Gopher It!

Honey badger don’t care. Neither does the gopher who did this.

Deer do not eat all plants. There are a few that are toxic to them. There are more that deer simply dislike. With a minimal bit of research, it is not difficult to find a few lists of plant species that deer are supposed to avoid. The problem with such lists though, is that deer do not read them. Only toxic plants are reliably safe from deer.

It would not be so bad if only deer were a bit more cooperative. They would be welcome in gardens if they ate only weeds that no one wants anyway. We all know that they can eat weeds, they just choose not to do so while they are in our gardens.

For that matter, gophers would not be such a problem if they ate only weeds, and aerated only soil that needs it. Instead, they seem to target the most important plants they can find, and excavate primarily in lawns. There is no effort to cooperate.

For as long as people have been growing vegetation, whether as agricultural commodities or in landscapes, people have been competing with wildlife of one form or another, or several others. Wildlife is no more cooperative now than it was many thousands of years ago. Some animals are even less cooperative than their ancestors were. Some are downright defiant!

Gophers have been known to push traps out from their tunnels, without springing the traps. Some will emerge from their subterranean tunnels to step over the tops of root cages that are designed to exclude them, just to get to the roots within. The gopher associated with the excavation seen in the picture above was not so defiant, but was certainly undeterred.

The foliage at the center of the picture is gopher purge. Although not planted here intentionally, it used to be planted around vegetable gardens to deter gophers. It has a caustic sap that is very irritating to gophers if they try to excavate through the roots. However, the picture clearly shows excavation to the left, to the right, and behind the gopher purge.

Six on Saturday: Tracks


Tracking is not done for hunting here. Anyone who can hunt here would merely wait for deer or turkey to arrive as they so frequently do through the day. I only notice the tracks while they are so visible in the mud and damp soil. Most are from harmless animals. Some are from animals who control unwelcome rodents. Even notoriously destructive deer are not a problem here.

No one knows why deer avoid the landscapes here. There are no fences, so deer can come and go as they please. They are a serious problem for some of the home gardens nearby, but avoid others like they avoid our landscapes. I got these pictures outside of landscaped areas. Bobcats have never bothered anyone except the rodents who are not wanted in the landscape anyway.

I saw no tracks left by raccoons, skunks, turkeys or mountain lions, which is just fine. Mountain lions are rare, so their tracks are rarely seen around areas of human activity. The others are too lightweight to leave well defined tracks that I could get pictures of anyway. Skunks are actually beneficial to the landscapes, by eating grubs and slugs. They refrain from digging in lawns.

Turkeys are only becoming a concern because of their proliferation. The minor damage that they cause while scratching for grubs and pecking at anything colorful is likely to become a major concern when there are more of them shredding flowers, fruit and vegetation. Raccoons are more obnoxious for the messes they make with garbage than for their damage in the landscapes.

1. Deer often leave double prints, with the second set slightly back from the first. This pair seems to be single prints from different hooves that just happened to land right next to each other.00128-1

2. Bobcat prints must have appeared while the weather was still drizzly enough to mute the detail. Bobcats are common enough here for (La Rinconada de) Los Gatos to be named for them.00128-2

3. Coyote prints are fresher. They seem to be too small to be left by a coyote; but fox tracks are even smaller, and rare. Foxes are so lightweight that they leave tracks only in very soft mud.00128-3

4. Human prints are very fresh. I did not notice them on my way out, but found them on my way back. Whoever or whatever left these prints could have been dangerously close at the time!00128-4

5. Chevrolet prints over John Deere prints are also rather fresh. There are prints of Ford, Dodge and even a rare Buick in the area. It must have been quite a herd! I should track that Buick!00128-5

6. Rhody the terrier leaves no more prints than a fox, since he too is so lightweight. I tried to press his paw into the mud for this one, but he did not cooperate. This was the best we could do.00128-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Winter Berries Are Showing Color

91211thumbNothing lasts forever. Spring flowers fade. Summer fruit gets eaten. Fall color falls from the trees and gets raked away. Berries and other small fruits that ripen to provide a bit of color through late autumn get eaten by birds and squirrels through winter. Every type of berry and every season is unique. It is impossible to predict how long particular berries will last through any particular season.

It would be presumptuous to believe that colorful berries should remain uneaten in our gardens until they decay. After all, they are produced specially for the birds and rodents who consume them. Their visually appealing bright colors are more culinarily appealing to overwintering wildlife. It is no free lunch though. Well fed wildlife is expected to disperse the seed within the berries they eat.

It is an ingenious system. Wildlife might think that they exploit the inanimate flora who produces the berries and small fruit for them. The associated flora could think that they exploit the mobility of the wildlife who eats their seed laden fruit. Those of us who grow plants who utilize this technique get to enjoy the color of the fruit while it lasts. Some of us prefer to enjoy the wildlife attracted to it.

Firethorn (pyracantha), toyon, cotoneaster and English hawthorn are the best for colorful red berries in late autumn and winter. All are of the family Rosaceae, and produce similar clusters of small bright red or maybe reddish orange berries. Yellow firethorn is rare here. Cotoneaster can be tall shrubbery, sprawling shrubbery, or groundcover. Only English hawthorn is a deciduous small tree.

The many species and cultivars of holly are unrelated to the family Rosaceae. In other regions, some are famous for producing seemingly similar berries. However, those that are the most prolific with berries are unpopular here. Those that are somewhat popular produce only a few berries due to a lack of pollinators. (They are dioecious, so female plants must be pollinated by rare males.)

This is the time of year to appreciate the colorful berries while they last.

Gardening For The Birds

40924thumbSome of the most convenient bird feeders in the garden are some of the many plants we grow. Since so many plants exploit the birds as much as they get exploited by the birds, they naturally produce something that the birds want, when they want it. Right now, meaty seeds cater to migratory birds that need to plump up to travel, hoping that some of the seeds get dropped elsewhere or buried for later (hence ‘sown’ if forgotten, as they often are).

Since the climate is so mild, there is always something blooming to provide nectar for both migrating and overwintering hummingbirds, which inadvertently pollinate the flowers that feed them. Later in the winter, colorful berries feed hungry overwintering birds, in exchange for the dispersion of the small seeds within. (Digestion of the seeds does not harm them, and promotes germination.) Robins do not seem to do much for the garden, but certainly do enjoy digging for worms in unraked leaf litter.

Those who enjoy birds often intentionally plant pyracantha or cotoneaster to provide berries for birds in winter. Various salvias that bloom at various times likewise make nectar for hummingbirds. Fading sunflowers can be left out this time of year until birds that eat the seeds are finished with them. Alternatively, bird feeders can actually provide more food, and extend the seasons through which such food is available. Suet feeders provide something that plants can not provide.

The problem with plants or bird feeders that attract birds is that they can also attract less desirable guests. Squirrels and rats are the worst. Some bird feeders can be protected with exclusion devices. Cats have no interest in the plants or bird feeders, but can be a serious problem for the birds, and are not so easy to dissuade. Fortunately, hawks are rarely a threat in urban gardens, especially where there are trees to inhibit their hunting from above.

Contrary to popular belief, providing food to migratory birds does not interfere with natural migration. Cooling weather and shorter days are enough to convince birds to leave. The extra food actually helps them on their way once they get going. It also helps those that naturally stay here through winter. Some birds actually migrate to here from colder regions to the north. With winters so mild, there is no need to go any further.

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.

Cats Do What Cats Want

60706thumbAnyone who has ever owned a cat knows that no one owns a cat. They do whatever they want to do, whenever and however they want to do it. They take orders from no one. If they decide to use a dry spot in the garden as their litterbox, or a tree trunk as their scratching post, it is impossible to dissuade them. They are so smug and arrogant. It is no wonder that so many dogs dislike them.

Cats live in our homes and gardens because we are not as sensible as so many dogs are. We succumb to their charm and devious mind control techniques because they really can be adorable when they want to be. Fortunately, most of us would agree that this sort of symbiosis is mutually beneficial. An occasional delivery of a dead rodent proves that some cats actually work for a living.

As pompous as cats are, they are surprisingly tactful about their poop. Cats that are confined to a home leave it in their litterboxes, and even bury it with kitty litter that absorbs the objectionable aroma. From there, it can be collected and disposed of by human servants. In the garden, cats seem to put considerable effort in burying it out of the way, where it is less likely to offend anyone.

However, what is out of the way to a cat might not be so conveniently situated for others. The most refined and regularly watered gardens might not leave many options for cats, who prefer dusty and dry spots. There is not much to deter cats; so the best option may be to plant and occasionally water something in problematic spots, in conjunction with providing a litterbox somewhere else.

Sneaky cats sometimes use flat or parapet roofs where there is plenty of dry gravel and perhaps other dry detritus. For most single story roofs, it is nearly impossible to obstruct access; but in rare situations, it might be as simple as pruning trees and shrubbery back farther than cats will jump. Obstruction of access to the dusty dry soil of basements and crawlspaces is easier since it usually involves relatively simple repair of vent screens, access hatches or windows.

Crop Circles

P90616These are perfect conditions for crop circles. Even without any convenient grain crops, there is plenty of tall grass in unmanaged and ungrazed fields. All this grass needs is to be crafted into crop circles.
The first crop circles that I ever witnessed were made by cows. I was not much more than six, and my younger brother who found them was not much more than five. No one bothered to explain to us that cows were related to cattle who grazed nearby. Consequently, we had no concept of what cows were.
Earlier in the day, we had discovered what was described to us as a ‘cow pie’. Naturally, we were skeptical. It looked just like what cattle leave behind, which was not good. I was not about to try it, so got my younger brother to taste it. Apparently, it tasted about as bad as it looked. It seemed quite suspicious that a cow would made such an unappealing pie, and then just leave it out on the ground like that.
When we found the first of a few crop circles, our older sister and her friend told us that it and those we found afterward were made by the same cow or cows who made the unappetizing pie. Apparently, cows like to lay down in long grass. Although we did not know what a cow looked like, we ascertained from the sizes and shapes of the crop circles that the cows who made them were quite large and somewhat circular.
Furthermore, since we did not see any trails leading to or from the crop circles, we deduced that the the cows who made them flew in from above. We were very intelligent kids.
Of course, since then, I found that baby deer make small crop circles; but because they have such long and lanky legs, they do not leave such obvious trails leading to and from such crop circles either. There is no need to fly in from above.
Rhody made a very small crop circle, and because he is so lean, did not leave much of a trail coming or going. He is not tall enough to step over the grass, but is narrow enough to get through it without disturbing it much.P90616+

A Bee See

P90609They were impossible to miss. They came at a weird time too.
As guests were arriving for a big event, a fire alarm was activated, and compelled everyone to leave the building that they were gathering in. The swarming bees met the guests as they came outside. The bees just happened to show up in the same place and at the same time as the guests were forced outside. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind, and some found the swarming bees to be compelling enough to stop and take pictures.
Initially, all the bees were flying in a big swarm. Those closest to the middle of the swarm were flying fast, sort of like angry wasps. No one saw the queen that the swarm was centered around, but she apparently landed on this redwood limb about forty feet up. The swarming bees slowly collected in this mass around the queen. By the time I took this picture, almost all were attached to the mass, with only a few still flying about.
At least three swarms started to establish new hives in buildings near here last year, and needed to be removed by beekeepers. One hive started to develop where another had just been removed. Another swarm was removed before establishing a new hive.
Bees seem to be attracted here. Perhaps they appreciate all the flowers in the landscapes. It is unfortunate that they can not stay where they typically try to move in. Most of us really like them.
This swarm was still here when I left, so I do not know what happened to it afterward. Hopefully, it either left the area, or at least moved into a place where it will not be problem, such as in a rotten tree trunk out in the forest where bees belong.



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.