Fleeting fame, and a spider

[A week or so ago I did a post about the grass snake and the moorhen chicks. It turns out the BBC Springwatch team had been thinking of doing a piece on snakes, so they decided they now had an excuse, a Sherborne connection. To my great delight they used my Barred Grass Snake shot, repeated below, to introduce the piece. You are now reading the work of someone with BBC wildlife credentials!]

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This weekend I tried to interest the TV crew in a series of new photos showing a spider carefully wrapping up a mayfly sub-imago all ready for grocery delivery, then hauling it towards its hideaway, where it settled in to drink it. So far, I am afraid they have politely said it is a great piece of animal behavior, but shown no signs of giving me screen time again!

I found the predator and prey hanging from a thread in mid air along a fence near the brook. The spider had already bundled up one wing. If you look very carefully you can just see the strands of silk emerging from the spinnerets.

DSC00139Now it set about bundling up the other wing.

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It also had to take care of the tail.

DSC00196Once the bundle was complete, it ran a cable horizontally from a nearby fencepost, and then hauled it over.

 

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Finally, time for dinner, twelve minutes from when I took the first photograph.

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And in the morning, what was left was just a husk, still being guarded by the spider from its lair:

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A living breathing phoenix

[We are sort of moved in to our new flat, but I am not yet organized enough to write a new post.  This was was written a few weeks ago  after I got back from Kenya, and has been waiting in the wings, so to speak.]

I always thought the phoenix was a mythological bird, but I have just met one.

The Secretarybird is a most unusual bird of prey. It is a terrestrial raptor, and it is in a family all on its own, the Sagittaridae (my star sign). Widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, it is a large bird up to 1.3m (4 feet) high, enabling  it to hunt in the long grass:

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Although mainly terrestrial, it roosts and nests on the top of acacia trees, and flies up when disturbed: you can just glimpse the very long stiff central tail feathers (and I learnt a new word in researching this: they are called retrices.)

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And here is an image of a phoenix from a book by Joachim Camerarius (1534-1598), surely inspired by a Secretarybird!

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The Secretarybird’s scientific name, Sagittarius serpentarius, alludes to one of its favorite foods, snakes, which it kills by stomping them with its powerful long lower limbs.

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This is a great video of that stomping kick in action:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/video/secretary-bird-stomps-snakes-with-a-killer-kick/

Its beak makes short work of snakes, mice, lizards young birds, and of course insects.

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The name Secretarybird may have come from the long dark feathers on the back of the head, which apparently reminded 18th century scholars of the quill pens that (male) secretaries put behind their ears. I prefer to think of this magnificent bird as being a Secretary of State, a holder of high office, rather than a lowly office worker. It is the national emblem of Sudan:

 

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