Saturday, April 9, 2011

Early Spring in Weardale

For once we managed to get out while there was still dew on the grass and headed up Weardale to St. John's Chapel and Chapel Fell.

Alchemists are said to have believed that the little silvery droplets of water that are secreted around the edge of lady's mantle leaves overnight had magical properties and were an essential ingredient in potions for turning base metals into silver. The Latin generic name for lady's mantle - Alchemilla - means 'little alchemist'.

We arrived just as this spider had finished spinning a new web, ready to snare flies warmed into life by the early morning sun. The owner of the web is highlighted by the sun on the twig on the right (double-click for larger image).

When the spider had finished the web it sat on its twig and stretched out a single leg that gripped a fine thread that runs right to the centre of the web (double-click to see this - you can see the spider's leg sticking out at right-angles to the twig, highlighted by the sun). When it catches a fly the vibrations will be transmitted along that signal thread and the spider will race out to impale it with its fangs.

With spiders' webs around it's safest to travel at ground level, like this ground beetle making its way over a carpet of last-year's larch needles.

Up on Chapel Fell some lapwings were already sitting on nests, ever-vigilant for marauding crows.

This coal tit had found a crevice in a stone wall that was just large enough to squeeze through ....

... and made regular trips back-and-forth with moss for lining its nest.

Nest sites don't come much more secure than this.

Sallow flowers produce nectar that attracts a wide range of insects, including this pair of peacock butterflies.

Although last winter was the most severe in recent memory, but I can't remember a spring when I've seen so many peacock butterflies. They seem to have hibernated very successfully around here.

This little insect is a water cricket Velia caprai, scooting across the surface film in a pool in one of the pastures in the valley.

Up on the fell tops the sounds of the day were the calls of lapwings and curlews, the drumming of snipe and the sound of sheep bleeting - especially when it was feeding time.

Down in the valley bottom it's lambing time - a proud mother with twin lambs.

It's been the warmest day of the year so far - dawn-to-dusk sunshine - perfect weather for sitting on the grass and having a doze in the afternoon heat.


  1. An amazing array of nice images. Fully capturing your excellent day out.

  2. You have excelled yourself with this post. A tour de force.

  3. Great photo's, as always, I like the hint of a rainbow in the web, I’ve also seen lots of Peacocks about and included photo’s in my last two posts, thanks for sharing. Danny

  4. Thanks for the wonderful nature walk! I enjoyed it immensly.

  5. Hi John, It was a day to remember...

  6. Thanks Adrian, It's a good route - up onto the high fells for the views then back along the river in the valley bottom...

  7. Hi danny, you're right, there were rainbow colours in the web but if I got at the right angle for those I couldn't get the whole web in focus...

  8. Thanls lotusleaf, it was a perfect spring walk!