As September merged into October we enjoyed a genuine Keatsian Autumn spell – mist and mellow fruitfulness combined! Perhaps the mist persisted rather too long on some mornings but it served to draw my attention to one of the season’s wonders. One morning as I wheeled out the rubbish bin I saw that every bush and fence was clothed in glittering cobwebs. Looking more closely I saw three different designs – simple lines strung– sometimes for over a yard – from plant to plant, sheets of semi-transparent material stretched horizontally among the twigs and stems and then – the masterpieces – orb-webs created by the garden spider and delicately attached to hang vertically to catch the gentle breeze and – of course – the unwary fly. Spun in an hour or less from material secreted in the spiders’ bodies, these beautifully complex structures were decorated by the mist with tiny jewels of moisture that caught the light and glittered.
This is the time when we are suddenly made aware of spiders: hundreds of these industrious creatures live in and around our homes. The experience may be less aesthetic when, peacefully watching evening television, we catch sight of a large spider (Tegenaria domestica) scurrying across the carpet, probably a male in search of a mate – or when we find another fat house spider in the bath. We are fortunate to live in a country where our native spiders are harmless to man and actually serve a useful purpose catching unwanted flies. At our house we try to ignore the carpet-scuttlers, while my husband tenderly provides a ladder of toilet paper and an interval of time for the bath victims to make good their escape, and I marvel at jeweled webs on a misty morning.
Like most of our wild creatures, spiders have to feed up now to face a leaner season. Coal tits are costing me a fortune as they zip onto the feeder, seize a seed and zip off again to cache it somewhere nearby. A nuthatch – a new garden visitor for us – is up to the same game though it does take longer about it, hammering at the yielding seed as though it were a hard-shelled hazel nut. Flocks of tits and finches swoop in, feeding hungrily. Included is a family of long-tailed tits, and I like to imagine that, come next Spring, some of them will be gathering our old cobwebs to build their nests for the next generation.