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Spiderwebs on a foggy spring morning

A sheet web on a foggy morning. (Photo by Larry Weber)1 / 3
A cobweb as it appeared during a recent foggy morning in April. (Photo by Larry Weber)2 / 3
An orb web on a fence in the fog. (Photo by Larry Weber)3 / 3

Every day in spring brings more happenings in the world of nature. And each walk reveals a natural discovery that was not here yesterday. The news begins one day, but often will remain for several days or weeks. This is what we see now with the trees of April. Many are now flowering. They began early in the month with a few, but as the days went by, more of these flowers matured.

The tree flowers of April are not the blossoms that we see in May with cherry, apple and lilac. The arboreal flowers now have no petals. Instead they form male or female parts, often called catkins. Frequently long and hot-dog-shaped, they hang down from the branches. Opening with ripe pollen, they take advantage of the breezes to disperse these small grains. Most miss the target of the female flowers and ride the winds elsewhere, but enough find their mark to assure for the formation of new seeds.

The ripening catkins began with alders, but hazels, aspens and willows were quick to follow. A little later, we noted the large catkins of cottonwoods and by the end of the month, birch will develop. Silver and red maples and elms provide flowers of another type in April as well.

When I walk on this April morning, I see plenty of these catkins. Wildflowers on the ground are a bit slower, but greening is happening here. This is most obvious in lawns and some domestic garden plants, but in the woods, the wild leeks (ramps) are up and green, too. (Ironically, though they rise and green early, they do not flower until summer.) On this foggy morning, I see deer going to these green sites in fields and lawns. In the swamp, the beaver and muskrats celebrate the ice out by dining on the greens of marsh marigold and pond-lily now emerging. Here, too, in these wetlands, the frogs are doing their courtship and mating calls. Usually silent in these early hours, I’m surprised to hear a wood frog call in this morning, most likely due to the mild temperatures in the fog. Later the chorus frogs and spring peepers will also sing. And I see a painted turtle. During a recent walk on a clear morning, I found dozens basking on a log in the lake. It must feel good to be in the sun when the water is still cold.

Also in April is the arrival of the migrants. Very quickly after the ice went out on the swamp and lake, I saw the return of the resident Canada geese. The geese here are silent while the loon in the nearby lake is quite vocal. Others are seen and heard along my walk. I note the singing of robins, song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and mourning doves. A flock of juncos is by the road while a tiny kinglet flits through trees. (These minute birds always seem to return at about the same time as the loons.) A drab-colored flycatcher, a phoebe, sings here, too, the first flycatcher to arrive.

A couple of migrant woodpeckers drum and call in the woods: yellow-bellied sapsuckers and flickers. They join the four kinds of woodpeckers that wintered with us to make resonating sounds in the woods, easy to hear on this foggy morning. Looking among the tree branches at small quick moving birds, I locate a yellow-rumped warbler. These gray streaked birds with yellow spots winter in southern states and so are always the first warbler to return.

Foggy days can hide some marvels of nature but can enhance others. The temperature is about 40 degrees and winds are calm. Many things out here in the fog are coated with dew droplets. And so as I walk, I began to search for spiderwebs in the roadside plants. Web walks in the fog usually happen in late summer. April is not the best time to find these webs, but here in the dead stalks of roadside goldenrods, asters and tansy and some small trees, I start to see their webs. Once I acquire an eye for what to look for, I find many. The webs are of three types: cobwebs, sheet webs and orb webs. Cobwebs appear to be a network of threads placed haphazardly on its substrate. The ones I find are in the tops of plants and I soon locate many. The web-maker sits snuggly in the center.

Sheet webs may look like a small napkin or doily. I see them in similar sites. The spiders remain beneath this mostly flat part of the web. Orb webs are circular and made of different kinds of threads that can catch and hold flying prey. They are quite unusual at this time of spring. Many cobweb and sheet-web spiders might deal with winter by going dormant, and so make webs in early spring. Most orbweavers do not survive the cold in this manner and so their webs, the circular ones, are a surprise to find in April. But apparently some do survive.

I’m glad to see these spring webs in this foggy morning. I look forward to a long season of finding more of their dew-covered snares later in spring and summer.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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