14 June, 2012

The Jewels of the Barwon

Tuesday morning this week was the coldest morning of the year so far. I can vouch for that as it was still barely above freezing by 9:30am when we hit the river for a morning ride. We very quickly found ourselves looking for the The Barwon Edge to grab a take away and warm frozen fingers.This objective having been achieved, we headed up towards Fyansford.
After last week's "non-flood" during which river levels through Geelong peaked at 2.42m (2.5m constitutes a minor flood), various sections of the track were still quite sticky with an inch or two of mud covering the whole path in places. Being the intrepid adventurers that we are, we ploughed on through, trying not to end up coated from head to foot in what only days ago was probably quality topsoil in some farmer's paddock.
The sealed bitumen track near Queen's Park
As we neared Fyansford and with the sun finally managing to peek out from behind some clearing clouds, our perseverance was rewarded by an interesting spectacle. The grass between us and the river looked to have a fine covering of snow or frost. The same was also the case a little further round on Fyansford Common where the low-lying areas were still filled with water, forming small lakes in the dips.
Fyansford Common
It was a cold morning and we were in a relatively deep part of the river valley, so frost was not unlikely, however closer inspection revealed not ice or snow, but rather dewdrops, millions of them  suspended in fine, intricate webs on the top of the grass.
An exploratory swipe or two  and both web and droplets vanished into nothingness. Intrigued, we snapped a few photos and agreed with an interested passerby that it did indeed look quite pretty. And such was the angle of the sun that at one point, the light refracting off the droplets created a rainbow which stretched out across the grass at ground level. (It occurred to me at this point that I have long wanted to take a photo of a rainbow along the banks of the river, but this was not quite what I'd had in mind.)
A rainbow in the grass
Somewhat limited for time, we concluded our examination and headed on our way. It was not until I got home and downloaded  my photos that I became more interested in the artistic possibilities of suspended dewdrops. And of course, as is nearly always the case, I didn't have exactly the photo I was looking for.
Dewdrops suspended
By now it was nearing 2pm and knowing that it was probably wishful thinking, I grabbed the camera, jumped in the car and headed back down to Fyansford in the hope that the fairytale landscape hadn't completely evaporated. Despite the sun, it was still a cool day and as luck would have it, the larger area of droplets on the common was still present, so I got snapping.
Hanging by a thread

A matrix of droplets
This time it wasn't long before I discovered the secret of these tiny suspended jewels of water and light. Spiders! Hundreds of tiny spiders were everywhere, spinning the webs on which the droplets had formed. Back and forth, stretching from one blade to the next, their webs criss-crossed the grass creating a continuous carpet on which the droplets had formed.
After a little Googling, I believe these guys are money spiders (also known as sheet weavers) which belong to the Linyphiidae family. Legend has it that if a money spider falls upon you it will bring you financial good luck (here's hoping!).
An artist at work
Upon closer examination, the spiders could be seen singly and in groups moving across the webs. I assumed initially that they weren't concerned by wet feet but now that I think about it, all of those hairy little legs didn't seem to be disturbing the tiny balls. In fact, in none of the photos I took can I be sure that any of the spiders are actually touching a dewdrop. Somehow they seem to be able to co-ordinate all eight legs in such a way that they always step between the drops.
Tiptoeing between the drops
The last thing I noticed was that above the array of webs and their suspended drops, the spiders were busy creating a new layer of webs, these ones had clearly been spun more recently as they were higher than the others and had no droplets attached. The spiders on these strands passed back and forth without any risk of an involuntary foot bath.
King of the mountain - a tiny figure atop the mound of drops
Of course, with any of the above photos - or those in any of my blog posts - clicking on the picture will enlarge it for a closer view.

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