Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Quest begins - Part I

Friday 27th May, short spells of sunshine breaking up the periods of gloom, and chomping at the bit to start my quest an opportunity arises, as my better half has to go to Gibside to pick up an order of farm eggs. I join her for a coffee in the café there, then we go our separate ways and the Dragon Hunt for 2011 finally gets under way. There are two main ponds at Gibside, both teeming with damsels on a good day, and today I choose the Lily Pond as I also want to try and spot a Great Crested Newt, nationally rare amphibians but occurring at a few sites around the borough and resident at Gibside.   
Targets are basically damsels, all five regularly recorded still-water species should be on the wing by now so camera at the ready, a ten minute walk brings me to the pond. I can see maybe a dozen bright blue and black damsels centre pond around a large raft of lilies, but these could be either of the two most common yet difficult species to separate in the field, the Common Blue and Azure damsels, so will have to wait for a closer look before calling one way or the other.
But my attention is caught by probably the easiest species to identify as a red damselfly settles on nearby vegetation. There are only two red species in the country, the Large Red which is common and widespread throughout, and the Small Red which only occurs in parts of southern England and Wales.
So a no-brainer then, Large Red Damsel is the first to be ticked and photographed, apt really, as despite my late start, they are invariably the first to be recorded each year anyway.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - male

The only question to be answered is do we have a male or a female? Well the males are by far the most numerous in the open as they hold and patrol territory on the lookout for the perched up females, as with most dragonfly species the females tend to spend long periods in cover of vegetation waiting for a passing male.
In this species the males are slimmer than the females and their brighter red abdomen only has black markings towards the tip, so my photograph does indeed shows a male. The females have larger but varying amounts of black along their duller red abdomen and are most often seen when in tandem (ie mating) with a male or egg-laying (ovipositing) on the pond. Luckily in the space of a few minutes today I managed to capture both of these events with my camera to confirm both male and female Large Red Damselfly :

Large Red Damselfly - female ovipositing

Large Red damsels - male and female in tandem
Apologies for poor quality photo, it was taken at distance but still shows the subtle differences in the sexes. The male (left) clasps the neck of the female (right) and mating can begin. Note the abdomen of the female is slighter fatter, duller, and has black rings at the segment joints.
The mating ritual takes about 20 minutes then the female will begin to deposit her eggs on vegetation around the pond surface.
Good to capture all those characteristics in one session, now for the blues . . . . . 


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