Who Goes There?

Orb spider hiding in leaf

Yowsers! Take a look at this huntress! She’s been hiding in a leaf she wove into a web, by our back door, all this week. Let me tell you, Oh Best Beloved, this gal can run like the wind, too…

Spiders used to make me shudder, but I’ve come to appreciate their incredible webs and the place they have in keeping down the population of flies and such. However, I still don’t like unexpected close encounters of the eight-legged kind, especially late at night when I’ve removed my glasses. With my poor eyesight, if I can see a spider pattering across the wall whilst my glasses are off, it means my little arachnid friend is roughly the size of, oh, an M1A1 Abrahms battle tank. Or larger.

Yardstick measuring bunched up spider - she's an inch long, 1.5 inches when stretched out

I grabbed an old yardstick we keep in the garage, just to give you an idea of this orb spider’s size (sorry about the faded-out ink on the yardstick, but you get the idea). She refused to stretch out for me, so in this photo she’s sort of scrunched up and about 2/3rds of her real length. As you can see, she’s a respectable one inch long when crouched.

Fully stretched out striped Orb spider 1.5 inches long

Here she is fully stretched out in her web, waiting for dinner to arrive. I’m guessing (as she refused to let me near again with the yardstick to get a second measurement) that she’s between one and 3/8ths inches to one and a half inches long — about the diameter of a silver dollar. These shots are all taken of her from her tummy side (that’s her ventral side for all you budding scientists out there), so you can see not only her legs but her rather sizable mandibles.

What’s that? Was I worried that she might scurry onto me?

No, no, of course not… well, maybe a little. Or maybe a lot. Or maybe…

Actually, truth be told, I would have shrieked louder than a blaring tornado siren if she’d bounded out of that web and landed on me…

Butterflies are much less stressful to photograph!

Winter Visitors

Our property has been filled with visitors during the last week. All of our visitors have been of the furred or feathered type, with the exception of this rather adorable little jumping spider which is no larger across than the eraser on a mechanical pencil.

Jumping Spider

I tried to get a good shot of her, but she never stopped moving! She’s rather bristly, instead of furry, and hops across various surfaces (including artwork, floors, walls, even window glass) at random intervals, in bounds that are startlingly large for a creature so tiny.

With the constant snow, and our sometimes intense cold (tonight we have wind chills of -45F, with an actual temperature expected to bottom out around -15F), I am amazed at the hardiness of the wild creatures around us.

At times we have entire flocks of finches, pine siskins, sparrows and juncos in the yard, zipping to and fro between our spruce and our bird feeders, so many that the airspace around our house resembles a miniature version of O’Hare on the day before Thanksgiving.

Junco on rain gutter

Individual birds often perch on the rain gutter by my kitchen window. This junco flew back and forth between a spot on the ground underneath a feeder and this vantage point where he could eye me while I watched him for almost ten minutes, enjoying how neat and trim he appeared, as if he were wearing formal attire.

Female cardinal on feeder

This female cardinal is a daily visitor, along with her brightly colored mate. She drives all other birds from whichever feeder she chooses to alight on, although she will share the space with the male cardinal if he chooses to join her on ‘her’ feeder.

Female Finch on rain gutter

This finch (or is she a pine siskin? Hmm – nope. That beak says ‘Finch!’) likes the same spot the junco uses. I’ve never seen the juncos and finches squabble over any particular roosting spot or site, unlike the cardinals and many of the other birds we see.

Hawk hunting birds

When the activity at the feeders suddenly stops, I know that a hawk like this one perching in the back trees has arrived. This particular hawk stayed for almost an hour, but left hungry, to the immense relieve of the songbirds.

Stewart the Bunny's tracks in the snow

While travelling between our house and his little backyard workshop, Michael has almost stepped on Stewart, our yard bunny, several times this past week. I haven’t seen Stewart myself, since I’m unable to be out in the yard when the footing is the least bit snowy or slippery, but Michael assures me that Stewart is as bouncy and self-assured as ever. From looking at his tracks, Stewart likes to hop along the pathway that Michael keeps shoveled between our house and Michael’s shop, which makes imminent sense to me. Why struggle hopping through the deep snow when the homeowner will shovel you a nice path?

Thieving Squirrel

Of course, we have squirrels all year round. This rascal looks cute and innocent and completely oblivious to our bird feeders, but rest assured – he’s not. When I took this shot (which is a tad blurry – sorry about that!) he was sitting on top of our old clothesline pole, calculating if he could jump from the pole to a nearby bird feeder.

He couldn’t… but that didn’t stop him from trying!

Welcome to 2008!

So, Oh Best Beloved, how goes your New Year?

Ours has been… well, odd, so far at least. Which is why there has been a dearth of posting.

Census of Agriculture Booklet

On January 2nd a booklet arrived at our abode from the U.S. Census Bureau, which turned out to be the 2007 USDA annual Census of Agriculture. A cover letter instructed us that we should fill it out immediately and provide, under severest penalties of federal law (with punishment presumably delivered by three large club-carrying underpaid and crabby demographers), a complete enumeration of all our pigs, cows, horses, mules, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, llamas, emu and all other assortied beasties. We then were to list every crop we had grown (or tried to grow) in the last year, down to the last mustard seed.

Um… We don’t own a farm.

Nowhere in this nice thick official document did a place exist to politely say, “We do not and never have owned one whit of agricultural land, nor do we own, produce or harbor any livestock. You’ve made a mistake.”

I’ve dutifully sent the form back, properly (and politely) pointing out the error in the nice large white space the Census Bureau provided for comments and address corrections. We’ll see how this evolves. I am not optimistic that the error which classified our little residential lot and dwelling as a farm will be easily remedied, given the bureaucracy that spawned the error in the first place.

*sigh*

That was on the 2nd.

Next we had storms. Major storms. Snow storms, you say? Nope. We had thunderstorms – a rather startling event for early January in northeast Wisconsin.

January Hail Storm

I was not the least bit thrilled by the deluge of hail that accompanied two hours of lightning and torrential rain. Yes, that is hail on the driveway – not snow – which pounded down on our cars, to my utter dismay. Fortunately, nothing was damaged.

Two F3 tornadoes formed from this system, well south of us. This is only the second time since the 1840s that tornadoes have occurred in Wisconsin in January, making this a very rare event indeed. My heart goes out to the many families who lost their homes in a little town called Wheatland.

Since then we’ve had a plethora of equally odd instances, most related to annoying time-consuming errors made by service providers (which have left me wondering how companies stay in business nowadays).

A rather determined invasion of my living space by a smallish white-tan spider has, however, given me a daily chuckle. She pops up at the most unexpected moments and shouts “Boo!” (if you’ve ever been startled by a spider you know what I’m talking about). She’s also caused me to screech with surprise several times when I have accidentally picked her up, thinking she was a little ball of white fuzz. For those of you who haven’t ever experienced a troublesome and fearless spider playing games, here’s a cleaning hint: fuzzballs should not feel rubbery or wiggle when you pick them up.

Spider saying Hi on yogurt container

Here she is, laying claim to my yogurt container – at breakfast, mind you, when I am at my bleariest and most easily startled by eight-legged intruders.

I expect I’ll find her next doing the backstroke in my glass wine.

I’ll keep you posted.

Garden Walk – Day 4

Our drought broke over this weekend and it’s still raining, so you might want to carry an umbrella with you today as we splash our way through the next set of flowers!

Black Eyed Susans

One of my favorite flowers that opens in late summer here is the Rudbeckia Goldsturm, or Black-eyed Susan. The blooms stay open for weeks, and they’re virtually carefree, which makes them even more loveable!

Wine Delight Daylily

We’re getting a second round of blooming from a daylily that is new to my yard this year, the richly colored Wine Delight. I have over twenty different varieties of daylilies, in colors that range from white to palest pink ice, lemon yellow, orange, deep gold, salmon, a number of different shades of red, maroon, and even some shades of lavendar. Because different daylily cultivars bloom at different times, we have a continuous show of daylily blooms from early spring through autumn.

Yellow Candy Cane Zinnia

The zinnias are continuing to put on a show, from this speckled Candy Cane Zinna to

State Fair Zinnia

this lovely pale yellow State Fair Zinna. New blooms are opening daily, in pinks, whites, reds and purples, making delightful splashes of color.

Yellow Portulaca

Portulaca, or moss roses, fell out of favor decades ago in gardening circles, but I usually grow a container or two of them every year.

Moss roses

Moss roses are unabashedly wild in both their colors and foliage, and definitely not for a gardener who wants neat, trim, orderly plants! My grandfather grew an enormous border of moss roses alongside his driveway, and they always remind me of him.

Pink rugosa rose

In addition to my climbing rose bush, I also have an entire hedge we’ve grown of Rugosa roses. These aren’t named hybrid rugosas – they are the original native rugosas – and mine flower in shades of pink and white. The bunnies love to eat the young canes these roses send out, even though the canes are covered with thousands of needle-sharp thorns. Go figure!

White rugosa rose

The rugosas bloom continously, from early summer through fall, and aren’t susceptible to the diseases that attack hybridized roses. Their fragrance is heavenly, and at times the hedge has literally hundreds of roses blooming at a time. Their foliage is quite unique, with beautiful crinkled leaves that open in palest shades of green and gradually darken.

Garden spider

I neglected, when talking about the garden critters, to mention that we have a thriving population of spiders throughout the yard. This gal has spun a web next to our back door, and I’ve come to greatly admire her markings, which are almost irridescent in the light.

There’s still more to come…

Along Came A Spider

Charlotte's Second Cousin Twice Removed, Waiting for Lunch

I woke up suddenly the other morning, with what I can only describe as the very odd feeling that someone – someone quite small with many many legs – was dancing on my closed eyelid.

Someone was.

An eight-legged someone.

Have I mentioned, Oh Best Beloved, that I’m rather put off by anyone doing an eight-legged tap dancing routine on my face, particularly if the dancer happens to be a sharp-fanged spider? With apologies to Charlotte, I am not overly fond of sharing my immediate body zone with arachnids.

I was, however, quite calm and collected.

*ahem*

Ok. I wasn’t.

aaaaaiiiiiiEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

*fling…. squash*

Final Score: Spider – 1. Me – 1.

Game over.

Ugh!