This Old House: Say Hello To My Little Friends

I apologize in advance to my Mom for posting this as I know she is already hesitant to visit us in our new house after listening to all my stories about the critters I have encountered. Sorry Mom, details and photographic evidence are about to follow.

Amazingly, when we moved to our new house last summer, we only moved about 3 miles down the road. I am amazed mainly because those 3 short miles mark the difference between southwest suburbia and the outskirts of the hill country. I often feared I had taken a wrong turn and was headed straight to the boonies due to the change in topography and the fact that there seemed to be a lot of horses grazing in open fields. Since when did I live in the country?

On the first few trips to the new house, we encountered several deer, a fox and a road runner. All were completely unaware of how out of place they seemed in the hip, urban live music capital of the world. Hmmmm. Let’s say hello to a few of my little friends.

Striped Bark Scorpion

800px-StripedBarkScorpion

This ugly creature was my first uninvited houseguest.  The movers pointed out a dead one as they were unloading our boxes, and it immediately struck fear in my heart. I dismissed it as a fluke- probably snuck in with all the activity of the previous owners moving out and us moving in. The very next day, our nanny ran into a live one in the kitchen and so it began. Apparently, the striped bark scorpion is a relatively common unwanted pest in areas of Austin abundant with trees and wild life. It is not dangerous like its cousin the Arizona bark scorpion, but as my husband can attest, delivers a powerful sting more uncomfortable than that of a bee sting. It is best treated with a paste of meat tenderizer and baking soda, and the pain typically passes in 15-20 min. Small children who are stung should be taken to the ER according to my pediatrician.  There may be residual numbness or tingling over the next 24-48 hrs.

I am on a mission to completely annihilate them from my home through a combination of pest control, natural remedies and fortification of all potential entry points.  I could easily dedicate a whole post to talking about this. They freak me out that much. Yuck! Here’s a picture I snapped of a dead one outside our garage a few days after a pest control treatment. Another one bites the dust.

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Texas Brown Tarantula

photo-12I was unloading groceries from the car when I ran into this not so little spider outside the garage. I quickly scooped up my child and closed the garage door as I would absolutely spend the night in a hotel if I thought this fella was on the loose inside the house. Apparently, I was overreacting a little bit as these tarantulas are quite docile and in the rare case that they do bite, it is not normally harmful to humans. Around here, people take care of them by scooping them up in a cup and gently depositing them back in nature. I plead the 5th as to whether or not this is what I did. Momma Bear tends to be overprotective of her young.

Texas White-Tailed Deer 

photo-15In Austin, deer are regarded as pests. That is because they can take down your landscape overnight and have a habit of wandering into the middle of the street without a care in the world. There were deer in our old neighborhood, although I never saw one in the vicinity of our house. I did, however, hit one on my way home from HEB. It was quite a surprise being in a commercial area, and I did not see him coming as he was racing uphill and did not make it into my periphery until too late. Fortunately for both of us, I was not traveling very fast and he rolled across my hood and went on his merry way. Both the deer and my car sustained minor damages. The deer here are tiny compared to deer up north. The drought leaves them looking emaciated at times and I thought the deer I hit was a greyhound dog at first glance.

We have a family of 8-10 deer in our new neighborhood. They do not speed up to cross the road when they see a car coming. You have to stop and patiently wait for them to get a clue. The male buck hisses at me when I shoo him out of the yard at night and shut the gate. We have planted mainly deer-resistant plants, but they have made it impossible for my knock out roses to get a fair start in life.  Once, we were awoken by an awful animal cry and ran outdoors to see a neighbor’s dog attempting to hunt a deer in our yard. Life is never dull in the woods.

Greater Roadrunner

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My favorite new friend is the roadrunner. I have seen several in the neighborhood and love to watch them run across the street or lawn. I was also surprised to see that they can fly and also scale our fence and run along it. J is as fond of them as I am. She is too young to know of the roadrunner cartoon character yet, but is readily amused by the real thing. As a bonus, they eat scorpions. Perhaps I should domesticate one? Our nanny snapped this picture of this bold little guy hanging out on the patio.

Gray Fox

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Another of my favorites is this beautiful creature. Dean discovered three of them hanging out by my garden boxes one morning. They surprised him and scared the dickens out of my nanny who kept J inside for the remainder of the day. A little research on google revealed that they are fairly harmless to people and were probably more interested in my compost pile than my vegetables. They resemble a dog but move like a cat. I had the pleasure of watching two play out in the back yard one day. One was chasing the other and they were running and leaping quite fast. All of a sudden one magically appeared on the other side of the wrought iron fence around the pool. Before I could fathom how that happened, I saw the second do the same thing and realized that they could make themselves skinny enough to run between the slats. Amazing! They seem unfazed by our presence, watching us cautiously but going about their business as if they own the place. I have yet to snap a picture of our foxes but found this one on the Visit Wimberley website.

Eastern Cottontail

eastern_cottontailWith the help of this little cutie, we were able to prove to J that the Easter Bunny is indeed always watching to see if she is being a good little girl. He was a frequent visitor to the yard for a while. I was a bit concerned after seeing the foxes. However, he has resurfaced unharmed since that time. We have had a creature digging shallow holes in our yard for some time. I was putting the blame on this guy, but have since learned that they do not dig their own burrows or dig for roots and bulbs. They are a pest in my neighbor’s garden but seem to leave my raised beds alone- even the carrots 🙂

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

turkeyNot to be outdone by my parents and grandparents in NH, we too have turkeys. Upon moving in, I kept waking up in the middle of the night hearing a strange sound. It sounded like the gobble, gobble of a turkey but I had no idea they were abundant in Texas. I thought perhaps I was crazy until I later spotted at least 40 turkeys hanging out in the open park in our development. I was unable to get a close up shot but if you squint you might be able to make them out roosting in the grass. Predators include our friend the gray fox, raccoons, rat snakes, feral hogs (more on those next) and bobcats. Perhaps we will not have to travel as far as Whole Foods to get a 20 lb turkey this year? Kidding!

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Wild Hogs

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While I have certainly not seen on of these creatures wandering around in my development, I did recently see a rather large one keeled over on the side of the road- presumedly hit by a car. In retelling the story to a patient, he said that wild hogs are terrorizing some neighborhoods as relayed in this Smithsonion article A Plague of Pigs in Texas.  The state of Texas estimates that wild hogs cause $200 in property damage per hog per year and have issued a bounty of $2 per kill. I certainly hope this is not my backyard digger. They are nocturnal. The holes we found, while plentiful, were pretty shallow, so my money is still on an armadillo. Either way, just the sight of one so close to home brings new meaning to The Other White Meat.

Armadillo

800px-Nine-banded_ArmadilloThese creatures are nocturnal, so I have yet to see one live in person. I have seen plenty as roadkill. They love to dig small holes in peoples lawns as they root for bugs and grubs. I think he is likely our little digger.  I just need to catch him in action. Some good tips on dealing with armadillo problems are found here.

Those are all my little friends at the moment. Have yet to run into a snake (aside from a garter snake here and there), but would not be surprised to come across a rattlesnake or coral snake some day soon. Yikes!

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