Besides burning our property 360 degrees around, the big fires of 2017 seriously upset the wildlife balance around here. The predators, large and small, took off for safer ground leaving the surviving rodents to multiply with impunity. Two following years of heavy rain quadrupled the available food supply leading to an off-the-charts baby boom for rodent-type varmints.

For the last two years, we’ve had to resort to covering the property with rodent traps. I should pause to say that these traps have too small an entrance to trap a fox or a terrier. The ground squirrels and gophers wriggle into them get trapped and usually have a heart attack. We’ve been throwing the dead bodies out in the pasture hoping our large predators will start thinking of this place as a 24-hour buffet. I don’t know if we can give those efforts all the credit, but the predators are back. All of them! Under our recently blood red sunsets, the blood-thirsty wrecking crew has returned.

The first to appear was our elusive bobcat, Bob. I’ve seen him a few times but he’s always too fast to catch on camera. This time he ran right in front of me as I drove up the front drive. He was close enough that I could see how well-fed he looked as he bounded out of our lavender patch. Give that we have been absolutely plagued with ground squirrels who have been steadily killing our newly replanted lavender, he is welcome to all the varmints he can eat. He seems to have accepted that invitation.

Next, I noticed that our skies were suddenly filled with hawks. We have one Red Tailed Hawk we call Hudson who spends his early mornings perched on a telephone pole surveying our pasture. The other day, I got up to see him sitting on our garage scouting varmints closer to the house.

He wasn’t ready for his close-up and showed me his backside as he flew off.

Then the other day, we saw evidence of the kind of drama we used to stumble upon. The paw prints of extremely large predators close behind the hoof prints of some fast moving deer. Also some drag marks that hinted at a successful hunt. However, there was no evidence of a kill, so it was probably dragged off down the hill to the County open space.

This coyote pawprint would indicate a German Shepard sized critter.
Probably a cousin to this fat and sassy coyote I caught strolling through Sebastiani’s Cabernet vineyard just down the hill from us.

But the predator we’ve been waiting for is our formerly resident Mountain Lion, Miss Kitty. We figure she’s a girl because we’ve seen her prints with much smaller paw prints beside them, clearly a mom with kids. For years, she’s kept our deer population healthy by culling the weak. She and I have had a long understanding: I won’t go zipping around after dark disturbing her hunting time and she won’t come out in the daytime and kill me or the dogs. So far, that agreement is working out fine. And as Mountain Lions are territorial, she’ll keep out the young half-grown males — who are the most dangerous cats as they are crap at catching deer and look for easier prey.

Well, she’s back, and judging by her print, she’s eating well.

So that’s the state of the Rancho. We are up to full predator quotient. We are looking forward to an end to the need to fuss with rodent traps out in the vineyards, the lavender fields, in fact in every outbuilding and garden area that were formerly infested with mice, wood rats, ground squirrels and gophers.

But wait, you say. Don’t you have Smooth Fox Terriers? You know, those dogs bred for centuries to make short work of vermin? I have had killer terriers. My late lamented Oscar once set the terrier record of eight mouse kills inside of 30 seconds. But it seems my latest pair, Sally Yates and Spartacus, don’t have a killer instinct. Unless it comes to cookies, socks and toilet rolls. And Sparts and Sally will tell you they were bred, not for any old rodents, but for foxes and only during an approved fox hunt. So until a Downton Abbey style hunt comes rolling through, the terriers are referring all complaints to their union reps.

But here’s what Sparty is working on…
Clearing the baby gate…
And here’s how it’s done!