DEAR JOAN: This morning as I drove up to Valle Verde Elementary School in Walnut Creek, a band of about six small turkeys ran across the street in front of me. They were black with a red streak of something below their beaks.
But a closer look seemed to indicate they were not turkeys as they had short feet and necks, like that of a bird. They seemed more like crows but they were huge, about the size of a big chicken or a small turkey. They weren't vultures, I'm sure of that.
They flew up onto a rooftop and perched there. Mothers, waiting with their children to enter school, had never seen these birds before and were a little concerned for their children in the event the birds decided to fly down to the schoolyard about 300 feet away.
Any idea what we saw?
DEAR DON: I'm going to guess that you saw a flock of guinea fowl. These birds do resemble small wild turkeys. They typically are dark gray or black, and have dense white spots on their feathers, which might not have been perceptible at a distance. They do have red wattles -- the "red streak of something" you saw.
As far as I know, guineas are not as common in the wilds of suburbia as turkeys, so I'm going to further guess that someone's flock went for a walkabout.
The guineas are particularly skittish and fast. My mother used to tell us that when she would tire of entertaining her younger cousins, she would make up a game that involved trying to catch a guinea. The cousins never could, but, oh, they would try. It's doubtful the shy birds would have ventured down among the schoolchildren, but if they had, they would have posed no threat.
The birds are native to Africa, but there are breeders who raise and sell the birds and their eggs. They can, of course, live in the wild, so if five years from now people start writing me about a guinea fowl invasion, we will at least know where the first flock originated.
DEAR JOAN: I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Summit Woods, and in December I put in an area of sod approximately 10 feet by 15 feet. Within a couple of weeks some creatures started coming every night and rolling up the sod to get to the dirt underneath.
I have tried everything I can think of -- cayenne, store-bought spray and even a motion detector sprinkler. Nothing works and every morning I roll it down and every night they come back.
DEAR KATHY: Either you have an insane landscape architect tormenting you, or you have raccoons. I can't speak to the actions of a mad gardener, but rolling turf is classic raccoon behavior.
They roll up your sod in search of grubs underneath. The best way of dealing with the raccoons is to deal with the grubs. I recommend the environmentally sound method of beneficial nematodes.
Nematodes are tiny, microscopic creatures that, once unleashed on your lawn, burrow into the soil and seek out grubs. The nematodes are perfectly safe to use on your lawn and around children and pets. They are single-minded in their pursuit of grubs.
It does take a while for the nematodes to work and for the raccoons to learn the lunch counter has closed, but in the long run they are the best solution.