Tag Archives: Garden Spider

Autumn Geese and a natural mystery

Autumn came in very slowly this year, but it turned quite cold quite quickly. However, now at last we are getting rain in proper autumn levels. We had proportionally very little rain all last winter, spring and summer. Finally the geese have started to arrive too. Here are two of the most common species, the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla):

and a flock of Greylag (Anser anser), with two Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) providing a sense of scale:

All of these birds are pictured at the famous Kilcoole Breaches and nature reserve.

There have been two noticeable trends this autumn – firstly there have been far less spiders than you would expect on average, particularly House Spiders. But all species seem to be lower in number than usual. The only spider species at normal levels, or apparently normal levels, has been the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), which is also the most obvious autumn spider:

    Conversely, there has been a population explosion of Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus) which has been attributed to the long hot summer and the summer heatwave of May, June and July which almost led to a severe drought. The increased population of Brown Rats very likely has reduced the number of spiders, as rats and mice will happily eat large spiders. More rats equals less spiders.

However, from my own observations I disagree that the summer heatwave is responsible for the population explosion of rats – back in March, during the heavy snows, there was a massive surge in rat numbers. They were especially attracted to bird feeders. The winter had been very cold even before the snows arrived late, and it seems that this factor drew rats from the countryside towards human settlements in order to find food and warmth. But whatever the exact cause, there were a lot of them around, although numbers at last seem to be returning to normal:

The Last Days of Summer

Recently I have been asked if we are still in summer, or is this technically autumn. It can depend on weather conditions, but after a more typical kind of summer, like we just had, then this is still summer. The days are getting shorter, but are still longer than the nights, summer blooms are still blooming, and the trees still have their leaves and the various plants have their foliage, which keeps temperatures higher than in spring because the wind cannot run across the landscape as it pleases lowering the temperatures. There are still butterflies to be seen, swallows and house martins (and maybe even the odd swift) and many interesting species of summer moth.However, Friday night saw our Autumn Equinoctial Full Moon, the full moon which is closest to the equinox, and in a matter of days it will be autumn, because night will be longer than day.

Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon
Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon

Late summer sometimes brings in extraordinary creatures, particularly when the weather is warm – early last week Wicklow had temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius, and Dublin recorded 26 degrees. On Thursday I found two huge Convolvulus Hawkmoths (Agrius convolvuli) flying around inside the polytunnel in my garden, their wings as loud as birds’. In fact, they are as large as our smallest bird, the Goldcrest, and about the same weight.

A Convolvulus Hawmoth - our largest resident moth species.
A Convolvulus Hawmoth – our largest resident moth species.

It’s been a very good summer in Wicklow, especially in the coastal lowlands. There is always the possibility of an Indian Summer, which is technically summerlike weather conditions after the Autumn Equinox. This year the Equinox occurs this coming Thursday 22 September at 2.21 PM (GMT) which is 1.21 Summertime.

Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.
Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.

However, the summer flowers are still blooming happily and feeding the many insects. There are quite a few handsome butterflies around, including this famous migrant, the Painted Lady:

A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.
A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.

However, the most numerous butterfly species in late summer, and in early autumn, is the Speckled Wood. These butterflies like gardens, woodlands and hedgerows, and will happily bask in the sun, or shelter from the wind, on the walls of houses.

A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.
A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.

As regards photo opportunities – although the harvest is mostly already done, and most of the bales of hay and straw have been taken in, you can still find some out in the fields drying off before storage for the winter. They always look beautiful.

Bales of hay in the late summer sun.
Bales of hay in the late summer sun.

Finally, there are already many quite spectacular spiderwebs and spiders to be seen, and there are sure to be many more as we move into autumn, but keep a lookout for the extrememly beautiful Garden Spider, also known as Cross Spider (Araneus quadratus) which is very bad at walking on the ground but makes terrific big webs to catch insects. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a hat when walking about gardens and areas with trees or tall plants at this time of year – getting spider-webs over the eyes is very annoying.  Here is a large Garden Spider I found recently with it’s big metre-wide web strung between two large bushes:

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Spider Times: a video

It’s that time of the year again, and to help you identify those arachnids which are showing up in your gardens and around your homes here is a little video I made to help with identification. Arachnophobes might find some of the images a little frightening, but they’re over and done with quite quickly, so don’t be too frightened. Remember, I’m on the other side of the camera, between you and the spiders. You’re completely safe. And they don’t want to hurt you anyway.