Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Spy...

We are not heading back up north for a few more days, but for our remaining time here on this trip, we are limiting work projects to those that we have materials on hand for as we have exhausted our project budget for this trip. Hopefully, when we check the mail on our return to the 'old house' we will  have some client payments waiting to refill the coffers for the next trip down. It is a blessing that we can have a mix of working on the property and working at our jobs while we are down here so we continue to have an income to pay for our adventure :-) Of course, that was the point of this new life style, to still be able to work at our high-tech jobs while living off grid. There were a few rough days on the first trip down when we closed on the property back in march, mainly with poor phone connections, but the occupational work aspect has gone very well on this trip. The only real issue we had this time was that we discovered that mental work is much harder than physical work in the extreme heat.  Our solution has been to visit area wi-fi spots if we have extensive programming to do on very hot days. But that is really no different than when we are up north as we sometimes hang out at the same types of places for a change of scenery from working at home all the time.

Well, despite my above ramblings, this post has nothing to do with any of our projects, there will be another update on those in a day or two. This post has been in process since we first came down here. I have been trying to keep track of the interesting critters we come across.

The one that greeted us was about
3 inches including legs.
The good news is we have not seen any snakes yet, the bad news is we have seen a variety of spiders and I hate spiders more than snakes. Years ago (before kids) I would run out of a room if I saw a spider. Over the years this fear has mellowed and 'normal' spiders do not really bother me. However, I was told there were brown recluse spiders in the area we are moving to and so I was a bit paranoid on our first stay at the house. It did not help that the first time I stepped into the bathroom there was a huge wolf spider on the wall next to the toilet. I reverted to my old arachnophobia habits and ran out of the room and had Alan kill it. I later checked it out through Google to determine what kind of spider it was and discovered the one that greeted us was actual about medium sized as wolf spiders go. These are usually found more in southwest desert areas so hopefully they are not prevalent in the Ozarks.  According to a website on "Common House Spiders in Missouri" there are 'occasional sightings inside rural homes'.  I hope that instance fulfills our 'occasional sighting' for a long time.

I have nick-named these
grass spiders 'skitters'.
('Falling Skies' fans will get it.)
I may as well cover the other spider pictures and get the creepy-crawly portion over with. We noticed several thin, leggy spiders about the size of a quarter around the house. One morning there was one in the utility tub trying unsuccessfully to climb up the sides to get out. I was able to get a picture and did some research. It is a grass spider that is very common in the area and harmless. They make funnel webs outside near the ground. After reading this, I started noticing many such webs along the road side. When we started spotting them we picked up another common product down here - spider spray, and sprayed around our windows and doors which has helped a lot. I have not seen a grass spider inside the house for several days now.

One last spider that is not really a spider - daddy long legs. Their actual common name is harvestmen and they are harmless, but they grow 'em big down here, often over 5-6 inches long. And they grow A LOT of them down here. Again the spider spray has helped keep them outside the house. One day we stepped out on the deck and there were probably a couple dozen all bunched together, not moving. I am not sure what's up with that, but it creeps you out when you see it. Over the last two weeks, just around the house, we have seen hundreds of them.

Yes, they are harmless
but creepy when the bunch together.

Here is one on our door
for a size reference

Now for some more fun & interesting insects. First, one of our Katydids. Growing up, I remember hearing these at night in ones and twos, calling each other 'Katydid!'. But down here, you can never hear just one or two, you can never make out the 'Katydid' sound. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, these little guys start up around dusk, way up in the trees, and there must be thousands of them. It is a constant shrill noise, which Alan measured at just under 70 dB. They keep it up all night until they stop to rest at dawn.

Last Monday, while doing the laundry, I was looking out the window and saw I had a guest watching me from the screen. I had first though it was just a little twig stuck to the screen, but then I noticed it was an insect. On closer inspection, I saw it was the tiniest praying mantis I have every seen, not that I have seen many. According to my Google results it is a baby praying mantis. Smaller than a penny.

On our first trip I saw a walking stick on the side of our house (pictured to the right). I have since then seen several others , one was on the outside of our bedroom window this morning. The most interesting so far hve been the ones pictured below. I took the first picture below left after climbing up on the roof to fix the chimney, I thought it was a rare glimpse of 'nature' so I googled 'male and female walking sticks' and  learned "Males are very rare, with less than 1 in a 1000 being male. Females are parthenogenetic, though, so they do not need males to reproduce, but if the eggs are not fertilized by a male, they are technically just clones of the original insect."  My question is, if males are so rare, why did I walk out on the other end of our deck the next day and get the second picture below? Maybe our property is the honeymoon destination for walking sticks.

OK, enough of insects for now, let's move on to birds. I have been trying to identify some of the local birds. We really haven't been able to see many in our woods yet, but we can hear them. We do have a hummingbird that comes to visit in the evenings when we are sitting on the deck taking a break, so I need to pick up a feeder. We have seen a few interesting birds while we have been out and about. I did not have the camera to get pictures, but I have downloaded some online photos :

I was excited to see a roadrunner.
They are smaller than I thought, wikipedia says they
are bout 24 inches tall but the one I saw was a bit
smaller - about the size of a ring-neck  pheasant.

This is a Scissortail Flycatcher.
We saw one of these land on a 'cart corral'
at a Target store.

We also have another pair of birds, not so interesting because of their species, but because of their antics. These are a pair of basic Cardinals, who wake us each and every morning by their attempts to get into the house.

Her Ladyship
Her mate

They start early in the morning in the back of the house, usually at the bathroom, and repeatedly slam themselves into the window. So far we have only seen the female do this, and she is persistent, flying into the window over and over for a half hour or better, each and every day. This is on the west side of the house, so there are no reflections etc. on the glass, so we have no idea what causes them to do this. But it is entertaining.

And one last nasty critter that Alan has become quite familiar with - red wasps. We discovered these in our shed next to the house. Apparently, in the past these were considered non-aggressive wasps. In fact one article I read stated this, but then re-canted the statement because so many people contacted them describing how aggressive they found them to be. The writer of the article said they used to be non-aggressive but there seems to be a new strain that has been becoming more predominant over the last few years. But Alan is winning the battle. He says the score so far is wasps-1: Alan - about 30. The wasps got in one sting during one of the 'skirmishes' and it did seem to swell more than a normal wasp sting. But we kept the Benedryl close by and watched for any adverse reactions for a few hours. Since then he has been spraying inside the shed and the war is almost over.

On rare occasions we catch a glimpse
of one of these colorful little skinks.
One last photo because I was finally able to get a picture of a little guy that occasionally appears on our deck, but is very shy. I was calling him a blue-tailed skink, but it is actually a five-lined skink. We have also seen the more common, and larger ground skinks around the yard, but this little guy is smaller (about 3 inches long) and much more colorful. We had just come back from the swimmin' hole and had our damp clothes hanging over the deck railing and this little guy got brave enough to come explore around them.

I hope this post hasn't left your skin crawling. So far most of our critter encounters have been quite fun. It feels like an adventure every time we drive up the steep dirt road  when we leave our property, we almost always see some interesting animals or birds. I hope they never become so common place to us that we fail to take note of them

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