Growing by the Bay

Category: animals


A dashing new visitor to the garden.

flummoxed deer

Bambi Flummoxed

bambi flummoxed

Okay, I got a little overconfident. We hadn’t had much deer damage in several days, and I needed to access the tomatoes. So I half opened up the cage I had put around them. That same night the deer ate all approximately 120 Sungold tomatoes, the damned gluttons. That was the last straw! (Also, the last tomato.) I constructed a seven-foot deer fence, which I had been putting off doing because of the difficult length and slope of the property. (This version of the fence is still a little improvisational, and soon eventually I will do a more attractive version.)

Now I have the enormous satisfaction of watching the wildlife down in the back forty, knowing that they are not getting into the garden.

Physical barriers are the only way to control deer. Forget all the other supposed solutions.

Kitten Habitat


Dormeuse, amas doré d’ombres et d’abandons … — Paul Valéry
(The sleeper, a golden mass of shadows and abandonments …)

Thanks to the neighborhood cat lady, we have an abundance of more or less free-range felines in our area. One found a cozy place to nap in the Norfolk Pine container (which probably had a nice layer of compost on top). The catnapper was soon joined by a more vigilant sibling.

In the front left is Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Meyeri’ (foxtail asparagus fern). At the right is a handsome speciment of Stipa arundinacea (New Zealand Wind Grass), which does marvelously well in this area, even during the drought. (I recently saw quite a few of these planted along the bay walk in Pacific Grove near Monterey.) Along the fence is true jasmine, and behind the Norfolk Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) in another container is Iochroma coccinea, with its tubular orange flowers.

groundhog at Slater Mill

Groundhog at Slater Mill

groundhog at Slater MillSlater Mill (shown below) in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the birthplace in America of both the Industrial Revolution and the American labor movement, thanks to a strike at the mill by its women workers. It’s also home to a couple of handsome groundhogs, including this one.

Slater Mill, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

Since converting our swimming pool to a garden we have had a lot more wildlife around. This year two pair of kestrels have taken up residence. We also have a lot of butterflies, beas, and hummingbirds.

This caterpillar is a swallowtail. They like plants in the carrot family, and this one was enjoying a lunch of dill. Eventually he will turn into a butterfly that will look something like this.

There are a few more photos in my nascent garden set on flickr.




bee, garden

We have many bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in the garden this year.


Pacific coastline north of Cambria

North of Cambria is a stretch of coastline accessed by Moonstone Drive. The drive is dotted with motels. As along much of California’s coast, highway 1 is all too near. But the coast itself is scenic, and sea otters may be seen. At this time of year whales migrant along the coast here, and they are often spotted surfacing and spouting offshore.
moonstone beach, cambria, ca

Further north is San Simeon and the Hearst Castle. A pier built by William Randolf Hearts still stands here. It is said to offer good fishing for mackeral, perch, and smelt.

hearst pier, cambria, ca

A few miles further up the coast is the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. Unfortunately, it is not accessible to the public. Its original Fresnel beacon lens was removed and replaced by a more functional but less delightful modern device; the original is now in downtown Cambria.

piedras blanca lighthouse

On the shore near the lighthouse elephant seals laze. They mate in March and pups are born in February; in 2007, 4000 pups were born in this rapidly growing colony. After mating the males head north to Alaska, while the rest of the herd follows in a month or two. By midsummer, however, they will be back at Piedras Blancas, only, as I understand, to travel north again before fall and return once more in November — their comings and goings are complicated and confusing. What are these big lugs thinking?

These creatures resemble giant belicose (but slothful) mamalian slugs, or manatees without the charm. Despite this lack of a cuddly Bambi factor, there is something exciting about encountering these enormous (the males was up to 5000 pounds) residents of the Pacific coast.

elephant seals near cambria, ca

Lampton Cliffs County Park, Cambria, central California coast

Just down the road from the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria on the central California coast is a small country park called Lampton Cliffs.

lampton cliffs county park, cambria

The park features a wooden stairway providing convenient access to a sheltered, rocky inlet.

Stairs to Pacific shore at Lampton Cliffs County Park, Cambria

Near the park is an open area that is marked as an ecological study zone. This is fenced and closed to the public.

ecological study area at cambria on the central California coast

I don’t know what kind of ecological study the University of California is doing here, but the ecology of the nature reserve seems imperfectly balanced — there were at least a couple dozen deer lounging in the meadow.

deer, cambria, ca


Martinez beavers under seige

The struggling town of Martinez at last has a bona fide tourist attraction — the delightful beavers who have built a dam downtown on the Alhambra Creek. Some of the videos featuring these YouTube stars can be seen above and below.

So, if you’re Martinez, how do you capitalize on this attraction? Do you go all out and set up elaborate viewing stations or do you play it low-key and let people wander around town until they find the beavers on the own. Already the beavers have been drawing crowds.

Well, again if you’re Martinez the answer is: neither of the above. Instead, city officials have called for the beavers to be killed — or, as they put it, “humanely depredated.” It seems the beaver dam could cause flooding. But in that case why kill the beavers instead of relocating them?

Martinez, by the way, in the home town of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.

Mount Diablo tarantula

Each fall the tarantulas come out on Mount Diablo to mate. We saw a couple this year and read about a couple of cyclists — Mt. Diablo is popular with high-endurance mountain bikers — who got so distracted by a pair of mating tarantulas that they crashed into each other and had to be hospitalized.

It looks like this fellow might have been captured and taken home by someone. But what do you do with your tarantula after you get him home?

Are there great white sharks in San Francisco Bay?

Good question! And here is the answer:

Find more videos like this on


Tule Elk at Point Reyes

tule elk near point reyes lighthouse

These handsome bucks were part of a herd I spotted near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Tule elk — found only in California — were once common in Point Reyes, but within a decade of the Gold Rush they had been hunted nearly to extinction. In 1873, the state made them a protected species. About a century later, in 1978, a handful of elk were reintroduced from the San Luis Island Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos. By 2000 there were hundreds of elk in the park (the Point Reyes National Seashore).


Tule Elk – Return of a Species (366 KB PDF file)
Park Service Tule Elk page

Coyote pup killed in park

The coyote pup was apparently hit by a car. A week or so ago, when adult coyotes attacked a large dog and were later shot, I speculated that “to go after such a formidable opponent suggests the coyotes were protecting a den.”

“Officials are trying to determine if the youngster is related to the pair of animals that was shot last week”

UPDATE: The Chronicle is suggesting that the coyotes became more aggressive as a result of people feeding them.

Wildlife uprising, part 3

According to the Chronicle, a great white shark took offense at a red kayak in the waters near San Mateo. A guy identified as “Dan” was fishing for rockfish from the kayak at the time of the attack.

When the shark hit the kayak Dan was thrown into the water, from which vantage he observed the shark using the bow of his boat as a toothpick. Nonetheless, he decided his best strategy was to get back into the vessel, “even though it was still on the nose.”

At that point the shark shrugged off the boat in disgust and swam off, no doubt muttering bitterly to itself about ocean polution. Dan headed in the opposite direction at high speed, despite again falling out of the kayak, which had become unstable, a couple of times along the way. After a while he was hailed by a friend who asked, “How did you do?”

“I got a couple fish,” said Dan, “and a shark.”

Wildlife uprising continues in the city

coyoteFirst it was uppity sea lions. Now it’s coyotes. According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, coyotes are attacking dogs in Golden Gate Park.

Coyotes disappeared from the city after the 1906 earthquake. They appear to have returned sometime in the past decade via the south peninsula. Recently a coyote was tracked with an electronic device, revealing that it traveled to Daly City and back in a single day (a trip that is agonizingly slow for commuters).

Over the weekend coyotes attacked a Rhodesian ridgeback, a large dog bred to hunt lions, in the park. To go after such a formidable opponent suggests the coyotes were protecting a den.

I have heard that city officials have killed the coyotes that attacked the dog, though I have yet to see an official report to that effect.

UPDATE: Yep, the shootings have been confirmed.

LINK: San Francisco Chronicle: “Coyotes attack dogs in Golden Gate Park,” by Jim Herron Zamora.

Sea Lions Turn Ornery

sea lion
public domain image

It’s not just San Francisco. Sea lions everywhere seem to be getting feisty. Last year, in a reenactment of The Wild Bunch, a renegade gang of sea lions took over a marina in Newport Beach and sank a yacht that was harbored there. And in Alaska a couple of years ago a sea lion jumped into a fisherman’s boat, pulled him out, and nearly drowned him.

No one’s sure why the sea lions are in such a foul mood. Some speculate that agricultural runoff and other polution, which can lead to the poisoning of the animals, may be at fault. Others say they’re just in a cranky mood. Whatever the case, these guys can weigh 1000 pounds, so consider keeping a little distance.

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