Toad in the Hole

December 22, 2006

I've Been

Doing two Christmas (Bird) Counts back-to-back last weekend: Point Reyes on Saturday and Putah Creek on Sunday.

Getting bitten by a snake:


Not typically marked, but it's a gopher snake -- which I knew when I grabbed it by the tail for the second time and frog-walked it off the road. So to speak. I'd done that once, and fifteen minutes later came back aloing the road and there it was again, soaking up the heat. So I grabbed it again and gave it another rude escort off. Even so, it wasn't till I grabbed it not quite close enough to the head that it gave up on the impressive warning hisses and nailed me on the knuckles. Nearly painless -- very sharp little teeth -- and of no consequence, of course; it shat on my hand too, which was rather more unpleasant. Stink-ee.

I hope the second exit impressed it enough to discourage a third roadtrip. It was a sunny cold day, and those are hell on herps near roads. This was in Gates Canyon, up by Lake Berryessa, on the Putah Creek count.

We also had to escort a rough-skinned newt off the road, a few miles uphill:

rough newt 1

We saw a golden eagle right overhead while we were eating lunch, and a mountain quail as it whirred across the road at windshield level. California quail, acorn woodpeckers, flickers, magpies, butterbutts, good stuff. Nice sunshine too.

Point Reyes was overcast, but not raining for a change. I got the hermit warbler for our group -- he was hanging out with a couple of Townsend's warblers -- and we had tone of ruby-crowned kinglets (as usual) and varied thrushes (as sometimes). Looks like a varied-thrush year. They come down from the redwood forests every winter, but in way varying numbers. It was cold there too; all the kinglets and warblers were underfoot rather than overhead, I suppose because the bugs were on the ground too.

I saw a coyote, too, on a big fallen tree near the Bear Valley Visitors' Center, scratching like mad with one hind foot, then the other, standing up and looking around (and at me), sitting down and scratching some more, repeat five times or more till I left. A coyote with jock itch, right.

Scariest thing about the counts, especially the Point Reyes one, was duck and shorebird numbers. White-winged scoters were really low -- on Tomales Bay, where there used to be several thousand on every count, they were in the single digits. The only ducks that were up were buffleheads, and they were really plentiful -- the Tomales Bay boatreported at least 10,000. Saw a great number of those in Aquatic Park in Berkeley the week before, too. As someone joked, they're obviously eating scoters.

The oddest thing I found myself doing this week was licking a live bird.

We were over at Chaparral House looking at some plant stuff, and took a box of tarps out back to the storage shed. When we approached the gazebo, we saw a hermit thrush inside; it startled, flew up and hit the window -- and then did the same thing twice again. We're always finding dead birds in that damned gazebo.

Well, this one wasn't dead, but stunned, so I picked it off the windowsill and held it a minute. It had a flat flanged birch seed stuck on one eyeball, which might be why it panicked at our approach. I've had hermit thrushes ignore me, and I've had them fly past me so close they brushed me with a wing. I tried to get the seed out, and was just too klutzy on the first few tries and feared injuring the bird's eye. Deft, soft, damp enough so a birch seed would adhere, no hard fingernail... Oh yeah, tongue. Worked like a charm.

We took the thrush out through the building to the front where there was shelter but no deathtrap glass, and stood holding it for five minutes or so while it gradually got re-oriented. I could feel its heart drumrolling too fast to count. It was missing most of its tailfeathers; I guess it had had another narrow escape recently. Eventually it started raising its crest -- conscious enough to get alarmed -- and then flew up from my hand and then into the shrubbery, where we saw it scuffling around in hermit-thrush fashion again. I hope that one made it too.

Handling wild animals is an interesting thing: It reminds me that there really isn't a separation between me and the rest of us, a fact that's easy to forget when you're living in buildings, on pavement, behind glass.

Posted at December 22, 2006 05:00 AM


Thanks again for helping us out. We had a great time.

And thanks for being such a good doobie rescuer of critters, count or no.

Posted by: Pica at December 22, 2006 01:28 PM

Handling wild animals is one thing... it takes a little something extra to lick them on the eyeball! :)

Posted by: Rurality at December 22, 2006 03:12 PM

multiple animal rescues involving snakebite AND eyeball licking: you have class!

Posted by: kathy a at December 22, 2006 09:06 PM

It's so reassuring to know that people like you are out there. Class - yes, but so much more - so very much more.

Posted by: Cathy at December 22, 2006 11:32 PM

i didn't say that well. you know what is helpful and what isn't; know what is safe enough, and what isn't. know the animals. i don't know much of that at all.

Posted by: kathy a at December 23, 2006 01:24 AM

Have a look here Ron. (Takes forever to download.)

Posted by: Pony at December 23, 2006 09:41 AM

Well geez, kathy, I'm always willing to accept a compliment, however it's worded.

I've been a birder and a herp-lover for years, so the knowledge came naturally enough. And it's not so hard to tell a rattlesnake (which is pretty much all we have locally that's venomous) from anything else.

Binoculars are very useful for that too, to ID from a safe distance if necessary. If you can see either end of the snake it's easy. (Rattlers, and other North Americak venomous snakes, have slit pupils. Most nonvenomous snakes here have round pupils. Plus, head shape.)

I still regret that I didn't kidnap that snake. Yeah yeah, way illegal and unnatural and all, but I don't fancy its chances by that road... and it sure was pretty. And patient.

Thing is, you do it because it hurts worse not to, you know? And yes, I did know I wasn't risking anything; that helps.

If you don't know your local species, hey, carry a big thick bathtowel in your car. I wouldn't try handling a venomous snake through one, but they do help quiet things down when you throw them over a critter who's in the wrong place.

Posted by: Ron at December 23, 2006 05:54 PM

Pony! Gorgeous! Thank you!

Everybody, go look at this guy's bird shots. And moose.

Posted by: Ron at December 23, 2006 05:59 PM

Thanks for the short trip back Ron. Point Reyes is one of the places I really miss about California. I remember taking a "short-cut" there once (I shouldn't have done it, but I was looking for a bird, a thrush no less) and spending the next two days picking ticks off my clothing and body.

Posted by: Carl Buell (OGeorge) at December 23, 2006 07:14 PM


(the licking, of course -- sorry 'bout the biting)

Posted by: Sara at December 24, 2006 04:02 AM

Oddly enough, Carl, I don't think I've ever picked up a tick on Point Reyes. Might be the only thing I haven't, yet. Or leeches, haven't got any leeches there yet. (Nor has anyone else I know of, but give climate change a chance.)

Sara, I'm laughing too. It was one of those things where you Just Do It and then think: "Cripes, I just licked a bird. What?"

While I'm giving directions: Everybody go click on Carl's name and see the best Christmas card ever.

Posted by: Ron at December 24, 2006 05:32 AM

Sorry I missed the Pt. Reyes CBC! On a non-rainy year, no less...

Posted by: Len at December 27, 2006 11:39 PM

We missed you too, Len. You'd also have enjoyed Gates Canyon, I think. And the Davis potluck. And I haven't even mentioned the fawn skull in the tree.

So where've you been?

Posted by: Ron at December 28, 2006 04:26 PM