Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ants

Last evening the ants took to our cutting board while we ate dinner. It doesn't take them long to find fruit juices on the counter! Normally, you can't see them very well because our countertops are black, but they show up nicely on a white plastic cutting board.

These ants are tiny, about 1-2 mm long. The crumb in the corner is most likely a small remnant of sweet lime rind.
I had no idea they had a banded abdomen until I looked at these photos.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Bee Hive


This bee hive has been here for a while. I'm pretty sure it was here when we moved in, but for sure it's been outside one of our windows for at least 6 months. Overall, it's about 6 inches deep by 18 inches wide and 18 inches long. We've asked for an exterminator to come and remove it, but so far nothing has happened.

This gives you a feel for the size, but you can't really appreciate how active it is here.
This shows the hive from almost directly underneath. It's covered with bees.
A close-up of the end of the hive.
Another close-up showing the honeycomb structure. (Although I really don't know if there's any honey in this structure. There's certainly nothing dripping down on the ground below.)



Vapi -- A Year in Bugs

Even though the seasonal changes are less pronounced here than any other place I've lived, the insects definitely have seasonal preferences.

First of all -- I'm surprised by the lack of insects in general. I had been fearing being completely overwhelmed by creeping, crawling, and flying critters. Maybe it's the degraded environment in Vapi, but "bugs" are far less of an issue here than they are at our home in the middle of the woods in Virginia -- especially in summer.

Mosquitoes

They carry malaria and dengue fever, and obviously should be avoided. They were mostly a problem in February and March in the evening and at night while sleeping. By April they had mostly disappeared. We spent February and March slathered in DEET for sleeping. We have screens on our windows, so there were only 2 or 3 in the room, but they seemed to have voracious appetites. To my surprise, they became more of a problem as the puddles dried up and temperatures dropped. And they spent the day hanging out in our shoes (which get left outside the house). Different.

Ants

Ants are the bane of my life in India. They really appear to like monsoon. We moved into our bungalow well into monsoon, and ants found any food on our counters in less than 10 minutes. As monsoon ended, the ants disappeared. They re-appeared in April. Every food item that has been on the counter has to be inspected for ants, although they seem to have a preference for wheat flour and sugar. (Gotta get those carbs!) Fresh fruits and veggies don't seem to be too much of a problem.

These are tiny ants -- they can get through the threads of a screw-top container. Only perfectly sealed containers like Tupperware keep them out. That's why I keep everything in the refrigerator. If I need to let a dough "rest" for an hour or so, I have to put the bowl in water so that ants can't get to it. Otherwise, I'd have some extra protein in my roti!

Spiders

Yes, I know they're not insects.

Spiders are around, but they really aren't too bad. They are mostly around the windows. Manageable. Besides, they eat insects.

In addition to spiders, we have a family of lizards (chameleons?) that can also feast on our abundance of ants. (But do they? I don't really know.)

Bees

I really haven't seen any bees, but we have a massive hive hanging outside one of our windows. Fortunately, that window is on the stairs, and we don't open it! I've seen lizards hanging out on the window -- maybe bees are a delicacy.

(For more on the bee hive, see the next post.)

Roaches

I saved the best for last. Roaches, too, seem to like moisture -- they hang out in the bathroom, not the kitchen. These are not your ordinary German cockroaches. These are HUGE -- about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. I really should take a picture, but usually I'm too freaked out to go grab my camera. They weren't too bad in the "winter" (December though April), but have really popped out in the last month.

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So there you have it -- insects through the year in Vapi.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Electrical Outage


The electricity went out for about an hour this afternoon. On our late afternoon walk, we saw the reason:


We had some wind this afternoon (very pleasant!) and this large tree branch fell across power lines. This area was still without power as we walked and the neighborhood hummed with "DGs" (diesel generators).

Construction Season

It seems that we're at the height of construction season. Personally, I think "winter" (December through February) would be a much better time to do construction -- cool evenings and moderate days. But in the last week or so, it's been non-stop construction on the roads and bungalows in the neighborhood. I guess the realization is that monsoon is just about upon us. Everything needs to be fixed before monsoon starts, so the jackhammers and saws have been working non-stop. The noise -- added to the usual background of trains and traffic -- can make it impossible to listen to anything on the radio (computer, that is) or watch a movie/TV show.

Our street is paved with brick, and all the little dips were dug up last week, filled with dirt and stone, then the pavers were put back in place.

One of our neighbors is re-doing their entire bungalow and property wall. Two other bungalows are also under major renovation. Because everything is made of concrete, it takes a jackhammer to remodel. And all the debris is carted off on the heads of women -- panful by panful. (Metal pans about 18" in diameter and about 4" deep.) Sand and fill rock is brought back the same way. The manual labor involved is astounding.

This is the bungalow that is under total renovation. It's been gutted, including the enclosing wall. The owner's said it's supposed to be completed in 15 days. So why did our empty bungalow take 4 months to re-do?
Another bungalow being worked on. The wall is down, and the tarps cover major exterior work.
Relatively small piles of debris -- brought panful-by-panful from the construction site across the road.
Right next to the debris piles are piles of crushed stone, sand, and bricks for the remodeling. Again, all these materials are carted across the street in pans on the heads of women.



Doldrums

There's not much to write about these days. It's too hot to take afternoon walks -- we don't walk on Sundays now until 5 or 6 PM, when the sun gets low in the west and casts long shadows.

The weather is getting much more humid -- and clouds can be "thick" in the morning, but usually burn off by mid-day. We're using the A/C in our bedroom at night -- makes everything quite bearable.

School is closed for the "summer" break: All schools are off for the month of May. School starts again any where from 1 June to 15 June depending upon the school. I'm heading back to the States for the Field Ecology Governor's School in June and July, so I'll miss the beginning of monsoon and the first two months back in school.

video

This buffalo herd is a regular "feature" of this stretch of road. They really know how to walk right down the center line. A similar herd one block to the east prefers to march down the street abreast, and then lay down in the middle of the street nearly closing it off.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's Hot!

May is the hottest month in this part of India. June get relief with monsoon clouds and rain, but May is relentless sunshine. As the sun passes the Tropic of Cancer, it is directly overhead for much of the day - maximum sunshine, maximum heating.

Not only is it hot, but it is humid. The air is thick with humidity. (And yes, I know that warm humid air is actually less dense than warm dry air. But it sure doesn't feel that way!) The dew point is around 80°F (27°C). That's the night-time temperature here. It's rarely that humid in the U.S. outside of the Gulf coast.

So how hot is it?

In temperatures, it's been as warm as 40° or 41°C. That's 105°F. With a heat index as high as 47°C (117°F).

The towels feel like they have just come out of the dryer -- nice and warm.

And our marble and granite floors (stone is much cheaper than wood) feel like they are heated. And that's inside in the shade!

I sure am glad we have AC for sleeping at night! Ceiling fans are a necessity. (At least they are for me.) When the power goes out (as it has even as I type), the AC, refrigerator, and microwave don't run, but the ceiling fans (and one "tube light" per room) are on our back-up inverter circuit that runs off two large batteries.

Monsoon is about 5 weeks off …

Sunday, May 4, 2014

They're Back …

Monsoon must be approaching. The ants have returned.

I guess I'll have to start keeping all of our meds in the refrigerator -- zip-lock bags and screw caps are no deterrent. The photo below shows what happened to our multi-vitamins over the course of a day. They apparently loved the sugar coating. In the past, they've also eaten to my synthroid pills. Very annoying.

Yesterday our vitamin pills looked normal. This morning they had clearly been partially eaten by ants.
The ants seem to have a strong preference for sugar and flour. They seldom get into rice or popcorn.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Animals - Wild & Domestic

While I'd heard that monkeys lived in Vapi, today was the first time I'd seen one. This gray langur was huge, with an extremely long tail, a black face, and feet that looked like they belonged on a kangaroo. Very unlike other monkeys I've seen in India. Definitely doesn't look cute and cuddly!

Gray langur on the street in Vapi.

Yesterday, I saw some egrets at Modern School. Turns out that cattle egrets have tan heads and backs in mating plumage. I'd never seen cattle egrets as anything other than all-white before.

I keep on trying the iPhone zoom, even though I know better. It looks good on the iPhone screen, but it's just a digital zoom, which is really pretty useless. Now that I have a very good compact camera, I probably should be carrying that with me. (But the iPhone is so convenient!)
And yes, you knew there had to cows in here somewhere. Monday was apparently an auspicious day for cattle -- most of the cattle roaming the streets had been marked with red.

This calf was browsing for food in the gutter.
While I was trying to take a picture of this buffalo calf, it was thinking I had some food for it and kept getting too close to get a good photo!