grape vineOur extremely wet winter seems to have had an electrical impact, causing our electronic gates to malfunction with varying degrees of regularity. Two of those gates are to the deer-proof fence around the vineyards. The malfunction has been in the form of gates springing open after we’ve thought they’d closed behind us.

Opening the gates to vineyards in deer country is like screaming “Free Applebee’s buffet — all you can eat!” in a Wal*Mart parking lot. We’d suspected some wiley deer had made their way in and were hiding out in the thicketed edges, but until recently, we hadn’t worried. Now with bud break and lots of new foliage, it was time to worry. One deer can strip a row of vines in nothing flat. It turns out we had five deer hanging out at the smorgasbord.

Here’s our largest deer, Chuck the Buck, photographed OUTSIDE the vineyard fence last fall.

Here is a deer who will NOT be eating any grapes, but is providing a nice perch for a Rufous Crowned Sparrow who decided to hang out in the living loft for a bit.

Luckily a crew was working in the vineyard and was able to herd them out. Unluckily, I wasn’t there with my camera to record the Great Deer Rodeo. But I do have this anthropological note. Has anyone read that ancient man, before he tamed the horse, used to hunt wild game by chasing it down on foot? We have evidence that it’s possible — even over a five acre hilly area and with the additional handicap (for the men) of rows of trellised grape vines.

Which brings me to another myth about deer — this one debunked by our recent incident. The friendly guys at The Last Gun Shop, who were so helpful and polite even when I announced I was a Liberal and wanted to buy a gun, had only one semi-Tea Party moment. When I mentioned that I had a resident Mountain Lion, but would never shoot it, brows furrowed and smiles disappeared.

“Ya gotta get rid of that pest”, said the guy with the Wyatt Earp mustache. “Damn lions are killing off all the deer and ruining sport hunting for everyone.”

Sorry fellahs. I’ve got empirical proof that Mountain Lions don’t ruin anything (except your day if they pounce on you.) I’ve had at least one, maybe two, Mountain Lions in regular attendance here. They’ve been seen, we’ve stumbled over their kills and, believe me, there are more than enough deer to go around. Case closed.

Next critter incident: a particularly large raccoon met his maker on the public road outside the fence to our property. It was on my power walk route and, every time I passed it, my finger itched on the iPhone photo button.

“Wouldn’t it be fascinating to take a picture every day and show how fast the turkey vultures can pick this carcass clean?”

Then a still, small interior voice told me that such a photo essay might be the one that finally drives away my readership, who in a great show of fortitude, have stuck by me during my past infatuation with shooting various piles of animal poo.

So no photo essay, but I can tell you, it was astounding how fast that raccoon carcass was reduced to just a few toe bones and a small stain in the road. Or so I thought.

Turns out the turkey vultures are smarter than you might think. After having their meal interrupted too many times by passing cars, they’ve been industriously picking up bits and pieces of carcass and transferring it over the fence onto our property. Where they can eat in peace.

Or they did until Oscar got wind of their activity. And proved definitively that the paw is quicker than the beak.

Oscar sez: “Thanks for the Raccoon Jerky, suckahs!”

Well, now that I’ve managed to turn the topic to dead things, I should mention that I have learned that I can kill evil grape-eating turkeys on my land outside of hunting season. Seems I just need a Depredation Permit which I can get in the middle of Napa Valley. Turns out I can also get a permit to shoot grape eating bears should one wander by. Not that I think bears have been seen in this part of Sonoma since a rabble of drunk miners raised the Bear Flag out in the Plaza back before the Gold Rush.

In the interest of keeping my Liberal credentials, I should say that I don’t actually want to kill any turkeys. Just frighten them. But if I’m trying to miss one, with my aim, I’ll probably hit it square in the head. Better cover myself and Ol’ Fess with permits just in case.

So with this post deteriorating to shooting and dead animals, I’d better cleanse the palates of those you who are reading from Blue States. How about some wildflowers? Here’s one of the most beautiful of our wild native Lupines. Well, it was the most beautiful. The deer chomped it down shortly after I got this picture.

Good thing I’m not the shootin’ type!

Here is a very special type of wildflower, commonly called a Monkey Flower. There are a lot of them on our property, but this little fellow was hiding down near our seasonal creek. Meet Mimulus guttatus.

Note the little drops of red which make it so much prettier than the simple yellow version which is the Sticky Monkey Flower.

Then there is this grassy, poddy plant which a reader below tells me is Filaree (erodium cicutarium).

It’s not a native, but it’s not invasive. And it gets special dispensation to stay.

John the Baptist has fond memories of making little “scissors” out of these when he was a kid.

And there are loads of these guys down by our creeks.

I’m thinking this is Iris macrosiphon or Bowl-tubed Iris.

Here I have to switch to the Hipstamatic iPhone application to produce the requisite horror touch. Someone, who shall not be named, introduced the horribly invasive Water Hyacinth into our little pond.

They are currently spending millions to eradicate this nasty customer from the Napa River where it’s choking out everything.

Luckily, we have John the Baptist to perform our ethnic cleansing.

Out Hyacinth! Die! Die!

Yes, there are things around here that even we aren’t too Liberal to kill.