Monday, 1 August 2011

To The Dragons den (though only the neighbours were at home)

After my tropical disease cleared up, at last an opportunity to visit Kibblesworth Brickwork Pools, the only known home to Black-tailed Skimmer in the borough, as an expedition was arranged for yesterday morning with ’Indiana’ Steven Fryer and his faithful hound Tilly, herself recovering from a recent minor operation.

Kibblesworth Brickworks Pools
The only site in gateshead for Black-tailed Skimmer
Unfortunately the skimmers have never been recorded after mid-July since they were first discovered here in 2006, and with only one male recorded at all this year and no positive reports on him forthcoming of late, I was afraid I was going to be too late to tick this species for the year.
And so it proved to be, we staked out their favoured part of the pond (a shallow and narrow channel skirting an island), for a good while, but nothing bar the now numerous common darters to report, with many pairs ovipositing in the shallows here.
Along another shore of the main pond an Emperor patrolled imperiously but no other dragons present. Damsels were represented by small numbers of Common Blue, Azure and Emerald.

But it wasn’t until we were leaving the area via the secondary pond when disappointment was replaced by enchantment, as we were treated to a marvellous display of aerobatics by three male Common Hawkers.
These large and colourful beasts, more at home in the boggy, densely vegetated smaller pond, would rise as the sun came from between the clouds and skirmish at breakneck speed when their patrols led them into contact with each other. But alone, their darting patrols would be interspersed with long periods of hovering, when their fantastic colouration could be admired at close-quarters through binoculars, and the rattling of their wings could be heard clearly, the sound a bit like a Tesco carrier bag blowing round a metal pylon in a gale.
My photography skills were left a bit wanting here, but I managed to capture a couple of identifiable (though rather blurry) flypast record shots for the purpose of the Quest.

Steve on the other hand got some cracking shots, so I’ll use his masterclass photo to explain better the ID of the species.
Common Hawker male (Steven Fryer)
Note the spotted abdomen in profile tells it apart from the pale blue Emperor
The dark thorax with two easily visible stripes will help avoid confusion
with Southern Hawker male which has two large green panels here  
 Another way of telling the hawker species apart in flight is the way they hold their abdomen. The Common Hawker as seen here is generally held straight, the southern hawker abdomen is arched with the tail end pointing slightly downwards.

Species recorded : Common Hawker Aeshna juncea

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