Waking up to a web of intrigue

It's not the sight you expect to wake up to. Two to three hectares of your farm covered in a bizarre white blanket.

"When I first saw the paddock in the distance, I had no clue what it was ... then I went to investigate and thought, just what is this ... it looked water flowing in the wind or a snow drift," says Naomi Robertson of Collector.

Bemused bulls check out the giant spider web that appeared near Collector following recent rain. Picture: Naomi Robertson

Bemused bulls check out the giant spider web that appeared near Collector following recent rain. Picture: Naomi Robertson

Closer inspection revealed that mysterious white substance was in fact millions and millions of threads of spider web threaded together to form one giant sheet.

According to Naomi, the webs only appeared at, or above, the high water mark of the flood they had in that paddock last week.

"Most of the web ran around the contour of the flood line for about 400 metres and it was 20 to 30 metres wide around that zone," says Naomi.

Even the bulls in the paddock seemed perplexed at the silk threads which suddenly appeared overnight.

Spider web coats a post on Lake Bathurst near Tarago during a similar phenomenon in 2014. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

Spider web coats a post on Lake Bathurst near Tarago during a similar phenomenon in 2014. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

"It seemed to attract the bulls as they were all standing around looking at it as well," says Naomi whose husband, thankfully not an arachnophobe, bravely crept into the white blanket for a closer look.

"By the time he'd taken four of five steps into the cobwebs, he had at least 50 spiders on each leg," reveals Naomi. "The place was crawling with them."

After posting the strange spectacle on the Instagram feed of her fresh food store in Collector, which recently featured in this column (The Village near Canberra where Llamas Pop in for Coffee, November 2, 2019), the tiny black spiders, no bigger than a 5-cent piece, have been the "talk of the shop this week".

However, almost as quickly as they appeared, the creepy crawlies vanished.

"By the next morning, they'd pretty well gone, or at least their cobwebs had," says Naomi, who wonders what sort of spiders they were and if they have appeared on other farms in the region.

While it's the first such report I've received this year, Naomi's photos of the webs did remind me of a comparable scene witnessed by farmers after big rains in Wagga Wagga in 2012 and near Goulburn in 2015.

Mark Selmes of the Goulburn Field Naturalists Society, untangles a cobweb with fellow naturalist Imelda Sylvester on Lake Bathurst in 2014. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

Mark Selmes of the Goulburn Field Naturalists Society, untangles a cobweb with fellow naturalist Imelda Sylvester on Lake Bathurst in 2014. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

This column also featured photographs of a similar spectacle at Lake Bathurst (near Tarago) in 2014 which at the time I described as "an intricately spun mat of cobweb [that] coats the vast expanses of the otherwise desolate lake bed. Even wooden fenceposts, which stretch across the cracked mud for as far as the eye can see, have been tightly wrapped in the weird white web".

Just like the webs on Naomi's farm, the Lake Bathurst webs also ''rippled'' in the breeze. "Occasionally, the gentle nor-easter sets a silky thread or two free and it floats until, triffid-like, it wraps itself around whatever blocks its way".

The Wagga Wagga, Goulburn and Lake Bathurst arachnids were thought to belong to the Linyphiidae family of spiders, which, during significant rain events, let out individual strings of silk that catch the wind, lifting them up into the air and away, allowing them to escape floods. If winds are light, they often land in the same place, resulting in a blanket-like appearance.

It is believed that the species are harmless to humans and because of the shape of their webs they are sometimes referred to as sheet weavers. Some also call them money spiders because of the superstition they bring good luck if they land on you.

Without a specimen (the spiders vanished before Naomi had a chance to collect any), it isn't possible to confirm with any certainty that the spider species responsible for this week's web creation are the same as in these previously recorded in the area.

However, with 50 of the tiny critters having crawled up each of his legs, given the good fortune these sheet weavers supposedly carry, Naomi's husband ought to buy a lotto ticket immediately.

More natural wonders

The handiwork of millions of sheet weavers isn't our region's only natural phenomena currently on your columnist's radar.

Feeding Frenzy

Bats fly out of Wee Jasper's secret bat cave. Picture: Steve Parish

Bats fly out of Wee Jasper's secret bat cave. Picture: Steve Parish

At dusk at this time of year, around 600 Bentwing Bats (Miniopterus schreibersii) per minute fly out of their nursery cave near Wee Jasper on their nightly feeding foray. The cave, its location kept secret by scientists, is one of just a handful of maternal caves used by the bentwings in the whole country. When your columnist was invited by Doug Mills of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to witness this flyout several years ago, I was intrigued to learn that most scientists are in agreement that the majority of bats when leaving a cave fly to the left. Really.

Staircase to the moon

Just add water: Sydney musician Bill Risby snapped this striking photo of the moon rising above Lake George's wind turbines while driving past in May 2009. Picture: Bill Risby

Just add water: Sydney musician Bill Risby snapped this striking photo of the moon rising above Lake George's wind turbines while driving past in May 2009. Picture: Bill Risby

Many Australian (and international tourists) flock to Broome between March and October to witness a full moon rising over Roebuck Bay where reflections of the moon on tidal flats water give the illusion of a magical stairway leading up into the sky.

However, if conditions are right, we have our own smaller-scale version of this illusion at Lake George. Due to a lack of water in recent decades it has rarely been seen, however, recent rain has resulted in an optimal amount of water in the ephemeral lake. The best location to photograph this illusion is from one of the roadside rest areas on the western side of the lake.

For all those shutterbugs out there, the next full moon on March 10 is actually a super moon which means the moon is near its closest approach to Earth. Start planning. I expect to receive lots of photos.

Fashions on the Field (literally)

Not many Australian towns can boast their annual race meetings have been running for 119 years, but the folk out at Yass can.

From humble beginnings in 1901, the annual Yass Picnic Races are now an unmissable event on the regional racing calendar.

 It's not just horses that will be racing at Yass this weekend. Picture: Supplied

It's not just horses that will be racing at Yass this weekend. Picture: Supplied

Although the main attractions are of the four-legged variety, it's not just the gee gees that will be galloping down the straight next Saturday. About 10 years ago, due to inclement weather, organisers had to cancel all races on the card at the last minute, and to entertain the disappointed masses desperate for something to cheer on, some bright spark came up with the idea of plucking participants from the crowd to race each other. The idea stuck, almost as much as the mud.

Now the 100-metre (or so) dash has become one of the most anticipated races of the day. Usually run after Fashions on the Field has been judged, many would-be Cathy Freemans and Usain Bolts now line up to kick their shoes off, let their hair down and stride out.

Word on the street is that this year's women's 100m is more open than ever with the 2019 winner Kristy Huey (photographed at centre above) indicating "it's unlikely" she'll attempt to defend her title.

Your fleet-footed columnist has been encouraged to have a run this year, but I fear my akubra would slow me down. At least that's my excuse. What's yours?

When: Saturday, February 29

Where: Marchmont Racecourse, Gums Lane, Yass

Expect: A six-race card with the first race at 12.30pm. Interstate races and bookmakers on course. Gates open at 10.30am. Finest dressed on the field is 3pm.

Tim's Tip: Bring your own esky with a picnic lunch as only limited refreshments available at the track.

Cost: $25pp, under 16 free.

Did You Know? During last year's 100m dash, dust was a problem for those huffing and puffing at back of the field, but with good recent falls of rain this year the track is expected to be a green carpet.

CONTACT TIM: Email: timtheyowieman@bigpond.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.

WHERE ON THE SOUTH COAST

Do you know the location of this hard-to-miss house? Picture: Supplied

Do you know the location of this hard-to-miss house? Picture: Supplied

Cryptic Clue: 'Garden of...'

Degree of difficulty: Medium

Last week: Congratulations to Dave Hobson of Spence who was first to correctly identify the location of last week's photo, sent in by Leigh Palmer of Isaacs, as a gnome gathering on a nature strip that leads up to Farrer Ridge.

Last week's location was a gnome gathering on the way to Farrer Ridge. Picture: Leigh Palmer

Last week's location was a gnome gathering on the way to Farrer Ridge. Picture: Leigh Palmer

"The clue of 'river and wheat' was spot on as it is in Farrer and on Hawkesbury Crescent", reports Dave, who "despite living on the other side of town, runs past this lovely glen a few times a year". Dave just beat Anna Francis and Angelique Corbitt to the prize.

How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to timtheyowieman@bigpond.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday February 22, 2020, will WIN A DOUBLE PASS TO DENDY CINEMA - THE HOME OF QUALITY CINEMA.

SPOTTED

A platypus footprint in the Molonglo river at Coombs. Picture: Craig Collins

A platypus footprint in the Molonglo river at Coombs. Picture: Craig Collins

Craig Collins was excited to spot this footprint in the sand of the Molonglo River near his house in Coombs.

"This was the first time we'd seen any evidence of platypuses in this region of the Molonglo since September of last year," reports Craig, who following our harsh summer feared for the plight of the population of platypus in the Molonglo.

"With accounts of hundreds if not thousands of platypuses reportedly dying in Australian waterways, victims of low river flows and bushfire collateral damage, we thought the worst for 'ours' too," reports Craig. "But much to our surprise we spotted a solitary footprint after Canberra's recent rain, which transformed the Molonglo from a mere trickle to a torrent."

For Craig and his wife Karen, their hearts lifted, "even if only briefly, thinking there's still hope for these cute creatures".

This story Waking up to a web of intrigue first appeared on The Canberra Times.