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Archive for February, 2006

Watch barn owls raise their chicks on an “Owl Cam”

Frida and Diego are two barn owls that live in a nestbox in the attic of a warehouse in Benicia, CA. A video camera was installed in the nest box a few years ago and you can actually watch the owls live (24/7) as they incubate their eggs and raise their chicks. To date, this year, Frida has layed four eggs.

It’s a fun Web site. Check it out at:

Posted on Tuesday, February 28th, 2006
Under: Barn Owl, Web Cam, Wildlife | 2 Comments »

Preserving our vital open spaces

As many times over the years as I’ve tried to help the local land trusts raise funds to buy or manage and preserve new pieces of open space, I’m still always amazed at the immediate positive response I get from people and businesses throughout the local community. In 2002 I tried to raise $61,000 in 8 weeks to pay off the loan the Muir Heritage Land Trust used to purchase the 80-acre Gustin Ranch Open Space near Martinez, CA. Would you believe 1,225 donors sent in $75,838? That magnificent response really says something about how we all feel about preserving the fragile open spaces near our backyards!

So now we’re off and running to help the Land Trust deal with another vital piece of local open space, the 700-acre Fernandez Ranch property. This is an extraordinary stretch of West Contra Costa’s natural landscape, stretching from Alhambra Valley north to Highway 4, off Christie Road. You can see it when you drive from Martinez to Hercules along Highway 4, off to the left behind the Franklin Canyon Golf Course.

At the end of the first week, the Trust has received 33 donations for a total of $5,075! Not a bad start, really. That means just $44,925 to go. My goal is to reach this figure by April 9. Then the Land Trust will schedule a weekend gathering for all the donors on the Fernandez Ranch so we can celebrate and thank everyone for making it happen.

Buying and preserving our last remaining open spaces is the only way we can preserve and protect them from becoming parking lots or new housing developments. In the words of one of this week’s donors, we need to “help balance our existing community with publicly accessible open space."

I’m sure our myriad local wild creatures also appreciate that we’re making sure they will always have a place to live. It’s the neighborly thing to do.

Posted on Friday, February 24th, 2006
Under: Animals, Ecosystem, Open space, Wildlife | No Comments »


A couple of my readers regularly send me some great haiku they’ve been writing about our local environment. Mind if I share a couple with you? I thought not.

Nona Mock Wyman, Walnut Creek, CA:

like Winter’s snowflakes
almond blossoms gently drift
enchanting moment

The whole world responds
When the morning sun breaks through
Instantly, pure joy

Lura Osgood, Pleasant Hill, CA:

Thick banks of gray fog
Huddle against eastern hills,
Holding back the dawn.

Burgeoning berries,
Disappearing from branches:
Ravenous robins!

Posted on Thursday, February 23rd, 2006
Under: Animals, Seasons, Wildlife | No Comments »

Let’s do it!

I need your help.

We must come up with $6,250 a week for the next eight weeks so the Muir Heritage Land Trust can raise $50,000 to support the process of opening the 700-acre Fernandez Ranch property to the public.

This beautiful historic ranch is the Trust’s most recent purchase. As responsible land stewards, they need to make the property safe so you can enjoy it. This means restoring eroded sections of Rodeo Creek, replacing a large bridge destroyed by flooding, and building a staging area to provide safe parking for visitors. Grant funding will hopefully pay for most of the big construction costs.

This process will take about two years to finish, but they can’t do anything until we raise the money to pay for their operation needs (day-to-day expenses) and help them get started.

The Fernandez Ranch is an extraordinary piece of West Contra Costa’s natural landscape, stretching from Alhambra Valley north to Highway 4, off Christie Road. You can see it when you drive from Martinez to Hercules along Highway 4, off to the left behind the Franklin Canyon Golf Course.

"We" is you, me, school kids, businesses, foundations — anyone who cares anything about preserving open spaces. No donation is too small (or too big!). Please send your tax-deductible donation to: Muir Heritage Land Trust, Fernandez Ranch Adventure, P.O. Box 2452, Martinez, CA 94553. Let’s do it!

Posted on Tuesday, February 21st, 2006
Under: Creeks, Ecosystem, Open space | No Comments »

Where are they taking the elk?

I received several e-mails in the last couple of days asking me, "What are they doing with the tule elk they captured last Monday (Feb. 13) and are taking away from the Concord Naval Weapons Station?"

The e-mail senders said they had watched TV news programs on the elk capture, and read staff writer Denis Cuff’s story in the Feb. 14 Contra Costa Times, and found no information on where they were taking the elk. "No one said anything as to where they are going," said one.

I don’t know about the TV news shows, but here are paragraphs 7 and 8 from Cuff’s front page story:

"State wildlife managers used the helicopter and 130 people on the ground to begin relocating the elk herd primarily to the Cache Creek National Area near Willows.

"The area will provide elk more space to roam, and get them out of the path of homes and offices envisioned for 5,170 acres on the southern part of the base."

That’s where they’re taking the elk.

Posted on Thursday, February 16th, 2006
Under: Animals, Tule elk, Wildlife | 2 Comments »

Open season in suburbia

Last week the Boston Globe ran a story by Megan Woolhouse of the Globe staff headlined, "Open Season in Suburbia." It was all about "suburban hunting," where more and more hunters, at least in Mass., are starting to do their hunting closer and closer to home. The story claims that deer, wild turkeys and other wildlife that people like to hunt are now being found in the suburbs.

I can’t argue with that. Seems like I can go for a walk just about anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area and within five minutes spot wild turkeys or deer nibbling or pecking away in someone’s front yard.

So what happens when there are no more open spaces left because we’ve covered them all with houses, parking lots and freeways?

Will the California Department of Fish and Game start handing out licenses to hunters so they can hunt deer in our flowerbeds?

Will they issue fishing licenses so fisherpersons can drive down the street trolling in the gutters in front of your house for salmon?

Will hunters be able to buy bird hunting licenses so they can go dove, pheasant, and wild turkey hunting in our backyards?

That’s a little scary.

Posted on Monday, February 13th, 2006
Under: Hunting, Suburbia, Wildlife | 3 Comments »

My mole friend

I’ve been having this "thing" with a broad-footed mole that recently moved into my front yard. I spotted signs of my visitor a couple of weeks ago when I went out to get the mail after getting home from work. Right there in front of my mailbox, and spilling over onto the sidewalk, was a large mound of sandy soil where the mole had shoved it up out of the way after excavating its tunnel under my yard.

I like moles. They aerate the soil by tunneling around in it and creating air spaces. They also leave raised areas in your lawn from their half-submerged tunneling and that kind of irritates some people. Especially the groundskeepers at local golf courses.

But back to our story. I got one of the 5-gallon buckets from our little garden shed and a trowel and scooped the mole mound into the bucket. The sandy soil barely covered the bottom of the bucket.

That was two weeks ago. The first 5-gallon bucket is now full and I can hardly lift it, a second bucket is full, and a third is almost full; almost 15 gallons of dirt. I have this mental picture of a gigantic cavern that is forming beneath my house.

Today there is another mound of sandy soil in front of my mailbox.

I’m going to have to give this some thought.

Posted on Friday, February 10th, 2006
Under: Broad-footed mole, Wildlife, Yard | 3 Comments »

Alaska’s cruel wolf slaughter

Hi Gary: My wife and I both read and enjoy your column. Since you are an animal lover, like us, I want to request that you alert your readers about an extreme situation of animal cruelty currently going on in the State of Alaska.

It is the governor sanctioned slaughter of wolves from aircraft, in violation of the Federal Hunting Act. These blood-thirsty goons (no other description is appropriate), run these magnificent wolves down to exhaustion and then execute them at point black range.

This includes mother wolves being followed by frightened cubs … all of them. Wolves are magnificent animals with sophisticated pack structures, natural and beautiful predators that keep the natural ecosystem in check.

Please use the forum of your daily column to speak out against this. /Dick Augusta, Antioch, California

Posted on Thursday, February 9th, 2006
Under: Alaska, Animals, death, wild predators, Wildlife, Wolves | No Comments »

Go suck an orange

If you read my daily newspaper column in Contra Costa Newspapers, you know my readers and I have been having a little discussion about the merits of oranges and orange peel, and of course the smell of same, for keeping cats and squirrels (and other animals?) out of your yard. I got several e-mails suggesting grated orange peel was a good cat repellent. A lady tried sprinkling some around her Christmas tree last December to keep her cat from messing with the tree, and it worked. After I put that in my column, I got 10-12 more e-mails from people who had tried the stuff and thought it worked very well.

Then I got an e-mail from Lisa Windflower from somewhere.

Gary: Regarding the hint to repel squirrels using citrus peel — this is what the squirrels in my yard think of that. ("This" was a photograph of a fox squirrel sitting in a tree eating an orange. Unfortunately I had trouble downloading the photo or you’d be looking at it here. I’ll try to get Lisa to send me another. /Gary)

What you don’t see (in the photo) is the pile of empty orange peels below the oak tree where they eat their oranges. The squirrels eat the oranges, leaving half the peel intact. The rats hollow out the entire peel. /Lisa

So much for squirrels being repelled by oranges and peels. At least, Lisa Windflower’s squirrels.There are always exceptions to everything. Especially when animals are concerned.

OK, I’m hiding under my desk, now. You can start responding to this (click on "comments" below).

Posted on Monday, February 6th, 2006
Under: Animals, Cats, fox squirrel, Pets, Wildlife | 2 Comments »

Speaking of listening to pets …

Scroll down a little bit and read my January 24 entry, "Listen to what your pets have to say." Our story continues.

When Lois and I brought out the wool comforter to help keep our cat, Tut, warm on these cold nights, we thought that would solve his problem of being too cold and I guess it did. Unfortunately, it also created a new problem: Wool Comforter Envy. Newman, our tuxedo Maine coon cat had it.

When I got the comforter for Tut, I didn’t stop for a second to worry about Newman. His mass of long, black hair keeps him from ever getting cold. Newman could sleep on a frozen lake and be happy. But he’s not sleeping on a frozen lake these days. He sleeps on the couch next to Tut, and he doesn’t have a wool comforter to sleep on.

I first discovered the problem when I came downstairs to go to work yesterday morning. Newman was sleeping on the wool comforter. Tut had been sitting outside our bedroom door, grumbling. When I got home from work last night, I could hear the thunder of galloping "hooves" as the cats chased each other around the house. Newman weighs 18-pounds and sounds like he’s wearing cement shoes when he walks. When he runs he sounds like a herd of bison.

Newman and Tut were standing nose-to-nose hissing at each other when I walked into the room. The wool comforter was on the floor next to them.

"Stop!" I said. Presto, no cats. Funny how that always works.

I picked up the comforter and put it back on the couch where Tut always sleeps. Then I went and got a red wool blanket out of the closet and stretched it on Newman’s pillow.

Now Newman has a bright red blanket and Tut doesn’t. Boy is he happy.

And the best part? Tut doesn’t care.

Posted on Wednesday, February 1st, 2006
Under: animal communication, Animals, Cats, Pets | 2 Comments »