Derek – Thursday 11 October

It is windy this afternoon, with heavy dark clouds. Rain is forecast, but we escape it and the clouds clear, granting us a little sunshine, giving long autumn shadows. It’s about 20ºC but feels colder because of the wind.

The pond is fuller after the weekend rain. There are lots of water fleas. They are so small, about the size of a full stop, you really have to look for them, but it’s their darting motion that reveals them. Once it gets cold, we won’t see them at all, as cold blooded creatures get sluggish as the temperature drops. The honeysuckle at the back of the pond is still flowering, and at the side is a single hollyhock flower, a deep red.

There’s a huge garden spider (Araneus diadematus) by the book shed. It is at the centre of its web, and is a female, which is bigger than the male. I suspect she is about to lay eggs. She can lay up to 800 in a single mass, protected by a layer of silk. She will stay with the egg sac until her death about a month afterwards. I am reminded of the children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Charlotte is the intelligent spider who befriends Wilbur the lonely pig. Charlotte dies near the end of the novel, leaving her egg sac. The eggs hatch out in the spring, and Wilbur has new friends, just as intelligent and talkative as their mother. Published in 1952, the book is a perennial favourite with 8 to 10 year olds.

Spiders are certainly in the news locally. Woodgrange Infants is shut today because a few false widow spiders have been spotted. As the weather gets colder, spiders often go into warm buildings. A few children come with their mother, earlier than usual as they have the day off from Woodgrange. Presumably the school is being fumigated. I wonder whether it will work. If the spiders have already laid eggs then they’ll be back. According to the Natural History Museum: ‘despite looking similar to the more dangerous black widows, all these spiders are likely to do is give you a small and relatively harmless bite.’ But the school has committed itself now, and if the spiders return will the children get another couple of days off?

A correction: It has been pointed out that I have mistaken Japanese anemones for hellebores in a few of these blogs. The flowers are very similar and the leaves quite alike. I may have made a few other errors too. There are so many flowers, both garden and wild flowers, there are birds, insects and spiders and all sorts of things in the pond. Which is why naturalists specialise as it is impossible to know it all. I do check, but pictures can be misleading. Like Domestos ‘which kills 99% of all known germs’ I am 99% accurate. Maybe a bit less so because of the unknown ‘germs’. They’re the ones to worry about.

The elder by the gate, its leaves have become pale yellow and all the purple berries are gone. Birds have had them, I am sure. Purple toad flax flowers on, here and there in our garden, on this sombre, very October day.

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