Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Season 2012 Review

Well that's October over and done with, and with the weather deteriorating day by day I think it's finally time to declare the 2012 Dragonhunting season over.
It's been a strange one but not without a good few highlights. After taking a while to get going (do I have to mention the spring rains again?) the early season highlight was getting some cracking shots of a male broad-bodied chaser, and on the same day I got male banded demoiselle as well, so two of my early season targets in one go.
I next caught up with black-tailed skimmer, the only Gateshead dragon to elude me last year, with the added bonus of a mating pair so getting both sexes at once.
On the downside, numbers were well down on 2011, though I was disappointed not to get back to Kibblesworth after the skimmers as it wasn't checked much by anyone later in the season, again mainly down to the weather not being agreeable when my limited opportunities arose.

In my home valley, Far Pasture was a tale of two halves, with not a single four-spotted chaser being seen all summer, small numbers of damsels were the only attraction early on, right up until mid August when the first darters appeared, but late season it was excellent for numbers of species seen with common, southern and migrant hawkers present, and plenty of photo opportunities for common and ruddy darter, and of course the late season black darter was a tremendous find, meaning I've now recorded 15 of the regular 16 Gateshead dragons here since 2006.
My other favourite site locally, Thornley woods Pond, was as usual excellent viewing for Southern Hawkers, with all sorts of behaviour witnessed, great entertainment and some canny photos to boot.
Another double up of highlights was mid-September at Burdon Moor, with several Black Darters present and some cracking photos of a male Southern Hawker, who posed beautifully for us on the trunk of a tree.     
Outside of Gateshead, more black darters at Cragside in Northumberland, and my first ever female here, and an unforgettable Golden-ringed Dragonfly at Pow Hill Country Park, Derwent reservoir.

So that's it then, once again mixed feelings, superb highlights but not enough of them, and proposed visits to sites out of the area to catch up with new species just never materialised thanks to the weather being poor when the opportunities were there. Frustrating, but there's always next year.

Over the winter I'll keep posting anything that might be of interest, either dragonfly specific or of wildlife in general, and here's hoping the coming months bring a few Waxwings, my favourite avian winter visitor.

Cheers  

Friday, 19 October 2012

Otter surprise!!!

Mid-October, a mix of rain and shine and decent afternoon temperatures means the dragons are still showing well. The only site visited locally remains Far Pasture and am having some excellent sorties there.
Last Sunday took a couple of the little 'uns down. Initially caught in a downpour we sheltered under a tree along the Derwent Walk which we quickly found to be a minefield of dogturds, never seen so many in a small space, when the rain subsided managed to negotiate the sprogs safely out of it but came a cropper myself, now I've nowt against dogs per se but bloody ignorant dogowners are the scourge of the countryside (rant over).
By the time we got to Far Pasture the sun was out nice and the bird ringers were in the car park, kind enough to show us some birds as they released them back into the wild, a lovely little goldcrest (male as shown by his orange crest) a fiesty blue tit (as shown by the peck marks in the ringers fingers,) and a crackin' little treecreeper, you just don't appreciate how tiny and delicate these birds are 'til you see them up close like this, cheers to the ringing crew, much appreciated.
Anyway to the pond and nice to see a few pairs of common darter ovipositing and a male migrant hawker on patrol, then on the way home sprog2 pointed out a grey squirrel on the road ahead and I just glimpsed a fox as it turned tail and disappeared into the woods. A canny mornings entertainment.

Next visit wasn't until Thursday and what a treat this turned out to be. Whizzing through the dragon sightings, several pairs of common darter ovipositing still, a male migrant hawker on patrol and a female southern hawker briefly.
But the session was taken up by the increasingly regular otters, a mother and cub, my third sighting in as many weeks and this one by far the best as they stayed on site for well over an hour, enthralling me and a few others lucky enough to be present with their playing and fishing antics.
A great thrill to see these superb creatures at close quarters, seemingly without a care in the world as they go about their business, top predator on the pond and scaring the life out of the assembled wildfowl without actually bothering any of them. What they were feeding on remains a mystery but they fed regularly on small prey, and for once I was able to photograph them as they came much closer than on my previous sightings.


Otter eating unknown prey
 
And then there were two
I showed Sprog1 these photos and asked him if he knew what they were. . .
. . . . he said . . ."dolphins"

 
. . . .and then he said . . "hippopotamus"

. . . . "shark"

and finally . . . "monkey"
He has a lot to learn about british Wildlife.

And at one point, when the sun was at its brightest, a Noctule bat came hunting over the pond, another first for me and a cracking view as it took out the early afternoon insects ,hunting for a good few minutes and for a while even the otters took a back seat at this surreal little cameo.

The noctule at Far Pasture
(pic. by Roly Ingram)

 Unfortunately for me I was on school pick-up duty so had to tear myself away with the otters still on site. A quick visit to the secret pond and a male southern hawker was the only dragon on view today, but what a superb session, sometimes just checking on the dragons brings brilliant good fortune !  

Update : One of the other lucky wildlife-watchers present informed me later that the otters were still showing well at 4.30pm when he had to leave, some two hours after I'd departed, what a show !        

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

FRENZY!!!

The decent weather has kept up, though overnight frosts may have been detrimental to the late season dragonflies. At the weekend a family trip to Gibside gave sighting of 3 ovipositing pairs of common darter at the Orangery pond, and another pair formed a mating wheel down by the river, but sadly the usually busy Lily Pond was devoid of all dragons as the season nears its end.

Itching to pay another visit to the 'secret' pond, I got my chance today. And in the crisp sunshine there was again a frenzy of mating and ovipositing with at least 18 tandem pairs counted and many individual males.
I also think I discovered the reason for the 'explosion' of dragonflies which brought it to my attention in the first place (see previous post), as when an unattached female came on the scene she was immediately mobbed by the large gathering of single males which came at her from all directions, forcing her skywards with a trail of would-be suitors not far behind, like iron filings attracted to a magnet.
As the mating frenzy continued another female was grabbed by three males on the ground pond-side, one clasped her around the neck to form a tandem as the melee continued. The female didn't seem too pleased, she clung on to a large piece of wood chipping for dear life but her mate dragged both her and the wood into the air, low across the pond before she eventually ditched it, never seen that before!
No hawkers present today unfortunately (maybe the frost has taken its toll after all), the only one seen being a female migrant briefly at far pasture, where otherwise just 3 pairs of darters completed the dragon count.
Other creatures of note today were a couple of bank voles, a common toad and a weasel, which proved too flighty to photograph but I enjoyed watching its antics all the same.

Some photos of the day's events:

Common toad at Far Pasture
warty skin and slit-like pupils as opposed to the
smooth skin and circular pupils of the frog.

Bank Vole at Far Pasture
one of two present, and boy did they fight!

Common Darter at Far Pasture
sitting atop the car park barrier, one of my best shots of the year

Tandem Common Darters
One of 18 active pairs at one site, and another decent flight shot! 

A Love Triangle ?


And maybe time to reflect over the summer

Looks like it's going to turn cooler after tomorrow, disappointed with the lack of hawkers today I fear the dragonhunting season is all but over for 2012, but will keep taking any opportunities I might get to seek out the stragglers.

Return to Summer, and a new Discovery . . .

Last week was a wet, chilly, typically autumnal week with little prospect of dragonhunting....until Thursday when it was a pleasant surprise to find the sun shining. I really couldn't be bothered to venture out very far however thanks to the littlest'un keeping us awake half the night, but with dragonhunting sessions now at a premium I had to get out somewhere, so Far Pasture beckoned again.
I'd been down there earlier in the week during a heavy shower and was rewarded with another sighting of the regular otters there, again distant but at least they hung around for a while this time, playing and fishing, but needless to say no dragons on view thanks to the inclement weather.

The two playful otters at Far Pasture, a magical experience for
anyone to observe.
Pic taken earlier that day by Roly Ingram
Today the hide was freezing, even the intermittent bouts of sunshine couldn't warm the place up, and I spent almost two hours there with just a few pairs of common darter as entertainment, as sadly the otters decided not to turn up on this occasion. But still time to try and seek out some dragons before making my way back home to real life.
My leaving the hide co-incided with a good sunny spell and a fantastic discovery! Midway inside a field beyond a gate which I often pass, a sudden explosion of dragonflies caught my attention, quite a lot in a small area, maybe a basking area I thought, but whatever, curiosity got the better of me so I jumped the gate and followed a track for no more than 50 metres, then couldn't believe my eyes as it suddenly opened up to a secret pond, nay an oasis, and I was immediately transported back to summer, the place was absolutely teeming with dragonflies in a frenzy of ovipositing! At least 16, perhaps 20 pairs of common darters in tandem, more singles busily scouring for mates, and males of migrant hawker and southern hawker patrolling too, what a discovery!
Pair of Common Darters in the mating wheel
One of maybe 24 pairs observed in the area that day
 
Above me soared three buzzards, a red kite, a sparrowhawk and a kestrel in quick succession, and over 20 swallows heading south. A singing chiffchaff complemented the summer scene before a female southern hawker zipped in and started ovipositing on the nearside bank of the pond.
The male southern hawker also returned and gave some exquisite views as he hovered in short bursts in the bright sunshine.
Female Southern hawker ovipositing next to the secret pond
What a bonus!

So really worth turning out today. A quick return to summer, and a new site to keep an eye on next year, though I will have to seek permission to record here in the future for the BDS.