Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween Hawker

Off on my (t)rusty chariot today along the river in the hope of viewing salmon leaping up the damhead. No such luck, the water level is far too low, desperately need some rain (can't believe I'm saying that!) to kickstart the action which can be quite spectacular at this time of year.
Had good views of a male kingfisher though further downstream, and four dipper sightings at various points along the stretch I travelled.
Stopping at the 1998 bridge beside Clockburn Lake though I could hardly believe my luck as a hawker dragonfly zipped through my field of vision, and I followed it up and over the trees towards the lake, where unfortunately I lost it, never to be seen again.
Now I can't be certain of the ID, first impression was that it was on the small side, certainly held its abdomen out straight, too dull a day to get any colouration and common and migrant are both technically a possibility still at this time of the year, but in view of the fact this is a regular haunt for migrant and I've yet to record a common here I think the percentage guess has to go with migrant, certainly the latest I've recorded any dragonfly locally anyway. 
As its passing was all over far too quickly there was no chance of a photo but here is an artsts impression of the sighting bearing in mind its October 31st.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

End of Season Report

Definitely autumn now, and the Dragonhunter hasn’t been out hunting dragons since the end of the ‘Indian Summer’ a couple of weeks back, which was a bit of a freak spell but gave us the elusive Black Darter, proving the earlier pessimism about their demise was a bit previous, with a maximum of four seen at Stargate and several more at Kibblesworth.
That gave a total of 16 species seen in Gateshead borough this summer, one less than last year when a roving Golden-ringed Dragonfly was present at Gibside for a few days.
Of those 16 I managed to observe and photograph 15, missing out on the single black-tailed Skimmer seen on a few occasions at Kibblesworth back in June.
On my home patch of the lower Derwent valley, I observed and photographed 13 species, with nothing new seen this year.
Highlight to me was just the overall learning experience through keeping this blog. I’ve learned a lot about types of habitat, improved my field craft and have observed behavioural traits in species and various stages of maturity which all aid identification.
Photographically a few highlights spring to mind, the early season female broad-bodied chaser at Stargate,  the coupling Common Hawkers at Burdon Moor, a best ever photo of male Southern Hawker at Thornley Woods Pond and the perched Migrant Hawker at Far Pasture, and overall I’ve been pleased with the standard of photos I’ve managed to attain.
And on a listing note, the Black Darters being a personal first for Gateshead was a true late season bonus.

I may still get the odd straggler this month but otherwise I shall be back next year to fill in a few gaps (Black-tailed Skimmer, male Broad-bodied Chaser to name but two) and set myself some new targets. Meantime I’ll update with any good general wildlife watching days over the winter, and get illustrating the ID features and other stuff about dragonflies I’ve learned this year.
To finish here are the best of the last bunch of photos I took at Far Pasture during the October heat wave (all common darters in varying stages of maturity)

male common darter in peak condition

An over-ripe specimen

female slightly over the hill 

and another

a better angle

nice composition of a male from below

and another with Gibside's column of
British Liberty blurred in the background

contrasted against strong sunlight

moving round to see him in all his glory
So thanks to all followers and visitors, it's adios for now but keep looking in for updates. Cheers.

Monday, 3 October 2011

A reward for patience . . .

With all the excitement of the Black Darters over the last few days I almost forgot I'd got a cracking shot of a migrant hawker in Far Pasture car park the other day during the mini-heatwave (in fact just after taking the call from Steve about the discovery of the darters at Stargate)

Migrant Hawker (male) @ Far Pasture
Beautiful shot showing the diagnostic T-shape at the top of the abdomen
(click on image for closer view) 

There were at least two maybe three individuals here (all males) and over a dozen common darters, with two pairs ovipositing on the ponds and a couple of emerald damsels also in attendance. 

Definitely my best shot yet of a migrant hawker, shame his abdomen is curled under but a real sharp shot which I was quite lucky to get. I'd been watching him hawking around along with another male and a few darters in the field opposite for quite some time, hoping one of them would eventually settle in the surrounding trees, until at last he came over and perched up at a lofty but photographable height in the tree alongside me. I was just getting a focus on him when a strong gust whipped the branches away and he flew up. I cursed and thought my chance had gone but then watched him dip under the branches in the corner of the car park and didn't see him come out again. I rushed around and frantically searched before noticing him hanging vertically down a thin stem, almost camouflaged right in front of me at a perfect height and distance  to reel off a couple of shots before he was off and away again. Patience rewarded.  

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Quest for Black Darter

Knowing the autumn sunshine wasn’t going to last the Dragonhunter was fearing another dip to blot his copybook for the year, so this morning being the only chance I may get to connect with Black Darter, plans were made for an expedition.
Spirits buoyed after a tense couple of hours watching England struggle to overcome the Auld Enemy in the Rugby World Cup, the trusty chariot came out of the garage and off I pedalled ; destination Stargate.
On a route worked out last night and again working on time restraints I estimated an hour to get there, an hour on site and an hour back again.
Thankfully mid-morning was overcast and quite cool, my hope was that by the time I got to Stargate the sun would be out and zillions of black darters would be flitting about like it was spring.

And precisely one hour later I arrived, though my route meant a lot of uphill bike pushing had to be done over the last quarter and I was consequently knackered by the time I got there.
I made way to the shallow pond where the Broad-bodied Chasers were earlier in the summer, Steve had told me the darters were using the grassy pond next to it, with me thinking he meant the boggy mossy end of the main pond which looks ideal black darter habitat.
I was a bit worried about the cloud cover and cool breeze, black darters are apparently complex characters where temperatures are concerned, but in only a matter of seconds a little black dragonfly zipped past me and settled on a stem not too far away. Binoculars swung into action and it was confirmed as my first sighting of a black darter in Gateshead, superb!
Now for a photo but with camera still packed in bag by the time I was ready the little blighter was up and away, landing on a stone towards centre pond, and I could only reel off a couple of long distance record shots. I lost sight of him as he zipped away, but confident this initial success would lead to better opportunities I wasn‘t too dismayed.

Black Darter (male) at Stargate Ponds
A Gateshead first for the Dragonhunter

And zoomed in, a poor photo but good enough to confirm
this unmistakeable little beauty. 
Alas it wasn’t to be, I spent the next half hour circling the area, checking reeds and bare stones for any target specimens but my next dragon sighting was a measly emerald damsel. Mid-day now though and common darters entered the fray. One after another I was fooled into thinking the black darter was back only to be disappointed, and then a hawker sped in overhead, which eventually revealed itself as a female common hawker, as it oviposited tantalisingly close by but still too swift for a photo.
My allotted hour had come and gone, I had to start the intrepid journey back, and it wasn’t until then that I realised there was another pond just along the path hidden by trees which I‘d forgotten about, and Steve’s words came back to me. “The grassy pond beside the chaser pond” Oops!
I had a look in and couldn’t believe how dim I’d been, the place was swarming with common darters, and among them a smaller black darter, being harried constantly by his common cousins. He settled a bit further along the pond edge and I stealthily moved closer with my camera, he stayed perched long enough for one shot only, my best shot of the day, even though the angle is not good. The harrying continued and so I didn’t get another opportunity, I had to be on my way.

The second Black Darter
A better quality pic but not the best angle, though the orangey markings
along the side of the base and tip of the abdomen can be made out,
as can the all black pterostigma on the wings.
The journey home was arduous, my fitness and stamina was at a low, and not only that, the sun had at last decided to make an appearance, as soon as I left Stargate in fact, making it most uncomfortable. But I arrived back at Dragonhunter HQ not mich later than anticipated, and much happier with my final sighting. I ‘d watched him for a while whilst waiting for him to settle so Black Darter was well and truly ticked., though I never expected to wait until October to get one! 

Mission accomplished : Black Darter (Sympetrum danae)