Friday, 27 July 2012

A Golden-ringed Opportunity

With an afternoon to spare after finishing hacking back the front jungle this morning, I suggested the short trip to Pow Hill Country Park on the shores of Derwent Reservoir. It has an excellent array of paths and short grassland for the kids to scoot about on, and wild areas of woodland, boggy heath and a couple of open acidic streams known to be favoured by golden-ringed dragonflies, what a bonus that would be!

But after a disappointing (for me anyway) first leg of the trip, with not a dragon or damsel to be seen around the bogs, we had our afternoon snack back at the car park, and revitalised by a nice cup of earl grey we decided to tackle the track on the opposite side of the car park.
On breaking through the first bank of trees I could see this was much better golden-ring country, the path climbs parallel to a deep-sided narrow stream in a good clearing between the trees, disappearing at times beneath overhanging ferns, perfect! and with a good length of clearing too I was getting a tad optimistic.

The afore-mentioned stream

Suddenly a large dragonfly could be seen hawking further up the track. I got onto it with my bins as it approached, but nay, it turned out to be a common hawker male. Nevertheless a good dragon, my first of the year in fact so quite happy with that. I watched it foraging a while as the kids got impatient and we moved on through an upward-sloping dark and barren conifer wood, not knowing what to expect at the top of the bank as we hadn't been up this way previously.
A pleasant surprise as we entered a freshly mown clearing, flanked on one side by the pine forest and the other by a large swathe of 2 metre high bracken, over which another large dragonfly was skimming swiftly.
 I knew straight away this was something different, I focussed on it coming towards me, at the speed and distance a very black-looking insect, even the wings appearing dark like smoked glass (an effect made by thick black veins in the wing I find out later) and as it suddenly reared upwards to gather in some prey the obvious bulging tip of an otherwise slim abdomen confirmed my rising hopes, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly!
I tracked it around the top of the bracken from my vantage point of a conveniently placed picnic table, (not easy in the increasingly blustery conditions), until it came overhead and started hunting high in the pines opposite, where I got my best view as it inspected the outer branches, hovering in fits and starts.        
What a beauty, bright green eyes, and striking yellow and black armour running the length of it, my first golden-ringed since Dumfries and Galloway back in 1997, and I have no qualms at calling it as a male, the slim abdomen with obvious bulging tip noted earlier was enough to sex it (a female would have a relatively thicker abdomen making the bulge at the tip not so prominent) and there was certainly no sign of a protruding ovipositer in the overhead silhouette.

Looking back at where I found the golden-ringed, follow
the channel on the left of picture 
Unfortunately no photographs to accompany the sighting, (too flighty, too distant) so here's one pilfered from the internet :

Golden-ringed dragonfly male
like the one I saw earlier 

But what a great end to an afternoon out, I'm even starting to quite enjoy the school holidays!  :)

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Record Record and a Record of Records

Earliest ever record of Migrant Hawker today for the DragonHunter, with a male foraging over the river as it bends around Kite Hill. Never had a July record before, beating my previous early record for the species (of 8th August) by a massive 14 days.

Also at Kibblesworth today it was reported that the first Ruddy Darter of the year was on the wing, along with Emperor, Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-Spotted Chaser, Common Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies, Emerald, Common Blue and Blue-tailed damsels.

All of which means that of the regular 16 species recorded in Gateshead, only Black Darter is yet to make an appearance, and my total is up to 13 for the summer, 11 of which have been photographed. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A Mixed Weekend

Saturday off patch, a family outing to Herrington Country Park in glorious sunshine, good day out with a hike up Penshaw Monument. A flypast by a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster Bomber on way to Sunderland Airshow was a treat, and we had a good scoot around the network of paths passing a number of water-bodies, but alas not a single dragon or damsel to report, though a very brightly coloured magpie moth was a nice find.

Sunday afternoon another family outing, this time local to Gibside. A classic car show was the attraction here today but afterwards a walk took us to a couple of ponds where despite the blustery conditions there was at least some activity. The Walled Garden Pond had a couple of common darters close-by and an unidentified teneral damselfly at the car show itself.
The lily pond had a dozen or so common blue damsels and a single large red, but star of the day was the first Emerald Damselfly of the season, flushed up and successfully photographed along a beaten-down path in one of the flower meadows.

Good result, the final damsel of the season, bringing species seen so far to 12. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

After the Storm II . . . .

A trip along the river proved a bit of an eye-opener, still in flood after all the rain and signs of devastation caused by the freak storm three weeks ago, with remnants of overflows in the form of mud and debris along paths, riverbank erosion and the area around the outlet stream from Clockburn Lake which was lush vegetation last time I was here (photographing the Banded Demoiselles) now not much more than a mudflat.
Just 3 weeks ago this area was lush with wild rhubarb standing well over
a metre high, now just a few hardy stragglers remain

A great little highlight though as I stood surveying the changes when a kingfisher flashed in low from around the bend in the river and perched atop a small stump no more than five feet in front of mc. I couldn't believe it and stayed perfectly still, before the riperian beauty tilted her head in my direction, fixed me with a brief stare and was away again in a literal flash. Marvellous view though brief as it was.

Not much activity here as by now the day was overcast, the only damsels showing were those I flushed from the long grass as I walked bythe stream, mainly blue-tailed, a few common blue and a fine male demoiselle, which I traced across the stream but lost in the encroaching reeds far-side.
A male blue-tail, the only half decent shot I was able to take

Not much else to report from several stops along the river, other highlight was this creature which I think is a leech of some sort, found crawling across my path by the overgrown flower meadow pond at Swalwell.
A very large leech stretching to about 4 inches

All in all an interesting little excursion.  


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

First Hawkers of the Year

Sunny morning, a couple of hours to spare, so trekked up to Thornley Woods Pond to check on southern hawker emergence.

Plenty of damsels noted, 30+ Azure and c20 large red, before a scrutiny of the back vegetation produced no fewer than 5 emerging hawkers in various stages, from just popped out to ready to fly. There were also at least a dozen exuviae scattered around, four on dead branches sticking out of the centre of the pond looking quite eerie in close-up.
Azure damsels in the mating wheel
Large red damsel, plenty around today
Emerging Southern Hawker female
One of five seen today but all too distant for decent photos
Four exuviae can be seen hanging from these dead branches.
An eerie scene viewed in close-up

Disappointed not to see any adults though, as the sun shone throughout my hour long stay and at this time of year I would normally expect to see patrolling males and ovipositing females. I dread to say it but can only think the appalling weather is taking its toll on the hawkers too. Thankfully the forecast is better over the next week so things may yet improve.

Don't know why I bothered but I called in to Far Pasture on the way back home, and was greeted by the usual barren scene. A few azure/blue damsels but that's all, but if the forecast is correct then we should be getting common and ruddy darters here before long. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

And still They come . . .

Another sunny day and though I was otherwise indisposed, a return trek to Kibblesworth was undertaken by 'Indiana' Steve, as on Tuesday he hadn't bothered to take his camera and missed out on capturing the Black-tailed Skimmer show in all its glory.
But he made up for it today with some cracking shots as once again the pair was seen mating (or was it a different pair?) and also got some superb macro shots of a four-spotted chaser. Enjoy . . . .

Black-tailed Skimmer (male)
Notoriously difficult to get a good photograph due to their habit of perching
on the ground, this image is as about as good as it gets considering
the distance involved.  
Black-tailed Skimmer (female)
When the background isn't so uniform even the brightly-coloured
female gets a bit lost in the surroundings

Four-Spotted Chaser at Kibblesworth
Superb macro shots of detail in close-up
(All images Steven Fryer)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

More of the Same

Yesterdays Black-tail adventure was also captured by Rob S, who has kindly allowed me to publish some of his photos, a lot better than the ones I took and not bad at all considering the distance and dullness of the skies.

Black tailed Skimmer pair (Kibblesworth Brickwork pools)
Rob Stonehouse

Compare males of the similar Black-tailed Skimmer (above) and
Broad-bodied Chaser (below)
Easiest difference to spot on a perched specimen is the lack of dark basal
patches on the wings of the skimmer. Also note the chaser has broad
antehumeral stripes on the thorax, totally lacking on the skimmer, and
the abdomen of the skimmer is thin and pointed, that of the chaser
is broad and rounded.    

So once again the lack of dragonfly numbers and opportunities to seek them out is more than made up in the quality of sightings and species recorded well. Though I wouldn't mind getting a decent shot of an Emperor, my only two real Gateshead targets for the season now are an improved shot on last years of a Black Darter, and a female Migrant Hawker, both late season species so plenty of time for the weather to improve.
Will now turn attention to seeking out new species in new locations, and searching beyond Gateshead for new lifers.
Can't wait to get started . . . . . . . .


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Black Tale . . . . er Tail

A second try for the elusive Kibblesworth Black-tailed Skimmer proved to be a lot more successful than the first.
Warm though still overcast conditions brought out hundreds of damselflies and a few common darters before our long vigil at the favoured end of the pond for the skimmers proved just as barren as Sunday, but after walking the circumference of the pond things started to look up as a pair of skirmishing Four-spotted Chasers gave a limited photographic opportunity, then the pair mobbed a larger dragonfly behind us which I failed to ID from the briefest of views as I lost it in the trees, but an educated guess would most likely be an Emperor.

Common Blue damsels
about to do what comes naturally

Freshly emerged Common darter

Four-spotted chaser
good to see plenty about today after drawing a blank on Sunday 

More Four-spot Chasers appeared as we got back to the skimmer end then a similarly sized dragon approached swiftly low over the water, as it passed by it appeared much brighter yellow than the four-spots, thinner too, and its jizz as it flew low over the water had us all calling 'skimmer' but it disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived so we could not say whether it was a female or immature male.

And that was it for a while, we had been teased into prolonging our stay, and just as well, brief pockets of sunshine brought out 10-12 four-spotted chasers on the secondary pond, then an imperious male Emperor zipped in for a sortie across the pond, first sighting of the year.
But even he was outdone when a low-flying blue dragon made an entrance in the channel seperating the island from the shore, Black-tailed Skimmer, male, magic!
We tracked him but he wouldn't settle for long. This species known for ground-perching rather than on plant stems like most others, but our only views for a while were brief and distant, before once again he disappeared as did the sun.
By now we were all at the opposite side of the pond to where we'd began and as I'd left my backpack by the channel I walked back around to collect it, and couldn't believe my eyes when a low-flying pair of dragons in the mating wheel I looked at (expecting to be four-spots) were actually a black-tailed skimmer pair! and they landed at the edge of the island giving us fantastic prolonged views, though a bit too far for sharp photos I can't complain as I reeled off shot after shot, getting a few half-decent ones (below)

My first ever photo of Black-tailed Skimmer
male and female together. how lucky is that?
Business done, the couple stop for a breather, the powder blue male
looking like a thin broad-bodied chaser, the female yellow and black.
And finally the male on his own, female gone off
to deposit some eggs

So there it is, my Number One Gateshead target for the year in the bag, not only that but both male and female photographed, and even in the same photo! More than I could have ever wished for so what a fantastic dragonhunting session. Mission accomplished!                 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Nightmare continues . . . .

Yip, the nightmare that is British Summertime continued this week with the worst flash floods I've ever known locally and wind and rain for most of the overcast week. All this is not good for Dragonhunting, another fruitless visit to Far Pasture and a Gibside trek abandoned due to rain were the last attempts at finding new species in June, and the first day of July proved not much better.

A long overdue visit to the borough's premier site, Kibblesworth Brickwork Pools, was made despite the still overcast conditions in the hope of seeing a Black-tailed Skimmer (a prime target species after dipping last year) which had been noted by a fellow dragonhunter on Friday.
Needless to say there were none to be seen today, but more discouraging was the lack of Four-spotted chasers, which usually numerous here, have been seen only in noticeably small numbers. Certainly none flying today and none found perched up either after a search of the thicker reedbed at the far end of the main pond which is usually a good place to find them.
Brief spells of sunshine brought a few damsels out in the open, azure and blue-tailed noted, and now and again a freshly emerged Common Darter, still with the milky crinkled wings and dull ochre colouring of the teneral stage would flit up out of the grass, one noteably snatched out of the air by a low-flying swift as I watched it float upwards from the grassy margins of the pond.
Eventually a photo opportunity came my way and I was able to snap this teneral female, my first Common Darter of the year.

Teneral Common darter female at Kibblesworth Pools
First sighting of the year of this species

Dragonfly version of Where's Wally?
How many dragons and damsels can you see on this pic?

A brief but heavy shower finally persuaded us to call it a day, but on the way home we decided to check out Thornley Woods Pond for signs of Southern Hawker emergence, and sure enough a couple of exuvia were found hanging from emergent grasses proving the first of them are on the wing.

Another year first with this exuvia from
a Southern hawker Dragonfly
(Thornley woods Pond)
Always a great site (and sight) at the height of summer so a session here will no doubt prove as entertaining as ever a bit later in the season. Immediate plans are to catch up with Black-tailed skimmer, and hopefully a sunny day this week will lend an opportunity, so fingers crossed for that.