Sunday, 26 August 2012

Back to Cragside

Burdon Moor turned up the first Black Darter of the year in the borough on Tuesday (21st) while the DragonHunter was at the seaside up in Northumberland, and the rest of the week was a frustrating mix of bad weather and stuff to do, meaning todays much needed trip to Cragside offered the first chance to get one of my own.
A rather dull day ensued though, and the only early sign of a black darter came from a txt from Steve, informing me he got the one at Burdon Moor this morning, as I was busy dipping on a search of the area around Blackburn Lake, great !
After a picnic lunch the next opportunity for a bit of dragonfly spotting came with a trek along the shores of Nelly's Moss Lake (south), a narrow winding path of flat stones and mud, and with three sprogs in tow it was like an adventure trek through the amazon jungle as we weaved in single file overcoming obstacles of loose and broken stones, some wet and slippy and at dangerous angles, stray tree roots and deep puddles flanked by dirty sticky mud.
Suddenly a small yellow dragonfly alighted from a large flat rock as sprog 1 passed it in front. "No!" I gasped, recognising the insect as a female black darter, and the first I'd ever seen in real life.
It floated up and away but rather than be disappointed I got to thinking where there's one there has to be more, and the next bend in the track brought us into the open, flat rocks leading a short distance down to the lake, and the area was wick with dragonflies, two tandem pairs of common darters and a host of individuals, a southern hawker ovipositing from a rock in the shallows, a ruddy darter male hovered just in front of me, and the holy grail, a pair of black darters in the mating wheel floated by and landed on the expanse of stone by the lake.
Brilliant! I whipped out the camera and instructed my better half to keep the kids in check as I reeled off some pictures, getting closer and closer with each click of the shutter.

A bit disappointed with the overall quality, with hindsight a bit of fill-in flash might have got them a bit sharper as it was still quite dull. Never mind, I backed off and watched them through my bins for a time, certainly the best example of a male I've seen, his yellowish/amber spotting sharp and clearly visible, and the female the first I've ever seen close-up nevermind photographed, shame I couldn't get her bright yellow upper abdomen so still a target to hopefully get in Gateshead. But that's 17 species for the year, two better than last, though again I still need to get a black darter in Gateshead to complete the set for the borough this season.    

Monday, 20 August 2012

Ruddy darters !@!

Thought I'd give far Pasture another check before the forecast rain came in today, really wanted to get some better Ruddy Darter photos as the last batch weren't too good.
First stop the roadside and again at least two male ruddys were present with quite a few common darters bathing in the sunshine on the road and fence.
One cheeky individual used my trusty chariot as a perch (in exchange for some good photos,) but the ruddys weren't so obliging, being very difficult to approach.

" On your bike ! "

I had a look on the pond where half a dozen tandem pairs of common darters were dipping in the waters to oviposit, and one unnattached female was doing the same. All told I would estimate the number of common darters to be in the region of forty, a good count.
Another individual at the pond was I'm sure a female ruddy, having a stubby yellowish abdomen, but was chased away by a common darter before I could be certain.
Damsels present included about a dozen emeralds, 8 or 9 common blue and a single blue-tailed.

Back at the roadside I again tried to get close to a ruddy darter, but again found them to be much more nervous than their common cousins, one in particular of which I got at point blank range on the fence for some lovely detailed shots.

An overmature female also posed nicely

But once again I didn't get any really decent shots of ruddy darter, but on checking the snaps I did get I can see there were at least three different males present today.

I also spotted this strange mark on the fence which I thought looks like the silhouette of a dragonfly in flight.

Or maybe it's just me?
Whatever, I'll just have to try and get some sharper ruddy photos next time. Adios ! 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Man on a Mission : Ruddy Darter

With the Common Darters out at Far Pasture I got to thinking the Ruddy Darters might be out by now too, one of my favourite dragons, petite and rich red, the mature male is a cracking sight.
So off I trekked more in hope than expectation, been a funny old summer thus far, especially at this particular site, but a good dragonfly day weather-wise and as I turned the bend on the approach road I thought I should check out the area by the roadside ditch-pond as it's turned up trumps many times in the past.
Lo and behold the first dragon I see on the side of the road looks suspiciously like a male ruddy, a look through my bins confirms it but it disappears before I can extract my camera from my bag.
A bit of a wait and it fails to reappear so I decide to check out the pond and get it on the way back.

The pond is pretty barren at first glance but I detect a few emerald damsels dotted about and a couple of common darters sweeping low across the water. A tandem pair soon follow and in the end there were probably 7 or 8 darters in view, all common.

I returned to the roadside and after spotting another couple of common darters here my wait finally ended as the male ruddy zipped in and landed on the road, where I reeled off a couple of record shots then got closer for a few snaps of better quality from a variety of angles, and even a pretty poor in-flight shot.
As I snapped away a second male arrived on the scene, a brief skirmish and they were off, but one soon returned to land on the fence opposite where I took my last picture of the day.

Mission accomplished - Ruddy Darter in the bag and my total of species seen for the year leaps up to 16, one ahead of last years total, though my Gateshead total is 15 (level with last year) with black darter still to get for a complete list of the boroughs breeding Odonata.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Back on Familiar Territory

Thought I'd try a bit of reverse psychology on the weather as usually on a sunny day it clouds over just after I arrive on site. Friday was overcast so I trekked up to Thornley Woods Pond hoping this time it would turn sunny just after I arrived, and believe it or not, it worked!

My main reason for visiting this pond (as always) is to observe and photograph Southern Hawker dragonflies, such a small pond holds a good population of these brilliant creatures and over the years I've had most of my best and closest encounters here, as well as giving me a good understanding of the species through witnessing emergence, territorial behaviour, the mating ritual and oviposition.

Today an emerging female was almost fully developed when I arrived, and I managed to photograph her from various angles before witnessing her maiden flight, a relief to me as she was in the area where ignorant dog owners usually let their mutts wreak havoc, resulting previously in drownings of hawkers not yet fully emerged.

Another female visited a couple of times to oviposit but was unusually flighty, they're often very approachable when egg-laying, resulting in some cracking photos, but unfortunately this one wasn't so I've nothing to show for the encounter, nor did I photograph the only other hawker which came over, a feeding male which circled the clearing a couple of times at height before disappearing.    

One piece of behaviour I did manage to photograph however (though not particularly successfully thanks to the distance involved) was the sentinel stance of ovipositing damselflies. The two species which breed on this pond (large red and azure) were both present today in decent numbers, and a few tandem pairs were busy about the pond, and though they weren't laying nearside I got a few distant snaps just to record the behaviour.

I also spotted a pair of damsel wings on the water surface a way out, no sign of the rest of the perished unfortunate, as it was now lunch for a pack of young sticklebacks.

Finally I was able to get right close-up to a couple of large red damsels, and was able to take some (if I do say so myself) cracking macro shots including a couple from almost point blank range.

Really pleased with those shots so all in all a worthwhile session at probably my favourite dragonfly pond.
A bit of a worry though is that there's been a lot of tree felling in the woods this year as the non-native conifers are being eradicated, and now the woods as a whole are a lot more open and the pond itself is no longer surrounded by tall conifers with the result that a lot more sunlight is getting through. How this will affect things in the future I don't know. I've been watching this pond for the last five years and like I say only 3 species breed in it (Southern Hawker, Large Red damsel and Azure damsel) so whether the change in aspect will be detrimental to those or indeed may encourage others to colonise it I suppose only time will tell. I'll certainly be watching and taking note anyway.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Olympic Success and some Gold Medal stuff from the BBC

Well I couldn't let the Olympics pass without mention that it was a dragonfly which started it all off, as 17 days ago the opening sequence on the BBC featured a dragonfly eye view of the Thames leading up to Olympic Park, an iconic beginning to what proved to be an excellent opening ceremony, followed by over a fortnight of brilliant sports, have to say I'm glad its come to a close though as I'm beginning to develop square eyes.

That bright blue blur to the upper left of picture is indeed a dragonfly
as the magnificent Olympic coverage gets under way 
(only problem is it doesn't appear to be a British species!)

The BBC website also holds some excellent images and snippets about Odonata, follow these links for some very interesting viewing about our favourite life-forms.

Giant Helicopter Damsels :  

Some wonderful footage from some top notch BBC progs :

Marvellous !

Utterly Butterfly

Can't say I've ever been that interested in butterflies but that's not to say they aren't a pleasure to study at close-quarters if the chance arises, and a visit to Butterfly World in Stockton on Wednesday gave opportunity to see some tropical species close-up.
It's not much more than a big humid greenhouse with ornamental pond, water feature and tropical plants, but contains many individuals of about 30 species of highly colourful butterflies from all over the world, some of them absolute corkers. I really enjoyed seeing and walking among them, but frustratingly difficult to photograph in a crowded area and three sprogs in tow. The kids enjoyed  them too though which was nice to see, and here are a few of my better shots.

S. America
Orchard Swallowtail (male)
S. America
Tailed Jay
An absolute stunner but couldn't get a still shot of it
as the wings shimmered continuously 
Tropical America
Shame I couldn't get a photo with wings open as it's a
gorgeous kingfisher blue on the topside
reminds me of the opening titles of Dr Who from the 1960s 
Bonus for me was a riverside walk later when a female Southern Hawker landed on a branch right in front of me, unfortunately I didn't have my camera ready, but shot it after it had flown to a higher perch.
Southern Hawker (female)

The only other dragonfly seen, a large flypast hawker, remained unidentified. Good day out though.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Lucky 7th

August the 7th and a bright morning, time to see if the darters are finally out at Far Pasture. Off I went with sprog2 in tow and at long last the sunshine held, resulting in at least nine individuals of Common Darter, four or five on the pond and a similar number on the access road, a few of which were successfully photographed.
Common Darter female at Far Pasture
Common Darter male at Far Pasture

No Ruddy darters though, but a double-figure count of Emerald damsels on the pond, with the odd common blue and a tandem pair of large red damsels being the only noteable others.

And then a cracking bonus back home later in the afternoon. When out in the garden I spied a hawker foraging around the front gardens of the next houses. It showed on and off for a while but was very flighty in continuous hunting mode and didn't come close enough for a really good look. However I got it in my bins a few times, it was certainly one of the mosaic types and the straight abdomen ruled out Southern right away. Even at distance I felt it was too large for a Migrant, coupled with the fact I'm sure a yellow costa was visible at times when it came head on so I'm confident enough to call it as a Common Hawker, probably an immature male as any bright colouring was difficult to make out.
A stroke of luck then, as I hadn't yet got one on my Gateshead list this year, the only one seen thus far being at Pow Hill Park the day I got the golden-ringed. Gettin !   

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Bad to Worse

School Holiday In-Trip Exploration began with a family trip to Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on sunny Thursday (2nd), the interestingly named Forgotten Meadow and Ponds being the only area of dragonhunting interest here, with 2-3 Southern Hawkers present. A male and female hawked the tree-line and another female (or possibly the same one) was ovipositing on and around the small pond.
Also present here were a common darter (male) and half a dozen common blue damsels.

male Southern Hawker obligingly posed for a photo
in between meals at Washinton WWT 

Common Darter and Common Blue damsels also
on the Forgotten Pond at Washington 

More S.H.I.T.E. Dragonhunting on Friday 3rd with a visit to Thornley Woods Pond. After a very bright morning I was presented with the opportunity to spend a couple of hours on my tod, and looked forward to a good little session when on arrival I was greeted by around 8 large red damsels, a dozen or so azures and a very busy feeding female Southern Hawker. Alas, just five minutes in the sun disappeared and with it my hopes as I sat for an hour without any further sightings, a flighty Giant Wood Wasp provided the only bit of interest as I watched in increasing gloom.

Another bright start on Sunday (5th) and a bit of unproductive birdwatching with Indiana Steve around the river Tyne. We eventually drove up to Burdon Moor for the dragons late morning and arrived on site just as the last drop of sunshine departed behind the rainclouds, with just time to spot 4 Common Darters and around 8 Emerald damsels before we got soaked. (A bit of a theme starting to develop methinks)

Emerald Damsel at Burdon Moor
(before the downpour)

Back to family things on Monday and the short journey to Gibside early afternoon should have provided a bit of casual dragonhunting at the very least, it had been after all a really nice day (up until then) And lo and behold we lasted half an hour this time before the rain could be seen falling on the far side of the valley, with very dark skies heading our way at good speed, and needless to say we got caught in a downpour out in the open, thunder, lightening, the lot.             

 A S.H.I.T.E. few days indeed 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

July Roundup

Sunday (29th) was a non-dragonfly day with Steve and a few others doing the rounds of Gateshead on the lookout for returning waders. Not a lot to report on that score but highlight of the day was great views of a stoat hunting Costco car park, and two decent Kingfisher sightings, one at Shibdon Pond  and the other at Far Pasture. The only Odonata seen today were 3 common blue damsels at Sled Lane Pond.

Monday (30th) a family outing to Cragside was to hopefully provide a bit of part-time dragonhunting, alas the heavens opened soon after we arrived  and the only sightings were between showers at Nelly's Moss Lake with a single large red and maybe half a dozen common blue damsels. Will be making a return visit here in a couple of weeks hopefully to connect with black darter like last year.

Tuesday (31st) a morning of bright sunshine promised much for our planned afternoon walk & scoot around the Derwent Walk Country Park, but like yesterday the sun disappeared no sooner had we left the car park, the cool and overcast conditions only producing a few blue-tailed damsels at Clockburn Lake, and one each of common blue and azure. The days highlight didn't arrive until after 10pm this evening, with a tiny pipistrelle hunting low in the sky above and around our garden, first I've noted this year and another tick for my ever-increasing mammals list.

So that ends july, a frustrating and disappointing month in the main but once again not without its highlights. The lack of odonata at my local pond (Far Pasture) has been quite worrying, but seeing the golden-ringed was a rare treat to finish on, and successfully photographing the black-tailed skimmers early month a great moment.
August is the main hawker month, if I could find a Brown one I'll be well happy, otherwise I'll just be trying to better my photographs of common, southern and migrant from last year. The darters should be out in force this month too, so still time for Far pasture to redeem itself.