Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cold weather haven

The weather has turned cold this week. At night, the thermometer dips below freezing. Where the sun shines in the daytime, it warms up, but in my shady garden, the bird bath stays frozen all day and even my winter-hardy bergenias and primulas have wilted.

Chickadees come to my door early, calling to me; "Hurry up with our breakfast!" They've got a busy day ahead, getting enough to eat to stoke their tiny furnaces overnight. After them, come the juncos and a towhee or two, poking around in the frozen earth, looking for anything edible, mostly tiny weed seeds. In my garden, the native bleeding hearts bloomed just before frost; their black seeds were ripening this week. The astilbes, the heather, and the lemon balm were still dropping seeds, too.

The smaller animals have gone into hiding. There are no slugs to be found, even under flowerpots and heavy leaves. No sowbugs. No beetles. Spiders have crawled into crevices: the babies have hatched and ballooned away. The bees and wasps are gone. I saw one harvestman a couple of days ago, and a small moth last week. It's winter. The sleepy season.

I needed a piece of lumber for a small repair, and remembered I had a plank propped against the wall in the corner of the patio, behind the compost bin. I moved the bin and retrieved it. And was surprised to see small things (and some not so small) scuttle off in all directions. It's not winter yet in that protected corner.

A couple of fair-sized spiders came along with the board.

Mid-sized Tegenaria. If you look closely, you can see that the surface of the wood is covered with spider webs.

A plump cobweb spider, probably Steatoda sp. The frass on the left includes a spider leg, either the remains of a molt, or of her unfortunate mate.

Neither of these two wanted to leave their warm board. I shooed them off, and they ran to the edge and over to the underside. I flipped the board, and they moved to the new underside. Again, and again. I finally convinced them by brushing and shaking the board vigorously, and they scooted down the side of the compost bin. There's still another board back there; they've got a few weeks more before the cold reaches them there.

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