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What the Wild Things Are

December 26, 2017



They may never see the more exotic wildlife, such as the endangered salt marsh harvest mice in Hoffman Marsh, but many visitors to Point Isabel (PI) are familiar with several common creatures.


People often encounter skunks near the bridge at dusk and whole skunk families have been seen in the field across from Mudpuppy’s. These mild, pretty creatures have poor eyesight, are omnivorous and nocturnal, and live up to four years. When threatened, they can spray a noxious fluid up to 10 feet from their anal glands. They can also carry rabies. Just give them space; if you see one, grab your dog and go the other way.


The squat little mammals with big front teeth whose burrows perforate Point Isabel are pocket gophers. They eat plants, are loners except when breeding or nursing, and can live for three years. Other PI rodents include ground squirrels and tree squirrels, the East Bay’s ubiquitous rats, and possibly the occasional mouse or vole.


Rattlesnakes prefer the hills and inlands, but PI has gopher snakes – which aren’t venomous but can deliver a painful bite. (They have to be provoked, though; if you get bitten, you probably deserved it.) Gopher snakes eat small mammals, insects, and bird eggs; can live 15 years; and can grow up to seven feet long.


You may miss the black-crowned night herons if you don’t look up. These social, stocky birds often hunker down during the day in a tall tree that overhangs the Rydin Road parking lot. The most widespread heron in the world, they nest in colonies that sometimes include other bird species. Unlike most herons, they work the night shift; around dusk, they launch themselves with a choking squawk and flap off to feed. The oldest black-crowned night heron on record was at least 21 years old.


Other regulars include house sparrows who flit near the Sit & Stay Café, wheeling flights of pigeons, a murder of crows, and the rafter of turkeys who strut along Rydin Road or the Bay Trail near Mudpuppy’s. Oystercatchers, avocets, curlews, willets, godwits, sandpipers, egrets, and our resident great blue heron mince along the mudflats at low tide. Meadowlarks and seagulls swoop across North Point Isabel. Brown pelicans plummet into North Point Isabel’s Hoffman Bay or perch like prehistoric statues out on the breakwater.  Oily looking cormorants dive in the channel among mallard ducks and other migratory birds.


Sharp-eyed visitors sometimes even spot seals sticking their heads out of the water. An otter spent weeks swimming the channel and hauling out on rocks and rubble. Rays and leopard sharks are just offshore, and two five-foot nurse sharks once circled Hoffman Bay for several hours. And an employee at the water treatment plant on Isabel Street swears he saw a badger early one morning. Who knows what else might be out there?


Post-skunking Remedy


Mix a quart of three-percent hydrogen peroxide, a quarter to a half cup of baking soda, and one teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap. Rub into dog’s fur, rinse well. Repeat if necessary.

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