Plan your Link Trail hike!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Look at the big spider!

For many more pictures from this hike, see the Picasa Web album.

I had promised Dylan that I’d take him on a hike this weekend, so it was the highest-priority item on my list of things to do before I left town on Sunday. I had been wanting to fill in my trail maps with pictures from the Canastota end, but Dylan’s mom had said that he wanted to go to back the quarry. So I engaged in a bit of subversive redirection. I asked him if he remembered the bridge over the stream where we threw sticks in and watched them float downstream, and asked him if he wanted to go back there. Thankfully he was excited about that prospect.

Either Dylan remembered me rubbing alcohol on his legs after last summer’s hike through a section with lots of poison ivy, or his mother reminded him to avoid it, because on the trail through the woods near the cemetery he kept pointing to plants and asking me “Is that poison ivy?” I assured him that I’d tell him if I saw any.

After passing under the tree trunk growing horizontally over the trail near the cemetery, Dylan turned around and watched me make my way under it. Laughing, he pointed out how he didn't even have to duck his head. Oh, kid, it’s not lost on me. The years are flying by so fast that I fear you’ll double in size if I blink once, and lose all interest in what I have to share with you if I blink twice. So believe me, I’m savoring the moment.

Before reaching the path back to the old reservoir we saw the first white trillium of the day, and the first of several cute and colorful birdhouses that someone put up since last fall.

On the path we enjoyed seeing the violets that were popping up everywhere. I pointed out the massive poplars to the left of the trail and, when Dylan asked what the concrete structure was, told him that it used to be a reservoir. That, of course, led to the question “What’s a reservoir?” I love it when kids ask questions. As we mounted the staircase he asked about the notches in the log steps, so I explained about traction.

As soon as we reentered the woods I encountered an excellent photo opportunity: a beetle on a trout lily blossom. Unfortunately my holding still and snapping shots also represented an opportunity for insects to land on me and start sucking my blood.

We continued on through scads of mayapples and white, pink and black trillium. There were also a lot of what I think was false Solomon's seal, but I didn't think to get any shots of it.

I also started to notice a curious plant within the leaf litter: shiny pale stems that seemed to have sprouted from the earth and plunged right back in again. later, after I got home and talked to Grace about it, she indicated that these sprouts are quite common. They must be one of those things that I never noticed before, but I'm sure my eye will catch them from now on.

We descended the staircase amid a slope sprinkled liberally with trillium. As we walked along the path of 4x4s that skirt the stream, Dylan asked why the crosswise slats were there. As I got some more shots of trillium I explained again about the importance of traction on otherwise slippery wood.

Just as we reached the bridge, Dylan said “Look at the big spider” and I said “Where?!” He pointed, and there was a large brownish grey spider clinging to the Canastota Creek sign on the side of the bridge! While Dylan threw sticks into the stream I got a few hundred shots of this beautiful specimen*. See the “boxing gloves”? Those are pedipalps, and the fact that they’re swollen means that it’s a male. Believe it or not, they’re copulatory organs. Check this out.**

At some point while Dylan was playing around on the bridge and gathering sticks to throw in the water, he got a sliver in his finger. He was rather distressed but agreed to let me dig it out. I thought of my knife, but then remembered the teardrop corsage pins I'd put in my camera case as size reference for photographs. Their first use turned out to have nothing to do with photography. I poked and teased at the sliver as Dylan's distress intensified, manifesting itself as a high keening noise. I have to give him credit, though: he endured it with minimal squirming. Eventually I got it out, and the keening subsided.

We headed back through the ravine and up the stairs amid the blanket of gentle green sprinkled liberally with white and pink trillium blossoms. Dylan did a bit of tree-climbing while I snapped shots of violets.

The sun came out and I got some very satisfying shots of shiny young poison ivy. I showed Dylan how the leaves grow in clusters of three, and told him that the waxy shine comes from the oils that rub off on your skin and give you rashes and blisters. I believe I took the opportunity to drill into him the old mnemonic "leaves of three, let it be". I also reminded him that Virginia creeper is shiny but not poisonous, and that older poison ivy leaves are not very shiny but they are still poisonous. The point is that poison ivy is best identified by its clusters of three leaves.

One of the joys of macro photography is getting the pictures home and seeing things that you had no idea were there when you shot them. And in my experience, spider webs are number one in that category of retrospective joys. Those little suckers are spinning their webs everyhwere, and this is never more apparent than when I examine shots that I thought were just of plants and insects. Click on the photo above and look at the top. See the web leading down to the broadleaf toothwort next to the poison ivy?

Likewise, I never saw the webs strung between these two poison ivy plants (look on the left)...

... or the delicate strands on this garlic mustard plant.

*I looked up the spider later and found out that it belongs to the genus Dolomedes, also known as fishing spiders. I had no idea that fishing spiders were so widespread! I believe this one to be a Dolomedes scriptus.

**If you're really interested in the subject of spider mating, find a copy of the following article.

Studies on the Habits of Spiders, Particularly Those of the Mating Period
by Montgomery, T. H., Jr.
Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol. 55 (1903), pp. 59- 149
Published by: Academy of Natural Sciences

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