Tiny dramas

I was late to work this morning because a tiny drama was playing out in my window:

A moth had been flying around our bedroom for a couple of nights. This morning I found it on the edge of death on the bathroom counter. I decided to see just how ballsy our little pet black house spider is.

It’s a Badumna insignis, black house spider. Or, Badumna insignis, “said to be a favourite food of the white-tailed spider.” I’m glad it hasn’t gotten eaten by that white-tail I accidentally let loose in the house…

As for toughness? It turns out, very.

I placed the moth in the web an inch or two above the entrance to Mr Spider’s hidey hole. He became alert immediately. Once he gathered the gumption to strike, he darted out and grabbed hold of the tip of one of the moth’s wings. And pulled.

This standoff lasted about 10 minutes. With a brief struggle, the moth gave way and was dragged partly into the entrance of the spider’s house.

Another ten minutes passed and I decided I ought to get to work. I set the gopro up wedged into the curtain rod above the window and hoped that more action would take place before the battery ran down. I doubt that it did, but Ben provided me with updates throughout the morning as it unfolded.

Ben: spider is eating/preserving the moth
me: yes!!!
Ben: nom nom
and the spider is back in its home
I wonder what will happen now
spider back on the moth now

I’ll see what’s left of the moth when I get home.

This whole drama played out in the lower left corner of the upper panel of our kitchen window.


Stenocarpus sinuatus

Firewheel Flowers crop

I ride to work through side streets to avoid the busy roads. There’s very little traffic so I spend most of my time looking around and listening to the radio on my phone (headphone cords act as antennae!). I noticed a flower on a tree that I’d never seen before. I made a point of changing the route of my next run to pass it, so I could look at it up close. It’s fascinating.

Several days later I took my camera to work, and stopped by this tree on my way home to take some pictures. I was busily shooting when an older gentleman came up to me from next door with his lawn mower.

When I got home I talked to Ben online, who was at the library working:

 me: I just met the nicest person, taking pictures.
  I was taking pictures of that tree I showed you yesterday
  and he lives nextdoor, and was coming out to edge his lawn.
  he asked me if I was taking pictures of a bird, in which case he’d not start his machine and scare it away.
6:25 PM I said no, I’m just taking pictures of these flowers, they’re so unusual.
  Do you know what they are?
6:26 PM He said, well, I think it’s called a fire wheel tree, but that’s not the real name… the woman who used to live there told me the scientific name more than once, but I can’t remember, I don’t think.
  I thanked him, he went to edging, I went to shoooting.
6:27 PM A bit later he came walking over to me with his edger on idle, and said, this might not be right either, but there’s a tree called the Illawarra Flame Tree, named after the place, Illawarra. That might be it. I don’t know if that’ll help, but maybe you could look them up.
  So I said yes, even if they aren’t scientific names, I’m sure they’ll bring up information online, thank you!
  Then I went back to shooting.
6:28 PM When I was done I asked him if I could take his picture, as the person who told me what the flowers were.
  He said he wasn’t very photogenic, but ok.
  I did, showed him, and he said “you can always delete it.”
 me: I rode away, got home, got my camera out of the bag
 me: and discovered I dropped my dragon change bag somewhere while I was getting out a new memory card.
 me: So I got dressed again and rode back to all the places I had been
  and as I rode past him to the tree where I had been taking pictures, he waved me over
6:30 PM and said he knew it had to belong to me! He was going to call the hospital tomorrow to try and return it (we’d chatted about work)
  I like him.
The wonderful Ross

The very nice Ross

While he was edging and I was shooting, a noisy miner did show up to drink some nectar, noise or no noise! It’s not a great picture, but it’s all I’ve got.

Noisy Miner and firewheels

*note: Stenocarpus sinuatus is a tree native to Australia, more frequently found further to the tropical north.

**note: Noisy Miners sure do live up to their name! We have a family living outside our living room window, and they’ve had at least one clutch of young so far. They can lay eggs several times a year (and are veeeeery territorial when they do! They’ll swoop and call and even attack you if you get too close). When the young are fledging, they go through a long phase of experimenting with their voices and cycling through the weirdest most bizarre calls before settling on the more typical adult miner call. It’s been entertaining to listen to!

Pompilidae Cryptocheilus bicolor

I was taking laundry down and heard a shout from Ben, on the patio. He’d dropped something on the ground by our door and a giant  wasp flew up, circling him. It flew away, but we found this:

Paralyzed Wolf Spider

Poor thing. This is a large female wolf spider, and it’s very much still alive, but paralyzed. It can very slightly move its legs, but that is all.

The wasp had stung it, and was probably in the process of dragging it to wherever the wasp’s burrow is, to seal inside as food for its larva.

I’m pretty bummed that we disturbed the spectacle and didn’t get to watch it to completion. Once stung, as far as I can find, the spider will never recover. Now two spiders will die to feed this one larva! Yes, I’m sad for a spider. But it also would have been really cool to watch.

In which there is value in unexpected moments (and lengthy side notes)

wolf spider finger

One of the nice things about unexpected situations is that they force you to stop and alter how you’re looking at things – life, the universe, everything, hunger, surroundings, people who drive utility vehicles around dark fields shooting at kangaroos…

Anyway. One of the things I discovered while camping… or should I say, confirmed while camping, is that no matter how delicious I thought I was to bugs in the US, I must be a rare treat indeed in Oz for I’ve managed to get bug bites while biking home from work, a feet which I did not think modern mosquitoes were capable of. While camping the story was no different, except that in addition to mosquitoes there were *flies*.

Now, we’ve been warned about the flies here. The folks we stayed with upon arriving in Sydney said the summer’s great but just you wait until the flies (dun dun dun). I have to say that in the suburbs of Sydney where we spend most of our time, the flies really aren’t an issue, so those warnings have been easily discounted. But in the bush? In the hot dry plains? Whoo. I’ve always looked at pictures from african countries designed to pull at your heartstrings, the ones with small children with swollen stomachs stand sadly, frequently with flies in the corners of their eyes, or on their lips, as something beyond reality. Not just because it’s hard to imagine, and IS heartbreaking, that there are plenty of people in this world who don’t get enough to eat, clean water, education, all of the above… but because how could flies possibly be so bad that you’d be complacent about six or seven of them sitting on your face at all times? Now I know. They’re relentless. They’re ever-present. They’re really freaking annoying.

And here I’m going to go into another segue: A Terry Pratchett book I read long ago before I ever dreamed I might live in Oz (and have read several times since) happens to be a spoof on Australia. It’s about a wizard who is unfortunately spat out of the dark dimensions back to reality only to end up in the Discworld’s equivalent of Oz. It’s called The Last Continent (living here makes the book even funnier). Anyway, one of the images from the book that has stuck with me the most is a modification this wizard made to his hat with lengths of string and bits of cork. He decorated the brim of his hat all around with corks suspended on strings, and the idea was to help keep the flies away a-la a constantly swinging horse-tail effect.

When warned about the flies here, I joked that I should get some corks and string them up around the brim of a hat for defense. I don’t think they knew what I was talking about, but they laughed anyway. However, one day when wandering around central Sydney with whip boy, I found THIS! AHA! They may be hats designed specifically for gullible tourists, but they do exist!!

Cork hats

Back to the main story. ANYWAY. While camping we each had sleeping containers, as well as a small tent that we set up most nights simply to hang out in, safe from the bitey things. The point of this is, that although we were awake and conscious for at least part of the night (most nights. There were exhausting exceptions), most of our time was spent behind some sort of screen, other than quick jaunts to the toilet. We were perfectly able to see the grazing kangaroos and sunsets and sunrises, but time in the open air at night was limited. (there was one exception to chase around a bunch of possums, but that was the exception)

Back when I first started this blog, my aunt asked for a picture of the southern cross. Sydney has far too much light pollution to get a picture of the stars, so I thought this camping trip would be my chance. Little did I know that the threat of massive itchiness would be more powerful than my desire to set up a good shot.

But when stuck on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere with a steaming engine next to kangaroo-hunting nuts in trucks, it’s time to take another look at your surroundings.

As I described before there was time to explore the ground,

wolf spider in grass

peeking in holes

spidey in a hole

and playing with toads.

roadside toad

There was time to find strange mounds of tiny seeds (a truck that dumped its cargo? wha?),

ben with seed pile

dead bird carcasses and lots of trash, and there was also time to set up a shot of the sky, to capture the brightly shining stars.

Southern cross horizon

Here you go, Sally:

Southern cross

In which I DO NOT almost die! So there!

Ok, so, I told Colin and Alexis and Ben they weren’t allowed to write about this because ohmygosh I WANTED TO (really, I asked, honestly!) and it’s been three weeks and I haven’t yet, so here goes.

One day when Colin and Alexis were visiting we got up early, packed lunches, and took the train to the Blue Mountains. Colin talked about it here. It was great fun to watch the two of them experience the Charles Darwin Walk and then the gorge for themselves for the first time. We went to some of the spots Ben and I had already hiked, and then took a new track down to not-quite-the-base of Wentworth Falls, and had a grand old time, really. There were skinks and spiders and rock formations and biomes and ants and weird angry caterpillars that seeped yellow stuff from their heads, and Alexis particularly enjoyed watching the Sulfur Crested Cockatoos cruising above the tree tops, far below.

It was, altogether, quite a nice day. And then we got to the end of our hike, refilled our Camelbaks,  and decided to take the shortcut back to the train station along some country roads.

We looked at flowers and interesting mosaic bus stops, we admired the fuzzy new leaf growth on the trees and the smell of the earth. And then as we were passing by a clearing adjacent to some woods, we saw some magpies!

Now, magpies are wonderful birds, are brimming with smarts and personality and are very common around Sydney. But they are not native to Michigan or Minnesota, so we had all been quite taken with them over the course of the trip, making up our own rules for  different numbers of magpies. The old rhymes are too boring so we liked to make up our own meanings. Colin started counting, “two magpies, TWO! Two is for laughter… wait, three! Three magpies for trapezoids… FOUR! Four magpies for… ” I interjected, “Five! Five magpies! But one looks like a fledgling, so maybe four and a half?”

And then they started shrieking, and all but one flew off. That one only flew a small distance, a bit deeper into the clearing, and began to dance, calling all the while.

Magpies are new to me, to us, so we were fascinated! I was, at least, and I think the others were at least passingly interested, but I wasn’t watching them to find out.

I walked toward the magpie, slowly, to see what it would do. Was it a mating display? Were there other magpies around? Was it a territorial dispute? As I got closer, it flew up into a nearby tree and continued to call. I stopped and watched it for some time, looking around, and couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about.

Then I looked down, and forward.

“Snake! It’s a snake! The magpie was dancing to warn about a snake! Oh man how cool is this come see the snake!” There should be more exclamation points here.

Alexis ventured slightly closer, but Colin and Ben decided to stay a little further back. Their loss! EDIT: By the time I deigned to notice the location of my friends in my haze of SNAKE!! they were further back, but in reality they had been closer. ah, perception.

I didn’t have my good camera, only my phone, but I managed to get a couple of shots.  Alexis took a few from further away. It was dead-still, unmoving.

(Don’t worry, I stayed outside of its striking range, in my opinion. My friends didn’t quite agree, but honestly, most snakes aren’t aggressive, can’t jump, and can only strike as long as their body length while maintaining and anchor on the ground or a tree, sheesh.)

I watched it for a good long while, and when I acknowledge that it probably was time to go… do I really have to?… I wanted to see it move. So I tossed a stick near it. The others did not approve. But I got to see it slither away towards the woods, and walked giddily back to the road to continue our trek.

We had a little discussion about how far away was far enough away to be safe as we continued our walk back. I had to interject periodically with, “we saw a SNAKE!”

On the train, we compared Alexis’ and my pictures and tried to identify the snake on our future devices.  We concluded that it was probably an Eastern or Lowland Copperhead.


The next day we went to the Australian Museum and as I was browsing the Surviving Australia section, Alexis was in Search and Discover researching our snake with a staff member. They agreed, Copperhead, here’s some printed information on behavior, habitat, and dangers of.

Thanks, Australian Museum!

Thanks, magpie! Now we know, five is for SNAKE!


In which Australia begins to feel like home

Yesterday Ben gave me an early christmas present!

And by early christmas present I clearly mean pointed out a dead flying fox!

We were walking home from the train station after a pretty underwhelming trip to the zoo when I walked right by it. Fortunately for me, Ben saw it and knows me well.  We kept on to home where I turned straight around, grabbed a broken tupperware and some strong shears, and walked right back to it where lay. I cut off the head, stuffed it in the tupperware, returned home, buried the head under the tomato plant, and recycled the tupperware. In a month I’ll be the proud owner of a sparkly clean flying fox skull! Best accidental christmas present ever, or what?

In which I lose all of my arachnophile credibility

Ben and I were sitting on the couch, enjoying some wine, and watching Deep Space Nine, a rather engaging episode, the one where Sisko, Dax, Wharf, O’Brien, and Kira get trapped in a James Bond-inspired holodeck program due to a transporter accident, and Julian and Garak have to keep them from being deleted while their patterns are recovered. You know that one? It’s good! But right around the time that Sisko was enjoying being the bad guy and running Julian for a loop, and Garak was making a cutting yet witty comment, Ben said, “Oh god! A huntsman!”

Cue screeching record sounds. Ben pointed to the curtain hanging beside me and I glanced at it long enough to see a dark shape before I levitated across the room and it went out of view.

And get this, Ben goes to his computer immediately and tweets:

This is BEFORE locating said spider. He’s a modern boy. In his defense, he was at his computer to pause Deep Space Nine, because one must concentrate when searching for giant spider.

I’m not going to blame the wine for my reaction because, as Ben followed up with:

So, now, cue shrieking and headlamps and gingerly examining the large heavy curtains to determine that the spider has moved on, to places unknown.

Ben kept repeating, “but how did it get in??” and I kept repeating, “oh god oh god oh god.”

Both are valid statements, I think. We eventually located it behind the TV stand on the baseboard. The new challenge was capturing it. I resourcefully used the TV antenna to herd it and that only backfired a little bit when I herded it underneath the television and out of sight.

I ran to get a glass tumbler to capture it with, to which Ben’s response was, “what are you doing?! That’s not nearly big enough!” After a few attempts at gingerly trying to place the glass over the spider, and a few more shrieks and jumps because that thing is fast and kept teleporting to the other side of the room, I concluded Ben was right, rejected the ceramic bowl he was offering, and found the perfect spider-catching container: the clear plastic cheese dish.

I dumped our freshly grated parmesan into the proffered bowl, and used the handy cheese-dish-feature, the foot, to grip it steadily, and managed to capture the spider on the fourth or fifth try.

Transparency is key. How do you know you’ve really caught it? Are you going to lift it up and *check*?

Only at this point did I ask myself why I was freaking out so much. It was a huntsman, a spider that might give you a few puncture marks out of self-defense, but nothing more severe than that. It’s a lovely house-guest, really! They hunt cockroaches!

I’m sure part of it was the surprise, and even the somewhat pleasant feeling of an adrenaline rush in a safe situation, sort of like a rollarcoaster ride. But they’re the wrong shape to be loved by me, the wrong size, and they’re blazingly fast. And they come out of nowhere.

In the end, it wasn’t even that big. The one I found in a funnel web on a tree was bigger. But this is our home, our couch, and most definitely our curtain, and I think you’ll understand if we were wary and twitchy for the rest of the night.


In which I… In which I… dude. Just, awesome!

I think I found a huntsman!

Recently, Ben and I travelled the hour and a half to Viive and Ian’s house to take another rambling walk with Duke and Brandy. They were excited, as usual. They pulled us up hills, as usual. They dragged each other around while one was trying to pee, as usual. It was great fun! They seem to enjoy it, based on their wag wag wag VIBRATING pre-walk ritual once the leash appears, but holy crap they do not cooperate. And it’s hilarious.

Ben and I trade turns holding their leash, because while they are helpful getting up hills, one’s arm and shoulder also happen to go a bit numb after a while. We spend the time laughing at the dogs, looking for birds, and singing rounds of Kookaburra Sits In An Old Gum Tree and singing All I Want Is A Proper Cup Of Coffee faster and faster where Ben’s unwavering duty is to perform the deep “boom boom” necessary during the chorus.

We looked for new paths and found an interesting stretch along a dried up creek bed, then headed back to our normal route through several parks, many of which have several of the strangely blackened web-covered trees I’ve mentioned before.

As is my wont, I peered into the largest funnel webs looking for residents and tried to lure them out. I was successful once, but what I got surprised me, and well maybe just a little bit freaked me out, because it wasn’t the brown house spider I expected, but, I think, a huntsman!

Huntsman, or Sparassidae, spiders are the one species that creeps me out a little, both because of their size and their structure. I love orb weavers, with their bulging abdomens and spindly legs, hanging from their webs or awkwardly walking across the ground.  Crab spiders are elegant with their bright colors and long, graceful, first and second legs. Wolf spiders have a certain charisma about them, while they hunt through undergrowth and tend to their young, eyes reflecting lights at night like tiny diamonds. Tarantulas are giant friendly teddybears of spiders, furry and stout, with fascinating behaviors. Jumping spiders are simply adorable with their large eyes that track you and respond to your movements, and expressive, often colorful, pedipalps with which they wave in the air to communicate and clean their chelicerae. And on and on.

From Wikipedia.

But huntsman are the one spider that teaches me empathy for those that really can’t tolerate any spider, because of too many legs or hairiness or eyes or movement or whatever. Because to me, huntsman are simply constructed in a proportion that squicks me out on a deep level. Their legs are too long, and not stout and limb-like, or thin and delicate like some spiders. They’re long, so long, and thin (but not thin enough), and hairy. And they’re fast. And they’re big.

So I admit that I jumped when this guy appeared. And maybe continued to twitch a little.

But curiosity is an anti-fear of sorts, so I examined it, took pictures, and played with it with my probing tool.  He was maybe 5, 6 inches across? I’m not an expert in Huntsman, by any means, so this is only a tentative identification, but it was definitely *not* the spider that I think built the web. And what it was doing there, comfortably squeezed into the funnel dwelling? I have no idea.

Look at those chelicerae!

The fact that he wasn’t twitchy at all when I got close to take pictures helped a lot, which is good, because huntsman spiders are common all over Australia, and in fact I’ve been looking forward to finding one. To my knowledge they can more normally be found under loose sheets of bark and other narrow, flat spaces, rather than in other spiders’ funnel webs. But really, he’s beautiful.

The downsides of bug hunting or: In which Adrienne continues her trend of being absolutely irresistible to biting insects

<<may not be suitable for younger audiences>>

The trials and tribulations of bending over to hunt strawberry-devouring beetles at night with a headlamp in flimsy pajama pants are not multitudinous. They are narrow, limited, and rather predictable, in fact.

Last night’s bite tally:
one: knuckle
one: jaw
five: ASS

Why did there have to be mosquitoes here? Aren’t there enough terrible and painful and dangerous creatures without the boring old mundane mosquito? I’m disappointed, Australia. I thought you were more interesting than this.