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Archive for January, 2007

Eagle and deer cause power outage?

There was a great little story on the Associated Press wires this morning. Here’s an excerpt:

“JUNEAU, Alaska — About 10,000 Juneau residents briefly lost power Sunday after a bald eagle lugging a deer head crashed into transmission lines.

“‘You have to live in Alaska to have this kind of outage scenario,’ said Gayle Wood, an Alaska Electric Light & Power spokeswoman. ‘This is the story of the overly ambitious eagle who evidently found a deer head in the landfill.’

“The hefty bounty apparently bogged down the eagle, which failed to clear transmission lines as it flew away from the landfill, she said. When a repair crew arrived, they found the eagle carcass with the deer head nearby. … “

This caught my attention because of a little project I did about 25 years ago. I had read another AP story about sheep in Texas that were supposedly getting carried off by golden eagles. A bunch of Texas ranchers were demanding that their state Game and Fish Department give them permission to shoot the eagles to protect their livestock.

I was involved in a wildlife rehabilitation program at that time and had worked with a lot of eagles. I knew that those big birds often had a hard enough time launching just themselves into the sky, without the added weight of a sheep. In fact, I was certain that was impossible and that the ranchers were just exaggerating the situation to blame their losses on something.

Male golden eagles weight about 8-9 pounds and females weigh 10-12 pounds. Adult sheep weigh 150-200 pounds. No way a golden eagle could budge one of those monsters. Even a newborn lamb weighing 5-8 pounds at birth would be more than most eagles could drag into the sky.

I decided to try an experiment. I had a big (12 pounds) female golden at the time, so I tied a long line to her jesses (leather straps on her legs like those used by falconers to control their hunting birds) and tried to see how much weight she could lift off the ground.

Without boring you with details, she was barely able to drag the carcass of a 5 pound rabbit off the ground and stay in the air for about 100 feet before coming back to earth in a crash landing. I think we can forget the “eagles carrying off sheep” story.

I’m also starting to wonder about the bald eagle carrying off the deer head in the above story. That head had to weigh at least 10-15 pounds. Seems a bit much for an 8-14 pound bald eagle.

Oh, well, I don’t think I’ll be collecting any deer heads to test this one out. Hummm. I wonder if this is a sign that I’m getting old.

Posted on Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
Under: Golden eagles | 2 Comments »

Heroic wife defends husband from mountain lion attack

Last Wednesday, a man and a woman were hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County, 320 miles north of San Francisco, when the man was attacked by a mountain lion.

According to a wire story by Associated Press writer Lisa Leff, “Nell Hamm said she grabbed a four-inch wide log and beat the animal with it,” but it wouldn’t let go of her husband Jim’s head. Nell tried to stab the lion in the eye with a pen she took from her husband’s pocket but the pen broke so she went back to pounding on the big cat with her log.

This quote from the AP story really says it all: “The lion eventually let go and with blood on its snout stood staring at the woman, who screamed and waved her wooden weapon until the animal slowly walked away.”

If you ever encounter a large predator in the wild (lion, coyote, whatever) and feel threatened by the animal, stand as tall as you can, wave a weapon or your arms, throw rocks and scream at the predator to let it know who is boss. If you are ever attacked by a mountain lion, fight and yell. Don’t ever give up.

Nell saved Jim’s life because she fought and she wouldn’t give up.

Fish and Game wardens used dogs to track down two young lions, a male and female, near the attack site. The female lion was shot Wednesday and the male on Thursday. The state forensics lab identified the female lion as the attacker (human blood on her claws).

Mountain lions are incredibly powerful animals with amazing reflexes. Back in the 1970s when I was curator of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, I raised several surplus zoo mountain lion cubs so the museum’s wildlife rescue program could study their development. We wanted to apply what we learned to rehabilitating orphaned wild cubs.

One time several of us were in the field working with a 9-month-old, 80-pound male lion. The enormous cub was standing about 8-10 feet away from me when it suddenly leaped through the air and struck me full in the chest (in one bound!), knocking me to the ground flat on my back. All the air was smashed from my lungs and as I laid there, utterly helpless and gasping, the lion started purring and licking my beard. Fortunately, it was just playing.

I can only imagine the unbelievable power and fear that goes with a REAL mountain lion attack. That’s why Nell Hamm is a brave and heroic woman. The same goes for her badly-injured husband, Jim, who somehow mustered his strength to get up (at Nell’s insistent urging) and they hiked together to a nearby trail head where they met a ranger who called for help.

What a great couple!

Today, Jim is in serious condition and probably undergoing more surgery to repair his injuries. My thoughts are with him and his very special wife, Nell.

Posted on Monday, January 29th, 2007
Under: Mountain lion | 2 Comments »

Rodent poisons can kill your pets

Welcome to my new blog site!

I published the following letter in my Thursday column in the Times. I’ve decided to also print it here in my blog to make sure those of you who don’t read my column will still get a chance to see it.

This information below may save the life of your cat or dog, no matter where you live on this planet.

(By the way, if you live out of the Contra Costa Times circulation area, you can still read my daily newspaper column at My column runs Tuesday through Friday and Sundays.)

Gary: We have been seeing quite an increase in the number of dogs being exposed to or ingesting mouse or rat baits.

There are basically two types of bait. One is an anticoagulant type product such as brodifacoum, bromodialone, inadione, etc. This type has an antidote. The other product is bromethalin. This type has no antidote.

If exposed to either type and decontaminated (inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal) within a very short time, it usually prevents problems.

If there is questionable exposure there is a blood test, PT (prothrombin time), that is very accurate as to identifying whether exposure to the anticoagulant type occurred. This test may need to be repeated multiple times.

We have had quite a few cases that are already clinical. They may bleed anywhere and everywhere. But once they bleed its like opening up a faucet. If treated aggressively with dog plasma and Vitamin K, dogs tend to do OK if the problem is identified early.

Symptoms: If a pet were to ingest an anticoagulant type rat bait, one might see clinical signs three-plus days after ingestion. These signs could include bloody urine, bloody nose, bleeding from the gums, abnormal painful swellings, gastrointestinal bleeding, coughing up blood, or any abnormal bleeding at all.

If any suspicion arises a PT (prothrombin time) test can be done to identify it as the problem. If the PT is elevated a minimum treatment of Vitamin K is warranted and if bleeding is bad, blood transfusions or plasma may be warranted. The afflicted worsen quickly. Time is of the essence.

If a pet ingests the bromethalin type of rat bait, there is no specific test or treatment. They may exhibit either acute or chronic neurological changes. (Daryl K. Schawel DVM, Contra Costa Veterinary Emergency Center)

Daryl: “Time is of the essence.” In other words, if you think your pet has eaten poison rat or mouse bait, you need to get it to your veterinarian IMMEDIATELY for testing and treatment.

And just as important: don’t use poison rat or mouse baits on your property. Even if you don’t have dogs or cats, that stuff can also kill wildlife.

If you have to control rodents, use traps, and make sure they are set so they will only kill the target rodents.

Thanks for alerting us, doctor! Please let us know if you encounter any other problems of this type.

Posted on Friday, January 26th, 2007
Under: Poison | 3 Comments »

Must they kill the squirrels?

Mountain View residents and city officials are all in a dither about how to deal with aggressive fox squirrels.

Since the middle of last year, some visitors at the city’s Cuesta Park have supposedly been “attacked” and scratched or bitten by squirrels trying to get food. I’ve put “attacked” in quotes because “attacked” is a matter of interpretation when it comes to small rodents trying to get food that you may be holding.

When people go to a city park and start feeding squirrels, it doesn’t take long for the squirrels to start thinking that when they see anyone holding food, it must be for them. If anyone, especially small children, tries to keep food from the squirrels (cookies, candy, etc.), the squirrels may try to take it.

People can get scratched or occasionally nipped if this happens. They’re not necessarily being attacked. They just got in the way.

Initially, according to the newspaper stories, radio program transcripts and blogs I’ve read, the city planned to trap and kill the aggressive squirrels. But when the smoke had cleared, hundreds of Mountain View residents had signed petitions demanding that the city forget that plan.

As of Monday, as near as I can find out, the city still hadn’t made any official plans to kill the squirrels and was looking for a long-term and less violent way to deal with them. Meanwhile they’re asking people to stop feeding the squirrels.

Good solution: Stop feeding squirrels. Keep the garbage cans emptied. Be patient. Things gradually return to normal as squirrels revert to natural food.

Bad solution: Killing the squirrels. First of all, it’s not fair. They’ve just been doing what humans have taught them to do (take food from hands). Second, if you kill off those few resident squirrels who have been keeping other squirrels from moving in on their turf, the park is going to gradually be filled when lots more transient squirrels move in to take their place.

Will they be more aggressive than the present squirrel population? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it really worth having to find all that out by starting all over with a brand new squirrel population? Fox squirrels live in the Bay Area and they’re not going to go away.

Killing is a short-term solution and usually not a good one.

The city of Mountain View needs to come up with a long-term solution to this problem that works for everyone — squirrel lovers who don’t want the squirrels killed, people who don’t like being scratched or bitten, and of course, the squirrels.

(The above information is also being published in my daily newspaper column on Jan. 24.)

Posted on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
Under: fox squirrel | No Comments »

The Times’ goose is back!

Every spring for the last few years (three, I think), a pair of Canada geese have nested on a small section of our roof here at the Contra Costa Times at 2640 Shadelands Drive in Walnut Creek.

There’s a little piece of our roof that sticks out above the employee parking lot, right next to the guard shack. Times employees can watch her through an upstairs window in the hallway on the other side of the wall from her nest without disturbing her. (And we do! We’re very attached to our goose!)

Geese often nest on cliffs, so it’s not surprising for a suburban goose to pick a flat rooftop. Goslings, with their thick, fuzzy down, are designed by Mother Nature to bounce safely when they jump off high places like cliffs, hollow trees and low suburban rooftops.

There are several redwood trees right next to mama goose’s roof. Her roof top is covered with dried bits of fallen redwood twigs.

On Thursday, our security guard told me the goose was back, so I went up and looked out the window. Sure enough, there she was, pushing the fallen bits of redwood duff around with her large beak into a round-shaped nest with a big dip in the middle where she will lay her 4-7 eggs and then sit on them and incubate them for the next 42 days.

On Friday morning when I checked, there was still just the empty nest, ready for her to climb aboard and lay her eggs when it’s time.

She is a tough lady. In past years I’d look out the window when I got to work just before dawn, and see her sitting up there all by herself with her head held high in the freezing cold, or wind, or rain, as she peered over the edge of her little roof and watched her friends — the Times employees — arriving at work.

The male goose often stands on a higher part of our roof so he can look down at the nest and keep a protective eye on his mate.

I wonder how many little goslings she’ll hatch this year … after she gets around to laying her eggs?

Posted on Friday, January 19th, 2007
Under: Canada Goose | 2 Comments »

Got deer photos?

Anyone have a photo(s) of deer on or by a road or freeway that they can post on the Times’ Pets & Wildlife Photoblog for use in a story?

Go to, scroll down to “Share Your Photos,” click on “Pets & Wildlife,” and follow instructions to send your photos. Thanks a lot! /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, January 17th, 2007
Under: deer | No Comments »

Grandpa hit by car, pet dog flees and is now missing

I just received this note. If you can help, please do.

"My elderly dad was walking with our dog, Shiva (they’re walking partners) last Friday, Jan. 12, when he was hit by a car in the crosswalk at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Appian Way here in Pinole. Luckily, my dad survived the accident and did not sustain major injuries (amazing for someone his age, 82+, and slight build).

"The accident freaked out and traumatized the dog so she bolted in fear. We haven’t seen her since.  She’s 4+ years old, a very sweet and gentle creature. She’s a basenji-German shepherd mix with a smooth short coat and thin tail. She’s all black except for smudges of tan on her muzzle, paws, and ‘dots’ above her eyes. (She looks like a black bear cub.) She is on medication, too, so we’re desperate to find her.

"When she fled, she was wearing a red collar with silver paw prints, a steel bone-shaped ID tag, a purple harness and a red retractable leash.

"We adopted her just over a month ago to replace our dog who suddenly died from meningitis last November, so we’re pretty devastated by this back-to-back loss. We’re offering a good cash reward for her return. If you can help us, our family would be forever grateful to you. You have no idea what boundless joy you will bring to our family if we’re reunited with Shiva.

"Cheryl (Cheers), Brian, and Russ — Shiva’s parents and grandpa — 510-724-4080 (home, Pinole)"

If you’ve seen Shiva, or found her, please contact the above number and arrange to get her back to her home. That would be a very good thing. Thanks for caring! /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
Under: Lost and found | No Comments »

Idaho Gov. wants to kill wolves in his state

"BOISE, Idaho (Associated Press) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter says he’ll support public hunts to kill all but 100 gray wolves in the state once the federal government removes the animal from Endangered Species Act protections.

"The governor said he hopes to shoot a wolf himself."

It’s amazing what some people, even the governor of the state of Idaho, will do to raise a few bucks (while courting the votes of Idaho hunters!). But you have to admit, wiping out an entire species of wildlife in the state for political purposes is really over the edge. The Gov.’s rationalization for doing this ("wolves are rapidly killing elk and other animals essential to Idaho’s multimillion-dollar hunting industry") is also bad science. Most scientific research shows that wolves don’t cause major damage to elk herds.

This is the same bad argument Alaska has been using for the aerial hunting of wolves. Their motives are also the same. They don’t want any natural predators killing animals that paying hunters could be killing.

I wonder if it would help if wolves bought hunting licenses?

Here’s some more of the Idaho wolf-killing story by Associated Press writer Jesse Harlan Alderman:

The Idaho Office of Species Conservation estimates the state’s current wolf population at about 650, in roughly 60 packs. Governor Otter told The Associated Press after a rally of hunters on the Capitol steps that he wants hunters to gradually kill about 550 of the animals, leaving about 100 wolves or 10 packs, the minimum the federal government would allow before wolves again would be considered endangered.

"That management includes you," Otter told the approximately 300 hunters, many wearing camouflage clothing and blaze-orange caps. "I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself."

Idaho Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife bused in wolf opponents from as far as Twin Falls, 130 miles away, for Thursday’s rally with Otter and several state lawmakers. They urged the government to immediately remove wolves from endangered species protection.

Otter also signed a proclamation making Thursday "Idaho Sportsmen Day."

The crowd — including one hunter with a stuffed baby fox around his neck and a sign declaring "Wolves are illegal immigrants too" — stood for more than an hour in the midmorning snow. They applauded wildly as Otter amplified their position that wolves are rapidly killing elk and other animals essential to Idaho’s multimillion-dollar hunting industry. …

There’s more, but I think you get the point.

The Helena Independent Record (newspaper) in Montana printed the entire press release if you’d like to read the rest. It’s at

If you’d like to find out what you can do to help wolves, check out the Defenders of Wildlife Web site at

Posted on Friday, January 12th, 2007
Under: Killing wolves | No Comments »

Past pigeon control efforts have caused panics similar to the one in Austin, Texas

Maybe Austin city officials should spend more time reading newspapers. The Associated Press reported in September, 2006, about poisoned pigeons in Texarkana, Texas, and also about a similar pigeon control effort in July, 2006, in Schenectady, N.Y., that "led to a hazardous materials incident" similar to the one in Austin on Monday.

From the Associated Press wire on Sept. 13, 2006:

TEXARKANA, Texas (AP) — Poisoned pigeons began nose-diving into pavement and dying on downtown sidewalks, marring the city’s annual festival.

Authorities cleaned up more than 25 sick or dead birds that apparently had eaten poisoned corn from the roof of a nearby bank branch.

… the bank hired an exterminator to handle its pigeon problem after a bird entered the bank and defecated on a customer. The company hired, Anti-Pest Co. Inc. of Shreveport, La., said its goal with the treated corn was to sicken pigeons so they would leave the rooftop. Death was sometimes an unfortunate side effect, company president Jarrod Horton said.

A similar pigeon control effort at a hospital in Schenectady, N.Y., led to a hazardous materials incident in July. Emergency workers spent hours searching the hospital grounds and putting dead birds in red hazardous-waste bags after an exterminator used a pesticide to get rid of pigeons on the roof. Fire Chief Robert Farstad had described the scene as birds "coming down like dive bombers."

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2007
Under: Dead birds, Poison, wild birds | 1 Comment »

Were dead birds in Austin, Texas, poisoned?

Were dead birds that closed downtown Austin, Texas, poisoned by building owners for pooping on their buildings?

A wire story just filed by Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno, states that police shut down 10 blocks of businesses in the heart of downtown Austin, Texas, early today "after dozens of birds were found dead in the streets." Officials said preliminary tests showed no dangerous chemicals in the air.

The story said "as many as 60 dead pigeons, sparrows and grackles were found overnight along Congress Avenue, a main route through downtown." No human injuries or illnesses were reported.

Interestingly, all three birds are typical of those types of urban birds that perch in large flocks on rooftops, gutters and sidewalks around buildings and make enormous messes that building owners have to clean up.

Grackles are crow-size birds, black with iridescent heads, backs and bellies that normally inhabit urban areas in the Midwest and Eastern parts of the United States. We’re all familiar with pigeons and sparrows. All three of the bird species eat just about anything they find on city streets, especially seeds.

And seeds are what angry building owners sometimes use to poison these birds so they don’t poop on their buildings. It has happened in other cities in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what they discover after just about every medical testing facility in Austin, and quite a few that aren’t, finishes testing the bodies of the dead birds.

Posted on Monday, January 8th, 2007
Under: Dead birds | 24 Comments »