Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Final Missions

The weather hasn’t been very kind for Dragon hunting of late, so with Tuesday the only clear day, a family outing to Gibside is the only chance I’ve had for even a casual bit of hunting this week, but it wasn‘t a bad day out as it happens.
I didn’t pack my camera so luckily there was nothing new to see, but a walk along the river produced a couple of Common Darters and some spectacular entertainment by way of a Southern Hawker (female) hunting a stretch of the river and helping herself to a good meal from the clouds of smaller flying insects thereabouts. Took me a while to sort the ID as she was hawking back and forth at great speed and changing direction with such ease of manoeuvrability, great to watch but not easy to focus the bins on her.
Our walk then took us by way of the Lily Pond and I was quite surprised by the number of Common Blue Damsels here, well over a hundred, all but a few were males and mostly congregating on the raft of lilies in the centre of the pond. A few were identifiable in the nearside margins, where only a couple of females were seen in tandem with their suitors. Closer inspection of the margins also revealed around thirty Emerald Damselfly males, (probably the most I’ve seen in one place) with once again only a couple of females on view.
Just before we left a ray of sunshine brought out a couple of dragonflies, both Ruddy Darters, both male, one easily identified deep red specimen and one yellowish immature which had to land before I could confirm ID.
A pleasant afternoon all in all, and even the kids weren’t acting up too much.

So we’re a third of the way through August already, and the final two dragons of the season, the Migrant Hawker and the Black Darter, should be on the wing once the weather clears.
Migrant Hawkers are very much like a smaller version of the Common Hawker, apart from size only subtle differences in markings to tell them apart, but opposed to the mainly solitary Common Hawker, Migrant Hawkers often gather in good numbers as they hawk woodland edges at a decent height.
The Derwent Valley is a hotspot for this species and I would expect to get them at Far Pasture (mainly in the surrounding fields) and around Kite Hill just across the nine-arches viaduct where they hunt in the line of trees just off the surrounding footpath, but they can be encountered anywhere along the Derwent Walk and also Shibdon Pond is a good site for them, where they can be seen zig-zagging across the pond and can give excellent views from the hide.

Black Darter on the other hand is a species I have never encountered in the valley (or Gateshead borough come to that). On occasions singles have been recorded at Far Pasture, where I think my best bet might be regular checks of the boggy roadside pool which looks decent habitat for them. The murky forest ponds of Chopwell woods might be worth checking out too, though no reports have been filed from here.
Away from the valley they occur in low numbers at Kibblesworth, the boggy overgrown swamp (can’t really call it a pond) nearest the entrance is reportedly the best spot for them (though two visits last year proved fruitless) and the second pond where we had the Common Hawkers last month looks decent habitat too.
Burdon Moor has also provided regular sightings and in occasional good numbers over the last few years, and sporadic sightings also at Stargate, Crawcrook Quarry and pools behind the Ravensworth Arms at Lamesley, so widespread sightings but in such small numbers I think Kibblesworth will be once again the best bet. Just waiting for the weather to clear so I can begin the search.

Meanwhile here’s a cracking macro photo of a Common Darter taken by Steven Fryer recently in the Derwent Valley Country Park. Another winner.

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