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+

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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.

 

Aw NUTS!

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.

Gophers Go For Spring Vegetation

90424thumbHibernation is a luxury enjoyed by different animals in different climates, where much colder weather inhibits activity through winter. Gophers take no such extended time off here. They merely work less diligently through the cooler and rainier times, and maybe get out of the way if the soil they live in gets too saturated. Their minimal damage had probably been easier to miss or ignore.

Now it is spring! The weather is warming. The soil is draining. All the roots and vegetation that gophers eat are growing. The gophers that were here and somewhat active all through winter are really making a scene now, as they clean mud from their homes and excavate new tunnels. Babies are growing up fast and leaving home, and excavating new homes of their own. What a mess!

Many of the primitive techniques that were used in the past to mitigate gopher problems are ineffective, impractical or even dangerous. Pouring gasoline into tunnels and waiting a few minutes to ignite the fumes can start fires anywhere such tunnels resurface, and possibly out of view! Bare razors dropped into tunnels are potentially dangerous to anyone who happens to dig them up later.

Traps take some work and experience to set properly, but are still the best way to deal with gophers. They do not involve poison that can be dug up and eaten by someone else, or eaten by a gopher who staggers from underground to get eaten by someone else. As long as dogs are not allowed to dig them up, traps are likely only be dangerous to gophers and those setting the traps.

Conventional traps are set in pairs, in each of both directions of a lateral tunnel that is found by excavating back from the tunnel under an active gopher volcano (pile of displaced soil). Once set, the tunnels must be back filled to eliminate air circulation into the tunnel, which would warn a target gopher of intrusion. A bit of weedy vegetation added before back fill might help attract a gopher.

Setting gopher traps is easier to read about than to do safely. It is best to learn how to do it from someone who is proficient at it..

Pantry

P90324Birds do some odd things. They seem to know what they are doing. The odd things that they do make sense. Nonetheless, some of what they do out there is just plain odd.
I mean, who was the first woodpecker who thought it might be a good idea to bang his head against a tree? What prompted the first sapsucker woodpecker to bore through bark of a healthy tree to lap up the sap from the cambium within? Why do other woodpeckers bore into rotting dead trees for grubs, and to make nests? The different types of woodpeckers seem to be related, but they are after different things. Did one just accidentally bore into the wrong sort of tree, and discover something more than what was expected?
Various species of woodpeckers are surprisingly omnivorous. Those who eat termites also eat other insects, nuts, acorns, berries and fruit. Sapsuckers also eat insects, berries, small nuts and such.
Many woodpeckers are social, and live in significant communities. Those who bore into dead tree tops to nest prefer to live where there are several dead trees tops to bore into, probably because too many nests in the same tree would compromise the structural integrity of the already decaying trunk. Besides, if they all lived in the same dead tree, they would all become homeless at the same time if the tree fell down.
Colonies of some species of woodpecker store nuts or acorns in rotting dead trees. They can store quite a bit in each tree because the holes bored to hold the individual nuts and acorns are not as big as the holes that they nest in, so do not compromise the integrity of the trees as much. Besides, it is easier to defend many acorns and nuts in a few trees than it is to defend them in many trees. Squirrels who want the same acorns and nuts are very sneaky!
The problem with putting all their eggs in the same basket, or all their acorns in a few trees, is that when one of such trees falls, it takes a significant portion of their stored nuts and acorns with it. Once on the ground, it is impossible for them to defend it from squirrels and rats.
This particular rotting ponderosa pine fell and needed to be removed from the roadway that it fell onto before woodpeckers could recover the acorns that they so dutifully stored in it. The precision with which the holes were carved to custom fit each acorn that they hold is impressive. The woodpeckers who did this really know how to manage their pantry.