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Archive for April, 2006

Here, kitty, kitty, kitty …

Back in the mid-1970s, there was a "huge" black cat reported on the Concord Naval Weapons Depot in Concord, CA. A Marine guard reportedly shot a couple of rounds at it but it ran off.

Then more reports. I tracked one sighting down to a house in Pine Canyon, behind Walnut Creek at the base of Mount Diablo, a few miles south of the Weapons Depot. The guy said about midnight his 2 shepherds started barking after they heard a loud THUMP on the patio roof. He let them out and they immediately came ki-yiing back into the house with their tails between their legs. He went outside and shined his flashlight onto a big black cat standing by his barn. "It was bigger than my shepherds."

When the light hit the cat at an angle, he said he could see spots in the black fur. Also a big long fat tail that curved down to the ground, huge head, yellow eyes … a fine description of a black (melanistic) African leopard.

This was also back in the days when it was legal to have exotic cats in Calif., and I knew people who had tigers, leopards, African lions, etc. for pets. I’d previously known of an African lion and an ocelot that had escaped from their cages.

I went out to the house in Pine Canyon and found tracks and made plaster casts of a large cat paw print about 7-8 inches across.

Eventually started getting reports from ranchers in Bollinger Canyon behind Danville (5-6 miles further south from Pine Canyon) about a big black cat. I had a friend who lived out there with some cattle, who saw the black cat regularly. They all thought it was neat and it never seemed to bother their horses or cattle, so they didn’t care. A park ranger found a deer carcass stuffed in the crotch of a tree. Mountain lions don’t do that. Leopards do.

For the next 5-6 years I’d get regular reports from Rossmoor residents who saw a black cat while on their early morning walks. (The Rossmoor retirement community in south Walnut Creek backs up to one end of Bollinger Canyon.)

The black cat sighting reports stopped around 1981-82 and I figured the animal had died.

I also did considerable research during that period and found no one had ever found a melanistic mountain lion in North or South America.

Posted on Friday, April 28th, 2006
Under: Black leopard, Cats, Exotic cats, wild predators, Wildlife | No Comments »

Spring in the old backyard

Looks like we’re going to have sunny days and 70-80 degree daytime temperatures for the next week. This will be the longest period of warm sunny days I’ve seen since the rains started at the beginning of winter. Dare I hope that spring has FINALLY arrived? I know the wild creatures that live in my backyard certainly feel that way.

A pair of Anna’s hummingbirds are busy courting in the skies above my yard. Probably getting ready to raise their (her!) second nest full of youngsters this year. The female is sitting on a tiny twig in the top of our apple tree, as the male zooms straight up for about 150 feet, then drops straight back down in a power dive and zips sideways at a 90-degree angle just inches above the female and curves back up for another attempt at the same maneuver. He did this three times in as many minutes, never missing a beat. Wow. I think he likes her. The nest is somewhere in my middle redwood tree. It’s so well camouflaged I haven’t been able to spot it.

I saw the skunk last evening, making his (her?) usual twilight trip through my yard. (Through the hole under my fence on the right side, trop, trot, trot across the patio and then under the redwoods and through the hole under the left side fence.)

Next came the mama opossum. I think she uses the same fence hole to pass through my yard.

Then the gray cat from next door, the black cat from across the street, and the striped cat from I have no idea where. They came over to sniff my catnip patch and get drunk and NOT use my yard for a litter box and then stagger back home to sleep it off until tomorrow’s trip. Hey, the catnip patch has worked for four years, now, and Lois and I can garden without digging up cat poop! Try it, you’ll like it.

Looks like I’m going to need street signs to control the traffic, though.

Posted on Wednesday, April 26th, 2006
Under: Seasons, Spring, Yard | No Comments »

A wild afternoon

Lois and I had a great time at the Orinda School District’s 5th Annual Wildlife Festival on Sunday. The Festival was held at the District’s Nature Area next to Wagner Ranch Elementary School. It was a beautiful, breezy (but warm) afternoon and the air was filled with sweet spring smells as whole families of parents and children came pouring out of their homes to enjoy the activities.

Native Birds Connections brought some of their beautiful birds of prey, Wild Birds Unlimited had displays, Malcolm Margolin was there to chat and sell (or give away, you know Malcolm!) books from Heyday Books in Berkeley, there were local Native American dancing and drumming performances, and the district’s 4th and 5th grade student band(s) serenaded us with some great music. And MANY thanks, of course, to Orinda School District Naturalist Toris Jaeger for creating it, pulling it all together, and making it work (as always). She’s the best. (The district Nature Area is truly a treasure. What a special, natural place to teach the young people about the world that swirls and grows around them! Truly unique.)

I just sat at my table or wandered around checking our Brian Murphy’s new bumble bee nest boxes, and chatted with visitors and answered their animal questions.

A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon: enjoying the fresh spring weather, talking with nice people, and holding hands with my wife. That’s as good as it gets.

Posted on Monday, April 24th, 2006
Under: Seasons, Spring, Wildlife | No Comments »

Thank you, NOT!

Here’s an inside peek at what it’s like to be involved in a dog attack. Just a little something for you to think about.

Gary: I wanted to thank the owners of two pit bulls that attacked my dog and myself.

The owners, I guess, didn’t want these dogs anymore. One is a large blue-and-white pit and the other a brown pit. Someone let them go around Foothill Drive in Antioch, three weeks ago. That’s when my poor little Jack Russell terrier got attacked.

My mother-in-law took her out to do her thing on a leash. We always take her out on a leash. I don’t even let her go in the backyard because of the coyotes.

When these dogs came running up to my dog and attacked her, luckily I was just going to my office when I saw them and heard my mother-in-law screaming for me. I ran out there. I didn’t even think to get a weapon and I don’t know how I did it, but I pushed my mother-in-law out of the way (she is a little lady) and fought the dogs off, but not without them doing $500 damage to my dog.

She was bitten in the rear really bad and needed stitches. She needs to go back to have dead tissues removed, but at $300 more we can’t afford it, so thank you again to the owner of these two pits.

So I don’t know what we are going to do as it is. We can’t pay our rent because of the $500 we had to pay for my dog and I would do it again for my little baby, and we will manage. Plus her neck was bitten but not bad, and I was bitten, but when I went to the doctor’s he said it was a small bite so my dog could of done it.

Anyways, my little dogdo (my pet name for her) is doing fine. She hates the plastic cone around her head.

The good side of this story is that when we returned from the vets I called the police and as they were driving up, they saw the two pit bulls. They came back I guess to finish the job. They watched them, then the police got out of their car and cornered the dogs in our backyard and called Animal Control and they came and got the dogs.

The dogs were nice to them. The dogs have been in quarantine for 10 days. Thank God no rabies, and they will be put down!

So, Gary, if you want to, could you please put this in the paper so maybe the owners can see this? Thank you!

I am not against pits. We used to have one. I got her when she was a puppy. Sweetest dog. She got hit by a truck when my daughter’s friend opened the door and she ran out. My cat used to put her in her place.

I hope the owner of the two pits sees this. I know I won’t hear from them but maybe they and other owners of pits can see this and see what happens when you no longer want a dog and you let it go free.

Note: I am now afraid to go outside with my dog without having some type of a weapon with me, and when I take her to the vets I am afraid, because I can’t always take her in her carrier. It’s too heavy for me.

I hope this will pass. I’ve never in my life been through this and hope I never will again. If you know of a vet where I can get her back redone cheaper or free, please let me know.

Thank you, Gary, for letting me vent my anger as you can see this happened three weeks ago and I am still mad. (Candi, Antioch, Calif.)

Posted on Wednesday, April 19th, 2006
Under: dogs, Pets, Pit bull attack | 8 Comments »

Time to outlaw “live lure” coursing

The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals.
— Albert Schweitzer

Dear Gary:
(California) Assemblywoman Loni Hancock has introduced AB 2110 to outlaw the sport of live lure coursing. Golden State Greyhound Adoption testified on April 4 before the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, in support of this legislation.

The bill specifically does NOT make it illegal to engage in non-live bait lure coursing. If you see fit to write something in support of this legislation, and to encourage your readers to support this bill by writing their legislators, I do not know of a single greyhound rescue organization, or any other rescue organization, that would object.

Rather, we would laud and appreciate your support to banish this cruel, inhumane and totally unnecessary blood sport.
(Sheldon Satnick, Golden State Greyhound Adoption, Pleasant Hill, Calif.)

Dear Sheldon:
You definitely have my support in banning this uncivilized activity.

I wrote in February, after seeing Channel 7’s horrifying report on the subject, that "open field coursing is banned in England because of its cruelty. Yet it’s happening right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and many compassionate people, including California State Assemblymember Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, want this blood sport outlawed."

Kim Sturla, director of Animal Place in Vacaville, Calif., said it best: "This is not a sport, this is a barbaric, inhumane activity in which a bunch of people cheer while dogs tear a terrified rabbit to pieces."

The next hearing on Hancock’s bill, AB 2110, is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. No date has been set, yet, for the hearing.

Everyone reading this can help this bill get passed by writing individual letters ASAP to as many of the committee members as possible (all is best, and the Chair and Vice-Chair for sure!). Tell them that greyhounds ripping apart rabbits that can’t escape is not hunting and has nothing to do with killing animals for food as some of the participants have stated.

Ask them to please SUPPORT Assemblywoman Loni Hancock’s bill, AB 2110, to outlaw live lure coursing in California.

Members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee: Assemblymembers Judy Chu (Chair), Sharon Runner (Vice-Chair), Karen Bass, Patty Berg, Ron Calderon, Hector de la Torre, Bill Emmerson, Ray Haynes, Betty Karnette, Johan Klehs, Mark Leno, Alan Nakanishi, Joe Nation, Jenny Oropeza, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Lori Saldana, Mimi Walters, Leland Yee.

The address for the Governor and all Legislators: State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Thanks for caring!

Posted on Friday, April 14th, 2006
Under: dogs, Greyhounds, Hunting, Killing, Live Lure Coursing | 2 Comments »

There’s more to home than just home

I was out driving around with my wife, Lois, last weekend when our conversation for some reason turned to salmon. This is a fish species that hatches in a stream, then swims down the stream and into the ocean where it spends up to 8 years swimming around for maybe thousands of miles before eventually returning to its home in the exact stream where it was originally hatched, to spawn and raise a new family.

Lois expressed her amazement that a little fish can spend all that time swimming around in the big ocean and then somehow manage to find it’s way home to the tiny stream where it had hatched from eggs.

That caused me to think about the tiny songbirds that visit the bird feeders in our backyards. Some of these birds will fly thousands of miles down to South America to winter at the same spot every year in South American jungles, then turn around at springtime and fly back to your house in time to peck on your kitchen window and complain about the empty bird feeder in your yard.

That’s pretty amazing, too. Think about it. No road maps. No country back roads or super highways. No highway patrol officers to give them instructions to the next off-ramp. Do the birds use the earth’s magnetic field like a compass? Does the stream water smell "different" to the salmon, stirring childhood memories of the place where it was spawned years before to help guide it back?

As Lois suggested with a little smile and a wry shake of her head, "Maybe there’s more to home than just home."

Speaking of home, if I turn left here, will this road bring us back to our street?

Posted on Tuesday, April 11th, 2006
Under: Fish, Home, wild birds, Wildlife | No Comments »

Notes from the wilds of Mount Diablo

On July 6, 2003, my good friend, Walnut Creek, Calif., photographer Brian Murphy, and I, did a front page story in the Contra Costa Times about the Shell Ridge golden eagle. The story had many of Brian’s perceptive photos of that huge, beautiful raptor.

Brian takes a lot of photos of wild creatures that live on our beloved 3,849-foot Mount Diablo here in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco East Bay area. Over the years Brian has developed a special relationship with these wild animals. Some people have even accused him of being their friend.

With that in mind, I thought you’d appreciate this e-mail I received from Brian this morning:

Gary: Interesting wildlife soap opera going on in our area.

Last year the Walker Canyon male eagle died from West Nile and it looks like the Walker Canyon female took the Shell Ridge male, not giving the Shell Ridge female enough time to find another mate, so she doesn’t have a mate this year. The two pairs kind of hung out together in Walker Canyon and share part of the territory.

But it looks like the female chick from 2002 is back with her mom and they are hanging out together in Shell Ridge.

I have to confirm this is the 2002 chick. I did see a female golden with white at the base of it’s tail feathers fly by me near the nest and that would be the correct age of the young female.

Perhaps mom is going to show her how to find unattached males? (Brian, Walnut Creek)

Will the Shell Ridge eagle find a new mate in time to breed and raise a family this year (doubtful). If she does, will her attractive daughter lure the new male off to a secret Mount Diablo canyon to help her build a nest?

Tune in next week to further adventures of, "Notes From the Wilds of Mount Diablo."

Posted on Friday, April 7th, 2006
Under: Golden eagles, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

It’s a small world

Hi Gary: I thought it was skunks tearing up my lawn. A family of raccoons came by every night to get left-over bird food and they also managed to get the tuna set inside the skunk trap (from the city) without setting off the trap. I kept thinking it was skunks digging for grubs and made sure there were no gaps under the fence for entry. So, it must be the raccoons — they perch on the neighbors roof every night — scaring them hasn’t worked, the traps haven’t worked — hopefully, you can! (Francie Lassiter, Norman, Oklahoma)

Francie: Checkout my Raccoon Fact Sheet (attached) and see if you can find something to help you resolve your problem. I explain what’s going on with the raccoons, and then my fact sheet contains a whole bunch of ideas for dealing with the raccoons. There’s no one magic solution. Each situation is slightly different. These ideas in my fact sheet have worked well for a lot of other people. Good luck. Please let me know what works for you.

Are you really in Norman, Oklahoma? I was born in Cushing, Okla. I lived in Agra, Guthrie, Cherokee, and in Coffeeville, Kansas when I was a kid. Small world. (Gary, Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Hi Gary: Thanks for responding so fast! Yes, I’m in Norman, east side of town and close enough to see the lights at the OU stadium,  and if the wind is heavy, we can hear the announcements, the band, etc. I’ve been here for 10 years, transplanted by marriage from Laguna Niguel, CA. It was like moving to a foreign country but I’m getting the hang of it. I’m "fixin" to make a cup of coffee to enjoy with your fact sheet. (Francie, Norman, Okla.)

Posted on Wednesday, April 5th, 2006
Under: Raccoons, Wildlife | No Comments »

Pets and “Daylight Savings Time Madness”

It case you haven’t already figured it out, our pets hate Daylight Savings Time.

Spring forward, fall back, whatever the reason or season, it means change and dogs, cats, birds and even pet king cobras hate change.
Case in point: My cats, Tut and Newman.

The cats both like to sit at the table when Lois and I have breakfast or dinner, hoping against hope that something edible will fall on the floor. They know we have Sunday breakfast about 8 a.m., after we sit around the kitchen table for a couple of hours slurping coffee and reading the morning papers.

Last Sunday they came walking up to the table at 8 a.m., ready to share our breakfast. Only we already had breakfast an hour earlier because Daylight Savings begins on the first Sunday in April and we sprang forward an hour on Saturday night before we went to bed.

What was 8 a.m. for the cats and time for breakfast, was now 9 a.m. for us and time for a walk in the rain.

Dinner was the same way. They showed up to see what was cooking at 7 p.m., and we were watching TV because we’d already dined at 6 p.m.

Monday I staggered downstairs as I always do to turn on tea water for Lois and then head off for work at 4:30 a.m. The cats looked up bleakly from the couch and wanted to know what the "meow" I was doing getting up at 3:30 a.m. in the morning and spoiling their sleep?

I’m bringing all this information to your attention because I suspect you’re having some or all of these problems, in one shape or another with your own animal companions.

Animals don’t understand it when we humans mess with Mother Nature, and especially when we mess with time. Actually, I don’t think we humans understand it all that much, either ("I know the clock says 9 a.m. but it’s really 8 a.m., isn’t it?")

Anyway … please be patient with your confused pets for the next week or so that it’s going to take them to get used to this new schedule.

And don’t forget yourself. Some people experience a kind of jet lag while their body is getting used to it being lighter when it expects it to be darker.

I’m curious if you’ve encountered similar "Daylight Savings Time Madness" with your own pets, or with yourself.

Let us know if you have. Tell us about it. Confession is good for the soul.

Posted on Monday, April 3rd, 2006
Under: Daylight Savings Time, Pets | 1 Comment »