There is a world of wildlife right here in Castro Valley. If you read the story about the couple who had a , you’ll know what I’m talking about.
We have also had our fair share of close encounters with animals—both great and small—in the five years that we’ve lived here. See, our backyard basically is wilderness. It overlooks the Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area, which is full of meandering oak trees and chaparral, scrub terrain.
Here are some of the more interesting incidents we’ve had with nature’s creatures right in our own backyard:
We have a gaggle of wild turkeys that live in the canyon. They pay us a visit every so often. There are a couple of males who love to display their dominance by puffing up their colorful feathers. They do this in the middle of the main road that leads in and out of our housing community. I’ve had to honk several times to politely nudge them aside so I could pass. Once I even had a bunch hop the fence in our backyard and make themselves comfortable while snacking on bugs in our lawn.
California Slender Salamander
Recently, while digging in the dirt, my son found what he thought was a worm. He proudly brought it over to my husband and I -- then my daughter yelled, “It has little arms and legs!” We all crowded around the little creature. It did, in fact, look like a worm with miniature arms and legs. My husband was thrilled to look it up to see if he might discover a new species. Lo and behold, we learned that it was a California Slender Salamander. I’d never heard of such a thing, but they are very common in our area. They're kinda cute, too.
These are the more “traditional-looking” ones that most people envision when they hear salamander. Unfortunately, many of these little guys have succumbed to a violent death in our home because they encounter our two indoor cats. Our cats find these critters and bring them inside as play things, or worse -- as dismembered “gifts” for us. Luckily, my husband or I usually find them and respectfully dispose of them before our kids see them. I have rescued a few victims before they met their doom by letting them go outside, which makes me feel less guilty about the others.
Late one night I meandered into our kitchen to get a drink of water. Half-asleep, I didn’t notice the cats sniffing at something in the corner. I finished my drink and turned to walk back down our hallway when I saw the cats batting at something on the floor. I thought it was a mouse, which led me to run and get my husband. He grudgingly brought out the flashlight. We both were surprised to find a creature that looked nothing like a mouse. It had a rounded head, little beady eyes (like a mouse), a small stubby tail, and it sort of balled itself up when we tried to catch it. (Mice just run, really fast.) My husband ended up catching it and letting it go outside. Later he looked it up and discovered that it was a Meadow Vole. Then he was upset that he let it go because he just knew it was going to gnaw on our garden, which it did.
Most people think raccoons are perky little masked critters that often do funny things. Not me. They scare the living daylights out of me. One evening I was closing the curtains that garnish our sliding glass door when I heard one of our cats growl. Thinking this was odd, I flicked on the light in our backyard and two sets of masked eyes peered back at me. The cat began hissing but the two raccoons didn’t budge, even after I turned the light on them. They kept staring at me, then the cat. I started to move away and that’s when one of them stood up on its hind legs and bared its teeth at me, or the cat, or likely both of us. I flung the curtains shut and tried to forget it ever happened. But since that night, I sometimes have nightmares about raccoons.