Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Arachnophilia

OK. If you don't like spiders, you're not going to like this post. You'd better find something else to read.

That includes you, Rob.

OK, now we've got rid of that lot... Today was very warm and totally sunny, and I visited RSPB Rainham Marshes with Shane, Graham and Tony. My main objective was to find and photograph a local eight-legged speciality - the Wasp Spider. I failed in the first part but succeeded in the second, thanks to some assistance from Rainham Man in the Know Howard Vaughan. But first things first.

It just happened that the first thing was a spider. A female Four-spot Orb-weaver to be exact. Shane found her alongside the grassy area by the Ken Barrett hide where Howard had told us the Waspies live, but I (despite my near total ignorance of all things spidery) was pretty sure she wasn't the right species, as she lacked stripes on her hefty abdomen. Howard V later confirmed the ID for us.

Yet another Migrant Hawker. But they're having to work hard to be included in my blog now. This one made the cut by sitting on a lovely purple Phragmites head.

Aaaand... yet another Ruddy Darter. I just liked the pic. And it's interesting to me that we are still seeing lots of Ruddies - I'm sure they finished earlier than this last year.


While scouring the patch of grassland that was reputedly full of Wasp Spiders (and not finding any), we did find several of these nice-looking beetles. I'm hoping someone will ID them for me... ETA - and I've had an ID now, thank you MarJus - species is Chrysolina banksi.

Further on, things were nearly birdless though we'd noticed a few Hobbies up above and been shown a distant Greenshank on the Aveley pools. through a kind fellow birder's scope. I didn't do this scene justice but in case it's not clear what's going on, these are juvenile Moorhens and they are preening each other (allopreening). Very sweet, and not a behaviour I've seen or read about in this species before.

A Small Tortie up near the Butts hide. Other butterflies about - Common Blues, Speckled Woods, all three common whites and one Clouded Yellow which, typically, was in a tearing hurry.

Up here we had a closeish flyby Hobby, then what seemed at first glance to be two more but a proper look revealed they were female-type Kestrels, wheeling about together most companiably. The only shot I managed with both in frame is blurry so here's one on its own.

They drifted off, then we saw them again a bit further off. Except it wasn't them, it was a Hobby and a Kestrel. I guess these must have been about the same distance from me as they're both more or less in focus, so this is a shape/size comparison. Not a very helpful one though, as they are in completely different poses.

On the way back, I noticed another female Four-spot Orb-weaver. This one had attracted an admirer, a skinny male who obviously appreciates a well-rounded female figure. He kept trying to get close and being repelled, but I did catch a brief arachnid embrace. I am not sure if females of this species habitually dine on their partners but he certainly seemed willing to take the chance.

About here, we had the closest Hobby of the day (still not very close though). I would estimate there were at least five different Hobbies around today.

Anyone fancy IDing this cute grasshopper?

As usual, a Little Grebe was on view through the bars by the Marshland Disovery Zone. I include its photo mainly because I like the ripples.

We'd been trying to find Water Voles all day with no success. A last look from the bridge by Purfleet hide was also fruitless vole-wise, but did produce this Marsh Frog resting on a discarded bit of RSPB literature. (Now RSPB litterature).

We went in to the cafe and purchased refreshments. While we were up there the guy on reception was notified by walkie-talkie of a couple of nice sightings - a Marsh Harrier over Aveley pools and a Green Sandpiper on Purfleet scrape. I managed to see both of these through the full-length windows. Then Howard came over to talk books, and when I mentioned that we'd not found any Wasp Spiders by the Ken Barratt hide, he offered to take us back there and find some for us.

He was as good as his word, finding about five of the little (actually, two of them were massive) beauties. There's a knack to it, which he'd actually explained but I'd totally misunderstood. You need to look for a 'hole in the grass', like the smallish, roundish area of squashed grass you'd get if you stepped with one foot into long grass. The Wasp Spider makes this hollow (somehow) and in it spins its web. This means that the spiders are a) pretty low down and b) surrounded by tall grass, so they are really hard to photograph well, especially with a long lens as you have to stand well back which means lots of grass gets in the way. A shortish macro would be much better, I reckon. Here's one of my better attempts. And I know now how to find them, for next time. Thanks again, Howard :)

3 comments:

Phil said...

Great to see Wasp Spider Marianne. Only ever seen them at RSPB Arne in Dorset a couple of years ago. I read once that the males try mate soon after the female has shed her skin as her jaws are soft then. Smart move!
Tried to ID Your (questionably) cute grasshopper but just got confused. Not much good at cricket either:-)

Graham Canny said...

It was another great day out! Your photos great, as always and the report is spot on. I'm working hard to get my reports up and running....! Thanks for your company!

Lou Mary said...

I love wasp spiders! Lots of them down at Oare :)Hobbies are probably my favourite bird of prey, I will be sad when they head back to their winter home! Great selection of photos :)