Friday, September 30, 2011

The Spider and the Fly: 2

Most flies that find their way into our house end up in one particular window, which is the highest and brighest in the house, so it's not surprising that canny spiders tend to set up their snares there too. Some titanic battles take place, where the flies almost always come off worst - I posted one here a while ago. Here's another. The striking aspect of this one was the size difference between predator and prey.

Initially the fly was caught in only a few of the spider's loosely-woven threads and when the spider abseiled down it was a bit circumspect about engaging with the struggling fly, that might still have flown off with the spider attached to it.

Eventually it subdued the fly with enough threads, then spent some time cutting it free of the windowledge, before ....

... dragging it away into the corner of the window...

... and tucking into a meal that will last it quite a while..

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Skipton Woods

We recently paid a visit to Skipton Woods - which are well worth exploring if you are in that part of North Yorkshire. It's just five minutes walk from Skipton High Street and to find it you need to walk down the steps near the castle, by the little canal known as the Spring Branch, that used to connect the limestone quarries to the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

On the way to the woods you pass the old Corn Mill, still with intact waterwheel.


Looking back along the main path through the woods, with the Eller Beck down on the left and the so-called Long Dam - a sort of long, shallow pond, on the right. The woods are managed by the Woodland Trust - click for details.


After a few minutes walk you come to the Round Dam, a more-or-less circular lake that has a resident heron that's something of a local celebrity, that already features on YouTube and on Facebook.

 Here he (or she) is, in profile.....

... and head on. I hadn't realised until I looked closely at this photo (double-click) that herons are cross-eyed.

A little further on, upstream of the round dam. Hard to believe that this is just a few mintes walk from a busy shopping street...

.... and this is the most picturesque bit, where the Eller Beck tumbles over rock ledges in this little gorge.


There are various possible circular walks, but this one takes you back into town, via this very attractive path that runs alongside moss-covered walls.


It's only a short walk but I'd recommend taking a pork pie or two with you from this fantastic butchers, near the start of the walk,  that makes the Supreme Champion Great Northern Pork Pie. To my taste buds, they're just about perfection. Their sausages are also legendary...

Friday, September 23, 2011


It isn't until you watch a harvestman walking aross a rough surface - like this pebbledashed wall of a house - that you realise how practical those lanky legs are. Anything with short legs with a body close to the ground would have to negotiate every pebble, but a harvestman can stride aross this rocky terrain with no impediment.

It's interesting to contemplate what the view must be like from those two eyes, mounted on the turret on the animal's back, that give all-round vision. It must be much like the view of a tower crane driver I guess, exception that eight knees substitute for the single crane jib.

I think this might be Leiobunum rotundum........(?)

You can find more on harvestmen here

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bright Eyes

There's been something of a roe deer population explosion up here in the North East in recent years, so it's not that unusual to see them during a country walk, but this encounter was a little out of the ordinary. We spotted this doe deep in the shadow of a pine plantation and with sunlit fields behind her she was little more that a silhouette - but her eyes shone in the gloom. I've often seen eyeshine in animals when they've seen caught in the car headlights in the dark (the cat's eyes effect) but it's not so often that you see it in daylight; it's only visible here because it was so dark in the plantation - the fact that I got a picture at all is a tribute to lens image stabilisation technology. 

 Here is the lovely blue-eyed doe after having the shadow areas lightened - but that's all. 

 Here's the head portion of the image enlarged, showing the eyeshine more clearly - spooky, eh? The eyes shine like this because of a highly reflective layer behind the retina (the tapetum lucidum) which reflects light back through the retinal cells and enhances the animal's vision in dim light.

 As soon as she turned her head away the effect disappeared.

A little further down the footpath (beside the South Tynedale Railway at Alston) we met her consort, who spotted us immediately ...

 .... watched us for a minute or two while chewing a leaf ...

... then ambled off into the undergrowth, with just a parting glance in our direction.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Pulling Power of Plums

This year our Victoria plum tree has been laden with so many plums that they almost broke the branches off. There's only so many plums you can eat but they make excellent bait for attracting butterflies, like this red admiral.

The bloom on the skin of a plum is yeast, so the juice quickly ferments and the butterflies become inebriated and easy to photograph. I'm not sure if the wings of this one are drooping because it's sunbathing, or whether it's just drunk on alcoholic plum juice, but either way ...

... you can get very close to the butterflies in this soporific state. It's interesting to see how hairy they are.

Rotting plums piled on a bird table will attract red admirals, peacocks, small tortoiseshells and commas - and also wasps, so you need to keep a wary eye out for them.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Willowherb Blizzard

This diadem spider Araneus diadematus laboured to spin its invisible snare but made the mistake of weaving it downwind of a patch of Rosebay willowherb ....

... which made it instantly visible to insects that might otherwise have blundered into it. I watched the spider - perhaps driven by hunger after failing to catch any prey - meticulously trying to remove the cottony seeds from the web. It managed to clear the central  zone, but the outer sticky threads ....

.....collected more seeds faster than it could remove them, thanks ..

... to this large patch of willowherb upwind of the web, that released a blizzard of seeds with every puff of wind.

It's interesting to watch the willowherb seed pods open. First the four outer segments peel back like brittle banana skins, exposing ....

... a double row of seeds on each.  In still air they remain attached in rows....

.......pushed upwards on the cotton threads as they dry in the sun ....
.... until the slightest puff of wind whisks them away and up into the thermals. No wonder this plant is such a successful coloniser.
It's also the food plant of the elephant hawk-moth caterpillar 

Last Thursday's Guardian Country Diary was an account of pursuing this comma butterfly into a patch of willowherb.....and unleashing a blizzard of seeds in the process.