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Cobwebs of autumn

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 29 Nov 2010 at 04:25 PM

I reckon I’ve taken the last spider web pictures for this year; the current freeze will have seen the end of most spiders, except those who have, by mistake or design, come in to the house or found shelter elsewhere. Their offspring will survive in egg sacs until spring and can be found around window frames in sheds, in gaps in walls or tucked under piles of dry leaves.


Although fewer spiders are about, spider webs can still be seen at this time of year and, indeed, once you see them picked out by dew or frost, you are only then reminded just how many spiders live around us. They are everywhere and seem to thrive even in the most unlikely habitats. On finding a number of harvestman-like spiders (Opilionida) hiding up in the corners of our wood shed, I spoke a friend who is a retired miner and he told me that a similar type of spider lives in the mines and that, when they can’t find anything else, they eat each other.  Doesn’t sound very nice but, as Charlotte A. Cavatica (or Charlotte for short) said, ‘A spider has to make a living somehow’.


Catching a last look at the autumn webs the other day, I was lucky to see the cobweb of a tangle web spider (Theridiidae). The morning sun was just starting to burn away a thick mist, so the web was heavy with tiny water droplets and each drop was a sparkling jewel in the sunlight. Such things make some of our attempts at decoration pale into insignificance.




Even more lovely is to see a web that has been coated with dew and then frozen, so that each drop appears like a tiny diamond.



Another quote from Charlotte seems fitting for this weather - her words to her friend, Wilbur, the young pig, on what he can expect in the months to come: “These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world... Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…” Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.




pushkin said:

Beautiful pictures and such poetic words to accompany them.  Thank you, Miranda.  You've cheered my day immeasurably.

on 29 Nov 2010 at 05:25 PM

sue1002 said:

Amazing pictures Miranda, especially that last one :-)

on 29 Nov 2010 at 05:39 PM

David Benson said:

Incredible pictures - the frozen one is like blimmin' fairyland! The E B White quote says it all too xx

on 29 Nov 2010 at 06:01 PM

richardpeeej said:

Lovely write up Miranda. The frosty weather really show where the cobwebs are. It must be so cold for them it was minus 11C here last night and our village had a mention on the weather news.  Take care...Richard

on 29 Nov 2010 at 11:30 PM

asj said:

As always, Miranda, beautiful and informative.  Hope the shoulder's doing better!

on 30 Nov 2010 at 01:41 PM

Helen Bostock Plantsforbugs said:

I loved Charlotte's Web as a child - thanks so much from reminding me how beautifully written it is.

On a slightly different topic, Miranda, I wonder if you can shed any light on the following bird behaviour, witnessed by a friend at her home in Devon;

The house is clad in cedar boards and for the last two winters when the weather gets very cold she has observed various tits and sparrows 'hammering'or 'tapping' on the face of the board, very similar to the way a woodpecker might. This behaviour is different from when they peck at the nooks and crannies in search of insects lurking there.

We wondered if they were using it to make an alarm noise; shock insects into fleeing into the open; or trying to get at something in the wood itself.

Alternatively, can you suggest how to discourage them from this practise as she's worried their persistent hammering may damage the wood.

on 30 Nov 2010 at 03:03 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thank you for the lovely comments! pushkin, you made my day, too!

asj - the shoulder is, at last, slowly healing, thank you. A big hurrah for TENS machines!

on 30 Nov 2010 at 04:35 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Hello Helen,

That's am interesting question question you've got there. I'd love to see those birds, it sounds fascinating!

There may be a number of reasons why the birds are pecking at the wood - there may be small insects, like gnats, on the surface that they can pick off. Or, there may be insects under the surface of the wood and the birds are sounding them out - have you noticed any holes pecked in the wood? Or, and this is a guess, they may be testing the strength of the wood with a view to making a nest entrance.

If they're looking for insects, then your friend could put out more food to supplement what they find in the wild. If they're thinking about next year's nesting site, then maybe some nesting boxes could go up? Your friend could put out more food *and* put nesting boxes up and see what happens.

I'd very much like to hear more about what happens, if you get the chance.

on 30 Nov 2010 at 04:49 PM

Helen Bostock Plantsforbugs said:

Thanks for that, Miranda. I'll keep you posted!

on 06 Dec 2010 at 02:13 PM

Helen Bostock Plantsforbugs said:

I've heard back from my friend who thinks that much of the banging has significantly reduced since she's been putting out some food for the wild birds(chopped sultanas, linseed, ground almonds & sunflower hearts).  Also the other thought regarding nesting is looking to have some credence as she tells me one blue tit is trying to roost behind the shiplap. She's now thinking of putting up more boxes.

on 15 Dec 2010 at 08:51 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks for the update, Helen. That sounds like a good mix of food, what lucky birds! Good to hear that the banging has gone down a bit, too. Hopefully, the extra food and boxes will do the trick, as well as encourage the birds to use the garden more often.

I've been saving beef fat, when making stock, and mixing it with porridge oats and the birds eat it up very quickly.

on 15 Dec 2010 at 11:55 AM