Monday, 28 May 2012

Scouting Missions and a nice cup of Tea

With a few new potential dragonhunting sites found over the winter months I've taken advantage of opportunities to sound a couple of them out.

On Saturday we took the kids out on a scooter ride at the top end of the Derwent Valley where I had rediscovered a small pond I'd forgotten about, adjacent to a wildflower meadow opposite Swalwell Visitor Centre. When I last visited in early winter it was no more than a dried up reedbed but the recent downpours have filled it up, new shoots coming through but despite a week of sunshine no damsels to report today. Will try again in a few weeks time I think when populations are a bit more conspicuous.

A second pond I had discovered is another in Gibside at the top end of the walled garden. It's well established and well managed so don't know how I've missed it, having passed there many a time as it's right next to the vegetable plots opposite the much-used overflow car park!
So with the kids at school this morning and the threat of it being the last day of sunshine for a few days, with my better half we drove up to Gibside for a little walk around and a cup of tea at the cafe.   
Unexpectedly met an old mate up there so after a long 'crack on' our time limitations were even more restricted, but we walked along to check out the pond (which was in the process of having the surrounding vegetation scythed away by the NT Rangers) but nevertheless came up trumps with the first Four-spotted Chaser of the year, (a Gibside first for me) and looking magnificent hovering with copper-tinged wings glinting in the glorious sunshine. Too distant for photographs I'm afraid but after watching it perched up for a while our all too brief stay then gave us another year first, a tandem pair of Large Red damsels. A second four-spot came on the scene, the inevitable skirmish took place and that was the last we saw of the chasers. Excellent. Just time for a nice pot of tea in the shade of a horse-chestnut tree in the cafe garden before we had to get back to pick up sprog3 from playgroup. Lovely way to spend a Monday morning, hope you're all jealous :)


Sunday, 27 May 2012

2012 - Opening Salvo

A very slow start indeed for Gateshead's dragonflies this year. As usual, first species recorded was Large Red Damsel, a couple being seen on a rare sunny day at Clara Vale on April 27th, and one at Lamesley the same day.
After that of course the heavens opened and the deluge of rain meant no further reports filed for over three weeks, a poor comparison with last year when by mid-May there were half a dozen species on the wing.

But at last the rain stopped and the sun came out this week, and on Tuesday 22nd more Large Red damsels were noted at Kibblesworth, along with small numbers of Common Blue damsels and the first true dragonfly of the season, a male Broad-bodied Chaser.

So with a couple of hours to spare on Thursday (24th) the Dragonhunter dusted off his trusty 2-wheel chariot and pedalled off to Clockburn Lake for a first sortie of the season, in the hope of finding his first dragon of the year at the outlet stream.
On arrival things looked pretty bleak. The new vegetation not yet anywhere near full grown and nothing to see but a few of those big black flies with the dangly legs. The path to the river was clear so I had a look there, taking in the beauty of the sun reflecting off the fast-moving shallows and shining brightly through the fresh green leaves on the trees. Suddenly a downward movement on the far side of the river caught my eye. I looked over just in time to see and hear a splash as something dropped into the shallows from an overhanging tree. I got my bins on it, and watched a rather bedraggled grey squirrel haul itself up the riverbank, looking suitably embarrassed as it shook itself off and did a slow and deliberate walk back into the undergrowth.

Cheered up a bit, I walked back to the inner part of the outlet stream where a heron fished from the reeds and above me a buzzard was mobbed by a crow.
Then suddenly a "Gettin" moment as I welcomed back an old friend in the shape of a Blue-tailed Damselfly, my first of the year. I whizzed off a couple of photos (a female of the rufescens form) and went on to record another half-dozen along thebank of the stream, all of the same species.

Blue-tailed damselfly
First of the year

Encouraged by this success I decided I'd call in to Far Pasture on the way back, but not before I discovered a new species of ant for my patch, an extremely fast dull black ant on the tarmac path, larger than lasius niger the common garden ant, and though it was far too quick for a photo I believe it to be of the species formica lemani, a predatory species nesting under stones or in tree holes whose workers largely forage alone.
Anyway, to Far Pasture. Nothing at all from the hide, once again the new year vegetation hasn't yet got a hold, the green shoots just appearing above the waterline, and a lot of excavation work over the winter means the rich areas around the hide have been more or less removed, which might make viewing and photographing more difficult than usual, have to wait and see.
Disappointed, I left the hide and checked the roadside ditch ponds which have become established over the last couple of years, and was delighted to find another Blue-tailed damsel (which I didn't photograph), a male Common Blue damsel (which I did photograph but came out too blurred to be of any use), a male Azure damsel (photographed) and another which I wasn't sure of but turned out to be a female Azure damsel of the blue form, which makes up only around 10% of the
female population, certainly the first I can remember seeing never mind having such a good view and photograph.

Azure damselfly male

Azure damsel female (blue form) elevated and profile views

So after a slow start three species recorded and a photographic first for my gallery, it's difficult enough to find single female damsel as it is, much more likely encountered in tandem with a male or in the mating wheel, so to get such a good shot of a relatively uncommon one is a very pleasing start to the dragonhunting season. And still no Large Red, I'm betting that's next.