Steeves/Trail Mix: ID those wild critters

Whether it's a spider in your backyard, a bird on a hike, or a four-legged critter beside the road, it's fun to be able to identify it.

A cat-face orb weaver spider spins its web in a Kelowna backyard.

A cat-face orb weaver spider spins its web in a Kelowna backyard.

There’s a shiny black spider with a very round abdomen and long black legs camped out at my front door in a fairly messy web with strong strands flung every which way.

Underneath is a bright red hourglass shape on her abdomen. The male doesn’t seem to be around.

Although I’ve been assured by entomologists that the bite of the Black Widow Spider is generally not too serious, it’s the one spider common in this part of the world that has a bite that can be harmful to humans.

So, as soon as I can convince her to come out from underneath the board at the front of the step, I intend to get rid of her, even though generally I find spiders quite fascinating, and they’re very beneficial in the garden.

Identifying spiders, wasps, bugs and other insects around the house and garden is both challenging and interesting and it can be a helpful pastime when it comes to discovering problems such as termites, another insect that’s not uncommon around here, and one that can lead to structural problems in buildings.

A Capital News colleague challenged me to identify a beautiful spider her sister had caught on camera in a tree in their backyard, and I think it’s a cat-faced orb weaver spider. They’re not harmful to humans, can’t see well and rely on impulses from their signal lines to know when a sticky line in the orb-shaped web has caught prey.

Each night, the old web is replaced by a new one, spun in the dark by touch. You’ll often notice their amazing art highlighted by morning dew at this time of year early in the morning.

If identifying spiders isn’t your thing, perhaps birds would interest you more, or plants.

Harbour Publishing has put out a marvellous series of lightweight, water-repellant, fold-up field guides with excellent photographs.

These are especially good for quick reference, and for beginners, because there isn’t room for a lot of detail or for many species in a backpack or pocket-friendly guide.

Halle Flygare is a fabulous wildlife photographer who also took many of the photographs in George Scotter’s excellent reference for local plants Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains, and he is the author of a Field Guide to Wildlife of the Rocky Mountains.

It includes more than 100 colour photos of wild birds and mammals, along with size and range, common and latin names of each, from the tiny Rufous Hummingbird to the majestic Bighorn Sheep.

Those interested in more about birds will find A Field Guide to Birds of the Pacific Northwest, by Tony Greenfield with photography by Penny Hall useful, with more than 120 photographs of birds you’re likely to see in this part of the world.

It leans a little heavily to birds common to the coastal areas of the province, but includes many of the same birds you would be likely to see inland as well.

Then, for what ails you, or just to keep from ailing, you will find Beverley Gray’s A Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants of Canada of interest.

Again, it’s an eight-fold, waterproof, full-colour guide with considerable information about wildcrafting, from the familiar Chickweed, Dandelion and Red Clover to Wild Chamomile and Coltsfoot.

Sensibly, she advises caution when using wild food and in the medicinal use of plants. I’m always leery of advising people about medicinal uses of wild plants, although it is a very interesting study.

This includes 26 wild plants with photos, descriptions, habitat, harvest, medicinal uses, food uses and cautions.

Great little guides for backpacking that would make super gifts for those new to nature watching.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News


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