Bit of birding (and spidering!) at Thursley
A bit like English rainfall, my blog posts are either feast or famine. I haven’t had time to post anything lately, but the photos have been piling up. So rather than one huge post with dozens of unconnected pictures, I’ll post a few shorter ones in rapid succession.
First off, a lovely walk yesterday at Thursley. I feel so privileged to live near this place; a rare example of ‘wet heathland’ or mire which hosts an amazing variety of bird, plant and insect life. The mire was covered in fluffy white cotton grass and marsh orchids, under a blue sky for a change. As soon as we reached the boardwalked wetland area we could hear the calling of the curlews. It’s a beautiful, eerie thrumming sound not dissimilar to that of the nocturnal nightjar, which we heard at close quarters recently on a sunset walk at nearby Hankley. Thursley is one of the few inland breeding grounds for the curlew, who usually breed in estuaries. We could see a pair beautifully with binoculars which was a treat as they are usually further away from the boardwalks. My camera isn’t up to a clear shot at that distance but I did get a couple of pictures. The hobbies were also out and about, swooping and diving and picking dragonflies and other insects out of the air. The dragonflies must have all been up there though, since we didn’t see any at ground level.
If there had been any dragonflies at ground level then they would have been in just as much danger from this magnificent raft spider, Dolomedes fimbriatus, waiting motionless on the water. She was enormous (I’m assuming she was a she due to the size), and since I’m petrified of spiders I was very glad that she was so still. Her colouring was amazing though; like velvet. This and the almost indistinguishable fen raft spider are the largest spiders in Britain. It’s amazing that a creature this size can rest on and move rapidly across the suface of the water. The secret is in the hydrophobic (water-repellent) short velvety hairs that cover the spider’s legs and body. These allow the spider to move across the water without penetrating the surface tension. Interestingly, they are able to dive underneath the water at will; I’d like to know a bit more about how that squares with the whole hydrophobic thing so I might do another blog post on this spider. The raft spider is a highly effective water predator, sensing minute vibrations across the surface tension of the water in the same way that an entirely terrestrial spider senses vibrations in their web. She then scoots across the water and grabs her prey. Whilst watching from the boardwalk we also saw several common lizards and a very large caterpillar. I think it was a fox moth caterpillar.
There was more bird action to come too. A male redstart was making lots of noise and flying from perch to perch. I approached a bit closer, very careful of where I was treading since there are several species of bird that nest on the ground at Thursley. He became increasingly irate as I approached, and then a fledgling flew out of the heather ahead of me, whereupon the male came close to divebombing me. I didn’t go any closer but did manage to get a few shots of him from a distance, once he’d calmed down. There were lots of swallows around, swooping low over the heather, and stonechats making their characteristic ‘chack chack’ noise – it really does sound like two stones being clinked together.