Fiery orange sunsets are a feature of the summer sky in the Hunter Valley, courtesy of dust from open-cut coal mines and bushfire smoke. The strong northwesterly winds whip up grit and other pollutants from exposed mine sites, and along with soil stripped from tilled farm paddocks, a brown haze commonly hangs on the horizon throughout summer.
Recording local weather and nature observations can be an interesting exercise. I have not been consistent with my nature watch recordings other than noting rain and temperature. During last summer my yard received 83mm rain over 23 rainy days, with January by far the driest and hottest month.
Those people interested in making a longterm study of nature observations of their property or area would do well to read the Nature Watch Diary of an enthusiastic Hunter Valley resident, where you are sure to gather inspiration.
Summer backyard invertebrates
Spiders will be stringing out their webs all around the yard. I find that some need culling, particularly venomous Redback Spiders, (Latrodectus hasselti), that set up home amongst the kids’ play areas and on the outdoor furniture. But I tolerate, and even enjoy, most other spiders, unless there is an over abundance of a species.
If you wish to remove a spider from your home without harming it, I suggest placing a transparent cup over the spider and sliding a stiff piece of paper or thin cardboard under the trapped intruder. This will then allow you to safely relocate it outside.
Don’t be fooled if the spider acts dead when released, as this is usually just a ploy. If you wish to move a spider in a web from an inconvenient location like the clothes line or verandah, the soft bristle end of a broom is a good tool for relocating it to a fence or some shrubbery.
This can be a daunting exercise at first, but once it is an accomplished skill, you’ll be able to confidently relocate all sorts of crawlies that venture indoors.
A St Andrews Cross Spider, (Argiope keyserlingi), took up residence in my backyard a few weeks agoEvery summer I find different spiders in my backyard. They make fascinating observation subjects. Most people think I’m a bit weird when I attempt to explain the attributes of spiders, but spiders need not be feared and should not be exterminated en masse. Like every other component of an ecosystem, spiders are vital to the complex interconnected web of life.
Christmas beetles are also beginning to emerge, buzzing around outdoor lights and creating havoc around the barbecue on warm nights.
These 2.5 to 3cm beetles, often with beautiful and colourful patterning on their elytra (wing coverings) are from genus Anoplognathus in the Scarab family. The eggs develop into large crescent-shaped grubs in the soil, feeding on decaying organic matter or roots. They pupate in the soil and adult beetles emerge during early to mid summer.
This Christmas Beetle's life was cut short as it was tackled by a Garden Wolf Spider, (Lycosa godeffroyi), on a warm night on my back porch recently.
The beetles can be known to cause considerable damage to the foliage of eucalypt trees, but as there are few eucalypts in my immediate surrounds, I have not seen this defoliation.
Crickets are also making their presence known with their chirpy night-time summer songs. To me, cricket songs are an iconic summer night sound, one which I enjoy. My first sighting this summer of a Striped Raspy Cricket, (Paragryllacris combusta), was short-lived as it was snapped up by my resident Eastern Water Dragon, (Physignathus lesueurii).
Dragon eats cricket
Grasshoppers and cicadas will also be singing up a storm in a frantic effort to attract a mate. Only some grasshoppers sing, and their song is normally not as loud as their cricket cousins. But the shrill call of cicadas can be almost deafening when in large numbers.
Cicadas spend most of their life underground. The adult female will lay eggs on a tree branch. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will drop to the ground and burrow underground, feeding on tree-root juices. When the cicada larva is full grown, it will crawl from the ground and shed its skin (exoskeleton). And then it's time to call up a mate.
A cicada on a shrub in my backyard
More than just bugs
Of course, there is much more to summer in the backyard than mating invertebrates.
Most birds will have nested, and parent birds will be teaching chicks to fend for themselves. Some of the common Hunter Valley backyard birds to be seen caring for their youngsters are Australian Magpies, Superb Blue Wrens, Crested Pigeons, Galahs, Zebra and Double-bar Finches, and of course, some pesky feral birds.
Magpies are amongst my favourite backyard birds, with their joyous early-morning carolling, friendly disposition and entertaining character.
A Magpie youngster checks out the photographer
Frogs are another backyard animal that make themselves heard during summer as males call for a mate. The Hunter Valley has recently been fortunate to receive excellent rainfall, which has prompted a night-time frog chorus at my place. You might be lucky enough to see one taking advantage of the flurry of insects on the back verandah at night.
How can anyone not love a face like this.....
Summer is the season for insect and spider breeding, so there will be many animals and birds feasting on the abundance of invertebrate life in all corners of our yard. Without these insects, our wildlife would be in real strife.