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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The first warm day after a soaking spring rain

On the first warm day after a soaking spring rain, a girl's thoughts turn to taxes. It's hard to imagine anything more interesting than bugs, but circling through the self-referential worksheets in the 1040 booklet comes close. Especially with only a few short weeks left before the filing deadline.

But undermining my attention to deductions was termites. We're always thinking of termites more or less, given that we live in an old wood frame house in southern California; but on such a day as yesterday, the conditions were perfect and it's typical for the sexual or alate (meaning winged) termites to fly. I know this well, and buried not so deep under everything I had to do that day was the thought termites would swarm.

Still. I was trying to keep to my work schedule, and they were playing compelling music on
K-Mozart that morning. But over the Vivaldi and whatnot I kept hearing a soft yet sharp snapping sound. Finally I put aside the tax worksheets to find out what the heck was making the sound. Over my neighbor's flat roofed house birds were gyrating and snapping up insects in mid-flight. Lots of birds. I recognize the black phoebe, and that made sense because I know these little pointy headed guys live to eat insects. And those other birds, the yellowish ones, I thought were lesser goldfinches.

But wait. Lesser goldfinches are strictly seed eaters, or so says my bird guide. So anyway, a black phoebe and some other birds were feasting on flying insects. Termites. Amazing what a satisfying snappy popping sound they make as they met their small dooms in the birds' bills. Really, it was transfixing to watch until I noticed that some of the migrating buggers were landing on my driveway and making their ways disturbingly close to my house and especially the wood patio cover.

Based on the spring swarming behavior these termites would be western subterraneans. But they really look (brown head, darker wings) more like drywood termites. And, subterraneans more commonly swarm out of the ground, not somebody's roof. Here's a crappy photo of one of them. When they alighted on the ground, they scurried around in a panic and were hard to photograph.

Whatever species they are the purpose of the swarming flight is to disperse, meet and mate, after which they shed their wings,
and seek out some wood to lay eggs in. Which is not only a bad thing but, as far as I've found, it also isn't a tax deduction.

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