Friday, 4 April 2014

Things that go "Ahem" in the night

I'm now in Dunedin, having spidered in Oamaru, Hakataramea, Duntroon and surrounding areas. I caught more spiders than I had expected, and I really hope they're not all the same species. Most of them are pretty big and made me jump the first few times they came out of their burrows.

The tethered beetles are doing well; none have been eaten yet, although the last of my carabids was munched by an angry mummy spider (all I got back was a leg).

While catching spiders at night, I am very focused on the burrow, waiting with bated breath for the beast to rise from the bowels of the earth (or rather, <30 cm from the surface). The concentration makes me lose awareness of my surroundings, so between burrows I take a minute to look and listen for odd goings on.

A few days ago I was collecting from a population near Five Forks. The night was pitch black, windless, and silent. I was leaning against a clay bank, beetle in hand, when a terrible screaming howl startled me. "It's nothing," I told myself. "Someone has probably left their dog outside." Again and again the screaming reverberated through the air; it sounded more like someone was sawing the tail off the dog. I tried to blank my mind to it, and continued to try to get the spiders to come out. Perhaps it was my waning patience, but they seemed not to want to come out at all. The atmosphere was chilling and I felt on edge; I just wanted to get the spiders and leave. Even without the dog screaming in the distance, I could feel that something wasn't right. I'm not one to respond to my gut feelings, but the darkness had got to my senses.

The screaming stopped, and the silence flooded back in. Still there was a feeling of tension, as there is in a flock of pigeons when a goshawk is watching them from the bushes. Then I heard a cough - not loud, but near, and stifled, as if the cougher did not want me to know they were there. I bolted for the car and drove to the next spider population. It was probably my imagination, I was hearing things...but the spiders were not coming out anyway (and the population was very small), so maybe it would have been fruitless to stay there.

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