Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Saturday, May 09, 2015


Gathered from my Twitter

My 9 & 11 YO are at archery lesson #2. They're not happy about it. They think the instructor treats them like babies. Of course the instructor treats them like babies. He's training children in the use of a weapon

We get here to find a whole class of children who clearly share my girls' loathing of the experience. Now this instructor has to hand weapons to children who share the same dark resentment. 

Godspeed, archery instructor. Godspeed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Duck's Off - Sorry

Back in May, we found that a mama duck had made a nest by our house. I was a bit skeptical about the whole arrangement. In the first place, she chose a location that was fairly exposed -- the mulched area at the front of our house. It seemed too exposed to me, but hey, none of the plants had come up. Perhaps she was counting on the plants to grow in a month or so (or however ducks express the passage of time to themselves -- moon cycles? morning dews? quacks?) in such a way that the nest will wind up being sheltered from prying eyes and predators. After all, the mulch made for an easy insulation, and she was able to save herself some of her down and concentrate on pushing out those eggs. If so, that's a smart, savvy duck. 

I did some checking, and what the internet told me was that mallard females will lay one egg every day or two, spending just an hour or so at the nest site, and then leave to forage, rest, find duckling rearing guidebooks, etc. This process continues until she has a full "clutch" of eggs (8-12). Then, she stays at the nest to keep her future babies warm, leaving a couple of times a day for an hour or so at a time to do the same things things she previously had all day to do during the laying season. You have to wonder if they get a little resentful of this reversal of the dynamics of their day.

For a week or two, we would see mama from time to time. We even saw dad. We started to feel familiar with them. We even gave them names. My girls named the mom Alpha Mama. I named the dad Papa Duck Duvalier, because I'm HYSTERICAL (and also because my research also revealed that male mallards are colossal pricks).

I told her there were too many kids
around here, but would she listen? Noooo.
Then we stopped seeing them around. As it turns out the site may not have been quite as ideal as mama thought it might be. Maybe dad was the one who picked it out. Perhaps it drove a wedge between them. As a matter of fact, the last time I had seen them, they seemed to be at odds.

And now, it's been three weeks or so. Not a sign. The nest has not been disturbed, and there have been no sightings. The internet told me that a mama will sometimes abandon a nest if something scares her off, and between children at play in the front yard, neighborhood cats roaming around at will and a gentle, friendly, but naturally curious dog next door, it's clear mama decided to cut her losses and find a better spot.

So, yesterday, I decided it was time to pull the eggs before they become ticking time sulpher bombs that upon detonation would chase away the kids, dogs, people and predators that so worried Alpha Mama in the first place. I put on some gloves and gently moved the mulch, sticks, grass and duck down. 

My first surprise was just how few eggs there were.
Time to leave the nest, kids!
Looks like she stopped at four. That's not even close to the minimum. 

Sad as I am that we didn't get to witness the entire process, I'm relieved that I didn't discover a dozen in there, which would certainly cause me to second-guess my decision. For weeks, I'd be haunted by the image of Alpha Mama arriving the next morning, overnight bag in bill and ready to start incubating, only to discover that the relatively hairless ape she had successfully evaded for so long had gone and dispatched her future fluffy balls of joy. I'd see her raising her head to the sky (if that's a thing ducks can do) and quacking the equivalent of "NOOOOOOO!" to signify the end of Act I.

But no. Turns out Alpha Mama had simply given up the site as a bad job and cut her losses. She probably found another spot and is incubating somewhere else as I write this. Or, her clock has run out for this year and she's just going to be some other brood's favorite aunt. Who knows? 

Perhaps another duck will give it a try next year. If they're smart, they'll look in the backyard next time. It's much quieter there.
If you think I cracked one open,
you are a fiend.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Duck...Duck...More Ducks

Well, as we like to say in Minnnesota, this is...different.

A mama duck has built a nest and laid an egg at the front of our house. She chewed right through the security sign, even!

Here's a closer look a while later:

The egg is the white thing just a bit below her...well, her egg-laying parts. She's done her job and stepped away for a bit.

According to my research (that is, my Google-fu - http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/about/faqs/birds/nestpot/nest.htm), she'll lay one per day until she has a full clutch - 8-12, depending on whether she's a "renester."

She'll spend about an hour a day at the nest during the laying period, but we'll see more of her during incubation. Of course, by that time, the plants will have grown up around the nest. 

Just like Mama planned. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ground B

So we've got what I used to refer to as "ground bees." They're not bees per se. They are yellowjackets that happen to look and behave pretty much like bees. Except they live underground. Oh, and they're either a cloud of gentle pollinators who also happen to drag cicadas into their tunnels of death, or a deadly sting squad if enraged. And YOU CAN ANGER THEM WITHOUT TRYING! 

The wasps get in and out through disconcertingly round tunnels. 

Weird, right? It looks like a hole made by a recently removed planter or something, but apparently, it's a doorway to HELL.

I took unilateral action that evening (wasps tend to return to the nest as the sun goes down). I'm ashamed to say that I resorted to chemical warfare...

I gave each hole a good long shot until froth began to bubble out. That should do it, I thought. Probably not the best idea to spray concentrated 
poison into garden dirt, I know, but I figured that the benefits of a wasp-free environment in which to harvest our vegetables outweighed the risks. Besides, it wasn't going to rain for a while, so I wasn't too worried about runoff. Also, most of the vegetables in our garden were either ready to be picked or would be soon. It's not like the pesticide was going to make it through the soil and up into any of our food through the roots of the plants, right?

Shut up.

To be fair, my wife agrees with you. This was crossing a red line. Domestic relations were further strained by no measurable reduction in wasp activity the next day. What? Chemical warfare wasn't a simple solution to my woes? Unbelievable.

Further inspection revealed another entrance a few feet away, and what's more, one of the original paths reopened after only one day. Valiant worker wasps had made their way back through the poisoned earth. Probably wearing a muscle shirt and sweating like Bronson in The Great Escape.

And now I'm wondering if these three holes are all pointing to the same hive. Is there one megahive below our garden? If so, what the hell did they do with the dirt they displaced? Maybe they added it to the giant pile of dirt that rests in the corner of our driveway from an earlier project (by the way, if anyone needs dirt, just let me know. We have a lot to share).

Anyway. Modern chemical warfare was no longer an option (UN observers were now on the ground), but my wife found a kinder, gentler alternative. The folk/internet non-poison remedy is to pour peppermint soap down the holes. Apparently, mint is to wasps what garlic is to vampires, so they leave (note to self: plant mint next year). 

Now, before you start thinking this is too gentle, we are also supposed to chase the soap with a kettle full of boiling water. 

This is taking on a weirdly medieval feel.

Here's the recommended soap:

I should point out that this bottle is INSANE. Check out the text from the label. It's a baffling screed about cleanliness, God, Americanism and weird statements that I think are meant to appear to be quotes. My favorite:
"We can no longer live half-slave, half-free! We unite the Human race in All-One-God-Faith or perish by half-true hate! For we're All-One or None!" Abraham Lincoln
Well of course. Who doesn't remember Lincoln's well-documented devotion to All-One-God-Faith? 

But I digress. For a few nights, I dutifully sprayed the soap and poured the water down the holes. 

But each time, we still had wasps the next day. That's not to say their numbers hadn't diminished, but some of the holes were reappearing, though not the original ones. The Bronson wasp must have freaked out when the lights went out (Seriously, you owe it to yourself to watch The Great Escape).

Just the other day, I discovered, along with the realization that these pictures would play better in a blog if they were "landscape," a brand new (or at least previously unnoticed) hole! And right by our American flags!

This will not stand! WASPS may run this country, but wasps do not! 

Armed with my soap sprayer and kettle, I went to this new hole and started to spray. However, this time, I realized something. This whole time, I'd been spraying over the hole, just assuming the soap would do its job by running down into it. Maybe, just maybe, if I jam the nozzle into the hole and really ream that chamber out, spewing minty-then-hot death/unpleasantness down there, closer to where the actual nest is, I might get some better results.

It looks like this, by the way:

Will this finally take care of the problem? I'll never really know. I just looked at my neighbor's yard, and he's got about five holes of his own. 

Fortunately, he's a little more flexible on chemical warfare.