Northland Nature: Spiderwebs tell stories

Sep. 8—Early September is a remarkable time as we see the waning of summer. Daylight hours keep getting shorter when we move toward the autumnal equinox Sept. 23. The days may still be warm, but change is happening.

It seems like each day, there is more leaf color. Reds of cherry, dogwoods, sumac and Virginia creeper are joined by red maples. Ashes begin their yellow glow from their swamps. Among the leaves, many trees also show colors of their berries and fruits.

Chokecherry branches hang with bunches of dark berries. Reds of highbush cranberry, mountain ash and hawthorns welcome the newly ripened apples. Red oaks drop their acorns any time during the day or night and sounds of their falling is a regular occurrence at this time.

Among the faunal residents, migration is what we look for. We think of this southbound movement as being mostly with birds and by having Lake Superior nearby, we see a constant flight. This is best documented with kinds of raptors: eagles, ospreys, buteos, accipiters, falcons and harriers in the daytime and owls at night.

The much-smaller warblers, vireos, thrushes and sparrows keep us company as they pause to feed on their southbound trek. At the edges of lakes, shorebirds perform their antics on their routes to the south.

The well-known monarch flight is passing by as well and groups of green darner dragonflies add to the insect migration. At times, there may be more of these dragonflies over Hawk Ridge than there are hawks.

Not migration, but showing an abundance of activities now are several other kinds of insects: grasshoppers, wasps, hornets, flies, ants and moths. And anytime there is an abundance of insects, there are many of their opportunistic predators: the spiders.

Early September may be the best time of the entire year to see and observe webs of these eight-legged critters. I find their remarkable snares each day at this time regardless of where I happen to be walking. During cool, dew-covered mornings, roadsides, fields and swamps hold dozens of webs, dripping with the weight of the morning moisture.

Though the circular orb webs may be easiest to see, they are not the only common ones. Flat funnel webs abound along the ground of roadsides and lawns. Such webs are called funnels since they have a hole in the center. Wearing droplets, they are easy to find and let us know just how common they are in late summer.

Webs are also frequently in our gardens and lawns, often attached to buildings. Each evening at dusk, I look among the dead branches of forest trees to see another group of webmakers preparing for a night of bug collecting.

These newly formed snares at dusk usually have the spider present, sitting inverted in the center (or hub). Dew-covered webs in the morning normally are seen without the spider present.

We can identify the spider by just looking at the webs. But I find that this is only part of the story. Looking more closely, we can see what happened during the night in these constructions by reading the webs.