Sunday, September 15, 2013

Uninvited Guests

Nothing is more satisfying than frying chicken, making potato salad, cutting up carrots and celery, and baking a pan of brownies for a family picnic. While I’m at the stove, I imagine the perfect spot to place our blanket or cover a table so that we can savor blue skies, warm sun, and laughing kids while we feast. My fantasies about perfect outdoor meals are always ruined by uninvited guests—ants. An army of marching three-part bodies always finds the goodies and sends me scrambling to store lunch safely out of their and my reach. I recently discovered ants aren’t nature’s only uninvited guests.

To lure feathered creatures into our yard, my hubs and I set up birdbaths and hung feeding stations near the back porch. It wasn’t long before our efforts paid off with finches, orioles, robins, grackles, and sparrows visiting several times a day for drinks and snacks. 

I could watch their acrobatics from my shady porch swing, or I could hide in the sunroom where they couldn’t see me. Over the summer, hours flew by as I spied on splashing robins and timid house finches hiding among leaves. Small creatures perched on the edge of our pooches’ water bucket and tipped into it to sip delicately like one of those old-fashioned toys where the bird toppled forward and then popped back into place. At our woven net feeder, up to six tiny creatures would cling to the webbing as they ate and chattered. I’m not sure, but I think birds can talk with their mouths full.

With a small investment of money and time, I received a revolving show that ran all hours of the day. Unfortunately, uninvited guests appeared and put a damper on my fun. Not only do birds like fresh water daily, but wasps do also. 

Before long, those lazy bird watching sessions turned into wasp dodging adventures.  On the way to my corner swing, I would see hordes of striped, yellow wasps flying around the patio. At first, I thought they were just buzzing through, and then it became apparent they lived in the neighborhood and their numbers were increasing. My husband noticed as well, and, being braver than I, began to hunt for the source. 

Not only did I have a soft swing to make the patio my own little getaway, I decorated with baskets of flowers so there was plenty of nectar to sweeten the deal for the unwelcome invaders. I placed hollow yard art around the borders to add visual interest to my surroundings. Who would have thought last April as I decorated my little escape area that those wasps would find the water, blooms, and hollow statues a perfect home for themselves.

My fearless spouse watched these floating dive-bombers long enough to realize they’d colonized my favorite armadillo sculpture sitting on an old ice cream parlor chair for effect. He knew he’d have to move fast if he wanted to escape unharmed so while I was gone and the dogs were safely in the house, he dashed into trespasser territory and wreaked havoc. 

By the time I returned from work, my rusty armadillo lay on its back in the yard with a jillion little wasp apartments filling its innards. The upended chair rested nearby with a few more insect apartments glued to its underside. A can of hornet spray sat on the picnic table amidst winged carcasses. 

To discourage survivors from returning, my husband dumped the birdbath and water buckets we’d put out to encourage birds to visit. It reminded me that nature seems to frown on simple enjoyment of her pleasant side. If you have a picnic, ants will come. Apparently, if you welcome feathered friends, wasps think they’re invited too. 

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