September 2018: Nature Watch

August 24 2018
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Recently, friends of ours spent a baking hot afternoon cooking a Thai curry for us, which really is above and beyond!

Their sweltering labour was made even more challenging by a surprising amount of attention from the local honey bees. Now, if honey bees must go and pester somebody it might as well be them as they keep bees themselves (though not locally – it wasn’t their bees they had attracted) but by the time we arrived there were hundreds of bees gathered in their kitchen. 

We sat in the warm garden, relatively bee-free, but as soon as the curry was served... well, let’s just say that bees do indeed make a bee-line for things. Our friends put it down to lemon-grass, which is apparently irresistible to honey bees, or perhaps to the ambrosial combination of lemon-grass and honeycomb (which they had recently gathered from their hives). We ate delicious Thai curry in a cloud of bees, with dogs romping at our feet (unperturbed by the sudden local prevalence of buzzing insects) and not one of us got stung.

 As we left, after dark, bee numbers in the kitchen had dwindled to a dozen or so and we spotted at least three oak bush crickets – (attracted by the light, not the lemon-grass). They are bright green insects, 2-3 cm long with hair-like antennae close to twice that length. Their active antennae irresistibly suggest some kind of alien intelligence investigating a novel environment and they are amongst my favourite insects.

The bee invasion passed off without incident but sometimes, no matter what kind of a wildlife freak you are, things can get creepy. We had been aware of a nasty niff in the front garden... you could hardly miss it. Something had died there and it seemed to be something rather large (like a fox or possibly a whale) but our wildlife-friendly plot, tangled with bramble, is not conducive to detailed investigation. We sent dogs in to reconnoitre but they returned with nothing but a shame-faced expression (I don’t feel their hearts were in it). The dead thing had to stay where it was. Well, the morning after the close encounter with bees, we found our front path crawling with maggots. They crunch underfoot in a most disturbing fashion. 

We returned to the house around lunch-time (maggot population somewhat reduced, presumably some birds struck it lucky) and my partner called out that he had an even worse invasion to report. On opening the guinea pig hutch he had found himself face to face with a rat! Beyond retreating to a corner, the guinea pigs had been unmoved – apparently the rat had not been there long enough to pick a fight  – and they were now sitting grumpily (but  safely) in a box. The rat had fled, the rat-carved hole in the hutch was under repair. The comment of our youngest offspring on the recent proceedings was most succinct: “they get bees and bush crickets,” she said, “we get maggots and rats!”