Spring in New Zealand

Spring in New Zealand

Mary Anne Moore November/December 2019

A land of so many contrasts! Ragged snow-capped mountains surround rolling hills of green grass invaded by yellow-blooming scotch broom and lupines of every shade of purple, mauve and fuchsia.  Millions of sheep, some raised for wool, others for meat, graze amid herds of dairy cows and domesticated deer raised as venison.  

Mt. Cook

Spring rains produce thousands of waterfalls in the majestic fjords of Milford Sound. They cascade down steep slopes towards swollen streams that roar and threaten to flood roadways. Cheeky flightless parrots strut parking areas begging for handouts amid signs pleading “Do Not Feed the Birds!” while buses wait their turn at one-way tunnels.


Nature reserves protect kiwis, the name given not only to flightless birds left over from the time before the Maori arrived eight hundred years ago, but also to a curious green fruit packed with potassium and Vitamin C, and the nickname adopted by the Australian people themselves. Three species of bats were the only mammals on the islands before the Maori came. They brought rats and dogs –and hunted the tasty ten-foot flightless moas to extinction before Europeans came with their sheep and cattle in the 19th century. Massive efforts to clear out introduced pests such as the stoat and ‘possum are probably doomed to failure. But the merino/possum woolen hat I bought will keep me warm this winter. The motto: wear your enemy!

 Volcanic valleys with hot springs and bubbling mud  pots provide scenes of austere beauty near Rotorua. The land is young, and earthquakes a reality. The Kiwis are a resilient people, and the ruins of the cathedral in South Island’s Christchurch are testimony to a community of people who pull together in crises. Parking lots dot the city where buildings once stood. The community library is a testament to innovation and regeneration.

And let’s not forget the food! Pasties, flaky pastries filled with salmon and leeks, or pork belly and apples, or vegetables or even corned beef and cabbage, or my personal favorite- creamy seafood. Incredibly light and delicious fish and chips, green-lipped mussels, and lamb- lots of tender, succulent lamb. My first taste of a flat white –a latte-like coffee with steamed cream, yellow and rich with butter fat. I was addicted at first sip. Wineries abound, and good craft beers are everywhere. Kiwis are friendly and hospitable hosts. 

There is so much more. The natural beauty of the beaches and forests of thousand year-old trees, exotic bird life, vibrant cities such as Windy Wellington, and Awesome Auckland (check out ice cream at Gelippo’s near Fort Street.), and the rambunctious Quirky Queenstown.        

And let’s not forget the tour manager who handled every unplanned contingency with aplomb –Thanks, Mark. It’s a long, long journey to get there, but well worth the effort and the memories.

Wally and Me, A True Story

Wally and Me, A True Story

First a little about me, for context. I am not a violent person by nature. I love all (perhaps, most) wild things in my wooded haven. I eagerly anticipate the the junco’s arrival each winter, the robins in the spring, and the ruby-throated hummingbird that visits my nasturtiums each summer. Even the Phoebe that incessantly rasps out its name from first light til dusk fills me with a certain serenity each spring. (Of course this only lasts a few hours, then I want to wring its scruffy little neck.) The three bully crows that stalk my feeders each winter are a source of amusement. Especially when I see them flying off with a beak full of Cheetos they’ve discovered in someone’s trash.

Tall windows fill every outside wall of my cedar-planked house. Surrounded by maples and oaks, stilt grass and moss, it is a woodland haven that nurtures me, and nourishes many. The deer are the worst offenders. They have eaten every hosta, day lily,  and vine of English ivy.  In addition, no tulip that has dared poke more than a leaf above the ground in the twenty years I’ve lived here. Harsh winters result in wide swatches of my rhododendron beginning devoured despite its lack of nutrients. I guess a full belly, is better than an empty one. 

Even potted herbs on my back deck are not safe. Dill is especially vulnerable. As is cilantro. Neither lasts a night. Even the roots are gone by the next morning. The hydrangeas I planted four years ago have never gotten more than ten inches above the ground before they are chomped down. I suspect rabbits are to blame for this outrage. The plants have never bloomed. The one blossom that showed its shaggy head one fine spring disappeared overnight, and no amount of deer and rabbit repellent has helped. I suspect the beasts consider it part of the salad bar I supply for their benefit.

The mammals that visit me nightly are a ragged bunch. Two ‘possums, fat as over fed cats prowl each night along the edges of the terracing that keep the ridge above me from washing away. They scoot on short legs and disappear once I’ve spotted them. I suspect they spend the winter hibernating under my deck, along with a feral cat or two. Conflict is inevitable with the neighbors. Loud arguments over territory often get nasty Especially when the ground hog I’ve known since he was a kit comes back for a visit. I knew his mother, a venerable dame. She dragged herself and sonny to the old homestead the first year I lived here. She’s since passed into that great groundhog haven elsewhere, but her son comes back each year for a visit.

For those of you who consider deer sweet and kindly creatures, and their fawns adorable, I thought that one time too. Cleaning winter debris from beneath the trees in a copse beside the house one spring, I heard a muffled sound near my feet. A mother deer had left her newborn fawn and gone off to feed. The creature was too unstable on its feet to even stand and run from me. I backed away slowly, and watched for the next four hours from my dining room window before mom came to collect her offspring. Another venerable doe, who I named Floppsie due to one ear that refused to stand straight, brought her twin fawns each spring to introduce them to my ivy patch. She’s gone too, as is my ivy.

Now to my tale of woe.

For years, the dead oak in my side yard had provided sustenance for a pair of pileated woodpeckers. Each winter they tore great swathes of bark off looking for insects, and kept me mightily entertained with their antics. Winters here are long and seem unending. Any distraction is appreciated.

Spring had arrived, finally. At first light I woke to the call of the lovelorn Phoebe that considered this neighborhood prime territory. More sleep evading me, I laid there with feelings of benevolence and dreams of coffee. 

Then, tap, tap, tap.

Too loud to be the downy or hairy woodpecker that loved the resonance achieved by drumming on my metal roof gutters. I rose in search of the intruder.

Outside my living room window, having exhausted the insect supply in the nearly stripped oak, a male pileated woodpecker, over twenty-four inches from top knot to tip of tail, ripped pieces of my cedar siding off and tossed them rudely to the ground. 

I pounded on a nearby wall, and the coward flew off to a nearby tree.

If only that had been his sole assault on my domicile!

He came everyday. At any time of day. More than once our eyes locked, him on the outside frame of the window, me inside pleading for him not to eat my house. His arrogance was palpable.

I sought council from a local environmental educator. “Hit him with a hose,” was his advice. I assumed he meant water from the hose, but perhaps not. Suffice to say, Wally was no birdbrain. Yes, I named him Wally. And I tried reasoning with him. As soon as he heard me turn the spigot, he flew off, not far, but far enough. Suffice to say, I got far wetter than he.

I hung colorful balloons from upper floor windows. My house was decorated with silver and red metallic streamers. The child next door asked her grandmother why I was decorating my house so strangely. Wally seemed to like the yellow ones.

Pounding on the walls only made him climb higher. For a while his favorite perch was directly under the eaves up on a third-story-high window that I could not not easily reach. I tossed a racquet ball up at a nearby window in my guest room. He never went very far, or for very long.

I was desperate. A local pest control service sent out a man to assess the situation. Their website promised the removal of all pests: ants, wasps, termites, carpenter bees. A line emblazoned on their truck promised bird pest removal.

I was saved! Or so I thought.

He was professional. “Sorry, Lady. There’s not a thing I can do for you. You don’t have bugs.  He’s making a roost to attract females. These birds are a protected species. In fact all birds are. My company won’t let me touch them.”

What to do?

“Wait until after he’s found a mate. He’ll disappear then to help the missus set up house keeping.”

Well, Wally was, to put it delicately, unlucky in love. I did witness a couple of females check out the place. But Wally never went away. I pleaded with him. More than once his face sat mere inches from mine through the glass. 

“Please stop destroying my house,” I begged. Then demanded.

Pieces of cedar drifted down from every corner. Great strips of plastic molding were ripped from around several windows.

My neighbor suggested a bb gun.  I reasoned my lack of shooting expertise  would only do my windows more harm. I seriously considered buying a sling shot. Nothing too drastic. No physical harm. Just enough to scare Wally away. 

I had recently replaced my old chimney cap with a new stainless steel model. Woody stood on the very topmost portion. Swaggering about, he would drum out his lovelorn need to the surrounding woods. Out of reach from me.

My home, my haven, my serenity destroyed. By a a two-foot long bundle of feathers that only filled me with dread and determination.

As I mulled last ditch measures, deploring the thought of physical harm, the the solution to my trials and tribulations revealed itself.

On U-Tube.

Sound tracks of screaming eagles and hawks on the attack were free for the download.

I cranked up the volume on my laptop to full blast. Opened a window and let it rip!

It only took a couple of days. 

Wally fled. Sitting on the tip top of a roof with a deadly predator close by was neither prudent nor  advisable. Nor would it serve to attract any female with a sense of survival or with interest in starting a family. Of course every other bird and squirrel left the area as well.

My yard was sadly quiet that summer. No warblers came through during migration. The hummingbirds found sweeter flowers elsewhere, and my Phoebe found a better neighborhood. I left the streamers on the windows. Now I wait anxiously for the juncos to return from their summer hiatus further north. And a return call from the carpenter who said he could fix the holes in the siding. (BYW, I’m still waiting.)

I hope Wally has found true love, in someone else’s yard. But at least I have an effective weapon if he returns next spring. If only stilt grass had such an easy solution.

Mouses in Our Houses, Part 2

Mousey Adventures, Part 2

I had not actually seen a grey furry rodent in the house proper since that first evening. That fateful night, as I sat in the downstairs powder room, the beastie scurried from behind the wastebasket, across the vanity and hung a sharp left into the hallway towards the front door. By the time I rose to follow, the creature had disappeared. My hopes laid in the fact that there existed a small opening in one corner where the flashing met the door jamb, and he had somehow escaped into the outside world, never to show its furry nose again.

Alas, it was not to be.

A little backstory. A few weeks earlier, a grey squirrel (Scientific name: Sciurus carolinensis), ratty and scraggly, began eating a hole in my one-inch thick solid wood garage door. A friend recommended hot sauce as a deterrent. So I immediately went out and bought a pint of the cheapest, hottest red chili sauce money could buy, and painted the area around the breach. I can only assume the tree rat liked his food  spicy, because the hole get even wider. 

Travis of Ehrlich came to assess my rodent problem.  His tree rat solution: A five-day trial with a baited live trap, two hundred plus dollars and no guarantees. 

I declined the offer.  Metal flashing closed the hole eventually, and the tree rat left town. (Thank the heavens!) But my mousey problem did not end there. 

To be quite honest, the whole situation was my own fault. I feed birds in the winter after the local black bear goes into hibernation, and stop once Ole Smokey emerges from his den, ravenous and on the prowl for an easy meal. 

As an aside, OS is a female who brought her four cubs on a field trip to my feeder one fine spring afternoon while I napped in the screened-in patio room in the back of the house. Lying on the futon, I heard a sound, no more than a couple of feet from my head. I turned to see a large furry black butt pass by followed by four adorable cubs of about four pounds each. Mama stopped at the location where the bird feeder once hung on a shepherd’s hook. I had already removed it for the season. The quintet reversed its steps. Mama stopped and looked me in the eye. She asked, “Where’s the chow, lady?” She may not have used English but the meaning was clear. I didn’t move, except to shake my head by the tiniest amount. She rustled up the kids, who pranced merrily all over my terracing, and headed back out to the woods across the street. 

Now we return to the original story: 

Although I passed on the live trap option, Travis of Ehrlich saw signs of mousey droppings in the garage. Nothing terrible, he insisted. But, a mousy extermination plan loomed in my future. Sir Ronald of Ehrlich came to set the traps, and I removed the incentive for the furry invasion, left over birdseed from the winter. I jettisoned the food source into the woods across the street, cleaned out the plastic storage bin, and waited for Sir Ronald to arrive and rid me of those tiresome pests. 

To sum up, he set six traps in the garage, four in the utility room and another half dozen in the crawl space under the house. (Reputed to be the finest crawl space in the Poconos by one who has scrabbled through many!)

Twelve mouses, known to the scientific community as Mus Musculus, and nicknamed ‘the Little Thief’ due to an ability to squeeze into a building by a hole as small as a quarter of an inch, succumbed to the lure of scrumptious mousey bait over the course of two weeks. All in the garage. So did this mean the end of the furry barrage, you ask?  

HECK, no!  It only got worse; they invaded my house.

I had become complacent, and they were clever beasties and tenacious.  

Being an environmentally responsible citizen, I collect paper in a box in the corner of the kitchen next to a radiator.  The box was full of junk mail, and I pulled it out to take it to the car and off to the recycle center. 

Horrors! The area between the box and the wall was full of empty sunflower seed shells and insulation from under the floor. My heart started pounding, the adrenaline surged through my body. But worse, the pile of seed and pink fiberglass began to move! I grabbed my broom, ready to sweep the vermin out the sliding door onto the back deck. But I was too late. The beastie squirmed its way down the pipe to the crawl space below where all my plumbing led.

After a call for help, Sir Ronald arrived a few hours later. No traps in the crawl space were triggered. However, sunflower seed shell caches (say that fast three times!) were found, not only under the radiator, but behind both the washing machine and the oven. My knight in gray armor set two traps in the corner and two under the oven with instructions on how to clean up the mess.

I wore long trousers, rubber gloves and a mask over my nose and mouth (it was 90 degrees!) Sprayed the area with a bleach solution and swept up the spent shells. Two mice were caught behind the stove. No where else.

But my nightmare was not over. I started hearing noises in the walls. 

They were still here. I pounded on the wall, I slept on the couch. 

But I swore, I would not be vanquished by a four-legged furry beastie!

Now I would go on the attack. First, the downstair hall closet. I cleared out the broken stereo equipment, the abandoned craft projects, the box of optics too heavy to take to the university (out of sight, out of mind). And beheld the largest pile of defunct shells yet. Donning my armor once again, I bleached and swept. Then sprayed with a solution of mint essence and water. (The same friend who told me about hot sauce insisted mouses hated the smell of mint.) I placed three ultra sonic mousey deterrent devices in the kitchen.

Next I tackled my butler’s pantry. I cleared the floor. Recycled about a thousand plastic grocery bags, dozens of used gift bags. But saw no mousey signs. (Thank the heavens!) The bay leaves left over from an invasion of those pesky mothy things may have thwarted them. 

The last skirmish. 

I had Sir Ronald put two additional traps behind the oven. Early one evening, as I sat reading in the living room…. 

SNAP! Squeal! Screech! Squawk! Slam! Bang! Sounds of a struggling mousey caught in a trap hitting the metal oven storage drawer in an escape attempt. 

Then nothing.

I waited til morning to check. No mousey body, but one trap was sprung. Mouses do hate those ultra sonic devices!  I still check every few days– no more mousey infiltrations.

The battle may have been won, but it is unlikely the war is over. The traps are still in place, waiting for the autumnal invasion when the weather turns cold. 

Lest you think that my war with nature ended with the Battle of Rodentia, a brief synopsis of other woes follows.  I have been stung by yellow jackets on two occasions. The welts on my thigh have faded after two months. A yellow demon attack on a trip down the driveway resulted in a cauliflower ear despite immediate first aid with a baking soda paste and Neosporin. That ear still feels a little funny, but Sir Ronald removed the yellow viper nest hidden beneath the mailbox. A black parasitic wasp got my upper arm in the living room one evening while watching a nature program on PBS. 

Splatting spiders, stepping on carpenter ants and chasing away carpenter bees were daily events. BYW, I now have a contract with Ehrlich, Inc., my local Pest Control Experts. I rarely squash or splat anymore in the house. I do, however, keep a keen eye out for  ticks when I fight the Japanese Stilt Grass invading my yard. 

Such are the joys of living in the Poconos. I’ve been offered two cats (they make me sneeze). Stay tuned soon for another installment. This time my adventure with Wally, a pileated woodpecker who decided to turn my cedar house into his love nest. 

Sincerely yours,

Mary Anne Moore, physicist turned mystery writer on mouse patrol

Mouses in Our Houses, Part 1

Mouses in our Houses (Part 1) 

What is it about the sight of a small furry grey creature scurrying across the bathroom floor, inches from your feet, that spikes an adrenaline rush? Your heart beats a mile a minute,  you run like a mad woman to the telephone to hire a pest control service.

Have our Cinderelly (think Disney fantasy) views of these rodents jaded our perception of these filthy rodents who have no qualms about fouling their nests, stockpiling food supplies in dark corners, and producing litters literally by the dozen? 

The life span of a mouse is five to seven years. A female mouse can produce three to fourteen young in three weeks, and do this five to ten times a year. There is no mousy-menopause. They never stop breeding! Even more frightening, it only takes four to six weeks for a newborn fluff ball to become sexually mature.

Let’s do some math, Mousy-Nerds!!!

Use conservative numbers: Start with one female mouse having a litter of ten babies, half of which are females. The females take 6 weeks to mature sexually, and only breed every other cycle.

Potentially, how many mice could you have after 4 months?

One pregnant mouse, call her Gen1, short for 1st generation. After three weeks, she could produce ten offspring (Gen2). Generous, but base 10 math means easier calculations. Let’s assume only half of them are female. Also assume that each female only breeds every other cycle, and none of her offspring die. Consider this a closed system. That means no other mice sneak into the house. I’m thinking loose morals, and mousy-incest is not prohibited in this hypothetical scenario. Furthermore, no cats exist in the household. 

Start the clock!

Sooo,  here’s the tally:

At 0 weeks:   1 pregnant, female mouse Gen1

1 mouse in my house.

At 3 weeks:  Gen1 produces 10 offspring, Gen2 has 10 members +Gen1 = 

11 mouses in my house, 5 males, 6 females, only one sexually mature and she needs a break.

At 6 weeks: No new offspring, 11 mice, 5 males, 5 sexually mature (and eager) Gen2 females, Gen1, takes a bye.

11 mouses in my house, but all 5 Gen2 females are pregnant. 

At 9 weeks:      Gen3 = 50 (Gen2 females each have a litter of ten) + 10 Gen2 + 1 Gen1 = 61 mice, 

31 females, 30 males. Gen1 is ready for motherhood again. Gen2 females on break.

There are now 61 mouses in my house. 

At 12 weeks:   Gen1 has 10 offspring (Gen4), Gen2 females are on break. Gen3 are not sexually  mature yet. 61+10 = 71 mouses in my house.

At 15 weeks:   No new offspring, All 5 Gen2 and 25 Gen3 females get pregnant, Gen1 on break, Gen4 not yet sexually mature. 

71 mouses in my house.

At 18 weeks:   Gen2 and Gen3 females have a total of 300 (!) offspring, Gen1 and Gen4 are ready to get pregnant.  

Total mouses in my house = 371 

The numbers are STAGGERING.  So, this happens after 126 days, about four months if the mousy mortality rate is zero.  I got carried away with the horror of it all. 

This scares the $%^&*out of me. And this all started with one pregnant mouse. And my assumptions are REALLY conservative. (Only one pregnant mouse makes it in the house. Pleassse….)

A humorous side does exist for this misadventure. More in Part 2 of the Mousy Adventures of a Physicist Turned Mystery Writer on Mouse Patrol. 

Tips for Visiting Egypt


I went to Egypt in the spring of 2010, a few short months before the Arab Spring left the tourist industry there in shambles. I had dreamed of visiting Egypt for more than fifty years, and I was not disappointed.

Security was tight. We stayed on river boats while cruising the Nile, and larger craft while on Lake Nasser. A man impeccably dressed in a suit with his sidearm discretely hidden under his jacket watched from the upper deck at all times.

When on land, our hotels were in the middle of the Nile, our rooms on upper floors. We always had armed security along with us on side trips to archeological sites, but they never seemed intrusive.

Unless you want to ruin your trip by getting ill, I have a few tips to pass along. I met a woman from the American Embassy in Cairo while on a birding trip in Costa Rica. She passed on some good advice. Other things I learned along the way.

Once you have touched the waters of the Nile, you are destined to return.” A quote from                      my magnificent tour guide. I hope he is right.


Tips for traveling in Egypt

  • No matter how tasty the lettuce looks, DO NOT EAT ANY! I don’t care if they’ve washed it a dozen times and the hotel has a 5-star rating. Parasites live in the water used for irrigation. They remain in the veins of the leaves, and no amount of washing can remove them. The only cure is heat. And hot lettuce is not very appetizing.
  • If the food has not been thoroughly cooked AND served hot, DON’T EAT IT!   Save your fruit and raw salads for when you get home. Fruit is iffy. Some say, if you peel it yourself, it’s OK. I wouldn’t trust it. Hot food is safest. Deep fried is great. Grilled meats -yum! Make hard-boiled eggs your mainstay. A great breakfast: deep-fried felafel on a hard roll, a hard-boiled egg, and coffee with HOT milk. No hot milk? Drink it black.  Egypt is a Muslim country. Do not expect any form of pork, especially pork bacon. (P.S. I think beef bacon tastes totally disgusting.)
  • The water is NOT safe to put in your mouth.
  • DO NOT drink anything but bottled water. High chlorine levels in city tap water are necessary to kill off the germs and can lead to stomach woes for those not accustomed to it.
  • Brush your teeth with bottled water. Practice not using sink water for rinsing out toothbrushes, or rinsing your mouth. Keep a bottle of water on the sink to remind yourself of this. Do not turn on the tap and fall into old habits from home. Bring extra toothbrushes or powerful mouthwash for when you do forget yourself.
  • When showering keep your mouth closed, and your eyes closed too
  • Do carry lots of small change. Tips are expected and a needed source of income for those providing you a service. Tips are mandatory for bathroom use anywhere except your hotel room or boat cabin. Usually 1 Egyptian Pound is enough (~ 6 US cents). Always carry some toilet tissue with you. The bathroom attendant gives you a sheet or two when you pay your Egyptian Pound. It’s never enough.
  • Always carry bottled water with you. Egypt is hot and dry. (It’s a desert!) Dehydration makes you stupid. Stupid people make poor decisions. Poor decisions can make you sick.
  • Do drink HOT tea. It will be offered at many of the shops you’ll visit. It’s delicious. Mint tea is wonderful. Lipton YELLOW label is the best.
  • Give up your obsession with ice. It is NOT safe. I don’t care how hot you are. Don’t be stupid. Drink your tepid bottled water. Stay hydrated and healthy.
  • At the Pyramids:  Friendly hustlers will want to take your camera to take a picture of you with the pyramids. They expect a tip. If they are in the picture, they expect a tip. If they wrap their scarf around you, they expect a tip. (This  is from personal experience.) The cheap souvenirs are from China. Don’t fill up your luggage with them.
  • At Other archeological sites: If someone dressed in robes and a turban invites you to go to see something fantastic off the beaten path, don’t be stupid. Don’t go. Chances are he will demand money to let you out again.
  • Do NOT travel alone on the streets or in the sooks. They can be wonderful adventures, but ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings. Travel in groups, especially if you are a woman and look like a tourist.
  • I do recommend you travel with a reputable company that has a good track record for taking care of their guests. Stuff happens. Expect to pay extra for everything not explicitly scheduled on your tour.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR GUIDES. A good guide can help you get the most out of your journey, and keep you out of trouble.
  • Be generous with tips for good service. Salaries are low, these people need your money.
  • Arabic Phrases I used constantly: People appreciate your attempts to communicate.
    • shukran (thank you)
    • salaam alaikum (Hello)
    • In Shallah (God willing.)