pass it along. I’m actually looking for as many different solutions as possible. The more, the merrier as they say. I’ll also list your name with your idea if I use it.

Cat problem: A 4-year-old cat is very affectionate with a mother and her son, but every time the dad gets near him, he hisses. When the dad tries to pet the cat, it bites his hand. Any ideas on fixing this problem?

Poisonous plants and puppies: Lady is getting a boxer puppy and has been reading about plants that are poisonous to dogs. She’s been checking the Internet for lists of these plants (there are many) and figures just about every plant in her house and garden is on some list of poisonous plants. Does she need to dig them all up and toss them out? She says she will if she has to. She wants to know how other people deal with this.

Thanks for any responses. I’ve answered both of these questions many times over the years I’ve been writing my newspaper column and am ready to answer them again. I’m just always looking for new ideas on these things from the actual people who’ve dealt with them. Thanks for your help!

Posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2006
Under: Animals, Cats, dogs, Pets, Poisonous plants | 4 Comments »

A blog is a column is a blog is a column

I got a call from a man who wanted to know what I write about in this on-line blog (he doesn’t have a computer) and how it differs from the daily newspaper column I’ve written for 35 years in the Contra Costa Times, West County Times, San Ramon Valley Times, East County Times and the Valley Times in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Unlike my columns in which I answer reader questions or write commentary on various and sundry pet, wildlife or environmental issues in a rather rigid framework, a blog (short for "weblog") is like a diary. I can ramble around as much as I want because there’s plenty of space here on the Internet. I’m also making this blog into kind of an extension of my newspaper column. The space I have to write my column on A2 of all the Times’ newspapers is limited, so I can use this blog to print things I don’t have room to print there, like some of the photos that come with reader e-mails and letters, longer letters, etc.

I also plan to run photos here of my wacky cats, Tut and Newman, and to fancy this space up for your future enjoyment with artwork and color photographs from my old wildlife rescue and rehabilitation days, include more webcam links so you can see more live wild creatures, and lots more. The sky’s the limit, you might say. And of course you can click on "comment" at the end of every one of my entries and add your own comments.

If you have ideas on other things I might do with this blog, let’s hear them. If you read this blog regularly, you should also read my column in the Times, or vice versa. If you don’t subscribe to the Times, you can read my column on-line at

So shall we let the games begin, as they say?

Posted on Friday, January 6th, 2006
Under: blogs, Cats, columns, Wildlife | 6 Comments »

The roar of a treefrog chorus

I stuck my head out the back door just before going to bed at 10 p.m. on Monday night (Jan. 2).

The rain had finally stopped and it was almost frosty cold, turning my breath into a lovely piece of art. But the most beautiful thing of all was the thunderous, eardrum shattering ROAR of a Pacific treefrog chorus, bursting with life from somewhere in the depths of my backyard.

Amazing that such a noisy love for life can exist deep inside tiny amphibians the size of a quarter.

I stuck my head out the back door again, just before going to work at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning (Jan. 3).

As I slid open the door, a BLAST of treefrog song shoved me back into the kitchen, slipping past me to knock both cats off the back of the couch from where they were sleeping. They’d been singing all night! Such energy!

I stepped out onto the back deck, raised my arms and clapped my hands together loudly, just once. And there was instant silence.

Wow, I never directed a treefrog symphony before.

Happy New Year!

Posted on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006
Under: Amphibians, Pacific treefrogs, Wildlife | 1 Comment »