Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another "Monstah"

In "Flying Over The Rainbow", I related an incident involving Laka (our macaw) telling me that there were monsters in her "bedroom". I'm not remembering exactly when that happened - I think it was 2009. She continues to occasionally come up with new phrases and words, but "monstah" has not come up again.

Or at least it hadn't until the other night. It was about 9:30 pm and I was in the kitchen reading. I could hear Laka shifting around in her bedcage upstairs. That's not unusual, she often will turn around on her perch, making just a little bit of noise in the process. But on this occasion, the little bit of noise got louder and suddenly I could hear her moaning "oh!Oh! OoooooOooooff!", followed by the frantic thrashing of wings.

I got up the stairs as fast as I could, calling to her as I went. When I turned on the light I found her clinging to the side of her cage, upside down. Her expression was wild, and as I approached her, she raised her "shoulders" in a warning stance. I know better than to reach for her unprotected when she does that - so I draped a quarter-folded bath towel over my arm, opened her cage door and reached for her. As I expect, she struck hard at the towel - biting down with all her might. With four-layers of thick terrycloth, my arm was protected - and after she struck a few times, she calmed down and stepped onto the towel.

I brought her out of the cage and had her step directly onto my other arm (the towel had done it's job). She was trembling violently, poor thing.  I talked softly and soothingly to her, told her she was a "good girl" and that she was safe. She calmed down pretty well and after a couple of minutes, I was able to put her back into her cage and turn off the lights.

She was quiet for about 10 minutes, but then started in again, thrashing even more violently than before.

I repeated the towel-stepping and talked to her, telling her she was alright - but she wasn't calming down much this time. I hadn't heard any noises outside - but I asked her "Is there a monstah?" - and her reaction was distinct and immediate - she started tossing her head back and forth, as if to say "yeah! YEAH!" and then she looked up at the ceiling and said "ah! Ah! Ah!" several times.

OK. So it's a monstah. Probably something moving around on the roof.

Laka was pretty worked up, but again allowed me to sooth her. I told her she was safe, and that she'd done the right thing by calling out and flapping.

"You're a good, brave girl, Laka. You did exactly the right thing and that old monstah has run away."

Yeah- I know this all sounds nuts, but Laka calmed down, purred a little and begged for a scritch. After that she went back to bed and it was quiet from then on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

European Wasps

In Ohio we called them "Yellow Jackets" - but here they're known as "European Wasps". According to the Museum Victoria website, they were first found in Melbourne in 1977 - and let me tell you they've spread like mad.

I notice them most in the autumn, when (just as they did in Ohio) they seem to become more aggressive than usual. I know several people who've found them nesting in their homes - and had to call an exterminator to get rid of them. I've been lucky so far - even though I think our weatherboard siding would certainly look like great housing to a wasp, we've not had any in the house yet. But they certainly are around - there's a bumper crop of them around at the moment, so I'm certain a nest is nearby - but I don't know exactly where.

I found an online article which describes how to locate European Wasp nests. The author observes that the wasps generally fly in a straight line back and forth between their nest sites and sources of food and water. He suggests setting up a "wasp trap" - but one that the wasps can actually get out of - and observing the wasps as they leave it. The idea is to follow the wasps from the trap back to the nest. Of course the wasps are pretty fast and hard to follow, so the author's idea is that you gradually move the trap along the flight line, closer and closer to where the wasps are heading when they leave. His idea is that eventually you end up at or near the entrance to the nest.

Well, OK... but...

... any suggestions on how to move the trap without getting stung?

Back in March I came across a Preying Mantis feasting on one of these wasps and took this photo:

GOOD BUG!  Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shopping Bags

When I first visited Oz in 2003, one of the things that impressed me was how the shops don't always automatically stuff your purchases into a (possibly non-biodegradeable) plastic bag. Instead, they ask you if you WANT a bag, and if you do, well, you often pay for it.

Instead of plastic bags, we buy little fabric totes (approx. $1 each) and carry them into the store with us.

I love this - who needs all that plastic? Australian stores have been doing it for years and years.

Last year a good friend gave me a vinyl tote-bag that rolls up into a sausage-like size/shape and tucks neatly into my handbag. If I happen to be shopping without one of my totes, I can just pull this bag out and flip it open - instant carry-all! It's very lightweight and sturdy.

Now, to be honest, there are still many stores which still put purchases into a store bag. Just today I bought a greeting card and before I could say anything, the clerk slipped it into a small, flat paper bag. Major department stores still use bags. K-Mart, Target, and such still automatically pull out the plastic unless you specifically stop them. Likewise, certain boutique shops like to have you walking the mall with bags that carry their store logo. Still - if I whip out my vinyl tote-bag, no clerk even blinks at me; they just put my purchases in it.

When we go to Bunnings, an Australian hardware store chain not unlike Home Depot or Lowe's, you  bring your own bag - or you can grab a cardboard box from the stash they keep at the front of the store just next to the registers. These cardboard boxes are nothing more than the cartons their stock arrived in. BRILLIANT! They also sell reusable cloth bags - which are much bigger than the grocery bags you get in Coles or Safeway/Woolworth's - and which are very handy to have.

Hopefully someone will suggest the "Bunnings box" idea to American hardware stores soon - it's the next cool earth-friendly fashion!

On my last two trips to the US (2011 and 2012), I noticed that re-usable shopping bags are becoming more accepted and people are starting to use them. Stephen and I picked up a few things at Kroger (a major grocery chain) and grabbed one of their little totes. The black cloth bag looks just like the ones we got from Maxi's grocery here in Australia - but has a little extra pocket sewn into the top on one side. I have no idea what this little pocket is for - seems pretty impractical to me, as anything you put in it is going to fall out and get lost in the boot (trunk) long before you get home.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More About Ants

Two weeks ago I mentioned a couple of our native ant species: Jack Jumpers and Bull Ants. The day I got the photo of the Bull Ant, I also found these two guys hanging on the vertical stair support on our deck:

These are good-sized ants, not as big as Bull Ants, but larger than Jack Jumpers. They are distinctive, shiny black with very large abdomens. On any given day I can find one or two of them hanging around the outside of the house. I've wondered if they are actually queen ants looking for a place to burrow - esp. since whenever I see them near each other, they invariably go to war, as the two in the photo above were definitely doing. At times I've found a dozen or more dead on the balcony or deck just outside the windows - apparent remains of some dreadful nighttime ant war.

Unlike the Bull Ants (which I've never found inside the house... at least not yet...) occasionally one of these will find its way inside. But only one at a time, and only every so often.

I'm very curious to find out what they are, and so started looking online for ant identification websites. I found a particularly helpful one here:  with lots of photos of different species.

 The ones I'm finding resemble the "Dome-back Spiny Ant" and the "Rattle Ant", but those ants are supposedly about 6-7mm, and the ones I'm finding are well over half an inch, so I'm still researching.