Saturday, 21 December 2013

One Out, One In ?

Almost the end of the year now, and just time for a review of this year’s records before they’re sent off to the BDS.
I always go back over records I’m not happy about at the end of the season and review the photographs I’ve taken, and just two to clear up this year but they’re both potential biggies:

First I belatedly claimed an Azure Hawker at Loch Garten after discovering the female has a brown and blue form which tied in with a sighting I couldn’t identify at the White-faced Darter site. I’ve since discovered that Common Hawker also has a similar brown and blue form which is much more common in Scotland than it is in England, and taking into account the size of the dragonfly in question (on reflection it was too big to be an Azure) plus the fact Azure Hawkers have not been seen here for a number of years, I am striking it from my list for the year (The Birdman can relax as he didn’t see it anyway).

Azure Hawker female brown/blue form

Common Hawker female brown/blue form
My second review was way back on June 30th, when I recorded my first hawker of the year at Milkwellburn Woods.
It was flighty and difficult to ID though I eventually called it as a common hawker male due to the markings, though size and jizz was puzzling to say the least. I put my bafflement down to the simple fact it’s been so long since I saw one I just didn’t have my eye in yet, but when I saw my first proper common hawker male a couple of weeks later I realised it had been a mistake to call it, leading me to do some serious investigation and research to pin down its true identity.

I was out with the Birdman in Milkwellburn woods (same day we got the female Broad-bodied Chaser) and we were making our way down a fairly steep woodland ride when I spied a dragonfly hawking a clearing in the distance, wings glinting as they caught the sunshine.
When we got there it was still hawking with a rapid to and fro action about head height. Unusually I couldn't make out any markings as it zipped about and my first thought was that it was very small for a hawker. The profile view we were getting gave the impression of a very short and rather stubby looking dragonfly, in fact it resembled a flying half-smoked cigarette I recall thinking. The strong sunlight at the time wasn't helping with the ID either, but I can safely say early impressions had me totally baffled.

When at last it came below head height and briefly towards me I was able to confirm a 'mosaic' hawker pattern along the top of the abdomen which just looked pale/white due to reflecting light (though I'm sure I got a flash of pale blue from somewhere as it passed me), and antehumeral stripes at the front of the thorax (though there is a question mark next to this in my notes).
These features led me to conclude it must be a Common Hawker male, though the size and jizz was odd to say the least, but like I said I put that down to the fact I didn't have my eye in yet as it was the first hawker of the year, and thought I was just misjudging/misremembering size after an absence of some 8 months. 

Eventually (after acquiring a meal mid-air) it alighted on a tree trunk quite high up giving an angled side-on view. I had to back off to get a better angle as it hung vertically but in strong light I still wasn’t able to clearly see any recognisable markings along the side of the abdomen, and strangely the thorax appeared to be wrapped in some sort of reflective web so I couldn't make out any pattern there either, which again I put down to an effect caused by the strong sunlight.
It appeared quite settled now so I was able to go for my camera, but (as luck would have it) just as cloud cover came, and with it a strong gust of wind which lasted for some seconds and took the dragonfly away. We waited a few minutes but with the sun now in the clouds it wasn't to reappear in the blustery wind. 

So that was that. I called it in as a Common Hawker but made notes at home and kept those mental images with me until I saw my first 'proper' common hawker about a fortnight later, when I realised immediately that this dragon hadn’t been what I called it as, as these were obviously much bigger and not at all like what I'd seen in Milkwellburn Woods.

The woodland clearing in Milkwellburn Woods
Front is a dried-up boggy area, the pale tree towards the right
is where the mystery dragon landed before the wind took it
Since then I've done much research, and having explored every aspect of the sighting concluded that the true identity of this dragonfly must be a Brachytron Pratense; a Hairy Hawker, which would be a bloody good record for Gateshead as only a few historical records (of wandering individuals) exist :O
In fact looking at previous records and distribution maps for the species, the only records for the Derwent Valley are pre-1974 (from BDS historical maps and Corbet & Brooks historical distribution maps). But as a species it is certainly spreading north, already colonising Dumfries and Galloway in the west, and in the east more recent records exist from Cowpen Bewley, Durham City and Warden Law near Sunderland, as well as a scattering in Northumberland.

The fact I’ve never previously seen a Hairy Hawker in the field meant I have nothing to compare it with, (and finding one in a woodland ride would point to it being a female), but my conclusion comes after much reading of species accounts and viewing images and video-clips, as bit by bit it all began to fall into place :

The fact I described it as a flying cigarette stub; Literature says they don't have a waist like other hawkers and so look cylindrical in flight (ticks box)
I also read that markings on the abdomen aren't easily made out unless you get a really close view (ticks that box too)
The patchy descriptions of markings which caused me to call it as a common hawker (mosaic abdomen, hint of pale blue, antehumeral stripes? are all consistent with hairy hawker (tick, tick, tick)
The thorax is covered in hairs (hence the name) which explains the effect of the reflective light webbing I got when it was perched on the treetrunk (another tick)
The size - man it was really really small (tick) indeed it's the smallest hawker at an average of 55mm almost a whole cm shorter than migrant.

And the process of elimination:
Basically, having observed many hawkers of our three resident mosaic species this summer I am positive this was not one of them. It was far too small for common or southern hawker, and far too soon for a migrant; on jizz alone I should have realised it was a dragonfly species I hadn't seen before, so with all things considered, I can be 100% certain what it wasn’t, but can I be 100% certain what it was?

Hairy Hawker
Will you make my Gateshead list?
Well it’s six months since the sighting was made but actually I reached this conclusion not long afterwards. I've gone through it all again and looking back I don’t think it could have been anything else, but there's always the niggle on conclusions made after the event of "What if I'm remembering it wrong?" (there is a blur over the presence of antehumeral stripes) and it’s a fact of life that without photographic evidence, records of this nature (improbable but not impossible) are generally dismissed these days, so on my record submission it will go down as a probable (with much notation).
And I won’t be putting it down on my Gateshead or year-list just yet, but the little bugger is etched in my memory and when I actually see one in the field at a known site; then I will know for certain and tick it retrospectively (or otherwise).
I doubt it would be an indication of a nearby colony anyway, most likely just a one-off wanderer (females can be found in woodland some kms from the nearest habitable water-body), so in the scheme of things not a record of great importance (like the Gibside Golden-ringed  of 2010), just a great personal record, but I’ll certainly be checking the area next year just in case ;)

Roll on next spring! (again)

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

That was the Summer That Was . . . .

Time for a review of the 2013 Dragonhunting season, as usual a mix of highs and lows, thankfully the highs outweighing the lows by a distance. Started off on a low though, as the awful spring delayed emergence and by the end of May only the first immature Azure damsels started showing at Far Pasture, and a couple of Large Reds had been spotted.
This continued into June, but the good thing was I was out searching and got to grips with the immature stages of Azure and Blue-tailed damsels in particular, helping me to understand their maturing process a lot better.

immature Azure damsel male

Blue-tailed damsel immature female
of the rufescens form 

Blue-tailed damsel immature female
of the violacea form
Far Pasture was again disappointing for Four-spotted Chasers, with only one second-hand report coming from the main pond. That’s two years running without a sighting so I’m thinking it's safe to say that they aren’t a breeding species here, though having witnessed a single ovipositing three years ago I’m hopeful they might be one day. Despite three being seen on the Forbidden Pond the fact is that on sites where they are established they are present in good numbers, never been the case here with a maximum of five three years ago.

Four-spotted Chaser (m)
but from Gibside not Far Pasture
Better news on the Broad bodied Chaser front, Stargate as usual giving excellent photo-opportunities, and new sites explored at Mickwellburn Woods and the Forbidden Pond at far Pasture both reporting more than one individual, though sadly no females seen at FP FP but the aggressive behaviour of one of the males suggested he had recently mated there.
Broad-bodied Chaser (m)
a spectacular dragonfly and 1 of 2 seen at Stargate

Broad-bodied Chaser (f)
Milkwellburn Woods (a new site for the Dragonhunter)

Broad-bodied Chaser (m)
1 of 2 at the Forbidden Pond (Far Pasture)

Into July and it was a month of two halves, the first half brought probably the three best dragonhunting experiences of the summer, the second half just disappointment with major restrictions brought about by poor weather and the school holidays.

But to the good stuff; obviously the weekend in the Highlands of Scotland with the Birdman of Gateshead would take some beating anytime. Northern Damselfly, White-faced Darter and Northern Emerald were three lifers, add to that Dotterel, Ptarmigan, summer plumaged Snow Buntings, excellent views of Ospreys and distant Golden Eagle, and the fact I climbed a mountain for the first time, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

A couple of Northern Damselflies (m)
Lifer number 1

Dotterel - worth climbing a mountain for . . . .

. . . . . which is exactly what I did

White-faced Darter (m)
lifer number 2

Northern Emerald (f\)
Lifer number 3
The following week back in Gateshead we had unbelievable views (and photos) of both male and female Emperor Dragonfly, and a few days later a best ever count of perhaps 26 Banded Demoiselles on the river Derwent at their dazzling best in glorious sunshine, an absolute treat to watch but not the best place for photographs unfortunately.

Close encounter with the Emperor (male)

Close encounter with the Emperor (female) . . . .

. . . . . even though it was a bit gruesome
But like I said it all came to an end in the second half of the month with a string of disappointments, biggest of which was the lack of activity at Thornley Woods Pond with Southern Hawker emergence seemingly very poor this year. Hope for better next year, certainly one thing I’ll be monitoring closely.

August was probably the most disappointing month. A brief view of a Golden-ringed Dragonfly in Dumfries&Galloway was too brief a highlight, but in a month of limited opportunities due to weather and school hols I spent much of the time fruitlessly searching for Ruddy Darters at Far Pasture, usually a really good site for them, but this year only one to report despite (like I say) much searching. Again the end of the month came to the rescue, with a superb session observing and photographing Black Darters at Cragside in Northumberland.

Black Darter (m) at Cragside
With the kids back at school and a few sunny days, the first half of September proved to be the best period since early July with some fantastic action from both Southern and Common Hawkers at Thornley Woods Pond on a couple of occasions, and the fluke of the century when I found an injured Southern Hawker on the footpath between Paddock Hill Woods and the A694, giving a marvellous photo opportunity as I got close-ups from every angle as he recovered from his trauma, and hopefully allowed him to live out the rest of his short life with no more than a few superficial injuries.
Finding an injured Southern Hawker male was the biggest
stroke of luck of the summer  

But he seemed to be recovering well when
I left him attached to this stalk

And not before I'd got some unbelievable

This hovering Common Hawker male at Thornley Woods Pond
provided my best ever flight shot

Decent Migrant Hawker photos at Far Pasture the same day were followed by more Black Darter shots, this time from Kibblesworth, (one of which I got to land on my hand) giving me the last of the Gateshead Super 16 and indeed the first time I’ve managed to photograph all 16 annual Gateshead species in one summer.

Patience paid off when I eventually got a perched up
Migrant Hawker (m) at Far Pasture

My hand came in errr . . . handy for this Black Darter shot
at  Kibblesworth 

Giving me a photographic record of all 16 resident
Gateshead species of Odonata in one season for the first time :)
The second half of September was pretty uneventful, no Indian summer but the weather was OK on and off through October, when I concentrated mainly on looking for the disappointingly elusive Ruddy Darter or something a little rarer among the Commons at Far Pasture but ended up just photographing numerous variations of Common Darter ageing, which was useful but I think I spent too much time there when I could have been searching other sites like Stargate for Black Darter and Shibdon for Migrant Hawker.
So the summer eventually fizzled out, but my final outing on October 24th was noteworthy when I had great views of a foraging female Migrant Hawker, something I’d been waiting weeks to find. Unfortunately too distant and flighty for photographs and so my main local targets for late season next year will be females of Migrant Hawker and Black Darter (again).
But all in all a very good year; a few disappointments but plenty to look back on, and plenty to look forward to next summer, with just a few gaps left in my photographic log to fill .

Can’t wait to get stuck in again J             

Monday, 16 December 2013

Back in Action . . . . .

A very stressy weekend, but with xmas more or less taken care of now I ventured out for a bit of birding for the first time since early November :O
A cycle along to Far Pasture this morning reminded me of what I've been missing since the dragonfly season ended and my annual bout of SAD kicked in (it's true, once the summer is over, the dragonflies have gone and the weather turns for the worse, I find it really hard to get motivated for birding again and before I know it the Christmas build up takes over, it happens every year).

But within seconds of dismounting my (t)rusty bike at the forbidden pond gate I got my mojo back as three super little birds, a goldcrest, treecreeper and willow tit were all foraging the roadside hedges and better still, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a movement on the road and looked down to see a corker of a stoat bounding along the road beside me. He stopped and we eyed each other for a second at close quarters, then scurried off into the undergrowth. A magic moment.

A young photographer from Darlo informed me the pochard was still on the pond (first reported Saturday) so after a scan of the car park which was alive with passerines, star of which was a chiffchaff seen briefly, I went to the hide to tick the superb drake pochard which was most likely a site first for me.

Four little grebes were the best of the other waterfowl, surprisingly no snipe on show and a water rail was heard but not seen.

Back out again I had a sneaky look along the track where I gained better views of the chiffchaff (presumably the same one, as up to three overwintered last year) and found it to be a very dull grey bird so presumed it to be of the Scandinavian race abietinus
It's not surprising there were so many small insectivorous birds here though as there are more midges here than there were round my arse in the Highlands that time ;) and both pied and grey wagtails graced the pans of the sewage works, with good views of a small flock of maybe 8 feeding siskins completed my sightings here.

Back in the car park, the flat rock was freshly seeded by the photographer and was attracting a lot of attention from the tits and finches including a couple of Willows and a pair of Bullys (also an excellent nuthatch was taking peanuts from a baited stump) and a couple of bank voles nervously fed from under the rock.

More long-tailed tits and a helluva lot of goldcrests in the hedges completed a cracking little session before I pedalled off home again. Not much raptor activity to report, just four kites and a sparrowhawk, though the photographer had buzzards and kestrel before I arrived.

Fair to say it's good to be back in the game :)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

They Think it's All Over . . . . .

. . . . . It Is Now.

Yip I think it's time to declare the 2013 DragonHunting season over, another week and a half passed by without me getting out anywhere. The only chance I had to get out was last Thursday and lo and behold despite the promised sunshine, the afternoon was cold, wet and windy so I didn't bother.

Too much on at the minute to do a proper season review, but I'll do one as soon as am able. Meantime thanks for looking in and for all the comments over the summer, it's nice to know there are a few like-minded souls out there.

'Til next time . . . . . . .

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Scooby Don't . . .

Into November now (on the equivalent Sunday last year I ticked bee-eater and waxwing on the same day, a nice little combo which is unlikely to be repeated I would think) but with the weather and school hols I didn't manage a single outing last week.
Actually I almost got to Far Pasture on Friday, took sprog3 along on his scooter but such is his fear of dogs these days (thanks to the ignorant minority of dog-owners who don't seem to realise that an average-sized dog is like having a horse charging at you to a five-year old) I couldn't even get him 50 yards along the derwent walk as dog-walker after dog-walker came our way, so eventually I gave up and we returned home. Probably of no consequence as the sun disappeared soon after we left the house and it was spitting on to rain anyway.

But there's a bit of sunshine forecast for this week so I'll try and have a look for the last dragons if I get the chance (try to beat my record of Nov 4th for latest sighting) though temperatures are set to plummet as well. Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers were reported at both Far Pasture and Shibdon Pond as recently as Oct 30th so you never know.
Highlight of today was an early afternoon flypast of a dozen fieldfare seen from the front window, first of the autumn.

Anyhow I finished my final ink and watercolour dragonfly for the forthcoming show at Newcastle Central Library, this time a four-spotted chaser :

Four-spotted Chaser (m)
Ink and watercolour

 and as a reminder here are the other three :

Broad-bodied Chaser

Ruddy Darter

Black Darter

Make a nice little set to adorn any wall, A4 size, framed in black. Haven't set a price yet though.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Halloween Tales and Tittle Tattle . . . .

Obviously this should have been posted yesterday but being Halloween I got a bit bogged down with zombies vampires and witches (no names mentioned to protect the guilty) 

But as it WAS Halloween last night, I thought it might be interesting to look into the more sinister side in which dragonflies have been regarded over the centuries.

Since the middle-ages, fear and ignorance of their ugly (nah!) bulb-eyed looks and long pointed abdomen resembling a sting, means they have long been associated with the devil, eyed with suspicion, feared to be dangerous and believed to have evil intent. Perfect for Halloween!

The aptly named Halloween Pennant
Cracking name for this US species, but having seen one myself they're
hardly the scariest dragonfly, in fact the smallest dragon I've seen.
But a little beaut!
It is true that ignorance breeds fear, and myths about dragonflies were rife in 15th Century Europe, where people thought they must have been sent from Hell by the devil to cause mischief on earth, and made up horrible stories to keep their children away from them.

Both in Europe and America one of their best known folk-names is the Devil’s darning needle, a name thought to have come about through stories used to scare children into behaving well, by telling them that if they misbehaved, the dragonfly would come while they slept and sew up their eyes and mouth. Nice!

Common Green Darner
Another US species I've seen, many large American dragons have the
common name darner.A reference to the devil's darning needle of folklore?
In Swedish folklore they were called ‘Blind Stingers’ and were reputed to have a penchant for poking out human eyes with their long needle-like abdomen.
Another myth was that they were sent by the devil himself to weigh human souls. So if one was to swarm around your head, rather than just being there to catch the cloud of midges attracted to some sweaty Scandinavian, it would in fact be deemed as the act of weighing your soul for the devil, and if this happened to you it meant great misfortune or injury would soon come your way.

In the same way they were also known as ‘horse-stingers’ because they were often seen swarming around horses which would be jumping around and kicking out as if being bitten, which of course they were, but not by the dragonflies, which were merely feeding on the smaller unseen insects which WERE actually biting the horse. 

Another sinister name for the dragonfly was the Snake Doctor, as they were also thought to be in cahoots with snakes which they could bring back to life, as well as sewing them back together if chopped in two (bit of a theme going on here). They’ve also been known as the Water Witch, Hobgoblin Fly, and Devil’s Horse, all no doubt accompanied by charming tales to scare the bairns with.

Western Spectre
The only European dragon to have a remotely spooky common name
(apart from Eastern Spectre, oh and Cretan Spectre)

So next Halloween I’ll be scaring the kids with tales of witches, zombies, vampires . . . . and dragonflies? Don’t think so somehow, but then again if I was a mosquito I’d be shitting meself, Halloween or not ;)  

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Imperfect Day

Saddened by the news of the passing of Lou Reed today. Got into his music late (after seeing him support U2 at Wembley in 1986) Perfect Day one of my all time favourites.
But the show must go on :

Still a few darters around today at Far Pasture in the brief periods of sunshine around mid-day. Small tit flock and scattering of red kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks and a kestrel. Otherwise fairly quiet.
A ruff and 2x Dunlin at Shibdon Pond earlier.

Finished my latest ink and watercolour dragonfly, a black darter as promised :

Next up, Four-spotted Chaser.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Life in the Freezer

Another interesting question from Johnnykinson asking if I know the lowest temperature at which a dragonfly can survive.
The quick answer is no but that hardly constitutes an interesting post to keep my reader(s) happy ;) so a bit of research was necessary to go with my basic general knowledge.

It's a fact that dragonfly species inhabit every continent but the Antarctic, and it's generally accepted that all around the world the arctic treeline is the most northerly latitude for dragonflies to thrive.

Looking at distribution maps for Europe, the range of some species extends to northern Scandinavia (Common Hawker and White-faced Darter for instance) and there are others which are sub-arctic specialists and only found in the north like Azure Hawker and Northern Emerald, indeed the scientific name for northern emerald (Somatochlora arctica) actually translates as 'Green-bodied of the Arctic'.

Only one European species, the Treeline Emerald (Somatochlora sahlbergi) is found exclusively in remote regions north of the arctic circle, surviving also the inhospitable climates of Alaska, north-west Canada and Siberia, overcoming the remoteness of the habitat, poor weather conditions and a very short summer.

They survive in small, deep ponds and lakes of the arctic tundra, mainly woody heathlands with a scattering of small birch and pine trees. The fact that average adult lifespans are no more than 6-8 weeks in most species of our region means the summer season doesn't have to be that long, but habitat would also have to contain a decent amount of prey species to ensure survival of the adult dragonfly (same reason birds migrate and bats etc hibernate).
Obviously the ponds themselves would have to contain food species too, and as most of their lives are spent underwater, a lot depends on the hardiness of the larva to survive the winter months. Experiments have actually taken place which have proven that all but the smallest of larval stages can survive being frozen (to about -5c) and thawed out again so that shouldn't present too much of a problem if the water is deep enough to avoid freezing altogether.

So no definitive answer I'm afraid as far as actual temperatures are concerned for the adults. Being cold-blooded anyway they have their own inbuilt temperature regulators, (wing-shivering being the most obvious) but as long as food is available and enough short periods of warmth exist for the adults to be active, dragonflies of one species or another will survive all but the most desolate of climates. It always amazes me anyway that after a few days of cold wind and rain (like recently) a bit of sunshine sees them out in numbers again, even in October (see last post).   

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Late October but another year-first :)

Just had to take advantage of the sunshine today but with only an hour or so to spare this meant yet another trip to Far Pasture.

Gibside Hall from far Pasture roadside
looking splendid m the autumn surroundings

But the session finished well when a hunting migrant hawker in the bull field (which incidentally now has horses in) turned out to be a female when it eventually came close enough and away from the sun's rays. A cracking bright yellow specimen, she seemed to be in prime condition, but better still, the first I've come across this year. I watched her hawking the field for some minutes in hope she would land close by for a photo opportunity but it wasn't to be, and after feasting on a host of little flying greeblies (quite low down at times) she disappeared in the distance. But I was well happy with the sighting.

Earlier a southern hawker (male) also proved elusive along the access road, and there was still a double-figure count of common darters, mainly over-mature females but a few prime males around and three tandem couples.

A very over-ripe female now sporting the leather look

The 'rusty' wings of this male give his age away too

Unlike the hawkers, the darters don't mind posing
for the camera.

note this individual shows an extended frons, unusual in common darters. 

From the hide just a few darters on the pond, and 13 basking snipe were the pick of the birdies here. Goldcrest in the car park and a mixed tit-flock carried a chiffchaff through as well. The raptor count was disappointing for the conditions, 3 kites, 2 buzzards, 1 each of kestrel and sparrowhawk.

A glorious afternoon, not many left now I'll bet.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Another shitty Day in Paradise . . .

Back to normal today, the sunshine and dragonflies of yesterday already a distant memory . . .but it wasn't raining so I decided to check out the damhead for migrating salmon.
Couldn't believe it though, as soon as I saw the river from the viaduct I realised it would be a waste of time as the water level was no different to the norm, and rather than looking like builders tea the river was clear as a pint of watered-down club bitter.

I continued my journey anyway and glad I did as I bumped into an old marra and caught up with a bit gossip.
The damhead was as feared, no prospect of any piscatorial entertainment so I decided to continue on to Shibdon Pond as I hadn't been for weeks and there might be a few uncommon waders there.
There weren't.
I did bump into another old acquaintance not seen for a couple of years so caught up with a bit of different gossip but apart from 328 lapwing and an overhead sparrowhawk, not much to report from here either.
Believe it or not I had a walk around the reedbeds looking for migrant hawkers despite the cold and murk but all I found was a wasp.

I cycled back home thoroughly pissed off then read the Birdman's last post from the Scillies and cheered right up. No matter how bad it gets, there's always someone worse off than you, and all the better when it's one of your mates :)

Footnote : The Birdman has rediscovered his mojo with a good days local twitching, can't begrudge it after his last few days. :)


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Nice day, but could have been better . . .

Checking the met office forecast each day for the last week I'd been looking forward to Thursday as it has remained the only day likely to be free of the cold, wet and gloom of an otherwise crappy mid-October.
So a bonus was the sunshine which greeted me this morning, the only downside now was that the schoolteachers were on strike (typical) so I was left with two sprogs to look after. This meant I couldn't get up to Shibdon to check for Migrant Hawkers or even the damhead for leaping salmon (river levels should be v.high after all the rain) so a walk along to Far Pasture (for a change) was my best option to see if the cold and rain over the last week or so had seen off the last of the dragonflies.

Well they're a hardy bunch, with the sun out in blue skies the roadside fences were still dotted with a decent number of darters, and every now and then tandem pairs flew up out of the fields over towards the pond.
On the pond itself there were maybe half a dozen pairs and a few singles, though we didn't stay long as my sprogs are not the quietest in the presence of others in the hide.

So I just stood at the gate halfway along the road chatting to Roly as the boys scootered up and down. Best birds in the area were two kestrels, a buzzard ignoring about forty jackdaws, and a flock of 24 redwings circling a couple of times.

A blurry kestrel on a distant fence, but look at the bright sunshine

Serenaded by a Robin, and look at those
blue skies ....magic!
At last a hawker came on the scene, a female southern, showing well and buzzing us on a few occasions but not posing for photos. I snapped a few darters (as you never know when its going to be your last) and a pristine comma which must have just recently emerged to be in such good condition.

Strong colours . . .

Strong light . . .

Strong shadows . . .

Strong contrast . . .

Strong composition . . .

Other butterflies still present were a white species and what looked like a raggy meadow brown (not my strongest subject).
Back up the track another hawker, this time male and very dark so I think common, unfortunately a car came along the road as I was tracking it so had to reel in the kids and couldn't relocate it.

A canny little session though, would liked to have got along to Shibdon in view of the number of dragons still showing here, but tomorrow is forecast to be shitty :(
What might have been . . . (now for the Scooby Doo ending). . . if it wasn't for those meddling kids !


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Gloom and Doom . . .

Autumn can be the most beautiful and inspiring of seasons, but at the moment with summer still fresh in mind and the dragonfly season all but ended it's just gloomy and depressing

Matters made worse by the 2013 breeding figures for the local red kites. It doesn't make for good reading with only 18 known fledglings from 27 nesting attempts and all but two of the nests were in the core area of the lower derwent valley. A disappointing return for all concerned.

Two nests are known to have failed through predation, with close-by nesting crows the main suspects, and probably guilty in more cases given the number of corvids in and around the valley. But that's nature, whereas the reasons behind the non-spreading out from the core area may be altogether more sinister.

I've been in conversation with the publicity officer of FoRK (Friends of Red Kites) over the last few days, she mentioned that there is a kite from Central Scotland on our patch at the moment and I said I'd keep an eye out for it as I had a similar visitor from the Black Isle over the garden last year, a first year juv.
She informed me that sadly that bird was found dead on the moors near Muggleswick earlier this year, poisoned along with another of our own kites nearby. I hadn't heard this (I couldn't even find mention of it on the FoRK website) and was shocked this should happen so relatively close to home.

It beggars belief, a young bird makes its way here from the north of Scotland only for its life to be ended through archaic attitudes and human greed. Now I understand the grouse moors are an important habitat for many other birds and animals which otherwise would struggle to survive in any other environment, but intolerant landowners seem to be above the law. The few corpses that are found are most likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Any kite venturing up to Northumberland has received the same welcome; in the very first year WT10 'Flash' became the first (known) victim of the moors murderers, and just lately a pair were poisoned during the breeding season, resulting in their chicks starving to death on the nest. Gawd only knows how many more have been 'lost' up there and remain unaccounted for.

I'd also been talking to a Far Pasture regular who also gets up to Muggleswick and Derwent Reservoir a lot. He tells me that (allegedly) the gamekeepers there run around on quadbikes in the spring, blasting anything that resembles a buzzard nest (or kite nest?) out of the trees with shotguns. Whether this is true or not I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was.
Same bloke had a hen harrier in the area about four weeks back. Hasn't seen it since so hopefully it was just passing through.
But in my opinion therein lies the answer to why our kites haven't spread beyond local boundaries, and why so many go missing without trace. Vast areas of moorland just to the north, south and west amounting to no more than miles and miles of avian minefield.

Next year is the tenth anniversary of the first release of the Northern Kites, a big celebration is planned. Might be a good idea to take advantage of the publicity this will receive by naming and shaming the people who's land has been involved in poisoning our kites over this period.

I've ranted enough; I sign the petitions and I pays my money to the RSPB in the hope that one day things might change. Instead it just seems to get worse. Ranting is all I can do. It pisses me off.     

Thursday, 10 October 2013

George and the Dragons . . .

Got an email from Shibdon George telling me there are still a few migrant hawkers frequenting the boardwalks at Shibdon pond, and a couple of canny pics to prove his point :

Migrant Hawkers at Shibdon (both males)
courtesy of George Simpson
If I hadn't stayed gassing for so long at the viaduct on Tuesday I might have got there meself, now I fear it'll be too late by the time my next opportunity arises. Ta for the heads up anyway George :)