Thursday, 8 September 2011

Calm before the Storm - The Quest for Migrant Hawker

After what seems like an age, the Dragonhunter at last got back in business. The kids are back at school but my perpetual enemy, the weather, is still being a veritable pain in the derriere. So with the forecast for rain and high winds in the afternoon on Tuesday, I took advantage of the early morning sunshine to renew my search for Migrant Hawker.
In truth I’ve seen half a dozen individuals just out on casual trips with the family, the area around Kite Hill and Clockburn Lake coming up trumps on four occasions with single specimens flying, but highlight was further downstream last week when a male I was watching by the river at Hagg Hill actually started hawking the cloud of midges which had formed around my head, giving me cracking close views just above eye level, but to date no photographs from any of my encounters.

So off I went on my trusty chariot (bike) and struck lucky straight away with a male feeding in the bright sunshine along the line of trees at the base of Kite Hill. After a couple of minutes watching his to-and-fro flight I couldn’t believe my luck as he settled, hanging vertically (as they do) from a branch just off the path about 8ft up.
I reeled off a few quick snaps for record purposes just in case he flew up again but he didn’t seem in a hurry so I got closer and then moved around for a change of angle. The pics I took were on full zoom so not the sharpest but show all the ID traits I need to confirm a male Migrant Hawker.

Migrant Hawker (male) at Kite Hill
Note the similarity with Common Hawker

From this angle the diagnostic pale yellow T at the
 top of the abdomen can be seen more clearly
(click on image for better view)

From this angle the T isn't visible but the lack of a
yellow costa tells you it isn't a common hawker,
the only real confusion species in these parts.

Buoyed with this early success I decided to look in at Far Pasture, the fields off the access road are a favoured haunt for the species but on my last check a fortnight ago there weren’t any to be seen.
Again instant success, as I emerged from the avenue of trees at the bottom of the bank by the sawmill a common darter alighting the fence to the left of me caused me to stop in my tracks, and a Migrant Hawker passed through my line of vision as I glanced over. Excellent!
This was a very flighty individual though, non-stop and with that annoying ability to change direction in the blink of an eye, very difficult to get a fix on with my binoculars so I had to move further down the path to look back up at a greater distance before I could safely ID another male. I watched him for a while but he showed no signs of letting up his constant zig-zagging chase so I left to have a look on the pond and would try to get him on the way back.

The pond was bleak. For a while I only had a pair of mallards for company, then a fishing dabchick entertained me as it surfaced with a large minnow, and then I spotted a big warty toad floating along, just it’s head breaking the surface. Eventually I spied a solitary damsel, too brief and distant a sighting to call it but at this stage of the season an Emerald would be a good bet.
Wind increasing all the time now but still bathed in sunshine, I decided to check the access road again, but on leaving the hide a large hawker could be seen at the far end of the path. It continued to seek out prey as I got closer, to and fro up and down quick change of direction, too big for a migrant and eventually I spotted the blue bands at the tip of the tail as it passed below eye level to confirm a male Southern Hawker.

Back up the road and no sign now of the migrant hawker, wind very blustery and increasing cloud cover might have something to do with it, though it didn’t put the common darters off, half a dozen seen in all, a lone male and female on the road, other males along the fence, one feeding others just waiting for passing prey or sheltering from the wind. I reeled off a few photos, best of which are below :

Common Darter, having a meal.

Same beast, different view, still chomping.

Common darter female on the road

This individual seems to have a pattern on the abdomen and had me
hoping he might be something more exotic like a vagrant darter.. . . .  

. . . but from this angle the yellow thorax stripes and lack of
black moustache on the face rules out anything other than
Common Darter. 

Mission accomplished : Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta

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