Monday, June 27, 2016

Summertime blues: birds and bees and bugs, Oh My! #phenology

Warmer Summer weather has brought increased numbers of ants to the nectar feeders we put out for hummingbirds and orioles. Night visits by creature or creatures unknown (but suspected to be a raccoon or two) have been emptying the feeders if they're left out. Bringing ants into the house on a daily basis would eventually get me in trouble and someone might take my bird feeding toys away. Time for some internet research.

hummingbird at oriole feeder
hummingbird at oriole feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

There are a number of suggestions offered, such as coating the feeder holding arms with vaseline or cooking oil. That seems too messy and troublesome since either would need to be refreshed regularly, especially in Summer's heat. Being a naturalized Minnesotan, I have lots of rolls of duct tape around. Reverse duct tape, sticky side out, on eight or nine inches of the bottom of the feeder arm is now in place and at least one black ant has been observed stuck to the tape. This seemed far preferable to the approach of someone who wrapped the access/hanging arm with fly paper, which no doubt worked but must have been a challenging install. It also took less mechanical skill than crafting and installing a water moat on the hanger hook, which was another approach some have taken. I'd no doubt spill moat and sugar water every time the feeders were brought in. Several hummers have visited today, unphased by ants although they avoid confrontations with large bees. So far, so good.

tarantula-sized "barn spider"
tarantula-sized "barn spider"
Photo by J. Harrington

Later, my sense of superiority to the six and eight legged creatures in the world suffered several set backs. First was the arrival of several smaller bees at the nectar feeders. Duct tape isn't going to stop them so I'll have to chech carefully for "free riders" before unhooking the feeders. Second, as I entered the downstairs bathroom late this morning, I was startled to see a "barn spider," approaching tarantula size, on the floor. I rejected my immediate impression that the 12 gauge was needed and bravely stomped on it, hoping that my foot wouldn't miss and offer an opportunity for the creature to scurry up my pants leg. Success, although I still have to clean up some residual spider "blood."

I keep trying to follow the Zen approach of peacefully sharing my part of the world with my fellow creatures. It would be so much easier if they'd stop annoying and/or scaring the daylights out of me every time I turn around. Seriously, trying the old clap a cup over the spider and slide a piece of cardboard over the cup mouth doesn't work well on something large enough to induce a hernia if lifted. I vacuumed up the corpse.


By Joanie Mackowski

Two wandering across the porcelain
Siberia, one alone on the window sill,

four across the ceiling's senseless field
of pale yellow, one negotiating folds

in a towel: tiny, bronze-colored, antennae
'strongly elbowed,' crawling over Antony

and Cleopatra, face down, unsurprised,
one dead in the mountainous bar of soap.

Sub-family Formicinae (a single
segment behind the thorax), the sickle

moons of their abdomens, one trapped in bubbles
(I soak in the tub); with no clear purpose

they come in by the baseboard, do not bite,
crush bloodless beneath a finger. Peterson's

calls them 'social creatures,' yet what grim
society: identical pilgrims,

seed-like, brittle, pausing on the path
only three seconds to touch another's

face, some hoisting the papery carcasses
of their dead in their jaws, which open and close

like the clasp of a necklace. 'Mating occurs
in flight'— what better way? Weightless, reckless

rapture: the winged queen and her mate, quantum
passion spiraling near the kumquat,

and then the queen sheds her wings, plants
the pearl-like larvae in their cribs of sand:

more anvil-headed, creeping attentions
to follow cracks in the tile, the lip of the tub,

and one starting across the mirror now, doubled.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.