July mornings are delightful for walking. Later, it may be hot and a bit filled with annoying insects. Usually, dawn is the coolest time of the day. I find that this pleasant temperature is when deer flies and the latest batch of mosquitoes are not as active. Long summer sunlight provides for changes every day and roadside flora shows much with each walk.
Taking advantage of these conditions, I note plenty of wildflowers in the open spaces. Fireweeds abound here and show new blossoms each day. Cow parsnip and water hemlock hold white umbels above the rest. Black-eyed Susans are taking over from the waning daisies. Both yellow and white sweetclover stand tall at the road’s edge.
At this early hour, the yellow petals of evening primrose are still open from their nocturnal blooming. Some hold a moth that visited at night.
And of course, I need to go to a couple milkweed patches along the route. Milkweed may be the most dominant of all these July flora. There are some new ones that just came in bloom recently: tall sunflower, bergamot and the first of the goldenrods. They’ll be around for weeks, but it is good to see their arrival.
READ MORE: Larry Weber's journey to web-watching
Among all these flowers, I also locate and sample the ripe berries of blueberry, raspberry, juneberry and pin cherry. Their delightful tastes are great additions to breakfast.
There is more here besides the plants. In the dew and occasional fogs of a July morning, I see plenty of spider webs. Some are on the ground — funnel webs. Others are in bushes — sheet webs. And there are the circular orb webs that are mostly in shrubs and trees.
I visited a swamp during the fog of a recent walk and was overwhelmed by how many orbs were here. I estimated two hundred that I could see from where I stood without moving. Mid-July is the beginning of the spider web season, which will continue for about two months. With foggy mornings later in summer, we will see many more webs. But now is also the time of spider eggs and nests.
Spiders lay eggs that are placed in containers called sacs. These are put in a variety of places. Some are left alone; some are carried by the mother and others are guarded. It was the last of these that I recently discovered.
During a visit to a patch of milkweeds when I was looking for flowers, I noticed something else. A couple of the plants had bent-over leaves that were coated with webbing material. The folded leaves made for a safe hiding place.
I recognized this as the work of nursery web spiders. These spiders get their name from this. The egg sac is inside the folded leaf and the webbing holds it in place. She then goes down the stem of the plant and stands guard. A little searching among the leaves and stem revealed the mother as she guarded.
She stays here as the eggs hatch and, for a while, with the young inside. I looked into the leaf hiding place and saw many tiny spiders (spiderlings). Mother remains nearby until the young are able to move on their own. Finding nursery webs are a regular part of July phenology. These were on milkweeds, but I have often seen the nests on raspberries, goldenrods and grasses at this time.
Nursery web spiders are in the same family as dock and fishing spiders that are often seen on or near lakeshores. Once the eggs hatch and the young disperse, they go back to their mostly aquatic lives.