Sounds of Spring

“Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush”
- Doug Larson

Slushy snow covering the woods at Medway Creek
After four months of waiting and facing the last snowstorm, the weather changed its course within two days. The temperatures rose to above 10C after a long, long time and the snow started to melt. Today there’s hardly any snow around.
In the meanwhile, the snowmelt and rain gave Thames River and its tributaries a fearsome flow. The water levels increased dramatically – a makeover to the slow, clear water that flowed calmly all winter. Spring is technically here, but the trees are yet to reincarnate themselves in shades of greens. However, the warmer temperatures did attract some creatures that I’d like to call the harbingers of spring. Spring is not only a climatic change, but many biological changes take place as well. Life blooms. It is a peak season to see migratory birds, when reptiles and mammals come out of hibernation, insects metamorphose and plants start to bud.

Bare trees at Thames River
I went on a walk around Medway Creek and Thames River, where signs of spring were everywhere. The air was filled with songs of the birds. American Robins and Cedar Waxwings have returned again. Northern Cardinals have started singing, Downy Woodpeckers are common than ever and the lovely Song Sparrows have filled the bushes with their taunting calls. I saw Canada geese and Mallard ducks flying in pairs, squirrels basking in the sun, chipmunks playing in the undergrowth and insects such as Lepidoptera (moths) and Diptera (mosquitoes and flies) already out in the woods.

A wing-less male Stonefly
The Stoneflies are still around, and as abundant as they were on the previous nature walk. These are probably “attractants” to birds such as Cedar Waxwings that were seen feeding on something on the trees. This fellow is a wing-less male. I posted images of a female as well as a winged male in the earlier Medway Creek post.

A Gall on Goldenrod
I photographed the galls on Goldenrod. The website on Wildflowers of Ontario explains, “During late summer, a certain fly will lay its eggs on the plant. The larva burrows into the stem forming a bulge or gall ball in the stem of the plant. It will winter over and emerge as an adult in the spring.” The gall-making flies are either Midges or Gnats – belonging to Diptera, which has the largest number of gall-making insects. These galls harbor the grub of the flies, which are good source of food for birds like Downy Woodpeckers and Chickadees.

Harmonia axyridis -Asian multi-colored ladybird beetle
Harmonia axyridis, the Asian Ladybird Beetles are out of hibernation, and are amassing in homes, again, as the breeding season approaches. Most of the already-hiding ones in my home are all awake, and I can see many more out in the balcony. I wrote on these beetles during fall, where they invaded homes seeking shelter. This time, however, they are much less in number.

A Queen ant - Camponotus sp.* OR Prenolepis sp.?
The most interesting sight was that of an ant – a Camponotus sp. This ant was a Queen Ant, who had recently shed her wings. Queen Ants (besides Drones) possess wings, which are shed after the “nuptial flight”. The Queen then goes in search of establishing a new colony. This Camponotus sp. of ant was seen walking weakly on the snow. It was a surprise to see a Camponotus Queen out in the snow so early in spring. Now such ants are very common in homes – called Carpenter Ants. This Queen perhaps flew off from a home-based colony of ants, and wandered off into the woods.

Camponotus sp. * OR Prenolepis sp.
Carpenter ants are considered pests all over the world, since they damage woods. However, unlike Termites – who eat wood, Carpenter ants bore through the wood to create a colony. These ants, in wild, would make nests in dead wood or live trees, some species are known to nest in ground as well.
*This ant could very well be a Prenolepis sp., female that are commonly known as False Honey Ants or Winter Ants. The females and males hibernate underground during winter months and awake early in Spring. They are the only ants to be up and early here in southern Ontario as soon as snow starts melting. Seeing Queens of these ants is much common than seeing a Camponotus sp. Queen. Any further help with the identification is appreciated.

Orb-weaver (Family Araneidae)
Another surprise was a tiny Orb-weaver sitting well camouflaged on a dry plant. This spider belongs to Araneidae – the family of Orb-weaving spiders. It was very small in size, less than 10mm, and lacked the orb-web.

Same spider, measured ~6 mm
There are records of Orb-weaving spiders during winter, and seeing one in early spring is common.

A Tetragnatha or Pachygnatha sp.
Tetragnathidae, a family of “Long-jawed Orb-weavers”, which I spoke about in the previous post on Medway Creek, were also abundant. These spiders are also known to build orb-webs, but unlike Araneidae, the Orb-webs of Tetragnathid spiders are either at an angle, or horizontal.

Close-up of the Tetragnathid spider
This spider was sitting on dried inflorescence, well camouflaged and hidden from the birds!

American Robin
The birds were very active, singing and fluttering from branch to branch. The first birds to be seen were American Robins in a flock of ten. I saw them last during late fall, when they used to gather in numbers during rains and feed off on earthworms. They vanished as first snow came down. According to Hinterland Who’s Who website, “In the spring, they begin their northward movement in late February and do not arrive in any numbers in Canada until early March. The temperature rise in spring is the key factor to their migration, for the birds need thawing ground so that they can dig up earthworms… American Robins return to the same breeding area they had frequented the previous year.” They are sure to stay here until November!
The Robins have a very pleasant call, and are a commonly heard before being seen across the river in higher canopies, with a few seen on the ground, searching earthworms. The breeding season falls during this period, and eggs are laid in late April or early May.

A Red-tailed Hawk sits high in the canopy
Red-tailed Hawks are busy with their courtship displays, since their breeding season is here. There were three initially, but now-a-days I only see two. I presume the one circling the other is the male – this is a part of the pre-nesting courtship. These Hawks are seen year-round, and I have been seeing these since September.

Downy Woodpecker, female
The Downy Woodpeckers are seen more commonly than ever. I also probably sighted a Hairy Woodpecker, but do not have photographic records of it. I saw three Downy woodpeckers at Medway Creek and four along Thames River, all of them pecking on tree trunks for food.

A male Northern Cardinal watches from the thickets
The very shy Northern Cardinal has always eluded me. I have never had a clear photograph of this bird, since it always manages to notice me and hide in the thickets.
Northern Cardinals are resident birds, in the sense, they are seen year round. Northern Cardinals have a sweet call, often whistling on high perches. I have never seen a female in London yet, perhaps because they are not as conspicuous as their counterparts. This bird is common at birdfeeders – best place to photograph them.

A restless Black-capped Chickadee
The Chickadees are also resident birds, common throughout the season, but very elusive and quick. The Black-capped Chickadees have a beautiful call, a whistle that fills up the woods. They are common high in the canopy, but often come down on ground in search of insects. I have not managed a decent shot of this common bird yet due to their restlessness. However, this bird is considered curious and will come close to observe you.

A pair of Canada Geese, planning to settle at Medway Creek!
I have been watching a pair of Canada goose fly to-and-fro along Medway Creek. After several days, I saw them settled down by the creek. This pair is probably looking for a place to nest. Canada geese pair for life, and if one of the pair is killed, the other will find a new mate. According to Hinterland Who’s Who, “Canada Geese breed earlier in season than many birds. Breeding is timed so that the eggs hatch when the plants that the goslings eat have their highest nutritional value… Canada geese of temperate areas nest as early as mid-March.” In London, Canada geese are resident and very common along the river and wide lawns.

Cedar Waxwing
One of my favorite birds, Cedar Waxwing came pretty close for a decent photograph. There were several individuals in a flock busy looking for insects on the trees and filling the air with their high pitched whistle.

Cedar Waxwing
According to BirdWeb, “Cedar Waxwings are nomadic and irruptive, and wander in search of food sources, rather than undertake a typical migration.” Cedar Waxwings are primarily frugivorous, but are known to eat insects. The flock I saw was pecking on tree trunks, probably on Stoneflies that were everywhere.

Looking for insects on trees
Cedar Waxwings are irruptive, as said earlier, and thus appear randomly at any location that is especially rich in fruiting trees. These Medway Creek visitors probably came from south, as the climate became warmer. They will probably go northwards still, depending upon their will. They will however be seen where food is plenty.

A male American Goldfinch in a non-breeding plumage
Other common birds along Thames River were American Goldfinches. I saw a flock that was loud and quick, chirping in the canopy. The males and females were draped in non-breeding plumage. These birds, too are resident throughout the seasons, are common at birdfeeders, and often seen in flocks of tens. They will adorn the breeding plumage when spring season peaks.

Song Sparrow
There were many Song Sparrows around too. Song Sparrows are seen year round, but more common during spring – perhaps due to their excellent vocal skills. They are a common sight along Thames river watershed, browsing in the thickets for insects. Song Sparrows are so-called because of its use of melodious and complex songs. According to Wikipedia, “Song sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared in common… they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from.” There are 24 subspecies, which can be differentiated on minute features, hence Song Sparrow is considered to be a cryptic species.

Eastern Cottontail droppings
When it comes to photographing mammals, my camera just fails to focus. It is two years old now, and I completely sympathize with its condition, since it has always accompanied me everywhere, from hot and humid temperatures in southern India to near freezing temperatures in Canada. Anyway, I was glad to have seen the droppings – if not the actual animal – of the Eastern Cottontail.

Eastern Cottontail Droppings
I spent some time researching how to identify mammals by their droppings. It was easy to know it belonged to a herbivore, and the commonest ones here are either the White-tailed Deer or Cottontails. Then I came across some references that fit the description of the picture. The Cottontails are common rabbits in southern Canada. They are seen year-round, but I have only seen it once. I came across a network of rabbit trails at Medway Creek when the snow was just melting.

White-tailed Deer droppings
Besides Cottontails, I have been seeing a White-tailed deer doe along with her two adolescent fawns often at Medway, but never when I’m with a camera. I did come across their droppings, which are very distinct from that of Cottontail, if you observe closely. Other common mammals such as raccoons were only seen once (in the night) at Medway Creek, but there were many pugmarks on a trail along Thames River.

A dark-coated Eastern Gray Squirrel
The Eastern Gray Squirrels were seen in surprisingly large numbers after a long period of freezing temperatures. This fellow was basking in the noon sun, keeping one eye on me. The dark fur coat was pretty dull, but I am sure it helped the squirrel absorb more heat than the natural, gray fur ones.
I had written on the Eastern Gray Squirrels in August, where I wondered why is there more number of black coated Eastern Gray Squirrels in London, as compared to Mississauga or Toronto. The answer lies in the geographic location of the two places. If you compare the weather of Toronto to London, you will see that London is much colder than Toronto –this maybe because London lies in the valley of Thames River. London also has more amount of snow, as compared to Toronto. Thus, squirrels with a dark color coat manage to absorb more heat from the atmosphere, thereby keeping them much warmer as opposed to lighter, gray coat. This could be a reason why we see more dark-coated squirrels here in London.

An Eastern Chickadee, one of the three catches up on breathing as the other two continue playing
My favorite subject of photography was an Eastern Chipmunk. It is a member of Sciuridae, the family of Squirrels. Chipmunks, in general, build an extensive burrow system of tunnels and chambers. They prefer dense undergrowth, and their territories change according to the fruiting/ breeding season. The diet includes seeds, fruits, nuts and insects.
There were three Chipmunks on the trail at Thames River, all of them playing and curiously watching me. They seemed to follow me just along the path, but did not come any further as I walked away – perhaps because of the end of their territory. They undergo hibernation during harsh winters, when they retreat in their burrows and enter a state of torpor. They are, however, known to wake up to feed on stored food.

Old Bracket Fungii
The walk was refreshing as always, but I expected more activity in the insect diversity. The weather is cloudy, and it is expected to snow again.

Survival of the Fittest

“The earth is shaking as the tree falls with a great thud.”
6,808,300,000 – The number of people living on this planet. 3,000,000,000 – The number of people living in poverty. Over thousand tribes exist on this planet, but no one knows how many tribal people live or how many die. 

It is disheartening to hear of someone you know pass away, but it is different to hear of someone, who is the last person of a tribe, to pass. The difference lies not just in knowing that a person – whom you never met or thought of – passed away, but in the very thought that the person was the last one to die. Something that makes my mind twitch.

Survival and other media reported the passing away of the last member of a tribe from Andaman Island on January 26. “Boa Sr, who died last week aged around 85, was the last speaker of ‘Bo’, one of the ten Great Andamanese languages”, quoted the article Extinct: Andaman tribe’s extermination complete as last member dies. A rush of cold chills raced down my spine. Tribes have gone extinct before, and will do in future, but the extinction of this Andamanese tribe, a result of the tsunamis, hit me hard. It maybe because the aftermath of tsunami-struck Andaman was all over the news, something that made our hearts pound, but it was the song sung by Boa Sr that tinkled my mind. I became lost in that deep, sad, elder voice which is now lost, and along with it is gone the precious wisdom – wisdom of culture, of song, of dance, of living and survival.

Death is real, something we all have to deal with, but it is different to deal with living when you know you are the last person alive. It is not the fact that you are going to die that matters. What matters is that you are alive, the lone survivor. “Since she was the only speaker of Bo she was very lonely as she had no one to converse with…” said Linguist Prof. Anvita Abbi, as quoted in the article. Boa Sr is one of the many tribal people whose life was turned upside down due to the earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was the second largest earthquake recorded in history, with a magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3, and had the longest duration of faulting ever observed – between 8.3 to 10 minutes. The 100 feet tsunamis created as a result of the earthquake crashed on the islands in the Bay of Bengal. It is estimated that about 230,000 lost their lives, many lost to the sea.

I cannot imagine what went through Boa Sr’s mind, but her picture speaks louder than words. We may have lost one of the true earthlings to the sheer force of nature, but it does not mean that they failed to survive. Boa Sr and her tribe were the true survivors of the modern era. They had no needs and wants. They did not ask for roads and concrete. They choose the woods and the sands. They choose life above all other demands. In Boa’s eyes I see a plethora of knowledge, of things we will never learn of ever. I see beliefs, lost and long gone from the face of our planet. “We were all there when the earthquake came. The eldest told us ‘the Earth would part, don’t run away or move.’ The elders told us, that’s how we know”, said Boa Sr to the linguist, as quoted in the article.

Boa Sr opened to me a school of thoughts. I am curious than ever to learn more about human kind, and where we stand in the battle for survival – called Survival of the Fittest. The phrase was coined by Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher. After reading Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, he believed that “natural selection” principle could also be applied equally well to human societies.

When it comes to survival, first thing that comes to my mind is evolution, since all the organisms evolve and thereby survive better. It is proved that humans are climbing the ladder of evolution, going farther from devolution, as the article on Are Humans still Evolving? says, “Human evolution hasn’t ground to a halt. In fact, we are likely to evolve at roughly the same rates as other living things…” The study was conducted specifically on human health related traits. What it misses out is that human evolution, unlike most other animals, is not merely about health, although health is one of the top three most important factors that affect evolution. It is true that when early explorers contacted the tribes, they brought epidemic diseases – unknown to the tribes – into their lives, which lead to countless deaths of the tribal communities. Today, deforestation and mining has lead to loss of tribal health as well as their homes across the world. I do not understand how survival of the fittest theory fits this model of development.

If I see human evolution as mere “natural selection”, albeit whichever part of the world you live in, I find us to be as susceptible to a natural calamities as any other animal. Boa Sr and many other tribes of Andaman, along with the rich coral biodiversity that became extinct are the best example I could think of. “Survival of the Fittest”, derived from the very “natural selection” theory, encompasses various other characters that distinguish us as humans. It is about the evolution of civilizations and nations, fall of which may lead to extinction – whether the reason behind is wars or natural calamities. Therefore thinking of Survival of the Fittest in human society is far more complex than I previously thought. It is not a battle (to survive), yet it cannot be avoided.

I have always been inspired by conservationists, and do my little part as much as possible, but I never heeded that conservation is not merely about saving the forests and animals. It is about saving homes that also belong to our own species. Boa Sr’s news made me realize that we were once a part of the planet. We lived by the rules of nature, but now we amend them. We are not surviving anymore; we are merely breeding, growing larger and becoming oblivious to the world outside. We may have left the rat-race of survival decades ago, but it is the tribal people that still survive out there, who identify this planet as their mother and not a mere resource.

We may consider modern amenities and luxury as a means of living, but put one of us in the shoes of the tribal people, and we will learn where we stand. We not only lack the sense of understanding their beliefs, but also their knowledge on nature and her ways. 

What we can do, though, is protect the forests – abhor forest products, boycott palm oil based food, boycott animal products, discourage wildlife trade, promote sustainable forestry, buy native and local products, adopt, donate, plant native trees, learn native history and respect native people, their land and their wealth. Conservation, not merely of biodiversity, but the relationship of man and nature, is the key, as the article on Survival quotes, “With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory… we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes…”

Medway Creek 2

"If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Medway Creek
On 21st February, the clouds unveiled a deep blue sky and let the temperature rise above 0 degrees – after almost a month. The sun shone brightly, melting snow away. The air felt warm for once. I went to explore Medway Creek again, which always amuses me and I like being in that little habitat by the bridge at the little creek, amidst trees and snow. This fairytale lookalike fragmented woodland is so small, I thought I had explored most of its winter avatar, but I was wrong. On this warm winter day, I decided to leave behind all the worries and deadlines, and wandered into the wilderness for two hours of exploring – where I stumbled upon more than what the previous two walks at Medway Creek had to offer.

Above picture taken on 21st February 2010.
Above picture taken on 17th October 2009 of the same location.
First thing to strike me was the complete transformation of the lush green woodland into a winter wonderland – merry as ever. The trees were only sleeping and were about to wake up in a month. The birds were chirping and dancing in the sun. Some insects were surprisingly very active. It was more than I expected on a winter walk. I realized that life as we know does not stop in winter. It’s only slow. It seeks us to find it. It does not have to show itself to be seen. It’s there, eagerly waiting for spring. It’s the birds who can’t stop singing about spring or the insects that are already showing up on snow. The water itself, flowing underneath slabs of ice sang of life in winter, of life that will be in spring and of how lucky I am to live by this little Carolinian life zone!
As beautiful as the Medway Creek is, it is also unfortunately much polluted. According to the UTRCA watershed report card, it is graded D for Forest Cover and a C for Surface Water Quality. Besides the poor grades for biological and chemical parameters, it is also one of the most prone habitats to exotic and invasive species. However, there are good indicators of how healthy Medway Creek is.
The trail began as soon as I got off the road. Although the snow was melting, and I knew spring is yet far, I did look for some fresh green leaves and buds, but there was nothing except little Maple buds. The sunlight and snow created a tranquil ambience. With the sun at an angle over the creek, it was a perfect day to practice some photography skills.

Back-lit flowers
That’s when I made this image of the dried, back-lit flowers. These dried, crumbling plants are a great subject for photography in different settings. It is not just a dry plant; it is life waiting to rise again. It is a microhabitat for many creatures like insects and spiders.

A little plant burried in snow
I had photographed dried plants on previous walk and I photographed a few more this time that caught my attention, such as this tiny plant (or a broken stem) buried in snow. It is not completely buried, and seems to lie in a perfect circle in the snow. I once read t a post by the MARVELOUS in Nature, discussing why the snow around trees melts. I did some research online, and came across no absolute reason to why this happens. Some suggested it is because of the heat in the plants; after all they are living organisms. I however agreed on one that suggests that the trees, being darker, absorb sunlight and thus heat up a little – higher compared to the ambient temperature, thus leading to the snowmelt along the circumference of the tree.
As I stepped on the snow, I saw hundreds of little insects everywhere – on the bridge, on the trees and on the ground. These were Stoneflies, the very early insects to come out of water during late winter. The Stoneflies are in the order Plecoptera. These are one of the aquatic insects, spending most of their lives underwater. There are about 1700 described species, and more are constantly discovered.

Stonefly - Allocapnia sp. Family Capniidae - Female
These were by far most abundant organisms skittering around that day. I did not come across any nymph exoskeletons, so I assumed they were out for several days now. Some of the Stoneflies were documented mating, which is enough to conclude that their life on land is not that long. As soon as they metamorphose, they mate, and the females lay the eggs – completing the lifecycle. The nymphs feed on aquatic plants, where as adults are known to feed on blue-green algae.

Allocapnia sp. - Male
The ones I saw belong to family Capniidae, commonly called Small Winter Stoneflies. Males have rudimentary or no wings thus are easy to differentiate from the females which have long wings – covering the tip of the abdomen; but this is not always the case with Stoneflies.

A mating pair of Stoneflies
Stoneflies are known to be excellent food for fish, therefore seeing so many at Medway Creek was a good sign that there is food in the water. They are also, most importantly, indicators of the health of the ecosystem, thus such numbers hint that Medway Creek has healthy water!
So, Stoneflies are the indicators of good oxygen rich waters. On land, however, we have a little concern. One of these is from one insect I least expected to see – a caterpillar called Snow (or winter) Cutworm.

Winter Cutworm
When I first looked at this familiar creature, I was startled. I assumed it to be dead, mummified by the cold. I took a few photographs and left it in peace. While leaving the place, I decided to visit this caterpillar again – and was amazed to see this caterpillar vanished. I had seen a Chickadee feeding in that area earlier, so I thought it might have been consumed, but after looking around a bit – I saw it three feet from the spot it was resting on. It was alive and crawling on snow!

Winter Cutworm - Caterpillar of Noctua pronuba
Cutworm is the caterpillar of some Noctuid moths. They are so called because they feed at the base of the plants, besides leaves and leaf buds. Snow Cutworms are tolerant to cold temperatures, thus it is not surprising to find them during winter months. They are considered as serious pests, and are one of the threats to the native flora of Thames River watershed. Snow Cutworm is the caterpillar of Large Yellow Underwing moth – Noctua pronuba.

Winter Cutworm on snow
It is native to Europe; in 1979 it was first found in Nova Scotia and has thence spread over Ontario. The caterpillar feeds on a range of plants such as beets, cabbage, carrot, grape, grasses, lettuce, potato, strawberry, tomato and various other crops (Diagnostic Services, 2006).
There’s another animal I came across, which was probably hibernating. It was a mollusk – a snail. It was Cepaea nemoralis, commonly called a Brown-lipped Snail or Banded Wood snail. It has various morphs, from this striped one seen in the picture, to plain yellow shells. These shell patterns have a genetic basis (Cook, 2008).

Brown-lipped Snail or Banded Wood Snail - Cepaea nemoralis
It is native to Europe, and was first found in North America in 1857 in New Jersey. It has been a common sight in southern Ontario, and is abundant in gardens as well as wild habitats. I did not come across any literature on direct threats from C. nemoralis, but it can be competitive with other native snails and be a pest on threatened flora.
One of the most interesting find, one I was very curious to see during winter months was an arachnid – a spider. I was mainly looking on the forest floor and snow for itsy bitsy spiders, but when I was photographing the plants, I saw something dangle down and crawl back up a dry stick. Spider! I said to myself, and was glad to have seen one on that day. It was a very tiny spider. I saw one by sheer luck, but thence I saw many, many more on little dry plants – this, is what I meant by a microhabitat. These dried plants are shelters for many tiny creatures – spiders, aphids, larva of hymenopterans and so on.

Tetragnatha sp. or Pachygnatha sp. - A spider seen in winter
I saw the spider near dusk, hence photographing it was a real challenge. Photographing this fellow took most of my time, but it was worth it. They were so well camouflaged on thin bone-dry sticks that stood surrounding the creek, that had it not moved, I would have never seen one. The light was low, coupled by utterly tiny size of the spider and my point-and-shoot camera. Nothing was ideal to photograph it, and I refrained from arresting it in a little container just for photography purpose.

Clinging onto the stem!
So, this spider is prefixed with “snow”, just like any other creature seen during winter. After some research online, I came across two very interesting articled on snow spiders. The behavior of the spiders and the articled helped me – more or less – to confirm the family of these spiders. They belong to Tetragnathidae, the “long-jawed orb-weavers”. These spiders are also common in India, and I wrote about them in my post on Common Spider Families of Mumbai.
This photographed spider is either a Tetragnatha sp. or a Pachygnatha sp. – both of these genuses are known to survive in winter. Both are known to occur along water bodies, in moist deciduous forests, in tall grass and meadows (The Neartic Spider Database).

The typical "camouflage" pose of Tetragnathids
A life of a spider in winter is very hard to imagine. They are tiny, soft-bodied unlike insects, ecothermic (cold-blooded, like all arthropods) and need to hunt often to live. But everything has a solution in nature. According to Aitchison (1984a), the winter spiders are known to feed on springtails and dipterans in winter. Spiders living below 5 deg C show less feeding due to lower metabolic rate – the spiders hence feed on assimilated food. The spiders tend feed infrequently between 2 deg C and -2 deg C.
There are at least 54 species of spiders known to be winter-active (Aitchison, 1984b). Most studies are done on ground-dwelling spiders. There is not enough information on winter-active tetragnathids that live mostly on plants. The food source could be springtails and aphids that winter on plants too, but there is no literature to back this up.
After all the looking into the thickets, I was glad to have seen a little woodpecker busy looking for food – the Downy Woodpecker. It was a male that was busy pecking on tree trunks, oblivious to my presence. It managed to come pretty close to me, too.

A male Downy Woodpecker looking for insects
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker of North America. They are restless, often seen jumping from one tree-trunk to another. They feed on gall-insects, and are seen pecking on branches in winter.

The above picture is of a male.
The above picture is of a female.
After a while, the male was joined by its mate – a female Downy Woodpecker, who was also pretty busy pecking on trees and was unaware of my presence. The female can easily be differentiated by the lack of the red strip on the head. These woodpeckers prefer open woodlands, deciduous trees, and brushy or weedy edges. They are a common sight at bird-feeders.

Searching for insects!
The nature walk was refreshing, recharging and a great learning experience. Seeing such a biodiversity in winter is something I least expected, but it is rich on this little land by Medway Creek.

Female Downy Woodpecker
Canadian Arachnology (2010). Retrieved February 27, 2010, from The Neartic Spiders Database:
Aitchison, C. W. (1984a). Low temperature feeding by winter-active spiders. Journal of Arachnology , 12 (3), 297-305.
Aitchison, C. W. (1984b). The phenology of winter-active spiders. Journal of Arachnology , 12, 249-271.
Cook, L. M. (2008). Variation with habitat in Cepaea nemoralis: The Cain and Shepherd diagram. Journal of Molluscan Studies (74), 239-243.
Downy Woodpecker. (2009). Retrieved March 2, 2010, from The Corness Lab of Ornithology - All about birds:
Family Capniidae - Small Winter Stoneflies. (2010). Retrieved February 27, 2010, from BugGuide:
Insects and Arthropods. (2006). Retrieved February 27, 2010, from Diagnostic Services at Michigan State University:

Little ice stalactites at the creek