The wildlife around us


Michael Raffety

Mondays I buy a San Francisco Chronicle so I can see what the paper’s outdoor columnist, Tom Stienstra has to say. Particularly, I’m waiting or him to announce that someone has caught a bonita in San Francisco Bay, which is what confirmed El Nino in 1997. That was the year El Dorado County experienced a 500-year flood on New Year’s Day.

Of course, the El Nino with the most rain (other than 1889-90) was 1982-83. The more than 72 inches of rain that fell that year was partly to blame for a flume collapse when PG&E owned the El Dorado Canal. At flume collapse resulted in a landslide in 1983 that covered Highway 50 and it took 75 days to clear the lanslide off the highway.

It’s a reminder that failing to upgrade the flumes and canal, including the rusted pipeline clinging to the hillside that brings water from Echo Lake, can threaten Highway 50.

Monday’s outdoor column by Stienstra talked about wildlife around the Bay Area. It began by noting that a pair of bald eagles had taken up residence in the Crystal Springs watershed. Crystal Springs is a lake that accepts the water from Hetch Hetchy reservoir and provides water for San Francisco.

Last spring I happened to be standing near Green Valley Road and Sophia Parkway when I looked up and saw two bald eagles circling high above me. I assume they were based at nearby Folsom Lake.

Crystal Springs is somewhat of a wild place on the San Francisco Peninsula that has produced a threatening cougar encounter for hikers.

Because of Proposition 117, which passed in 1990, the cougar population has exploded. It was never a threatened population to begin with, but the Mountain Lion Foundation tapped into a romantic notion that city dwellers have about cougars.

It is ironic that cougars have been spotted in city venues. In Placerville cougars have been spotted walking by the old Stancil Toyota building before it became Sierra Tire. Stientra noted that this summer a motion–activated camera caught a mountain lion walking down the sidewalk at Sea Cliff and also near Lake Merced. Lake Merced, near high rise apartments and San Francisco State, is also next to a golf course and is a bit more “wild,” but Sea Cliff is a whole different scenario.

Perhaps Mountain Democrat readers are familiar with Pacific Heights area as an expensive neighborhood in San Francisco. That is where Sen. Diane Feinstein and her financier husband Richard Blum live. But Seacliff is at least two notches higher than Pacific Heights. When I worked as a security guard in San Francisco I was temporarily assigned to stand in the lobby of the Wells Fargo headquarters bank. That led me to be hired to be security for a party at the Sea Cliff home of the president of Wells Fargo. It was a spectacular home with a two-story view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sea Cliff is pretty urban, but it is near Lincoln Park, Land’s End and Sutro Heights Park.

Here is what Wikipedia says about cougar attacks: “At least 20 people in North

America were killed by cougars between 1890 and 2011, including six in California. More than two-thirds of the Canadian fatalities occurred on Vancouver Island in
British Columbia. Fatal cougar attacks are extremely rare and occur much less frequently than fatal dog attacks, fatal snake bites, fatal lightning strikes, or fatal bee stings.”

A friend of my son lost her mother to a cougar attack in 1994. I always think about that when I walk along the El Dorado Trail between Forni Road and Missouri Flat. It is very rural. Runners use a dirt trail down below the paved path of the old railroad grade. I am constantly amazed at the runners who start out early on that tree-obscured lower trail. To me they are taking their lives in their hands to do that early in the morning.

One day, not hat early in the morning on that very trail I stopped to watch a coyote out in an unused cow pasture as he tried to pounce in a turkey from a small flock. They just kept flying out of his range and leaving him frustrated. He finally gave up.

Coyotes have been spotted in 25 different locations in San Francisco.

I used to see them in a valley across the road from our house until someone built a house there.

The big excitement at our house is the pair of vultures who return each year and set up housekeeping in a rock crevice on our property and hatch two eggs. Vultures, I read somewhere, mate for life.

Even more exciting was the screech owl that would spend his day sleeping in the rafters under the bedroom deck. He provided entertainment for us because he could be viewed from our breakfast nook. Screech owls are the same size and coloration as a saw-whet owl. To identify him I had to open the window and take a flash photo of the owl to reveal his yellow eyes and ear tufts.

One day there were two of them sleeping in the rafters. The owl reappeared for a month and then vanished. He previously had resided in a hollow of and oak tree but has not been seen there his year.

One year I set out Easter eggs on our “lawn.” I was looking out the window when I saw a large owl swoop down and steal one of the eggs.

We’ve had red foxes, rabbits, opossums and raccoons. When we had a miniature schnauzer he would chase the raccoons down the hill. I learned to bring the cat feeder and water in at night. That stopped the opossum and raccoon visits.

Now if I could figure out how to repel skunks. Without ending up with a stinky dog.


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