Looking Back: Raccoons and Possums and Skunks, oh my!

Tarantulas, Bats, and Owls

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends were concerned about "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" Here in San Jose, our wildlife tends to be a little less threatening. Like many of San Jose's neighborhoods, mine was developed from an old orchard. Ours nestles against a hill and between the Canoas Creek and the Guadalupe River. Having lived there since I was a kid in the 1960s, we've always been surrounded by a variety of wildlife. I remember two incidents of tarantulas visiting our school which was adjacent to the Valley View prune orchard. In the evening we had bats over the playgrounds. darting and diving as they caught insects for dinner.  There were also jack rabbits and foxes in the hills, though they never ventured into the neighborhood. In the 1980s, we had several owls in the neighborhood. I remember their faces reminded me of little monkeys as they lodged in our neighbor's high trees. And then the ever-present hawks circling high above the hills in their never-ending quest for lunch.

What's That Smell?

Development of the hills was well under way by the 1990s, and the neighborhood began to see a great variety of wildlife that were presumably flushed from their habitats. We began to have regular visits from raccoons, possums, and skunks, often pulling up grass looking for grubs (insect larva), raiding pet food, and leaving other reminders of their visit.

That Wasn't a Dog...

We also began having occasional visits from wild turkeys, coyotes, and turkey vultures who are attracted to roadkill like an unfortunate possum that often lacks the speed to safely traverse the roadway. I remember being in my driveway one evening about 10 pm and seeing a dog trot passed moving its head from side to side as if looking for prey. Something about its appearance and movement didn't seem like a dog though, and it took me a moment to realize that it had been a coyote. Soon after neighborhood Facebook pages were filled with other coyote sightings along with reports of cats who had fallen prey.  We currently have a peahen (female peacock) that has lived at the end of our street for a number of years.

Playing Possum

I went outside late one night and noticed a large lump of fur lying motionless on the front lawn. I was concerned that it could be the remains of a neighbor's cat that a coyote had gotten ahold of. As I got closer, I could see that it was a possum. I knew that possums could play dead when scared, but I'd first noticed this one from some distance and as I looked closely, there was absolutely no signs of life, and it looked gruesomely dead - except there were no visible wounds or evidence of a struggle. When I peeked out a front bedroom window a while later, the "dead" possum was gone. Had me fooled!

Pigging Out

More recently wild pigs have been tearing up grass and knocking over garbage cans in some neighborhoods of San Jose. They come out of the hills primarily searching for grubs like the raccoons, possums, and skunks. Fortunately, we haven't seen any of these in our neighborhood...

Communications Hill Wildlife

Our neighborhood's next to the San Juan Bautista Hills, more commonly known now as Communications Hill (large cell phone tower), which includes the Church on the Hill, County Communications, Oak Hill Cemetery, a quarry, many new housing developments, and a small amount of remaining open space. Venturing out along a trail that runs along the east side of Country Communications one day, I came across a small family of deer and later on a lone coyote who began howling at me from some short distance away.  I was quite surprised to see the deer, and am curious whether they lived in the hills or if they had a route back to the open spaces surrounding the valley floor.

More reading from the California Room: