Weekly Cape Cod Nature Watch: Encounters with Animals

Funnel spider webs
MARY RICHMOND - Funnel spider webs

September is always a busy month for me and I have to say, I always want to just play hooky and go play outside instead of doing my work. Much of my work is at a computer or at least indoors and these are the days I long to be outdoors every day, all day long. I love the slant of the sun, the golden afternoons and even the chilly mornings. I love the fog, the clouds and the color the sea becomes as the days get cooler.

More than anything I love the way I can be alone again. I can’t always count on it but many days I can walk the beach or along a woodland path without seeing a single other person. This depends mostly on the time of day, of course, but even that doesn’t always guarantee my solitude.

Recently I took a meander down Cape and just stopped along the way at some of my favorite places. It is funny how there are certain birds and animals you know you’ll see in certain places. I know where to always find a red-tailed hawk, where I might find a great horned owl roosting and where a certain screech owl likes to sun each day. I know what inlets and marshes will guarantee heron and egret sightings and where the most likely spots to find a passing merlin might be. There’s a spot I always find otter scat and tracks but I rarely see the otter that left them.

There’s a place I walk regularly that I swear the deer and coyotes are just out of sight up ahead of me, their tracks are so fresh. There’s the street where the wild turkeys always gather and the place where the weasel had its family. For a while I could count on seeing at least one of the young weasels but they seem to have all dispersed by now.

This fall there seem to be an extraordinary number of spiders around. Either that or they are just everywhere I am. I am seeing big spiders, little spiders, jumping spiders and a lot of daddy long-legs every day. A few years back I came upon a massive gathering of daddy long-legs who were definitely in mating mode. It was a bizarrely fascinating scene.

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If you are out on a misty morning you may be seeing lots of little webs along the ground. These are the webs of funnel-type spiders and if you look at them closely you will see that the webs are sort of funnel shaped and end with a little hole down in the bottom. If you disturb the web or flutter a piece of grass over the hole you will probably see the spider jump up from the hole to try and catch what it hopes is prey. In the early morning light these webs glisten with dew and can appear quite magical. Watch, too, for other webs, some of which are very large, especially in open field areas.

If you walk along pathways in the early morning you may disturb webs that were strung across the paths. Insects, like most animals, will use open pathways to travel and spiders have learned that they are good places to set up their sticky traps. I have walked face first into too many of these sticky webs and now keep a good eye out for them. They aren’t always easy to spot, however, and sometimes the first hint is the also the last.

Often when I am out and about I see other dog walkers and we exchange greetings as we move along. Most dog walkers love their pets and love walking with them out in the fields, in the woods or at the beach. I know I do but lately I’ve been running into some less than pleasant people with overly boisterous and unleashed dogs.

Please remember your dog belongs on a leash in most areas and that it must be under voice control in all others. Especially please don’t let your large, wet dogs knock into people, sharing their wet and sloppy muddiness amidst other joys. Your dog may be friendly, but perhaps a little too friendly. You may not mind their mud and their heft but most of the rest of us would prefer you kept your dog under control, even if that means you have to leash them after their swim. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to change my clothes lately or had my clothes torn because someone else’s dog was loose, muddy and out of control. I love dogs, but I don’t love being overwhelmed by big dogs I don’t know and I know I am not alone.

As for those of you who take good care and have good control over your dogs as well as pick up after them, yay for you!

Let’s keep our dogs well-behaved and welcome in public spaces. I think we all know there are those who would ban them altogether from these spaces so let’s try and all work together to show respect for each other, our dogs and the public places themselves.

In the meantime, get outside, even if only for a short time. I can’t play hooky as often as I’d like but I can walk on the beach or around a pond at least once a day and it is often the highlight of my day.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist, and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.

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