22 Dec 2010

Nature Notes - December - from Pete Lambert

Even the knobbly tyres of my friends Landrover failed to find purchase on the crumpled lumps of frosted slush. When he finally skidded back onto the lane I turned to inspect the lovely but daunting pile of logs and popped on my gloves. A half hour of happily tossing the split lumps noisily into the shed, scooping up a few strays and job done. Pausing I noticed the webs slung in varying patterns across nooks, stretched between beams and cleverly forming funnels of paralysing death in the gaps created by the old woodwork.

All spiders make silk, not only for web making but to cosset eggs or gift wrap prey. Amaurobius makes a lacy web in the crevices of window frames, crawling insects snared by the web are quickly grabbed by a leg and dragged to their death, paralysed  and savoured later. The nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis,  carries her eggs in a silken bag and on the point of hatching weaves a tent for her young, over which she will stand guard until they disperse through the shrubbery. Our friend the House spider creates a triangular web in a corner with a tubular retreat in the angle, it is this fellow that most commonly makes the family jump as it runs across the living room rug. Crab spiders save their energy, spinning no web, they lie in wait for prey and some species like the Wolf and Zebra spiders hunt. A Zebra spider can leap many times it’s own length holding down prey like Shirley Crabtree and then fangs out its curtains for the stunned victim.

The most beautiful constructions are the delicate orb webs, certainly a striking sight weighted as they have been by hard frosts, crystal suspensions shimmering in the cold morning air. Spiders have waxy hairs on their feet to prevent them sticking to their own silk. Some species like to pose in the centre of the web, others hideaway, one leg touching a signal thread, eager and quick when a tingle of food is detected. Intriguingly certain spiders include an extra weave called a stabilientum to strengthen the orb. Most spiders overwinter as eggs hatching as the days lengthen and the winter freeze is over. I know spiders make us jump and squeak but they are truly worth a little of our time and appreciation.

The roads have been capped in sheets of treacherous ice, even driving very slowly we still did a few dance moves during our comings and goings. A wood mouse sprinted from hedge to edge, briefly stopping in the lights as we urged him to complete his journey to a new hedge bottom haven. In very harsh weather they may slip into a state of torpor but do not strictly hibernate. The population hits a yearly low as the winter draws to a close. The average life span of the wood mouse is two years, normally less, but as the breeding season resumes the numbers recover. It is only a few animals that hibernate, the rest by hook or crook struggle through, and very occasionally we witness their frantic existence on the edge.

If you would to share your wildlife encounters please email me at petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk , take care and stay warm, Pete.

8 Dec 2010

Red Kites at Gigrin Farm - Keith Fowler

On the last Sunday of November Jackie and I went to Gigrin Farm near Rhyader to visit the Red Kite Feeding Station. The snow was on the ground; the sky was crystal clear and a wonderful shade of blue; the sun was shining ... and it was bl**dy freezing - who says watching nature is comfortable?

We arrived about half an hour before the feeding time to find the trees surrounding the feeding area packed with birds anticipating an easy meal. Nearest and boldest were the rooks and crows. Then a tree full of buzzards and a little further away several trees full of red kites. Kites were arriving in anticipation all the time.

When the tractor arrived with the food the kites took to the air; the others stayed where they were! As the food was distributed the sky was taken over by the acrobatics of the kites as they swooped down for the food. They take their food on the wing only landing by mistake. And they missed as often as they succeeded in picking up food.

Eventually as the kite feeding frenzy died down the rooks and crows moved in. The Buzzards never got a look in, nor did they try.

After the feed many kites settled in the nearest trees making spotting birds with wing tags and the leucistic ones easier.

The farmer reckoned that there were about 500 kites. Some travel up to 50 miles for this feed. The snow had prevented deliveries of meat so the kites were on short rations - probably the reason why the buzzards missed out.

The food is intended as a supplement to the kites' normal diet, it is not intended as a substitute for their natural diet. However, it does seem an artificial set up, but, I suppose, not really different to feeding birds in the garden.

Whatever your view on the rights and wrongs it was a fantastic sight, enhanced by the weather conditions. And one must marvel at the body clock of the kite that ensures it arrives at Gigrin at the right time!

I have posted some photographs in the album "Gigrin".

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Keith Fowler