Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mapledurham and Goring Heath

This was perhaps the last 'winter walk' of the season where it is a bit of a struggle to find anything of note. From now on I expect to see far too much and have to be more selective. Here is map of my ten mile route:

I continued to follow the route of the Chiltern Way (Southern Extension) from where I left it at Path Hill in early February. In fact I had to go back and do a bit of overlap as I had accidentally followed a parallel path to the 'official' route last time. This took me passed some geese, who for once were showing more interest in feeding than chasing me away.

geese

Spring flowers are coming along nicely. Not only these dog violets but also ground ivy was coming into flower.

dog violet

Most of my route was through woodland or close to it, this picture gives an impression of the general scene.

winter woods

On a good day the path gives excellent views over the whole of Reading and Purley-on-Thames. It was much too misty for that today. This is the view north along the Thames up to Pangbourne - you can just make out the Toll bridge at Whirchurch in the distance.

river Thames

I then reached Mapledurham only 1.5 miles from home as the crow flies. You can go and see it in action during the Summer. It is the last water mill on the River Thames, only kept open for tourist visitors. As well as a water mill it now has a turbine to generate some electricity.

Mapledurham mill

Mapledurham House was still closed for the winter but the church was open. The church and village are famous as the filming location for much of the war film The Eagle Has Landed. As often is the case the oldest thing in the church is the font. This striking barrel form is considered to be early Norman (1,000 years old) and is unusual in having some paint on it (of what I age I am uncertain).

Mapledurham church font

Another unusual feature is that the church has a ‘closed aisle’ containing monuments to the Lords of Manor. This is screened off from the body of church and there is a small door, very rarely used, to gain access. The church is dedicated to St. Margaret of Antioch.

Mapledurham church

I then continued on the Chiltern Way (Southern Extension) to the East up through more woods. I saw a bracket fungus still in good condition.

bracket fungus

The next section was dominated by a golf course, the Caversham Heath Golf Course which was surprisingly busy for mid-week in March. This is the 'barn-like' club house.

Caversham Golf Club House

I came to the end of my walking of the Chiltern Way at Tokers Green, one garden here had a Quince bush bursting into flower.

Quince blossom

A lot further on, after walking through more woodland and some farmland I stopped for a drink, and looking around, I noticed that a bramble leaf had a very nice example of the work of a leaf miner (probably the Bramble Leaf Miner Moth [Stigmella aurella]). You can see the tiny grub starts off and zig zags along the edge getting bigger and bigger as it eats away before emerging as a small moth some weeks later.

leaf miner

Now for my main excitement of the walk, on a woodland fringe I came upon a small flock of tits. I could see blue and great tits but was not sure about a smaller one accompanying them. It is I think a Marsh tit (Poecile palustris).

marsh tit

It was showing a lot more interest in the hazel catkins than the other birds. A real treat to see in the countryside away from bird tables.

marsh tit

A favourite flower this time of year for me is the Lesser Celandine, it has a warm yellow colour and does not flower for very long.

The last picture is of a field that has just been ploughed. In years gone by it would by crows, rooks and gulls that fed on the worms and other invertebrates. In the Chilterns it is now more usually red kites that do the foraging. I find it odd to see birds of prey strutting around in a field, there were about a dozen in total.

red kite

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Garden Spiders

I am currently lucky(?) to have over fifty garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) in my bathroom, they have hatched out in the last week, and so I am taking the opportunity to gather together some pictures of garden spiders. Arachnophobes look away now!.

Well, they are rather small at present, but they will grow given time. Here are a group of the little spiderlings hanging out on my bathroom blind. It is a nuisance not being able to shut the blind. The lack of privacy might give a shock for my neighbours, so I will have to move them out to the garden soon!

garden spider,Araneus diadematus

I have previously posted a picture of spiderlings in the garden which I saw on 31st May last year. They cluster together in a tight ball. There must be well over a hundred. They look more cute than scary at this size.

garden spider,spiderlings,ball,Araneus diadematus

You might think that they would cluster together like that for defence. Actually if you get too close to the ball of spiders they scatter on single gossamer threads. After a while they go back together as a ball.

garden spider,spiderlings,scatter,Araneus diadematus

During the summer and autumn they build a new web each day. Garden spiders are ‘orb’ spiders and some have lovely markings. The ‘cross’ mark gives them their alternative common name ‘cross spider’. The legs are covered in sensitive hairs that lets them sense movement and also 'hear'.

garden spider,orb web,markings,Araneus diadematus

Here is another one which has less pronounced markings, they are fairly variable. They tend to hang upside down with the rear legs taking most of the weight.

garden spider,orb web,markings,Araneus diadematus

The point of the web is of course, to trap prey, and they can capture and eat small bees that are heavier than themselves.

garden spider,wrapping prey,bee victim,Araneus diadematus

The male is smaller and thinner. I am pretty sure this is the male of the species, it looks more red than the brown female. Perhaps it was the father of my brood. I am no spider expert, I may be can identify a dozen and yet there are 670 species in the UK. If you include mites and ticks that takes the total to over 3,000. If you want to know more about spiders, here is an excellent web site.

garden spider,male garden spider,Araneus diadematus

Anyway getting back to the point of this posting. I saw the large female come in through the window for a few nights. She then chose it as her spot to lay her eggs amid a silken cocoon on 25th October 2014. There is not enough food during winter so the adults do not survive, their offspring overwinter in egg form.

garden spider,nest,silk cocoon,Araneus diadematus

The cocoon hiding the eggs is quite large and the mother went down in volume by about 2/3. Perhaps the most incredible part is that once laid the mother will not move, defending them to the death, she starves or dies from lack of water. This I can vouch for as she did not move for several months. At the end of her vigil she did move, but only to hide behind the silken cocoon to die and give her offspring their first food. Life for garden spiders is a grizzly business. Male spiders are smaller and run the risk of being eaten by the females.

That takes me to the hatching of the spiderlings that took place over about four days. I spotted one or two (18th March) and then suddenly there are about fifty. Normally garden spiders hatch out in May, perhaps the warmer bathroom has fooled them into hatching earlier, there will be little in the way of insect food for them for quite some time. I carefully transferred them outside so at least they get a chance.