The Spiderlings' Tent


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Wednesday, 21st November, 2007

WE TAKE A BREAK and, just five minutes walk from our door, we're standing on a banking, overlooking a bend in Coxley Beck; a little patch of wilderness. It's good to step out of our book business for 45 minutes and enter a different world; it helps us to put things in perspective. Brown leaves lie in drifts at our feet, on the opposite bank of the stream crack willow saplings, which have grown up since we moved here 25 years ago, are turning what was once a streamside meadow into woodland. The afternoon sun picks out the texture of the rough pasture on the slope beyond, in contrast to the blue grey cloud that is towering in the west.

It's so quiet this afternoon; unusually there isn't even a distant drone of traffic. We see only two dog walkers; grey skies seem to have persuaded people not to take a walk or perhaps we've just hit a lull. As we walk down into the Calder valley, the cloud has spread but a single patch of sunlight illuminates an area about the size of a hazelfootball pitch on the other side of the river, picking out birches and hedges in glowing detail.

Two jays are busy down by the canal, near an oak tree at the end of the old mineral railway. One has an acorn in its beak and is apparently looking for somewhere suitable to bury it.

As the cloud passes, the returning sun illuminates details like the green tightly furled catkin buds on a hazel (right) by the track. It's been so gloomy for days and seeing the colour and detail, not to mention the promise of spring in those incipient catkins, is a kind of revelation.

spiderlingsbirchWe've been enjoying the light and the landscape; we've come out for a break, not to study natural history, but I notice a web that at first I think is dotted with trapped midges. On closer examination I see that they're small brown spiders. The web extends along the top wire of the barbed wire fence. Each spiky knot on the barbed wire serves as a miniature tent with silky corridors linking them along the wire.

The silky shroud takes in the tops of the supporting posts and the seed-heads of an umbellifer. The web is sheet-like rather than lacy. It extends along the fence for about 60 yards. I don't think I've ever seen a continuous web as a long as this one.

pen testI drew from memory back home, using a Pilot Drawing Pen, then added watercolour but it looks as if the 'water resistant' ink has run slightly, at the top of the cloud in my spiders' tent drawing (left), so I tested the Pilot and the Staedtler Pigment liner (right).

They both seem waterproof, neither has run into the yellow wash.