A Picture of Winter

Winter scene
No, this is not the actual view out my back window, but you get the idea.

Through the lens of my upstairs back window is a picture of Winter, staring back at me like an old tintype photograph of washed out objects reduced to blacks, whites, and grays, frigid and still. I complain about winter like everyone else, in part so I feel normal, with normal-person grievances like extreme cold and icy roads.

But I love winter. I always have. Continue reading “A Picture of Winter”

Eco-Goats Graze to Save Gravesites

Eco-goats to the rescue!
Eco-goats to the rescue!

What does an historic Washington, DC cemetery do when invasive plants threaten the trees along its perimeter?

Call in the Eco-goats, of course!

I “kid” you not. These “living lawnmowers” are based in Annapolis, Maryland, and are rented out to provide “environmentally friendly vegetation control” that is sustainable, low-impact and cost effective. Continue reading “Eco-Goats Graze to Save Gravesites”

Mosquitoes – Avoiding Summer’s Biggest Buzz-kill

Ain’t summer grand? It brings us warm, long days with lots of sunshine and greenery and outdoor fun…

"Nom, nom, nom," says this happy mosquito.
“Nom, nom, nom!” says this happy mosquito.

…and millions of blood-sucking mosquitoes.

That’s right. This Debbie Downer is duty-bound to warn you about the biggest buzz-kill of the season.

No, not me.

The mosquito, a.k.a. Culicidae or “little fly.”

But warning – the title of this blog post is misleading. This post is not terribly informative, and I won’t offer a list of ways to avoid mosquitoes, either, since I’ve recently sworn off the evils of list posts (but I do offer links to more info below).

I’m mostly here to whine about mosquito bites.

As I write this, I’m dying to scratch the latest bite on the tip of my left elbow… The one I got – along with three other mosquito bites – after I spray-soaked my arms and legs this past weekend with Off! Deep Woods® insect repellent containing 25% DEET.

Which ought to be called “On!” Because the mosquitoes in my tiny back yard pay little mind to silly insect repellent.

Before I am sued by the SC Johnson Company, let me emphasize that it was me, after all, that the mosquitoes feasted on as I pruned and weeded my small plot of ground. It’s well known that mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others.

My mortal enemies illustrated.
My mortal enemies, illustrated.

Mosquitoes love me. The female ones, that is, because they’re the ones who suck blood so they can develop their eggs. They’re so happy to have me back on the east coast. They made it clear during my first summer back in the D.C. area three years ago, after I’d lived in Southern Arizona for over a decade.

I went for years in Tucson without experiencing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are there, but only for a few weeks during the summer monsoon season, and in relatively small numbers.

So when I moved back to the swamp-like conditions of the Washington, D.C. area, mosquitoes swarmed on me that first summer like white on rice.

I’ll never forget it. I would spend maybe five minutes outside watering flowers at my new place in Alexandria, and walk inside feeling the sting of several bites.

The bites swelled, a lot; I could practically watch the pink welts form on my legs and arms.

I visited my hometown in Pennsylvania one weekend that summer. I remember one of my sisters recoiling at the sight of bug bites patterned across both of my legs like polka dots.

My legs once looked like this poor guy's back.
My legs once looked like this poor guy’s back.

“Are you sure that’s not a rash?” she asked.

“I’m sure.”

I learned to rush through my flower-watering routine outside; I used bug spray but it didn’t seem to work. Mosquitoes still bit me – they followed me inside, too, and kept biting. I remember the day a mosquito came inside the house and bit me on the side of my face.

It was my low point of that summer – I felt like I had been branded, like the big, dumb, fresh piece of meat that I’d become to the buzzing blood-suckers of Old Town.

I couldn’t understand it; I grew up on the east coast and I don’t remember ever reacting that much to mosquito bites in the past.

But while living in the desert, I learned a thing or two about allergies, and I knew that the itch of mosquito bites is your basic allergic reaction (to the mosquito’s saliva).

My working theory – unverified due to laziness – is that I’d lost much of my tolerance to mosquito bites during my years in Arizona, but that my tolerance would return over time.

That’s proven to be mostly true.

These days, I use less insect repellent and it works a little better. Or, I just cover up. In the early mornings when I come home from the gym, I make sure I’m wearing long sweat pants and a long-sleeved windbreaker before I water my flowers outside. It looks stupid, and it’s hot, but it’s been my best defense.

I’m more hopeful after the news of last week. There’s a simple way to keep mosquitoes away while you’re relaxing outside – run a fan, preferably an oscillating one.

Mosquito larva need water to develop, so avoid standing water near your home.
Mosquito larva need water to develop, so avoid standing water near your home.

Mosquitoes hate wind, and apparently they’re slow suckers whose top speed is only 1.5 miles per hour. So they’re easily thwarted by a fan, plus the fan disperses the carbon dioxide we exhale that attracts mosquitoes.

This gives me hope that I can entertain on my back patio without anxiety – I’ll just pull out a tacky drugstore-bought fan and blow hot air on my guests!

I kid about mosquitoes. But the truth is, mosquitoes carry numerous deadly diseases – malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever – that kill millions of people every year throughout the world.

Americans are not immune to the risks. Mosquitoes can spread several types of encephalitis here. West Nile Virus, though not as serious, is a growing problem since it first appeared in the U.S. in 1999.

So do make efforts to protect yourself from mosquitoes by using insect repellent, and minimize their risk by eliminating factors like standing water near your home. You can find more information here, here, and here.

Don’t just be a Debbie Downer like me. Take control of mosquito threats, and make the most of summer. It really is a great time of year!

 

The Squirrel Days of Summer (Photo)

Squirrel on fence -- 3 July 2013 -- circled

Forget dog days. The “squirrel” days of summer in the D.C. metro area are upon us — hot, sticky, heavy heat that knocks out even the most industrious little rodent, like the squirrel that lives in my back yard.

Here he is on my fence, where he’s normally sitting up all sprightly, his bushy tail twitching like a nervous question mark. Not today. He’s whipped, and you would be too if you walked around in this muck. Temperatures hovered around 90, and humidity hit 80%.

I felt sorry for the squirrel, but not too sorry to stick around and share his pain. The morning after I took this photo, I booked out of Alexandria and drove north to be with my mom for the 4th of July holiday.

Which means this week’s blog is abbreviated, about nothing but a tuckered out squirrel… I’ll resume with a normal post next week.

FireworksHappy Fourth of July to one and all!!

 

Fun Facts About the Bad-Ass American Bald Eagle

320px-American_Bald_Eagle with flagAs we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, let’s take a look at the biggest bad-ass of American symbolism, the American Bald Eagle.

Forget fireworks, apple pie, and baseball, the ultimate emblem of our freedom and national pride is this righteous raptor.

The American Bald Eagle is on the Great Seal of the United States. When the seal was adopted in 1872, the bird’s image was added as the symbol of “supreme power and authority” (source). The bald eagle is also on several state seals, and on the backs of several U.S. coins.

The bald eagle’s early rise to national awareness was not without controversy. Benjamin Franklin famously advocated for the turkey as our national bird instead. Franklin reportedly did not appreciate the bald eagle’s willingness to steal food from other birds.

320px-Wild_Turkey
turkey < bald eagle

In a flourish of revolutionary demagoguery, Franklin also argued that the turkey is “a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on” (source).

Okayyy… Ben was right, however, that turkeys are tough. I once came upon a “gang” (the proper term for a group of turkeys) of wild turkeys while I was hiking in a canyon in Southern Arizona; they were huge and menacing and I kept my distance.

Still, Ben Franklin should’ve known that American pride is only matched by our vanity – turkeys are not pretty, and not nearly as fierce-looking as the bald eagle. In a popularity contest, style over substance will win every time.

So the bald eagle became our country’s national bird as well as our national animal, and rightly so. Look at it. It oozes beauty and bad-assery in equal proportion.

Bald Eagle vocalizingA bald eagle can put the fear of God in you with its shrill keening and the glare of its yellow hooded dinosaur eyes.

It can tear you to pieces with either its hooked beak or any of its eight talons, which can grow up to two inches long and clamp down simultaneously to tear flesh and break bone.

The bald eagle can fly at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. The wingspan of a male bald eagle can approach seven feet across, and is even larger for a female.

Which is another reason why bald eagles rule – the females are larger than the males. Bald eagles also mate for life and co-parent their young, maybe because the male knows better than to fly the coop on its bigger, better half.

Here are more fun facts about the American Bald Eagle:

where can i buy clindagel online Beak and talons – All are made of keratin, the same as our hair and fingernails, and never stop growing. They’re naturally worn down in the wild by the raptor doing its predator thing, capturing and killing.

buy accutane usa Eyesight – The bald eagle’s eyesight is at least four times better than ours, using eyes that are almost as large as ours.

http://childpsychiatryassociates.com/treatment-team/kent-kunze Bald eagles don’t sweat – Of course they don’t. They cool off by panting, perching in shade, and holding their wings away from their body.

Bald_eagle_nest_noaaNest – Bald eagles have built the largest tree nests ever recorded of any animal species, up to 13 feet deep, 8 feet wide, and over 1 ton in weight! One time I spotted a pair of bald eagles flying near their tree nest in southern Idaho during a road trip; I was at least half a mile away but I remember being impressed by the size of that nest.

Young aren’t “bald” – Bald eagles’ head feathers turn white only after the birds reach the age of 4 or 5 years old.

Habitat – Bald eagles live near coastlines and other bodies of water because they mainly feed on fish. They are found in Alaska and all 48 of the continental states; Hawaii is the only state that doesn’t have bald eagles.

Longevity – The bird’s average lifespan is 15 to 20 years, although they can live up to 30 years in the wild. A captive bald eagle reportedly lived to the age of 48, in West Stephentown, NY.

A Conservation Success Story – By the early 1970s, the American Bald Eagle was on the verge of near extinction with only 412 pairs nesting in the lower 48 states. Their demise was primarily due to DDT, a pesticide used in farming that made bald eagle eggshells too thin to carry their young long enough to hatch. After DDT was banned in 1973, bald eagle populations rebounded dramatically. The species was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the lower 48 states in 2007.

Bald Eagle flyingBald eagles remain protected under the laws of many states as well as under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These laws prohibit killing or otherwise “disturbing” bald and golden eagles, their nesting places or their chicks.

It’s a success story that even pro-turkey Ben Franklin would applaud.

Additional sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bald_Eagle

http://www.baldeagleinfo.com/

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/eagle/ExpertAnswer03.html

http://sciencenetlinks.com/blog/snl-educator/american-eagle-day-celebrating-conservation-success-story/

http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bald-eagle/information/conservation/

My Rant About Spring and Selfish Wildlife

320px-Hatchling_birds_in_nest_with_eggsI know what you’re thinking: One, how could I – how could anyone – complain about spring? It’s like saying you don’t like flowers, or sunshine, or life.

Two, how could I complain about wildlife? I live in the city, although there are plenty of wild animals around, if you look.

Most of the year they’re fine. But in spring, the wildlife around here just bugs me. It’s that time of year when animals are all reproductive and emo and in your face with their needs. They’re selfish.

These are my main complaints about wildlife in spring:

Bird Gangs

Many_black_birds_on_telephone_wireThe birds on my street tick me off every spring. 

I couldn’t tell you which kind, because most of the year they’re quiet and furtive and I don’t even see them. But in spring, neighborhood birds turn hyperactive and form gangs that wake me up every morning at 4am with their infernal screeching.

These birds don’t herald a spring morning by chirping sweetly.

They scream.

I like to open my bedroom window at night to enjoy the springtime air. But that also means I have to put up with these feathered-dinosaur brutes on my block. They make such a racket that I have to get up and close my window to go back to sleep. I even run a gray-noise machine in my room to counteract city noises. But I still hear the birds.

I think they know it and they don’t care.

Trashy Bird Squatters

My beef with birds doesn’t end with noise. Every spring, birds take over my small back yard and trash it. Black birds, cardinals, sparrows, and mourning doves – they spend most of their time waging turf battles for nesting spots in my dense evergreen tree.

cardinal fighting wrenI always secretly route for the cardinals – yes, because they’re pretty and because I’m shallow – and I’m glad they won their nesting spot again this year (cardinals bring it!). But in all of the tussling, my slate patio underneath the tree gets pelted with a compound of pine sap and bird poop that maybe NASA engineers could remove but I can’t.

The bird poop problem hasn’t stopped there. Lately, some bird has made a perch of the rear-view mirror of my car, which is parked in a space behind my yard in the alley.

“Perch” is a polite word for it. I’ve walked out to find my car’s mirror caked in bird trots. The offending bird somehow projectile-poops across the car door, too, blanketing it with white rivulets of filth. This is wrong.

I spotted the perpetrator one day, a dove I think. I scared it away but by then it had already imprinted on my car: car = crapper. I reminded myself that, as a superior species, I had the capacity to thwart the bird.

I started tying plastic grocery store bags around both rear-view mirrors, to create a slippery surface that the bird wouldn’t want to land on. Like so:

Prius with bags

 

 

 

 

 

It’s working. But the irony is not lost on me that I’m protecting my environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius hybrid with disposable plastic bags.

Obnoxious Duck Families

These scofflaws are the most irresponsible breeders on the planet. Come spring, mother hens lurch in front of heavy traffic to jaywalk all over the DC metro area, leading their jerky ducklings into mayhem without a care.

ducklings-following-mother-mLook, I’ll always stop for a duck family; if necessary, I’ll even get out of my car and be their crossing guard. What chaps me is that the ducks know this and never show us commuters any consideration.

God forbid these vagrants use pedestrian walkways and signals, or listen to traffic reports and adjust their route. No. They’ll waddle across the busiest traffic arteries with their fuzz-ball babies tottering behind, wreaking havoc.

Like one morning last spring, as I drove to the mega-congested Mark Center in Alexandria during rush hour. I watched a black SUV five cars in front of me skid to the right as the rest of us slammed on our brakes. Sure enough, in-between the cars halted at odd angles ahead, I glimpsed a brood crossing six lanes of Seminary Road.

Duck families are coercive and I resent it.

Baby Animals

They’re the worst! Fuzzy, tiny, squeaky, helpless. One will appear to you one spring day under a bush, alone, just off the sidewalk as you’re rushing to catch the Metro. It twitches and bleats.

You squee and bend down for a closer look. You steady yourself as all of your emotional armor built up over a lifetime crumbles. But you don’t know how to help the baby, so you walk away distraught.

Baby animals are sneaky and manipulative.

But if the squirrel in my backyard ever produced one of these:

 

Baby Squirrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would be game over.

I’d probably tear out half of my shrubs to build a hutch for the mother and baby squirrel. Every day I’d leave them water and a bowl of shelled organic nuts from Trader Joe’s. No acorns for my darling.

party toothpicksI’d use my hand spade to bury some of the fancy nuts myself, so the little one would learn her life skills. But I’d mark the buried spots with party toothpicks so my precious charge could find the nuts easily.

I’d spoil my baby squirrel rotten.

Then in the evening, I’d watch the squirrel hutch from the shadows of my upstairs window. Blowing my hay-fevered nose until it bled, I’d weep tears of joy mixed with shame and tinged with fears for my sanity.

And you wonder why I’m not all woo-woo about spring?

 

[When you’re not annoyed by selfish wildlife in spring, consider donating to a local wildlife charity that helps sick and injured animals recover and return to their habitat. Find a group near you at: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/]