Skunk Puts Bounce in Ex-Mayor, and Other Tales of El Cerrito Wildlife

Former El Cerrito Mayor Rich Bartke found extra spring in his step when he ran afoul of a skunk while jogging. We thank him for this report on his close encounters with a variety of our local four-legged wildlife.

On a daily jog I was chugging up Devonshire Drive towards home.  I passed a bush, and on the other side stood a skunk.  I saw him spin around as if pivoting on one front paw.  He lifted his tail and sprayed, the entire action taking one, maybe two seconds. 

But at that moment I found myself on the other side of the street – I don’t know how I got there, as I’m not capable of jumping 18 feet – but it happened.  And none of the spray got on me.  Whew!

The next time I encountered a skunk was at the top of Contra Costa.  As I approached the back gate of the northernmost house, a skunk was squeezing under the gate and saw me.  He spun around in a flash, and tried to lift his tail, but his rear-end was still under the gate and his tail couldn’t go up.  Once again I had escaped, un-sprayed.

There’s lots of wildlife in El Cerrito, but this is about the four-legged kind.

I have been surprised by spotting coyotes in the hours just after dawn.  One I saw was crossing Vista, heading toward Wildcat Canyon, which made sense to me.  But over the next few months I twice saw a coyote going west across Contra Costa.  Since it was already daylight, I don’t know where they were going or why – maybe headed to our Hillside Natural Area to bunk down for the day.

One morning I crossed Moeser heading west on Contra Costa when I heard click-click-click-click by my right hand.  I expected to see a largish dog with toenails, but it wasn’t.  Running at my side was a fawn, following me at my pace like a pet dog would do.  Suddenly that scamp darted to the left, ran through front yards, and then joined me again on the far side.  After proceeding past another house or two, the fawn took off again, running through front yards, and then assumed his place beside me westbound on the pavement.  The third time the fawn took off through yards, it kept going and I didn’t see it again.

When we first moved from the El Cerrito flatlands to the hills, we saw lots of deer.  The neighbors told us a few things.  First, the deer stay in small herds, and the humans refer to each herd by the name of the dominant doe.  We’ve had “Split-ear,” “Limpy,” and so on.  These herds never moved very far, maybe 100 yards or so.  Secondly dogs, even big dogs, would not try to fight a doe.  All the dogs in the neighborhood were aware of the does’ sharp hoofs and kept a respectful distance.  We were told that decades ago the deer would come into town every summer from Wildcat Canyon when the browsing out there got sparse.  The deer herds would then return to the canyon when it started to green up again.  Around the 1950s as homes with landscaping became more plentiful, the herds stayed longer; finally they never returned to the canyon.

One day I smelled an awful smell, like something had died.  Checking the backyard I found the messy remains of a deer.  But how had it gotten into our yard and died there?  We have a six-foot fence all the way around.  An animal control officer came out and looked, and said it had been killed in our yard, and partially eaten, by a coyote.  A running deer can clear a six-foot fence anytime, but so had the pursuing hungry coyote.  Wow!

One of the true puzzlements of our area is the smarts of our raccoons.  They come to munch in our garbage cans the night before the garbage truck comes to pick up in the morning.  I initially thought that night, Wednesday in our area, had the strongest garbage smells which would attract the raccoons.  But then I noted, as others have, that in weeks which start with a holiday, garbage service is delayed a day, but the raccoons don’t know that and still show up on Wednesday night.  Their calendars tell them which day of the week it is, but they don’t have holidays.

A couple of months ago, late at night, there was a noise outside.  I went to the back door, opened it and turned on the porch light.  There, about six feet from where I stood were two red foxes, staring at me. They may have been youngish as they were sleek, beautiful animals.  I talked to them, and they did not move, just kept staring at me with their pointy ears erect.  I went back inside and got my camera, but when I came back, they were gone.

Kathy A. April 16, 2012 at 01:57 PM
great roundup of stories about local wildlife! i especially like the one about the fawn. there were a couple of times when the deer were grazing near my yard, and a fawn started racing back and forth along the wire fence with my dog running on the other side. the dog had to stop at the side fences, so the fawn would turn around and start running again. they both had a grand time.
John Stashik April 16, 2012 at 05:14 PM
On dog walks we see lots of wildlife. Upon smelling skunk odor, it is a signal to quickly change direction. I recall one night about six years ago walking along Navellier. At Mound Street about 20 deer came running out of that short street and up into Wildwood. No exaggeration! Our dogs went bonkers. Just held on to the leashes with both hands as the wanted to chase that herd in the worst way.


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