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)

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