Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Ride through Banded Country

With a couple of hours to spare this morning I was out on my trusty steed to search the river for banded demoiselles to photograph, starting at the outlet stream at Clockburn Lake because it’s one of the regular sites and probably the best for taking pictures, unfortunately today it was not.
In the outer stream massive shoals of minnows and tadpoles were noticeable, but the only damsels on show were blue-tailed, and I got this cracking shot of a male.

Blue-tailed damsel male
Only two females out of about ten individuals here, this one I photographed is an immature of the pink coloured form rufescens

Blue-tailed Damsel female

Then an odd individual fluttered in to view and landed on the bridge. It’s flight was so weak it could hardly hold itself in the air and stayed motionless on the sunlit stone bridge for quite some time, allowing me to get so close I decided to get out my 10x magnification loupe and see if I could get it close enough to see some features in mega-close-up. For anyone that doesn’t know, this is a loupe.

loupe

The thing about this is that you need to get about an inch away from your subject to see it properly focussed, and this individual allowed me to do just that, giving me fantastic views of its eyes and head, which it tilted towards me, probably eying me up too. Superb views I’ve never had before, every hair, every line, the make-up of the colours of those massive compound eyes, and the three tiny real-eyes in the middle of the forehead I’d never noted before, a most enjoyable and unusual experience.
Anyway, note the pale colouring and milky sheen to the wings, time for a bit of dragonfly jargon - This specimen is what is known as a teneral - in other words it has just emerged, it’s body is pale and not yet hardened, it’s wings are weak and not yet properly formed, (why it’s flight appeared so weak) In a few hours when the body hardens and the wings clear to reveal the network of veins, it will then have reached immature status, and will remain so for a number of days until gaining its mature colouration.

A Teneral female - Which species?


The only thing that bothered me about this individual was the ID, which I only tried to discern when looking at the photos back at Dragonhunter HQ. Only blue-tailed and common blue damsels were present, but this appears to be neither, in fact after scrutiny with the help of the field guides I’m quite sure it is a female Azure damsel, of which no mature adults were seen today. (Common Blue would show the bomb shaped markings, blue tailed would have an all pale segment near the tip).

I continued my search for demoiselles, riding along to the newly opened Butterfly bridge, (after the old one was washed away in the floods of 2008) good access to the riverside here, Steve had indicated it being a good stretch for the species, being slow-moving and heavily vegetated bankside. But my luck was out today, a thorough search found nothing, highlight being a dipper foraging in the rocky shallows yon side of the bridge. I didn’t have too much time left so I back-tracked to Clockburn Lake outlet, this time investigating the inner stream, where I found around forty Common Blue damsels, many in tandem pairs, egg laying.
I got a nice shot of a male on its own, and photographed two forms of female, the typical green form, and another less common yellowish brown form.

Common Blue damsel male

tandem pair - green form female

ovipositing pair - yellow/brown form female
Then I managed to get this cracking shot of a tandem couple in flight, note the fact the wings are gyrating so quickly they are hardly visible giving the damsels that strange but instantly recogniseable colourful hovering matchsticks effect I mentioned in an earlier post.

Tandem flight shot

There is another type of common blue female which is actually blue which I have yet to encounter, but my time was up so though disappointed with the dip on the demoiselles, some interesting cameos from the other species had made the trip worthwhile, as had my sighting of a common tern fishing the lake, and excellent view of a sedge warbler singing from an open perch in the reedbed, and the great thing about it is I’ll just have to come back again another day to complete the mission.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Updates from Dragon HQ

A few frustrating days at DragonHunter HQ. The weather has been glorious, just right for hunting dragons, but with one thing or another I haven’t been able to make any expeditions, so I’ve had to make do with second-hand reports of weekend sightings from the local network of trackers and wildlife explorers.
Gatesheadbirders.co.uk reports that on Sunday the single male black-tailed skimmer was showing at Kibblesworth along with 10 four-spotted chasers, and just a single Broad-bodied Chaser was reported from Stargate, not sure whether this one was a male or female.
Monday though brought exciting news of a first Southern Hawker of the year at Shibdon Pond at the head of the valley, (usually not noted ‘til early July), and Indiana Steve reported the Black-tailed Skimmer again from Kibblesworth and around 10 four-spotted chasers which he thought was a disappointing count considering the weather. And also he observed another Emperor, this time a female, which he photographed ovipositing on the main pool.
Emperor Dragonfly (female)
Steven Fryer
Generally a lot duller than the male photographed last week, the all-green thorax holds Emperors apart from other hawker species and this female shows a pale blue base to the abdomen, a common trait, this fading into a very pale green along the length of the sides mixed with a blotchy line of brown running along the top of the abdomen, which (like the similar black line on the male) wouldn‘t be so prominent in a profile view.
I’m starting to get a bit concerned I might not get the opportunity to observe and photograph a male Broad-bodied Chaser, as this early season species won’t be on the wing for too much longer and chances will be limited, so I’ve sourced an excellent photograph of the Stargate individual taken a couple of weeks ago by Michael Eccles to highlight the differences from the female we shot around the same time.
Broad-bodied Chaser (mature male) Stargate Ponds
Michael Eccles 

Obviously in this picture the mature adult shown has a mainly pale blue abdomen as compared to the yellow of the female, so sexing it is a no-brainer, but imagining it to be an immature, and therefore in the same yellow colouring, note how the sides of the male abdomen are much more parallel than the rounded female making it appear a lot slimmer. . .

male (left) female (right) 


. . . and as the close-up shows, the longer black claspers of the male sprout from the centre of the abdominal tip, whereas the small female anal appendages are wider apart (I think I likened them to cat's ears in a past post).

male (left) female (right)


 Hopefully I may yet get to photograph a male Broad-bodied Chaser but at least the species is ticked for the season with the female.

Friday, 24 June 2011

In Search of Emeralds

A proper sunny day (first this week), a couple of hours to spare, so an afternoon visit to Far pasture Ponds in search of the Emerald damselfly. A few had emerged at Kibblesworth last weekend and this has always been a good site for them, though in small numbers.
First sighting was a brief aerial skirmish between a couple of four-spotted chasers right in front of the hide, they zipped off in opposite directions and weren’t seen again, bar another sighting of a single some time later which was just as brief.
Plenty of blue damsels in the shallows, single males buzzing around low over the water, guiding themselves through plant stems with a stop-start motion like some alien craft being manipulated by human hands in a computer game, and the thing that struck me was the fast-beating wings were nigh on invisible making them at distance look like brightly coloured moving matchsticks. Others in tandem pairs were either rested up or ovipositing, or beating off any unwanted attentions from randy lonesome males trying their chances (the mating dance is hardly a gentlemans’ excuse-me).
It was while following one of these little blue gems around that I accidentally stumbled across my quarry, an immature female specimen perched up in dense vegetation just outside the hide, metallic emerald green thorax and topside of abdomen fairly glistening in the sunshine, and close enough to reel off a couple of photos.


Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa (immature female)

The mature female is a mix of metallic green and red/brown (immatures pink like in this specimen) whereas the male is a combination of metallic green and pale blue, and shows a stand-out pale blue tip to the abdomen rather like a blue-tailed damsel. But the big ID feature about emeralds is that when perched, they typically hold their wings spread out an angle of about 45 degrees to the body, the only damsels to do this, so it’s easy to differentiate them from other species even at distance. But as you can see this individual has wings closed along the back like any other damsel, so out the window goes the rule book in this case, which is probably just as well to get it out of the way so early. So the rule is, a damsel perched with wings open will be an Emerald for definite, but don’t rule out a damsel perched with wings closed..
Despite a lengthy scan of the area I couldn’t locate any more Emeralds so with only one example photo to show (enough to tick off the species for the purpose of the Quest) I’ll tackle other ID features and possible confusion species at a later date when examples come to hand.
Mission Accomplished : Emerald damselfly Lestes sponsa

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Back to the Drawing Board . . .

. . . . well, painting book.

Steady rain from midday spoilt any chance of sneaking out for a mini-expedition to Far Pasture this afternoon, so I got on with a couple of small sketch-paintings of damsels, just simple black detail on top of a couple of cobalt blue washes, an idea I'd been toying with and waiting for the opportunity to put to paper.


Azure damsel watercolour (6x6 ins.)

Blue-tailed damsel watercolour (6x6ins.)
It sort of worked on this small scale but the detail is lost a bit and I'd like to get a bit more interest in the background washes, and as my aim is to show what beauties dragons and damsels are I think I'll try it out on a lot bigger canvas.    

Monday, 20 June 2011

An Audience with The Emperor

News filtered through to Dragonhunter HQ that the weekend brought a couple of Emerald damselfly and Common Darters out (at Kibblesworth, surprise, surprise) Indiana Steve and his faithful hound Tilly checked it out this morning, and reports that not only did he get a few Emeralds and an emerging Common Darter, but an Emperor was on the wing, as was the first Black-tailed Skimmer of the year too. Fantastic! So with the sun shining (but for how long?) an afternoon exploration was immediately arranged, and today we were joined by Roving Ron H, eager to get some extreme close-up shots of dragons and butterflies.
An initial scan of the pool revealed at least half a dozen four-spotted chasers, hunting, skirmishing but not posing as they are seemingly driven to a frenzy by the bright sunshine, and a good number of single and coupling blue damsels, of which closer inspection reveals a mix of Common blue, Azure and Blue-tailed. We stealthily circled the main pool, looking for the Black-tailed Skimmer in the channels surrounding the island, but alas, nothing to be seen.
Suddenly a shout goes out as a magnificent male Emperor Dragonfly makes a sortie across the pool. This large hawker dragonfly is the most distinctive and aggressive of the British species, and combined with aerial speed and agility makes him a danger to all insects flying in the area, even the four-spotted chasers are not immune from his attacks. He makes three rapid passes of our position, I sweep my camera in tune with his sorties and click away in the hope of capturing him on his mission, and somehow succeed with this shot below. Result!


Male Emperor Dragonfly
largest of the regular Gateshead hawkers and most easily identifiable as this profile shot
shows the bright green thorax and mainly bright blue abdomen.
Our other regular hawkers are predominently black or dark brown.
Female Emperors are a paler greeny blue colour throughout.
He is on the wing as long as the sun shines, circumnavigating the pond somewhere below head height, then almost skimming the surface as he crosses to the far side where he resumes patrol along the margins, using his almost 360 degree vision to spot a target above and rear up to treetop height to take a victim. I love watching these hawkers in full flow!

Unfortunately, as seems to be the norm these days, the Curse of the Clouds strikes, and all dragonfly flights are called off. The cloud cover has an immediate effect, the dozen or so four-spotted chasers disappear too, so the rest of the session is confined to hunting out courting and freshly emerged damsels, of which there are many, and my two companions seek out perched up four-spotted chasers in the heavily vegetated far-end of the pool which they seem to favour.
Here are the best of the shots I managed, showing some new behaviour in the life cycle.

A canny profile shot of an Azure damsel
Plenty of these on show today, mainly in tandem pairs

The mating wheel
This is the next stage after coupling up, Azure damsels stay close to their
chosen pond for copulation, which generally takes about 30 minutes, before
returning in tandem for ovipositing. 

Another mating wheel, Azure damsels, seem to be much more common
than the Common Blue at the moment.

Female Blue-tailed Damsel
A mature specimen, immatures start adult life with either a pink or violet thorax
becoming green/brown with age 
The sun only makes fleeting appearances after that initial superb start to our quest, but I do get one final brief audience with the Emperor, and shortly before we leave I get sight of a single immature Emerald damselfly, but lose it again as it flies off towards cover, offering no opportunity to record it with a photograph, but they won’t elude us for long, I’m sure.
No Black-tailed Skimmer then, but we’ll be back, and a cracking view of the Emperor made the visit well worthwhile.

Mission Accomplished : Emperor Dragonfly Anax imperator

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dragon Quest Round-Up

With a bit of a lull in proceedings this week it‘s an opportunity to take stock of the early season and look forward to the main emergence in July. Of the early season dragonflies only the largest and most spectacular, the Emperor, is yet to be encountered, but no worries as they are on the wing throughout the summer and will soon be around in larger numbers. The only known breeding sites are Kibblesworth and Stargate, so to find one on my home patch will be more by luck than judgement.

As far as damsels go, only the Emerald has yet to be recorded, I was thinking I should have encountered one by now but looking back over recent records, the earliest in the borough over the last few years has been June 20th, so one should be imminent, and local as well, so before long we should have a full complement of damselflies recorded both in the borough and in the valley.


The second wave of dragonfly emergence will begin shortly and new species to seek out will be Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Common Hawker, Southern Hawker and Black-tailed Skimmer.
Common Darters are just that, they occur in large numbers at most sites, and often far away from water, (indeed regular visitors to my garden in mid-late summer), the trick is to find the very similar Ruddy Darter in amongst them, a dragonfly which is quite widespread here but occurs in much smaller numbers.
Common Hawker on the other hand aren’t common at all, a few occur at Kibblesworth and I have seen them at Far Pasture, but again, they are often encountered away from water, along woodland rides especially.
We are much more likely to find Southern Hawker in the valley, especially as I know a favoured pond for them in the woods close by, and will hopefully get some photos of them emerging early July. Finally the Black-tailed Skimmer, a rare breeder and only found at Kibblesworth, so a dragonfly safari to that particular site is a must around mid-July, in the hope of picking up anything still missing from the list.

That will leave only Migrant Hawker and Black Darter of the annually recorded species, both are late fliers and usually not seen until August in the borough. Migrant Hawkers are an easy target, occurring in good numbers and at many sites, but the opposite can be said of Black Darter, the only species I have yet to see in Gateshead, so that will be my main challenge as the dragon hunting season gathers pace.


Exciting times coming up then, and I’ll go into more detail about species identification as we seek them out. And by the way, the emerging dragon we photographed at Kibblesworth a couple of weeks back has been confirmed as a four-spotted chaser, so nothing new to add to the list.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes . . .

Seeing the glorious weather today it doesn’t surprise me to learn that there were THREE broad-bodied chasers at Stargate today, two females and a lovely pale blue male, and there was me stuck at home and Steve stuck at work, gutted we didn‘t get to see that one, I feel another quest coming on . . .

Never mind, we can console ourselves with a look at the crackin’ photos Steve took of the single female we had yesterday :


scary

nice!

Photo of the Week
Great image this, colour, composition, detail, it has the lot, well done Steve!


Stargate 130611 - The Quest for Broad-bodied Chaser

Opportunity knocked sooner than I had imagined as Indiana Steve called on Sunday evening to ask if I would be interested in joining him (and his faithful hound Tilly) in a quest for Broad-bodied Chasers on Monday.
You bet! Broad-bodied Chaser is one of those early season dragons I hardly ever catch up with. They occur annually at a few sites in the borough but not on my patch, though my only previous encounter with the species was a frustrating irregular glimpse of a wandering male a couple of years back at Far Pasture, and that was more by chance than planning, so now armed with prior knowledge of the mission I did a bit of information gathering:
The species favours shallow ponds with an open aspect, and tends to perch for long periods interspersed with bouts of fast, direct flight (this was certainly the case with my previous encounter).
They are a medium sized dragonfly, with broad, flattened abdomens. Immatures of both sexes are predominantly yellow, the male abdomen turning pale blue, and the female slowly turning brown so more mature individuals can be mistaken for four-spotted chasers, and both sexes maintain bright yellow edges either side of the abdomen.
Immature males and females can be told apart by the shape of the abdomen, female is almost oval, male is more parallel with a tapered tip. The claspers are another diagnostic pointer, the males sprout from the centre of the tip, the females are wider apart (I liken them to cats ears?), and the guide also says that yellow individuals can be mistaken for large wasps, can’t imagine that though.
So to Monday, I was joined by Steve early afternoon and we made for Stargate (not the one of science-fiction, I kid you not, we actually have a place nearby of that name) a nature reserve formed from a former landfill site, with a few ponds.


Stargate Nature reserve
 We park the chariot by the entrance and a short trek to the first pond, which is shallow and open, a good sign, and even better, a yellowish dragonfly is already patrolling the margins. We watch it whizz around, Steve is sure of its identity as he was here yesterday and photographed the same individual. I eventually got a decent fix on it so was happy in my own mind we had a broad-bodied chaser, now to sex it. It disappeared off towards a patch of gorse where Steve had photographed it yesterday, and sure enough, we walked over and there it was, perched up in excellent view, and what a beautiful creature, the bright yellow colouring of the abdomen, the shape, and distance between the claspers said we had a young female, (and the way it posed for photographs just confirmed it was a beautiful young female) though would you believe it, the way it occasionally hovered over plants with a rapid to and fro motion, it resembled a very large wasp! But as you can see from the resulting photos taken from close range, she was very approachable.
Broad-bodied Chaser from above. Rounded shape of the abdomen and distance between
 claspers (though not apparent here) confirm a female, and the pale braces (antehumeral stripes)
on the thorax distinguish it from four-spotted chaser which has none.

in profile
note the yellow edging to the abdomen, true of both sexes

and another

This shot shows the gorgeous colouring at the base of the wings
of this truly beautiful creature

Damsels were once again in short supply, small numbers of common blue, azure and blue-tailed. These too were mainly found around the gorse and consisted predominantly of immature specimens, pale pink/lilac where they will eventually become blue, their black markings the only constant with their mature form. In the main they were a bit camera shy, staying in shelter of the long grass where it was difficult to get a focus on them, but I did manage to snap a female common blue, which shows clearly the bomb-shaped black markings along the top of the abdomen, compared to the straighter edged azure.

Common Blue damsel female, this pink individual is typical of the
colouring in all species and sexes of immature damsels we encountered.
Mature individuals are predominently green or blue, and some immatures
can be yellow (as if there's not enough to think about!) 

We did check out the other ponds, but these are deep, steep-sided pools, not good habitat for broad-bodied chaser, in fact completely devoid of dragon or damsel, but all in all a very good session.
Mission accomplished, Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa (though I’ll still try to get a male)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Emperor's Wall

In my other life as an artist/illustrator I aim to get dragonflies in the spotlight whenever I can, my local art club (Gibside) currently has an exhibition at The Peoples Theatre in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne in celebration of The Pitmen Painters play they are putting on there shortly. Now the theme of the exhibition is 'the quintessential northeast' in effect the artists idea of what gives the northeast its identity, so I thought, well, Hadrian's wall is pretty unique to the area, so I came up with this . . . 
        

. . . and called it The Emperor's Wall
Well I hope you get it, a tenuous link I know but at least the title fits the bill. The exhibition was previewed today and will be on display til early August (hope you don't mind a bit of self-publicity, normal service will be resumed as soon as I can get out on another dragonquest, work and/or weather getting in the way at the moment).

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Zoom with a View

While I was struggling to get any half decent pictures at Far Pasture yesterday, my mate Indiana Steve (and his faithful hound Tilly) were further down the valley testing out Steve's new macro lens. His photos put mine to shame, but he got a smashing pic of a Common Blue damsel so I've stitched up a much better side by side comparison with the Azure damsel (below) to look at the diagnostic pointers between the two species. after that just enjoy the cracking images, not bad for a first attempt Steve, to say the least.

Azure damsel (above)
Common Blue damsel (below)
The subtls differences between the two species are much more apparent here, note especially the thickness of the black thorax stripe, the black markings at the base of the abdomen, and the amount of blue on the tail end segments. 

Smashing shot of a common blue in close-up


Blue-tailed damselfly (m) in profile .....

.....and from head on, menacing or what?

And finally my favourite, an excellent shot of a Common Blue-tail male
enjoying a juicy snack.  

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Quest for Common Blue - Far Pasture revisited

A bright morning gave me my only probable opportunity of the week to do a bit of dragon hunting, the forecast was for clouding over late morning then showers, so a quick visit to Far Pasture ponds in the hour or so I had free was the best option, another chance to catch up with common blue damsels and four spotted chasers, with four having been reported here at the weekend.
The hide was empty, I opened a few windows on all sides and sat down to scan with eager anticipation. Sun was shining but disappointingly neither dragon nor damsel to be seen. And so it remained this way for a good 15 minutes, I consoled myself with an update on the birds present, far more action of the feathered kind than has been seen here in a long while.
Birdsong abounds, the chuntering of a garden warbler, the scratchy verse of the common whitethroat, the staccato song of a reed bunting, distant willow warblers and chiffchaffs, lovely stuff.
The water treatment plant next door had attracted many a hirundine, mainly house martins, wheeling around the skies picking off the myriad of insect prey these places are infested with.
Two broods of mallards, one quite duck-like, the other still in the fluffy cute stage, a moorhen family, territorial coots chasing anything that came near the nest, a pair of loafing Canada geese and a female tufted duck. And the little grebe nest was now empty, both adults were about, fishing in the clear waters and taking their catch into the reeds, so I guess the recently fledged chicks are in there somewhere. Ah the spring, but where are my dragons?

My wait ended with a flurry of activity, scanning the nearside vegetation for anything perched up, a pair of damsels in tandem floats past my eyeline, the blue male in front clasping his green female around the neck as she’s towed along. But they disappear just as quickly as they came and my attention wanders to a dragonfly which has just appeared directly in front of me, dipping it’s rear into the pond, a female four-spotted chaser ovipositing (egg laying). Maybe 5 or 6 rapid dips then she exits stage right as two more dragons zoom past further out going right to left. Their stop-start flight pattern has me dizzy, I can barely keep up with them with the naked eye never mind binoculars. They are joined far-side by another, all three hover in a group just long enough for me to get a fix on them, they are all dull brown four-spotted chasers, much duller than the yellowish female I have just been watching so I believe them to be all males. A brief skirmish and they zoom out of vision in all directions. Every now and again I can track one but they don’t ever seem to perch anywhere so offering no opportunity for better observation or photographs, and so it goes on for a while.
I relocate my blue damsel couple who are now ovipositing on surface plants. Female with abdomen arched as she lays her eggs, male still clasped round her neck now vertical as if on sentry duty. They are soon up in the air again and land on a plant in tandem a bit closer to the hide, giving my first photo opportunity. At 18 x zoom at about 20 feet away I can’t get good clear images, but the magic of digital is you can reel off a few in the hope one might give clues to their species, then nearby I locate a single blue damsel which I photograph as well.
Time running out now I scour the pond margins in front of the hide and find a second couple in tandem, again unable to identify by sight I get a couple of photos and it’s time to go back to Dragonhunter HQ and study the pictures.

Azure couple - U shape at top of male abdomen is clearly visible

Another Azure couple - subtle differences on the male but the all dark back of the female abdomen is the best clue, on common blue the dark markings would be bomb shaped, but will cover that later.
There’s enough evidence on even these poor quality photos to confirm both couples I saw were azure damsels but what about the single male below, at first glance no different from the azure damsels we’ve observed so far, but then look at the side by side comparison with an azure I’ve already photographed and see why in fact we have at last got our first Common Blue damsel of the year.

Single blue male but what species?

He's a Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum 
The mushroom shape is just about visible on segment 2 of the abdomen but compare with Azure damsel above,
the single black stripe on the thorax (body) is a lot thinner, and at the tip of the abdomen there are two complete segments coloured blue on the common, wheras the outer segment at the tip of the azure is half black.  
So there it is, just goes to show the value of photographing and asking questions later, even with poor quality snaps like I’ve taken, there are enough clues to confirm ID. I have no doubt I’ll get much better images as the season draws on and will do a proper comparison of the species at a later date, in mid-summer they tend to couple up away from the pond along the access road in good numbers, making locating them and photographing them a lot easier. Meanwhile another mission accomplished.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Emerging from the Gloom


The curse of the weekend adventurer is reliance on the weather. A planned trip around the top dragonfly sites in the borough with my mate Indiana Steve (and his faithful damsel hound Tilly) looked like being a total washout as Sunday was overcast, cold, showery and generally gloomy, but after sitting in a hide for more than an hour looking at redshanks, wood pigeons and very little else, the light rain stopped and we decided to look in at Kibblesworth Brickworks Pools as it was just up the road. We weren’t expecting much and so weren’t disappointed. Nothing was flying, no surprise there, but I haven’t been here for a while and was astounded to see the smaller pools had dried up completely with the lack of rainfall this spring.
Some of the shallower margins of the main pool were showing a few tide marks now too, but otherwise the water level wasn’t too bad.
We decided to scan the reeds for anything perched up, and considering there had been over 60 four-spotted chasers counted here a few days back we were a bit disappointed we could only locate two, but they weren’t going anywhere so we were able to get a few photos. Actually as I switched on my camera (a Panasonic FZ-38, not much more than an advanced point and press really) Steve, photography being his forte, pipes up “You’ll get better shots if you put it on the macro setting”
“Here, I know I’m no photographer but I’m not that much of a numpty” I replied knowingly, and looked into my viewfinder to find a big message on screen.
“What does that say” says Steve.
“Remove lens cap” I said quietly.

four-spotted chaser - one of two
four-spotted chaser - two of two

We were wondering where all the damsels were too, theories abounded as Steve, this his first ever dragonfly safari, (a bit of a recce before he gets his superzoom macro lens to do some proper insect photography) suggested they might go underwater in the cold, I told him they lost all their colour and went translucent so becoming invisible, just to hide the fact I had no idea. Or maybe they hid in the trees nearby, ashamed to say I never thought about it before. There were in fact plenty of damselfly nymphs and empty larval casings all over the reed stalks, something I haven't witnessed before, these have climbed out of the waters to break out of their dull leathery casings and transform into bright blue flying machines, and in good numbers too.


damsel nymph or already flown?
We did locate a few blue-tails, and then a couple more which were so pale just couldn’t make out what they were, but it was noticeable that these pulled their wings in so tightly they just resembled extensions of the grassy stalks they were sheltering on, excellent camouflage.

blue-tailed damsel, one of the brighter specimens we found

 Then just as we came to the end of our lap of the main pond, Steve pointed to the ground where I stooped to find a dragonfly emerging from its larval casing (exuvia) , a medium sized, bright yellow individual which we duly photographed (below)

Emerging dragonfly - but what species?

I regret to say that at this point I’m not sure of the species. It may well be just a four-spotted chaser, but the pond here also holds Black-tailed Skimmer, a similar size, known to prefer this end of the pond and due to emerge about now, but as I have seen neither species in this early stage of their adult life before, this under-developed individual remains a mystery, though I am still investigating and will confirm when able. An unusual sighting anyway, so the day not a total washout.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Thursday - Clockburn Lake recce

A bit of a reconnaissance mission today turned up trumps, the wind finally dropped, bright sunshine and a red hot day, we’d promised to take the kids out for a scooter ride (they all have micro scooters and love to get out in the open on them, rather than just zoom up and down our patio out back.) so we motored on up to Winlaton Mill car park and headed off along the Derwent Walk to Clockburn Lake. Forgetting though that the good weather and school holidays equals masses of families, dog walkers and cyclists all along the route. We negotiated the path without too much incident, loose and over-excited dogs were the main worry with the kids, but I was not to be put off as I know from past years that the outlet stream here leading into the river Derwent can be good for both Blue-tailed damsels and my particular favourite, the Banded Demoiselle.
On arrival at the little bridge over the stream, most noticeable was the number of tadpoles in there, it was absolutely wick with them. Good size as well, many with rear legs well developed I noted as I quickly scanned the waters. Looking around the vegetation I noted my first blue-tail, then another and another, but then the holy grail of damsels, a resplendent male Banded Demoiselle fluttered into view. Unfortunately the family had moved off due to a pack of dogs (some I was even scared of) running around and my 6-year old is really nervous of them, and my camera was in the little ’uns buggy. So the return journey I made a point in stopping here again, not so crowded now but the kids were tired, grumpy and restless, I took these record shots of the two new species but really just snaps, must have a trip along here and the river in the next week or so (on my own) when I can spend a bit of time to get some better shots from better angles. They’ll do for now though.
Blue-tailed damselfly  Ischnura elegans (male)
 another blue and black damsel but much different in appearance from the common blue and azure.
 

Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens (male)

Superb creature, nothing to confuse it with in this area, my photo just doesn't do it justice. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

News from around the borough

Now EIGHT species of dragonfly recorded so far this year in the borough of Gateshead. THE premier site, Kibblesworth Brickworks pools came up trumps at the weekend with the first Emperor dragonfly, plus no less than 61 four-spotted chasers. Many Azure and Large Red damsels too, with just small numbers of Common and Blue-tailed damsels, suggesting their emergence is still in first gear and I may have been a bit too early in expecting them, though going from past years there should be plenty around by the second week in June. 
Close by at Lamesly water meadows, the first Banded Demoiselle of the year, and at Burdon Moor, three Broad-bodied Chasers still, another species I have yet to catch up with this year.

Information from Gatesheadbirders.co.uk