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Northland Nature: They also wintered with us

A funnel-web spider rests at the entrance of its web on a winter day. The web is in a corner of a basement of a house. Yes, they also winter with us. Photo by Larry Weber

As we approach the vernal equinox — the first day of spring — most of us look forward to the new season, whether we are winter weary or not. We might search for a few early migrants, be they hawks, eagles, geese or robins.

Early waking chipmunks may be in the yard along with tracks of a raccoon or the odor of a wandering skunk. Along the house, we could find the first dandelion or crocus starting to bloom. And many have a vase of willow twigs with their opening buds, a help for spring fever.

But I also like to note the critters that wintered with us.

When looking back over the winter with its trying conditions that we endured, we might be glad to have had the companionship of these other Northland residents. For most of us, this means the songbirds that came to the feeding sites almost every day.

I find that the cold snaps are made more interesting and joyful when we can sit back and look out at woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches and blue jays, often in flocks. The regular turkeys scratched out meals, too.

We don't always appreciate squirrels, but watching gray, red and flying squirrels never stops being interesting. Recently, deer have also come by.

Not at the feeders, but still with us have been the large pileated woodpeckers, the ubiquitous crows and ravens and frequently barred owl calls add more to the nights.

Though I don't usually see the critters themselves, nearly every day there have been tales in the snow of movements, mostly at night, of foxes, coyotes, mice, voles, hare and rabbits.

I have also seen more sporadic tracks of ruffed grouse, bobcat, weasel, pine marten and fisher with otter and muskrats in the wetter sites. Thanks to their tracks, I know of their presence.

But there are other smaller ones that spent the cold season with us, too, and maybe even close to us. We may have hosted them indoors and did not know it.

Recently, as I moved about in the basement, I paused to look in a corner — something that we normally pass without a glance. This time, I observed it more closely and with the aid of some light, I discovered a complete spiderweb. It took a little more searching to find the owner, but back in a tunnel-like site, it sat still. The web shape and size gave it away as being that of a funnel-web spider.

These spiders are very common in the region. The name comes from the type of web they construct — a snare that has numerous threads surrounding a hole in the middle, looking something like that of a funnel.

Their webs are abundant in the warmer weather out in our yards and I especially find them along roadsides. Webs are normally low, near the ground.

As the weather gets colder in the fall, many of these spiders look for more sheltered places to spend winter and our buildings will serve them fine. Here, they set up snares for the cold season.

They become very sedentary in the coolness of basements, garages or barns and they do not feed much. But there is enough food, usually insects, here to provide their needed meals. The one that I saw was about 1 inch long, brown and though sluggish, appeared to be healthy.

Now, with the longer days, they may be moving about more and maybe I'll see this one again in some other part of the house. Yes, they also wintered with us.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com. 

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