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Cuyamaca Cougars

Sherilton Valley and the Descanso area have been the site of many cougar sightings over the years. Unfortunately several cougars in our area were killed in the fire of 2003 and there have been few sightings since. Because of the burned vegetation and the reduction in the deer population, cougars have been slow to return to our area.  On the bright side,  a cougar was recently sighted less than a mile from our ranch and we have been on the lookout ever since.  I have placed a wildlife camera in a likely spot and I'm checking daily for any night time visitors.  You can follow that story on our Stealth Cam page.

Before the fire, our area was well known for cougar sightings. The following is a short excerpt from an article by Tony Perry, L.A.Times staff writer.

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DESCANSO, Calif. - Now that their community has become the cougar capital of California, the residents of this tiny mountain hamlet-not usually given to philosophical musings-are discussing the proper relationship between man and beast.

The fatal attack on a hiker by a cougar at nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park on Dec. 10 caught few by surprise in Descanso, where the 1,500 residents have learned to mix fear with respect when they regard the magnificent, heavily muscled predator, also known as a mountain lion, puma or panther.

Valley Bob Cats

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Bob cats are quite common in our area and we occasionally hear them at night as they roam along the creek bed. They have a call that is unmistakable and with our healthy rabbit population, I expect them to stay around. Less shy than cougars, they have even been spotted during the day and one in particular has been seen circling our chicken coup.  Surprisingly, the chickens sit quietly watching him trying to figure out the puzzle.

I have been lucky and the stealth camera has taken several shots of a full sized adult. You can see those photos on our Stealth Cam page.

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The valley pocket gopher, Thomomys bottae has 20 teeth and 8 tits.  They can have 5 to 7 young in 19 days depending on how many apple trees you are trying to grow in your orchard.  They have been known to pull entire leaf lettuce plants under ground and eat their way right down a row of beets.

All kidding aside, the gopher has had a serious effect on how we manage our plants on the ranch.  Every new tree has to be planted in a chicken wire basket and for now, we've given up on having a vegetable garden. The labor involved and the cost of traps, water and poison is too much to make vegetable gardening worth while.  You can see how we try to control these critters on our Pest page.


 The gopher snake, Pituophis melanoleucus, eats mice, rodents, rabbits, birds, eggs and lizards, killing by constriction.  It is a biological control for gophers and you can understand why it is popular on the ranch.  We are always grateful when we see a gopher snake and they are free to wander anywhere.

Rattlers, yeah we got em but not as many as you might expect.  Normally I'll only come across one or two a year and so far they just haven't been a problem.  On the other hand, a friend of Catherine's was bitten in Mexico and died before they could get him to help.  Because of that we're extra careful and depending on the circumstances, I'll either move them to an unpopulated area or kill them if I can't safely get them into a container.

The Birds

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When the chaparral dries up for the summer, with the exception of the rare mountain thunder shower, a dish pan of water becomes the favorite bathing spot of the ranch's feathered denizens.  A common flicker, Colates cafer, was photographed taking a bath when he was disturbed by a family of black headed grosbeaks, Pheucticue melanocephalus.  The female acorn woodpecker, Melanerpes farmicivorus, has a red crown, black forehead and white above the beak while the male has only red and white.  The rufous hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, is very protective of the feeder and tries to drive all the other hummingbirds away.

For the complete life list of birds seen on our ranch visit Birds. To see how we're trying to provide feeding stations for birds and all the wildlife, visit our Feeding Station page.

The Insects

    Tarantulas and Scorpions are quite common on the ranch. As most people know they are not life threatening though we do get a little excited when we find them in the house.  More rarely, at night we can see Glow Worms down by the creek.  In the light of day they are fluorescent pink with six legs up near the front of their half inch bodies.


Peepers the Peahen (OK, she's a pet but still pretty wild)

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When my wife Catherine received what we thought was a baby peacock from one of our neighbors, we never expected it to become a major commitment. Catherine has hand raised many types of birds and usually, after a few months, they grow up and blend in with the other wild life on our property. The peacock however has required special care and didn't reach adulthood for almost two years. At this point we do know that the peacock is actually a peahen which means she is a little quieter though less colorful. We have been calling her Peeper because she is constantly peeping, especially when we get out of her sight. Flock birds keep track of one another this way.

    For now, Peeper has imprinted on humans and wants to be with people at all times. For the first year she went to work with Catherine and they kept each other company in the geology storeroom. At home she stays outside but stations herself at the front or back door. She is content to watch us through the windows and likes to keep us in sight at all times. When I go out to drive to the mail box she runs down to the car and climbs in with me. She also likes to follow us when we go jogging.

    Because we have coyotes, bobcats and an occasional cougar in the area, Peeper sleeps inside at night in a special enclosure. Sometimes I let her out and she falls asleep at my feet next to the fireplace. Who needs a dog?

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