Jun 27, 2013

Marmot surfaces in San Francisco

Photo credit Ray Moisa.

Photo credit Ray Moisa.

Yesterday, we received a call from our colleagues, WildCare, in Marin. They had been contacted by a resident of Bernal Heights, in San Francisco, about a very large groundhog in their garden. WildCare operates a wildlife hospital, but does not offer field services, so we stepped in to help.

We knew right away it wasn't a true groundhog, but a relative of the Marmotini tribe - a yellow-bellied marmot. They are native to California, but 
live in higher elevations - above 6,000 feet, inhabiting the grasslands and alpine meadows of the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and White Mountains. 

They are notorious hitchhikers, known for climbing up inside engine compartments of touring vehicles and winding up hundreds of miles from home. Why? They seem to have an affinity for radiator hoses, so much so, the parks warn visitors to beware. The theory is, the marmots are after the sweet-tasting and intoxicating radiator fluid - ethylene glycol. 

At about noon, WES's wildlife capture specialists, Duane and Rebecca, headed for the Bay Area. The duo has experience rounding up the stowaways marmots. A few weeks ago, they pulled one of the stowaway out of a truck in Gilroy (LINK), and another in 2012 (LINK).

When they arrived at the home on Bocana Street, our team was shown where the marmot had been observed over the last few days - in the backyard, coming and going from under a small raised studio.

After confirming the marmot was still under the structure, responders blocked off three sides of the raised building, and netted off an area where the animal would be driven into, with luck.

Despite their best efforts, they were unsuccessful. The studio was low to the ground,of, limiting their ability to chase the animal out from hiding.

Today, Duane set three large cage traps, baited with spinach fried in bacon (a tip from a biologist), apple pie, and nuts, hoping to lure the animal out. The cages were monitored from afar throughout the day.

This evening, when the homeowner went out to unset the traps (to avoid capturing non-target animals), he found the cages had been moved slightly, and the bait was gone from two of them. They will be set again in the morning.

UPDATE: 6-28-13

This morning, WES responders in San Francisco, Mark Russell and Jay Holcomb, replenished and set the traps. Again, they were monitored almost continuously.

The marmot was sighted in the immediate vicinity, but no luck capturing it.

UPDATE: 6-29-13 10:00 AM

WES First Responder Susan McCarthy has just set the cages and replenished them with freshly bacon-fried spinach and grains.

Stay tuned!

Some entertaining links:

Bernal Marmot on Twitter @bernalmarmot

Featured in Bernalwood

Interview with the marmot: SFIST

Of Marmots and Men. A true story.

More on marmots:

Marmots are the largest of the ground-squirrel tribe. Yellow-bellied marmots live communally, in harems, with a single male maintaining two to three females over an area that can be as large as 5 acres. There is a single breeding season, in spring, with the young raised jointly by the females.

Interestingly, research has found that female pups with lots of brothers tend to be 'tom boys'. That's because, in the womb, they were exposed to high levels of the hormone testosterone. Masculinized females tend to be more playful and adventuresome than feminine females. Read more about this interesting phenomenon, HERE.

How this might relate to you? Apparently, more than 90% of Americans have been contaminated by a chemical, 
Bisphenol A (BPA), that mimics the hormone estrogen. The marmot study emphasizes how slight changes in hormone levels within the womb can greatly influence development and behavior. Read one professor's take on it, HERE.

Jun 26, 2013

Baby skunk in a rat trap

Late this afternoon, WES received a call from a resident of Santa Cruz who had inadvertently trapped a baby skunk in a trap meant for rats.

The trap snapped closed on the poor animal's snout - catching its upper lip and nose in a vice-like grip. According to the resident, the animal had been in the trap for approximately 18 hours!

Though rat traps are a legal means of take for rats, they are body gripping traps and should not be set in areas where non-target wildlife or pets might have access to them.

The skunk was delivered to Native Animal Rescue's skunk specialist, Monique, in Corralitos, for care. On arrival, it was alert, responsive, and appeared to be in pretty good shape, considering.

Check out the video of the rescue, below.

UPDATE: 6-28-13

According to Monique, the baby skunk is on the mend and doing much, much better!
Photo by Monique Lee

UPDATE: 7-20-13

Unfortunately, the poor skunk lost a portion of her upper lip and nose to this horrible injury, however, she is doing really well and will be released back to the wild, according to Monique.

Jun 24, 2013

Ducklings down a storm drain

This morning, WES First Responders answered an emergency call about seven ducklings that had fallen into a storm drain in Watsonville. The reporting party was standing by when our team arrived.

The ducklings, just a day or two old, were cold and shivering, but otherwise in good shape. 
They were lifted to safety and placed on heat inside the rescue vehicle.

Meanwhile, the team scouted for the mother duck. 

Once her brood has hatched and the ducklings are dry, a mallard duck hen instinctively leads her young to water. This hen was probably walking her ducklings to Harkins Slough when the accident happened. 

The hen had been seen circling the drain earlier, with one duckling at her side, but the two disappeared before our responders arrived. The team figured she was on course for the slough.

Sure enough, they spotted her - about 100 yards away, crossing a parking lot and headed for the water.

The team rushed to intercept her, but lost sight of her when she took cover in patch of tall grass.

They used the distress calls of her ducklings to draw her out.

Check out the heartwarming video of the reunion, below:


Jun 22, 2013

Acorn woodpecker update

One of the most time-consuming tasks of reuniting wildlife, is the monitoring that must be conducted afterwards to ensure a successful reunion of an animal with its family - to confirm parental care.

This week, Sammarye, one of WES's lead responders, devoted a tremendous amount of her time to documenting the little woodpecker's progress. 
Here's her account of what she witnessed yesterday:

When I arrived, there was no activity around the original nest cavity, but about four adult woodpeckers were going in and out of an adjacent hole. 

I could hear the young woodpecker calling, but the sound wasn't coming from the home-tree. I found it in another palm tree, about 10' away. It stayed there a long time, kind of picking its way up and around. Very tentative.

After a while, it flew to another palm tree, and hunkered down in a protected area, and was there about 20 minutes or so before flying back to the home-tree. It picked its way up toward the nest, where an adult swooped down and fed it. It appears to be doing fine. : D


Jun 21, 2013

Friday Rounds continue...

Deanna Barth is one of WES' lead responders, and an expert when it comes to capturing waterfowl and marine birds. She gained much of her experience by going out on her own, looking for injured birds, or, as we like to call it - "making her rounds", which she does after work, about once a week.

This week, Deanna responded to a call we'd received about a duck with a fishing hook injury at Westlake Park in Santa Cruz. Here is her firsthand account:

I arrived at Westlake Park, and from my vehicle I could see that there were no waterfowl on the water, but several groups of ducks surrounded the lake, all resting in the shade of the trees.

Baiting them all in would cause a feeding frenzy and make it very difficult for me to separate the injured one for capture, so with only my camera in hand, I began walking slowly around the lake. 

I approached each duck with just enough pressure to cause it to stand, and checked for obvious entanglements.

One by one, they stood and then sat back down as I passed.

After about 30 minutes, and having found none that was injured, I paused to admire the beauty of the area.

A barking dog from across the way caught my attention. When I looked, I realized there were ducks resting in the front yards of the surrounding homes.

I crossed the street and began assessing the ducks, when I spotted the hen in trouble. She was resting under a shrub next to her mate - just the two of them, alone.
I went back to my vehicle for my net and crumbles. 

As I approached, she anxiously hobbled towards me - a large fishing lure hanging from her right leg. I set my net down, tossed a handful of crumbles near the hoop, and with her attention on the food, I flipped the net over her. Mission accomplished!

Her mate watched as I loaded her into my vehicle for transfer to Native Animal Rescue on 17th Avenue.

There, at the wildlife hospital, the hook was removed and the hen was given a thorough examination. They said her prognosis was good, so hopefully she can be reunited with her mate after a course of antibiotics.

Jun 13, 2013

Acorn woodpecker re-nested

Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Center Silicon Valley

Yesterday, we assisted the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in re-nesting a young acorn woodpecker.

The baby bird was found on 
June 10th at the base of a palm tree in an apartment complex in San Jose, CA. The finder did the right thing by transporting the baby bird to the wildlife hospital so it could be examined for injuries and fed proper food.

The little woodpecker was in excellent condition, strong, feisty and aggressively begging from caregivers. It was definitely a candidate for re-nesting, but, due to the complex nature of the species, the baby needed to be returned quickly.

Acorn woodpecker are quite unusual in their social structure, and their breeding behavior is even more strange.

Acorn woodpeckers
live together in small groups of up to 12 or more individuals, often related, with one or more breeding males and females. Breeding females share a single nest - all eggs are deposited into one nest cavity. What's quite strange, is that each breeding female will destroy any eggs in the nest until she begins laying. Broken eggs are moved to another location and consumed.

Because acorn woodpeckers excavate cavities to roost in at night, we'd need to be extra diligent in locating the actual nest cavity.

Danielle, the finder, was kind enough to re-trace her steps to the exact spot where she'd found the baby bird. She texted detailed directions and photographs to help us find the right tree. It was a large palm tree, about 40' high. We would need a bucket truck!

Early Wednesday morning, we reached out to nearby arborists and tree trimming companies. Anderson's Tree Care was quick to respond, and said they'd send one of their crewmen to help put the baby back.

One of WES' lead responders, Sammarye, transported the little bird from the wildlife hospital and rendezvoused with Rebecca at the apartment complex.

Once on scene, the team had their first real look at the home tree, and saw that there were numerous woodpecker holes ringing the trunk, just below the canopy. They'd have to wait for the adults to help them identify an active nest.

It wasn't long before a group of four adults landed on the tree. One of them entered a hole, completely disappearing for about 20 seconds before flying back out. We figured that would be a place to start.

Mike from Anderson's Tree Care was extremely generous with his time. Using the lift on his truck, he took a closer look at the various cavities. He even used our borescope to check inside the hole where the adult had entered, but found nothing - it was too deep.

Rebecca consulted with Ashley Kinney, Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor for the wildlife center, and the decision was made to place the baby in the active hollow. Mike gently introduced the nestling to the cavity and immediately plugged the entrance with a piece of fabric to keep it from popping back out.

After about five minutes, the plug was pulled out of the hole. There was no sign of the baby, but it began calling when it heard the adults vocalizing from an adjacent tree. Check out the video to see what transpired.

Today, Sammarye spent a couple of hours monitoring, hoping to see the baby was alive and well, and sure enough she saw it peeking out of the hole. She also observed the adults feeding it. Great news!!! THANK YOU SAMM!!!

Photo by Sammarye Lewis.
Photo by Sammarye Lewis.


Jun 12, 2013

Baby quail down the drain

Late this afternoon, WES received a call from a resident of Woods Cove. She had come home to find adult quail circling a storm drain. On closer inspection, she could hear peeps from quail chicks that had fallen through the grate and down about 10'.

Duane and Rebecca responded immediately. By the time they arrived, the peeping had stopped. They feared the worst - baby quail cannot survive long in a cold environment.

Duane pulled up the heavy metal grate and descended into the drain. He quickly discovered one chick, still breathing, but barely alive. Another, cold and lifeless, moved its leg when Duane scooped it up. 

Further inside the drainage system, Duane discovered 6 chicks in puddled water - dead, and one other, just barely alive.

The closest, most constant source of heat, was the road's blacktop. Rebecca placed the cold bodies in a patch of sun on the pavement, and waited for signs of improvement.

Amazingly, within 10 minutes, all three chicks were opening their eyes. A few minutes later, one of them, the strongest, was trying to stand. It looked like they'd be stable enough to transport to the wildlife hospital, but not strong enough to reunite with their parents.

The homeowner, Brenda, was very kind and supportive in the efforts to save the days-old chicks. She assisted in microwaving dry rice to keep the babies warm during the 20 minute drive.

All three chicks survived the transport and were handed over to Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz.

UPDATE 6-13-13: We were told the chicks survived the night and were introduced to an adult male California quail in care at the facility, and that he readily took them in.

Jun 9, 2013

Canada goose family freed!

Thursday morning, Wendy was aboard a northbound train out of Gilroy, headed for work in Palo Alto. She was looking out the window, admiring the open fields of the Coyote Valley, when she happened to notice a family of Canada geese - two adults with five half-grown goslings inside a fenced-off catch-basin that once held water, but was now dry- no water anywhere on the near 2.5 acre plot, just a muddy spot where the geese were standing. She saw them again, in the same spot, on her commute home. 

Wendy thought it was odd for the family of geese to be there, where there was no water, so she drove back that evening to investigate. Here's Wendy's account of what happened next:

Once I got off the train, I drove back to investigate.

Yes, indeed, the perimeter fence had no openings where they could pass through. The dirt was dry and the grasses had withered. There wasn't much for them to eat, and not a drop of water.

As I watched through the fence, the goslings followed the parents around where water once was, pecking at the ground. They'd lie down a few seconds then repeat, peck/lie down. I knew I had to do something.

The following day I began what I expected to be (from past experience) a vast number of calls searching in search of help. Bear with me...

I first called the local wildlife center in Morgan Hill. They're response was, "We don't do ducks and geese, call animal control," so, I called animal control, which was also the Morgan Hill Police Department, and had the dispatcher abbreviate our short conversation to respond to a 911 call, rightfully so. I called back 1.5 hours later and, was told the city no longer offered animal control services due to a shortage of funding. 
So I called South County Animal Control, which routed me to the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter in San Martin. They gave me the number for Animal Control, which routed me back to Morgan Hill Police. Then I called the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley, where they told me they only take in wildlife that is injured,... they don't do rescues... HOWEVER, they referred me to a woman named Rebecca with Wildlife Emergency Services, in Moss Landing.

That's when I called WES and left a message. Rebecca returned my call promptly. Since the geese were behind a locked gate and on city-owned land, she said she'd alert a warden in the area, and see if he was available to check it out firsthand.

It wasn't long before Wildlife Officer Tyson Quintal 
with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife called me for details, and said he'd assess the situation.

After seeing them for himself, he seemed to agree the birds might not be getting in and out, so he said he'd talk with Rebecca and make some arrangements for their release.

The next day, 
Rebecca and her team from the Monterey area arrived at about 3:00 PM. Next to arrive was Wildlife Officer Tyson Quintal and another Wildlife Officer, then two units from the Morgan Hill Police.
The gate was unlocked and Rebecca orchestrated the gentle herding of the geese through the open gate. I have never seen a rescue plan at this point executed more flawlessly. The following video is witness to that, and one might say it's rather unremarkable, but the back story to get to that moment was an ordeal, to say the least.

As all 7 birds ran out the gate, not a feather lost..... I was elated with the pay-off of my perseverance,... then disheartened to think of how many other well-intentioned people have faced similar situations, and in their attempts to do the right thing, have given up before finding the right organization or that person in authority, willing to take action before the animal dies.

I know in the future who I will call first, and lend my physical and financial support to... Wildlife Emergency Services.


Jun 7, 2013


We have VERY exciting news to report. The goose with the red kite-string winder on its wing has been captured, and the plastic removed!!!! 

This was one of WES' longest running rescues, spanning two months.

The goose was initially reported to us last November. It was observed at the end of Radio Road in Redwood City, but we were never able to locate it. Then, on April 12th, it was observed again, in the same area.

Photo credit Deanna Barth

What made this rescue so difficult was the bird's temperament - it was very skittish and wary of approach, probably from being pursued by others.

We needed to establish a relationship with the bird for our capture strategies to be successful.
However, the bird was unpredictable. 
We could never count on the goose being where we thought it would be - a real issue with our capture specialists living 80 miles south.

Thankfully, one of our newest recruits, Lindsay Marshall, lives nearby.

Lindsay devoted hours upon hours, scouting for the bird. When she found the goose, she'd spend time working on building its confidence - trust, that it would not be lunged at or grabbed after.

When she'd made some progress, 
our goose expert, Deanna Barth, joined her in the field to get a "feel" for the bird's disposition and to see if a capture was possible. Deanna is especially skilled at capturing geese - by hand!

On the first day, the goose never showed up. On her second visit, D
eanna had the goose within a couple of feet, but the bird never took its eyes off her.

Photo credit Lindsay Marshall

Two weeks ago, the goose showed up near Catamaran Park in Foster City. Lindsay responded quickly and noticed the goose was missing its flight feathers - she was molting.

Canada geese shed their outer wing feathers, annually, about this time of year. She would be flightless for weeks. Even, so, we would approach her capture in the same way we would if she were flighted. 

Lindsay continued to build a relationship with the goose, visiting the area regularly.

We planned a capture attempt for May 31st, but that coincided with an arts and wine festival at the park, so we were forced to postpone the mission.

Today, was the soonest Deanna could be available. She left from work in Carmel, and made the two-hour drive to Foster City, rendezvousing with Lindsay at Catamaran Park.

Within seconds, they spotted the goose. It was grazing within a flock of Canada geese.

Together, Lindsay and Deanna worked the birds. Lindsay intrigued the flock with a bag of crumbles, while Deanna read the target bird's behavior, testing its sensitivity to approach. She was surprised - the goose actually let her to get behind and between it and the water. A good sign.

They kept working the birds.
Lindsay held the attention of the bigger, more aggressive birds to one side, while applying pressure on the target bird to position it on Deanna's right, for her drop.

Finally, the goose was in position, and Deanna dropped.

The struggle began. Webbed feet flailing, wings beating, the bird fought fiercely, but Deanna had her.

They covered the bird's head to reduce visual stress, and walked to her to the rescue vehicle where they clipped off the thick plastic winder and kite string.

Surprisingly, there was no damage to the wing - none whatsoever!

A similar plastic winder, suspended in the air
by kite string snagged on a line and a tree.
Deanna did a very quick, once-over exam and then set her free.

We will never know exactly how this goose came to have a plastic kite-string winder on its wing - whether it was a chance accident, or whether someone intentionally clipped it to the bird. What we do know, is that plastic litter and line can be disastrous for wildlife.

Please, help wildlife by picking up and disposing of plastic debris and errant line or string whenever possible.


If you'd like to send a personal thank you or "goosey" gift, 
please use our P. O. 65 Moss Landing CA 95039 - Thank you!

Jun 4, 2013

Another stowaway marmot!

Photo credit Traci Tsukida.
Another marmot was found hiding in the engine compartment of a truck that had been parked at a trailhead northeast of Shaver Lake. Amazingly, the large rodent survived the 4-hour, near-200-mile journey to Gilroy, CA.

The driver's truck's Check Engine light came on as he neared his home off Hecker Pass. We imagine he had quite a surprise when he opened the hood and found a stout,
 7-pound beast on his engine block.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) was alerted of the situation and contacted WES. 

WES wildlife capture specialists, Duane and Rebecca, responded immediately to assist  capturing the animal.

After encircling the vehicle with a barrier of wire panels and netting, Duane opened the hood. The marmot was tucked back inside the compartment. He used a "catch pole" to pull the animal out. Check out the video:

The yellow-bellied marmot did not appear injured, but was transported to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley for a thorough examination.

Other than an old wound on its upper lip, hospital staff said the adult male marmot was in good health and was ready to be returned to his home near Foster Ridge, in the Sierra National Forest. 

This morning, with approval from CDFW to transport the animal home, Duane Titus made the long trek into the Sierras. When he arrived, the marmot started chirping. Duane waited for a thunderstorm to pass before releasing the critter. Here's the video:

Check out our first encounter with a stowaway marmot, last August, HERE.

Jun 1, 2013

Peril for a pigeon

By susan McCarthy

A Marin County resident spotted a problem in a small flock of pigeons she feeds on her back porch. One bird had thin green twine wrapped around his feet. There was a lot of it. It tangled around each foot, and also cuffed them together. “He can fly, but he can't walk,” she observed. A week went by and the twine was still there.

Although he was managing to get by, and even puffing his neck feathers at female pigeons, he was at serious risk. At any time the twine might snag on something and trap him, condemning him to slow starvation.

Pigeons, also called rock doves, aren't glamorous birds. They're not native wildlife. But their lives matter to them, and to many people who love them.

On the advice of the Humane Society, the worried resident tried to trap him with a tilted box on a stick, but wasn't able to make that work. She called WES.

After talking to her on the phone, we made a plan. She fed the birds half their usual amount the day before we hoped to catch the bird, and nothing on the day itself.

When I arrived at the usual feeding time, the pigeons were sitting hopefully on the eaves. We soon spotted the bird with the tangled feet.

I placed a long-handled net on edge, next to objects on the porch, so the net wouldn't stand out as an object in the birds' vision. I crouched down, holding the end of the net handle. The resident placed a tempting pile of seeds right in front of the net and moved away.

Within seconds the hungry birds descended. The hardest part was keeping an eye on the target bird in the gobbling crowd. Soon he was directly in front of the net, head down, eating. I quickly flipped the net over, catching two birds, including the one we wanted.

Using very small scissors, I cut the twine off the bird's feet. It was tough, waxed string, probably meant to hold up through all weather for gardening uses. It would never have come off by itself.

Could he be released or did he need to be taken into care? I felt the sides of his keel bone and found he was well-nourished – the resident's feeding had kept him from going hungry. His feet were also in better shape than expected, with no open cuts. There was a constriction at the base of one toe where the twine had been, but no cuts. The circulation was good in all his toes. We decided to release him. The resident will monitor him to see how he does now that the twine is gone.

I gave him to the resident, the person who had spotted the bird's problem and gotten him the help he needed to survive. She opened her hands and set him free.

Within a few minutes, he was with the other pigeons, scrambling for seed.