Gopher Architecture

P90922If gopher burrows had windows, this burrow would have hillside views. If gophers had better eyesight, the one who lives here could enjoy the views from such windows. Of course, views are not a concern for any gopher. They just want to burrow through the soil to eat the many roots they encounter. They do not often emerge from their homes for more than the ejection of soil.

If it happens in gardens and landscapes, the consumption of roots by gophers is a serious problem. It can kill substantial plants faster than associated symptoms become apparent. Agaves and yuccas that are safe from grazing animals that might want to eat them from above have no protection from gopher who attack from below. Small perennials and annuals get taken whole.

Excavation such as that in these two pictures is a major problem too. When I see soil accumulating here, I wonder where it came from. Should I expect a sink hole to appear somewhere else? Soil displacement can enhance and promote erosion, and displace pavers. Holes and volcanoes (mounds) are tripping hazards in lawns, especially if the holes do not appear until stepped on.

The damage seen here is not yet as serious as it looks. The only roots for gophers to eat here are those of black locusts that I must eradicate anyway. Gophers will not bother the bay trees or redwood trees; and if they do somehow bother the bay trees, I would not mind. However, I don’t want gophers to eventually find and kill any of the lauristinus that I just installed nearby.

It all would be so much easier and mutually beneficial if inconsiderate gophers could be trained to be neater and discrete with their otherwise sloppy excavation, and to eat only weeds and other unwanted plants.P90922+

Mr. McNugget

P90914KWildlife is a topic that is notably lacking from my articles. I mention only that which must be ‘escorted’ out of the landscapes, like Halston Junior. Gophers, racoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, mice, opossums, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, turkeys, geese, woodpeckers, jays, crows, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and feral boars can potentially be problematic.

There are probably at least a few more. This list does not even include bad neighbors or domestic animals. Nor does it include foxes, just because they eat mice, rats and snails, and do not seem to cause any problems. Butterflies and most birds, except those listed, are quite tolerable. Insects and mites that damage plants deserve their own list. I don’t know where ticks fit in.

Most unwelcome wildlife at least tries to stay out of my way. Others seem to make sport of antagonizing me. Skunks try to be friendly; but I must pass on that. Turkeys are . . . just turkeys.

This strangely calm black-chinned hummingbird who watches me from the same spot in a flowering cherry tree is either unaware of my disdain for wildlife, or is merely unconcerned about it. He just sits there . . . silently . . . observing . . . as if plotting or scheming or . . . something. He seems to be harmless; but I really don’t know. He could have sharp talons or another weapon!

I named him Mr. McNugget.

His species is apparently rare. I had nothing to do with that. Even if I believed that he tastes like chicken, I couldn’t catch him anyway. His kind fly at supersonic speed! He might use one of those ‘transporters’ like on Star Trek. Besides, I really don’t want to mess with that. A feral boar would be easier.

Weeds Might Produce Hazardous Seeds

90710thumbWeeds are weeds because they grow where they are not wanted. They might be desirable plants in the wild within their native ranges, or beyond their native ranges where they are useful, but for one reason or another, are undesirable in other situations. In fact, many of the most invasive exotic (non-native) weeds were imported because they were useful for something, and then escaped.

Many invasive exotic weeds that were not imported intentionally by humans likely stowed away intentionally by their own means. Some produce edible fruits that contain their seed so that animals who eat the fruit transport and disperse the seed. When animals such as cattle, swine, sheep, horses and chickens are imported, they can bring such seeds with them, and have already done so.

Not all plants have such mutually beneficial relationships with the animal vectors who transport their seed for them. Rather than expend resources on fruit to appeal to, and reward the animals who eat it, they produce seed structures that cling to animals. Most get tangled in the hair of mammals. Some get wedged into cloven hooves. A few are just sticky enough to stick to the feet of birds.

It is sneaky and exploitative, but effective. Most of these sorts of seed structures stick to the fur only for short distances before falling to the ground, where they really want to be. Some types cling for longer distances, in order to take advantages of larger migratory mammals. Dispersion is their objective. Even though they provide no benefit to their vectors, they do not intend to harm them.

However, they sometimes do. Sharply pointed seed structures that are designed to slip smoothly into fur, but not come out easily, can get into eyes, noses, ears and throats of innocent animals. Foxtails are the most dangerous, and sometimes need to be removed by a veterinarian. Burclovers get tangled in soft fur, and sometimes do so in very uncomfortable clusters.

Domestic dogs and cats are more susceptible to the dangers of weed seeds than wild animals are, because their fur is longer, shaggier, and maybe curlier.


P90602Not just any nuts, but precisely the sort that I recently discussed with a colleague, as I explained how they do not grow here. The nuts that is. The big thicket forming shrubs that are supposed to produce them not only grow here, but are a relatively common native. I just rarely see even a single nut on them. I sort of wondered how they mange to procreate with such rare seeds that invariably get taken by unconcerned rodents or birds.
They are the beaked hazelnut, Corylus cornuta. You can see why they are known as such. The elongated nut husks look like Big Bird. The very rare nuts within are quite small with good rich flavor, like hazelnut concentrate, and develop only on the biggest and most distressed old hazelnut shrubs.
However, the young and healthy hazelnut shrub that produced the nut in this picture actually produced quite a few. They were just not close enough to each other for me to get more than one in a picture. A few other young and healthy hazelnut shrubs are doing the same at the same time. There are more hazelnuts now than I have seen collectively in many years. I can not explain why.
Some species of oak tend to produce an overwhelming abundance of acorns every several years or so, only to limit acorn production for the several years in between such abundance. All trees of the same species within a region somehow know to do this collectively at the same time. They do not do it often, but when they do, they do it together.
The oaks who do this supposedly produce just enough acorn to sustain a healthy squirrel population without promoting overpopulation. When they occasionally produce an excess of acorns, the squirrels instinctively bury many more acorns than they normally would, just because the acorns happen to be available. Since the squirrels can not consume all that they bury, many more stay buried to germinate and grow into trees later.

Garter Snake

P90525KThis little critter surprised me at work last week. Even though I knew it to be harmless, my instinctual response was to get away from it fast. I have encountered enough rattlesnakes to know better than to take the time to identify a snake before getting some distance from it. Even after identifying a snake as a harmless garter snake, I still prefer to avoid it as it leaves. This one was in no hurry, so got picked up with a rake and set safely aside.
Between high school and college, I took a summer job for a (primarily) retail nursery in Miramar on the coast of San Mateo County. At this job, I sometime went with the maintenance crew to work in a few home gardens. At one such job, just overlooking the beach in Montara, I needed to mow an overgrown lawn. Rather than mow back and forth from the upper edge to the lower, I mowed a concentric pattern inward from the outer edge.
What that meant was that I mowed the edge first, and then just inside the freshly mown edge, and then just inside that second track, and so on, with the intention of finishing at the center of the lawn. What I did not consider was that this technique concentrated the several garter snakes that happened to be on the lawn at the time into the diminishing unmown center. Needless to say, I needed to stop mowing while I chased them off with a stick.
What I also neglected to consider during my Indiana Jones experience was that these were no ordinary garter snakes. They were the more colorful and endangered San Francisco garter snake. I remember their extra pair of red stripes on top. Supposedly, they also had an extra pair of blue stripes underneath. I did not get close enough to notice.

Banana Slug

P90421They are not as dangerous as they look. Really. If they were, just one could do more damage than an entire herd of average slugs. The fortunate truth is that banana slugs consume only decaying plant parts and fungus. Yes, they literally cruise about the garden eating bits of decomposing debris that we may not want there anyway, and converting it into a very nutritious and nitrogen rich ‘fertilizer’. They are actually beneficial to home gardening.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that we ‘want’ them in our gardens. They really do look scary. This one is only about four inches long, but larger ones can get nearly twice as long! Some rats are not that big! Their bright yellow color, which is typically brighter yellow than this one is, is an expression of defiance. They only stay out of the way because they prefer damp and shady situations. Otherwise, they do not care if we see them.
Contrary to popular belief, they do not really taste like chicken. They taste more like the blandest of escargot. If not purged with corn meal and partly deslimed with vinegar, they can taste much worse. Even if the myth about the slime on their undersides containing more vitamin C than a bucket of oranges is true, it does not justify licking them. It is more degrading to you than it is to them; and no one needs that much vitamin C anyway!
As revolting as they are, they are not completely disdainful. It is fun to point them out to friends who have never seen them before, but only after they have gotten close enough to be startled, and jump away as if being chased by something that can actually move . . . quickly. Banana slug races are also fun.




If you watch Southpark, you shouldn’t.
If you do anyway, you shouldn’t admit to it.
If you happen to know someone who watches Southpark, you might have heard indirectly about Kenny. He dies in every episode. Actually, he typically dies a few times in each episode, and typically does so violently. Experts claim that there are two episodes of Southpark in which Kenny does not die, but proof is all too conveniently scarce.
There is also an opossum named Kenny. Like Kenny of Southpark, Kenny the opossum dies in every episode.
Apparently, Kenny startled someone who was working too intently in the garden to notice his approach on top of a fence directly behind where this unnamed someone was working. This unnamed someone grabbed a stick and clobbered Kenny right across the backside. Although the blow was not terribly aggressive, and not intended to be harmful, Kenny surprisingly died violently in a fit of hissing, gnashing and flailing. After falling to the ground, he smelled as if he had been dead for quite a while.
The surprised unnamed assailant went to find a box to put Kenny’s remains into for a proper ‘burial’, but upon returning to the scene of the incident, could not find Kenny.
Others briefly observed Kenny frolicking about in the same garden later, but when the unnamed assailant came within view, Kenny again died in a violent fit of hissing, gnashing and flailing, accompanied by the aroma of well aged death. Again, the unnamed assailant was unable to locate Kenny’s remains after retuning with a box in which to put them.
After a few more similarly violent deaths, it became apparent that Kenny was merely playing possum, likely in response to being clobbered with a stick by the startled unnamed assailant during their primary encounter!

I apologize for the length of the video. My attempts to trim it compromised the quality of the imaging. The important part of the video is between ten and thirty seconds. This is not the real Kenny anyway, but merely a random opossum who happened to be frolicking in the garden.
I also apologize for posting this at noon rather than at midnight when I typically schedule my articles for the day. For midnight, I posted a short excerpt from an old article from the gardening column instead.



‘O’ is for ‘opossum’. That it the proper common name for the familiar North American critter who lives in or near many home gardens where fruit, vegetables or pet food are available. When a similar critter was found in Australia, it was given the same name by someone who did not spell it properly, hence ‘possum’. It is marsupial, and therefore related to many familiar Australian critters like koalas, kangaroos and the most terrifying of all, wallabies. Well, if the North American name can be applied to an Australian critter, it only makes sense that the Australian name can be applied to the North American critter. Thought technically and correctly ‘opossum’, many of us know them simply as ‘possum’, without the preceding ‘O’.

Opossums have a vast native range in North America. They can live anywhere that does not get too cold for them. They have likely always lived in the Santa Clara Valley to a limited degree. There was not much for large populations of opossums to eat just a few centuries ago.

As orchards grew and displaced native vegetation, there was more fruit that they could eat in season, but still not so much else during the rest of the year to sustain large populations of opossums. It was not easy for opossums to make homes at the modest home sites isolated by large orchards with only seasonal vegetation on the ground.

As orchards were developed into suburban neighborhoods, more habitat was created for opossums. They lived in and around homes, woodpiles, sheds, and areas landscaped with permanent vegetation. Vegetable gardens and more varieties of fruit trees in home gardens provided food throughout the year. There were citrus, avocados, guavas, persimmons and loquats, as well as ornamental berries like pyracantha and cotoneaster. Pet food and household trash were abundant. While San Jose was still a small town, it was inhabited by more opossums than could have been sustained in the entire Santa Clara Valley only a century earlier.

Those old suburban neighborhoods are now even more urban, and their landscapes are much more overgrown than they were when the homes were new. Rats, snails, slugs, grubs and large insects that live in the landscapes are fair game for opossums. Aging and deteriorating homes are easier for opossums to get access to, so finding shelter is easier than it has ever been. With more than a million people just in San Jose, there is no shortage of trash.

All through history, people have been moving in on wildlife. However, what we do not often hear about is the wildlife that moves in on humans.

Timmy in the Garden


Tim Buck II, pronounced like ‘Timbuktu’ in Mali, but known simply as ‘Timmy’, came to live with us while he was just a baby fawn. Mr. Tim Buck Senior left Mrs. Buck to raise little Timmy alone as a single mother. Mrs. Buck then vanished, leaving little Timmy enfeebled on the side of Highway 9 south of town. No one knows what happened to Mrs. Buck. She might have been hit and killed by a car. She might have been eaten by a Mountain Lion. Somehow, she was not there to raise little Timmy.

Traffic was stopped on Highway 9 as little Timmy staggered about, either anemic, or starving from the absence of Mrs. Buck. He could barely walk, and certainly could not bound up or down the steep hillsides to leave the Highway. Most of us who stopped knew that he would not survive, and just accepted it as part of nature. However, we could not just leave him there with a few concerned children also stopped in the traffic with us. I loaded him into the back seat of the pick up and took him with me so that the children would think that he would be taken care of. I expected him to be deceased by the time I got home.

Instead, like a scene straight out of ‘Tommy Boy’, Timmy survived. He got up and was looking at me in the rear view mirror. Now what? Barbecue? I took him home to ask the neighbors.

That was too much help. They gave Timmy goat milk and groomed him of ticks, and a within a few hours, Timmy was bounding about the yard and playing with Bill the terrier, and Melly and Chewy the two cats. By nightfall, the entire herd wanted to sleep in my bed!

Timmy grew very fast and consumed quite a bit of goat milk. He craved more than milk though, and started eating my roses. (This was later in spring.) When I yelled at him to stop, he just looked at me quizzically, and continued eating. The roses did not last long. Timmy then ate the leaves off the fruit trees. Then he ate some ornamental grasses. There was not much that Timmy would not eat. When I tried chasing him off to eat in the forest, he just came right back to play with his friends and eat more of the garden. When I kept the door closed, he just came in the cat door and found his way to my bed. When I took him across the creek and down the road a bit, he just followed me back.

The funny thing is that everyone liked Timmy! He was so nice and polite, even as he destroyed the garden. That was a very bad year for gardening!

By the following spring, Timmy was spending almost all of his time out in the forest. He had depleted everything in the garden, so needed to go farther out to find vegetation within reach. He had grown very fast into a tall and lanky young buck. I slowly resumed gardening in early summer, with only minimal nibbling.

I sometimes wonder how Timmy is doing. I am pleased that he is no longer in my garden. I can enjoy growing roses again. The only thing I enjoy finding in the rose garden more than a nice healthy rose is a bitten off stub where there was about to be a rose.


P80311KHe or she; let’s just go with ‘it’ – has no name that I am aware of. It might be an acquaintance of Pepe. ( )

It showed up in a conference room at work, and needed to be removed. The young lady who found it motionless on the floor did not want to handle it, so I took it outside and laid it on top of a utility panel, hoping that it might fly away. After only a few minutes, it was gone. I did not see a cat or anyone else who would have eaten it; so I am hopeful that it flew into a nearby riparian area to find some insects to eat, and to recover from being trapped inside.

I have no idea what happened to it, or how it ended up in such a bad situation. It was on the floor below a skylight window, like a dazed bird who crashed into the glass while trying to fly through the window. However, bats do not try to fly through closed windows. Their sonar informs them that the glass is there, even if they do not see it. Someone I was working with at the time said that it might have been trying to find a way out near the window just because of the sunlight there, and because it was higher than the other windows. Perhaps it just got exhausted while flapping around trying to find an exit.

Bats are mysterious here. I do not even know what kinds of bats live here. They are nocturnal, like Pepe, so they do what they do while most of us are not up and about or outside to see them doing it. Even those who are out at night do not see much of what bats do because nighttime is rather dark. I think that is what makes it nighttime. Bats are dark too, so are not easy to see without sunlight.

I know that the small bats like this one eat mosquitoes. Since mosquitoes follow people about, and bats follow mosquitoes, bats seem to follow people. We see them every once in a while as they dart about. Yet, almost all of their activity goes unnoticed, even if it is only a few feet away. They are small, dark, silent and fast. Even if we are not aware that they are about, and they are not very concerned about us, they make our time in the garden after sundown a bit more tolerable by eliminating so many of the otherwise bothersome mosquitoes.

In other regions, and perhaps here as well, bats interact with plant life as well. Some eat soft fruit, such as prickly pear, and distribute the tiny seeds within. They do what birds do for brightly colored berries. Since bats are not impressed with bright colors, the fruits that want to attract them use sweet fragrance and flavor. Unlike small brightly colored berries that birds eat whole, fruit that is designed for bats is large and squishy, with tiny seeds dispersed somewhat homogeneously throughout the pulp, so that small bats can eat the seeds just by taking small bites of fruit.

Bats also pollinate some types of flowers. Many types of cacti that live in desert regions bloom at night while their flowers are less likely to be desiccated by harsh desert weather, and also while nocturnal pollinators are active. Flowers that rely on moths are smaller and paler, although they are brightly colored and patterned with ultraviolet color that moths can see. Those that rely on bats for pollination are wide and faced upward so that bats can land on them if they want to take their time eating the abundant sweet nectar. Sweet floral fragrance is easy for bats to follow.P80311K+