Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mickey & Minnie

This past week I learned that I have a mouse problem in the house. Last Wednesday night, our daughter came in from Little Rock to leave for the wedding in College Station the next day. After she moved out, I transformed her upstairs bedroom into my sewing room, and I still had some pre-wedding sewing going on when she got there. She decided to sleep downstairs in her brother's old room. She was upstairs in our room sometime after 1:00 am that night telling me there was a terrible noise downstairs. Once I was awake enough to respond, I called the cat's name. She was nearby; not downstairs making noise. I scooped up the cat and went downstairs. I heard a noise in the wall between the back staircase and the hall to the downstairs bedrooms right away and knew it was mice. The cat perked up because she heard it, too. I put her down and she walked up and down the hall sniffing the wall, but couldn't do any more than that. I couldn't do anything about it because we were leaving the next morning. Now, I assumed this was a new event, with the temperatures about to change. We don't get evidence of mice every year in the fall, but it has happened often enough over the years to be half way expected. It is a big, country house on piers that turned 80 years old this year. Sometime over the four days we were in Texas for the wedding, our son and his new bride heard the story and chimed in with their own versions of hearing the mice while staying downstairs. I was appalled that it had been going on for that long and nobody had mentioned it. Can't fix it if we don't know about it.

Today I bought a supply of mouse bait. This evening, I emptied out the floor of the food pantry that has an access panel to the area beneath the stairway. The cat and I had heard the mice last night. I pried the panel off and saw where the little beggars had removed some of the sealant I had plugged holes years before with and had gotten in. I was expecting to see a whole mouse circus set up under the stairs when I opened the panel. I was relieved not to see much of anything. I had cleaned behind it years before and it still looked pretty good. I called the cat to come check it out. She walked all around the area for 15 minutes or so, sniffing and investigating. When she was done, I tossed in some bait and closed the panel. I will re-seal it tomorrow. I left everything out of the pantry so the cat can patrol it during the night. I will toss some bait up in the attic and between the floors tomorrow and hope that will work as well as it has in the past.

On the outside, I was glad to see the hummingbirds are still here. Below are some pictures I took last week. They are all over the red turk's cap flowers. Gulf fritillary butterflies also enjoy the turk's cap.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Road Trip

Today my daughter and I drove from Collinston to College Station, Texas. It was a very long drive--387 miles in 7 hours, including a brief lunch stop, a gas stop, and an after lunch pit stop. The problem is you just can't get here from there. A further problem for me was that we had a very long stretch from Henderson to Buffalo and there were no interesting grasses, no wildflowers, and the only birds I saw were crows and vultures.

Somewhere along the way, I noticed that we must have crossed a "frost" line because the trees were full of ball moss. That is a close relative of our Spanish moss that grows in tight balls in warmer regions on nearly any aerial surface. I have seen it completely covering utility lines in southern Texas. It grows in the Baton Rouge area in Louisiana and places south of there.

We drove a short ways on I-45, from Buffalo to Madisonville. Texas Highway 21 from Madisonville to Bryan had beautiful roadside displays of grasses and fall wildflowers and almost no traffic. That's my kind of traveling!

It rained on us several times, and is raining here this evening in College Station. We were very surprised at how cool it was when we got out of the car at the hotel. It was in the mid-60's, and was down to 60 degrees when we got in from supper.

Our hotel is full of police and firemen from New York City. They have been here all week at some sort of training seminar. Strange hearing those New York accents in the elevator. A big group of them came in the front door as we were checking in. I couldn't hear their accents, but they all had a look about them. I asked the clerk if they were having a Bubba convention, and he told me who they were, and that they were leaving tomorrow. I guess they will be replaced by Aggie fans, as this hotel and all others in town are full for the weekend because it is a home game Saturday.

Tomorrow I will go visit the florist and do some last minute gathering up for the rehearsal dinner Saturday night.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flowers and 'shrooms

I cautiously ventured outside yesterday, hoping the rains had stopped. I took along the fire ant poison, since the little devils were busy building up their mounds trying to dry them out. There were so many mushrooms popping up everywhere that I went back and grabbed the camera. Along the way I found a flower or two in bloom, and then got absorbed in watching the butterflies and hummingbirds on the turk's cap flowers.
This one, called Green Parasol, is newly popped out of the ground, and makes quite a show. They always come up in the same spots when it rains a lot and are highly poisonous. After a day or so, it grows in to a large flat-topped mushroom. The white skin pops open and begins to flake off.

I discovered these lavender colored ones today in the lawn. As best I can tell, they are Amethyst Laccaria. One book says, "edible, but poor" and the other says "harmless, but not worth eating." Don't worry, I won't.

Elsewhere out in the lawn I found Lady's Tresses orchid. They seem to appear overnight scattered in the lawngrass. Sometimes the spike will be 18" or more. This one was barely a foot tall. They are true orchids, as you can tell from the tiny flowers. The flowers are arranged in a spiral formation, which is noted in the botanical name, Spiranthes. It is a terrestrial orchid, meaning it grows in soil, as opposed to the common florist type orchids that have aerial roots and grow in trees.

Scattered all over Kalorama is this bulb which blooms every year in early fall, Zephyr Lily. I was taught that they were not native, but everything I have researched on them so far is stating that they are. My "last word" in botany is the USDA Plant Database web site. It has been so slow for the past month, that I have hardly been able to use it. All that aside, it is a lovely little flower and prolific, showy bloomer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More pests

I am happy to report that after setting the afore mentioned trap, we had an armadillo in it the next morning. I believe that may be the sixth one I have caught. I have a situation tailor-made for catching them. They like to root along the base of the front porch. It stays damp there from the run-off from watering the container plants on the porch. I place the trap parallel to the porch right up against the base and the armadillo, blind as a bat, just wanders in and trips the door. When I see the signs and put the trap out, I usually catch it the first night. If I don't, and there are new signs of digging in the morning, then I turn the trap around because I know he is coming from the other direction. I thought I might get a picture of the latest catch, because it was a big one. I set the trap on end and opened the door to look at it, and the smell was so foul that I shut it up and refused to open it again for a picture.

After the rain we got earlier in the week, I decided to work on reducing the fire ant population. They respond to heavy rain by building up their mounds in the days after the rain, which makes them easier to spot. I have a wedding coming up in a couple of weeks, and I have been trying to be very careful to avoid any sort of bruises, scraps, or other assorted wounds that I seem to collect on the job, especially on my feet and ankles. Most years I manage to get by with only one or two ant bites, but these past two weeks I have collected more on my feet than in my entire life!

I found that if I patrol for the mounds in spring and fall, I can pretty much keep them subdued. I have learned the high and dry places they like best on the property and I aggressively seek them out and destroy the mounds. I felt like that would be a safe, injury-free task for me to do. While out pestering the ants, I noticed quite a bit of damage being done in an area by an armadillo along the edge of a bed out on the grounds. He had been working in a straight line where the pine straw met the grass. I thought I could put the trap out in the line and I just might catch him. I have never had success away from the porch getting an armadillo in the trap. The trap had been sitting near the back door on a couple of flagstones. I didn't want to put it up until I was sure there was no fresh damage in the front flower bed. I picked it up and set it on the back of the BadBoy, and immediately felt something stinging my feet. Much to my dismay, I discovered that in the short time the trap had been sitting there, a huge fire ant mound had been constructed under it and around the flagstones it was sitting on. Now there were fire ants everywhere--all over the ground, the trap, the BadBoy, and the water hoses that were also on the vehicle. I dusted it all with fire ant poison and went in the house thoroughly disgusted with burning feet. I put some ice and water in a pan and soaked my feet until the burning stopped and pondered the situation.

One of my sisters introduced me to ichthammol, or black drawing salve when we were in Costa Rica last Thanksgiving. It is primitive stuff--the active ingredient is shale oil extracted from somewhere on the planet. It works pretty well, but smells like tar, and is mixed with mineral oil and petroleum jelly. I had never tried it on ant bites, but thought this might be the time, to see if it would lessen the damage. I am very pleased with the results. It works much faster than baking soda and I had much less inflammation from this round of bites, and I really think they will be long gone by the wedding.

I never have gotten the trap back out. I am really sort of fearful of doing anything out on the grounds, though I know with all the rain we are getting, there will be mowing needed shortly. I guess I could start wearing my tall rubber boots all the time.....at least until after the wedding.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

'Possum in the trap

After the cat episode several days ago, I left one of the traps out. It was one of our wooden box traps. Several years ago an aggressive raccoon began visiting the bird feeders. It was large, and would get on a feeder in the daylight and hunker down over the feed and growl if I walked out on the porch. It also destroyed a couple of hummingbird feeders. I tried catching it in a wire trap like you can buy at the hardware store. The old coon was so big that when the door came down its back end kept it from closing, so it got the bait and backed back out. I called the LDWF and asked for the trapper to make a visit. He came along in a couple of days, pulling a trailer with an ATV with several dead beavers strapped on the back. He had been at the country club trapping beavers on the golf course. He listened to my tale of woe and said he had a trap that he thought would work and he would drop it by in a few days. Sure enough, he came by later in the week with a fine trap made of plywood. I was very impressed with it and asked if I could take it to my carpenter and have him make me one. He said, "Certainly, a woman like you needs a couple of them." He went on to explain that one 4 x 8 sheet of plywood would make two. In the meantime, I set his trap that night and caught the large raccoon. Terry hauled it off to the swamp so it could become king or queen of the jungle.

Since that time, I have caught a whole bunch of critters in my traps, mostly armadillos. I didn't catch a cat in it, but set it up on the front porch, still set, last week. In the meantime, we are being visited by a third cat, about the same size as the other two. This one is black and white and comes up on the front porch every evening. Our cat has made watching for this cat a ritual, and lets out a true caterwaul every evening when it appears. It runs when we appear. Well, the weather was lovely this evening, so Terry and I ate our hamburgers he grilled for our supper on the front porch. At some point I noticed the trap was tripped. I figured the stray cat had bumped it. I was pretty sure it wouldn't go in since there wasn't any bait in it. I picked it up and it felt kind of heavy. I turned it on one end and peered down in it, surprised to see a young 'possum playing dead in the bottom. I had notice that an armadillo had been digging at the edge of the porch, so I dumped the 'possum out(it refused to crawl out; insisted on playing dead) and set the trap again, placing it parallel to the porch in hopes of catching the 'diller. Or 'dillers.

Here is a picture of one of the traps.