Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) Photo Phil Rowntree

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) Photo Phil Rowntree

Photographer Phil Rowntree got doubly lucky: he spotted a skunk, and the skunk didn’t spot him. Skunks have a good nose and ears but poor eyes. This one either didn’t see Phil at all, or saw him and decided he wasn’t a threat. This encounter took place on the rocks along the south shore of the North Basin as Phil was walking on the Virginia Street Extension (map).

I’ve seen skunks in the Native Plant Area and further north of there (see “Skunks” collection) but never before in this area, adjacent to the former Berkeley Meadow, now the Sylvia McLaughlin State Park.

The word “skunk” is one of the few animal names that derive from a Native American language. It comes from an Algonquian word meaning “to urinate.” Source.

Skunks join Ground Squirrels, gophers, voles, rats, snakes, lizards, Kingfishers, and other park dwellers as diggers of burrows. (Note that our Western Burrowing Owls, despite their name, do not dig; they borrow the burrows that others have dug.) The skunk’s powerful front paws make short work of the toughest clay. They spend part of the cold season huddled in their burrows, not really hibernating, but not very active either. Males and females dig separate burrows in overlapping territories. Females may cuddle together a dozen strong for warmth in a burrow; males stay solo. New skunk pups may emerge in April or May. Something to look forward to.

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