Friday, 31 May 2013

Sunny day but no time to hunt . . . .

Gibside today but only managed a late and brief soiree to the walled garden pond after spending much of a pleasant afternoon  at the strawberry castle play area with the kids. (well it's the first time this week the sun has shone so was just good to get out in the fresh air for a while) Enjoyed a nice tub of rum 'n' raisin ice cream at the play area, where the main highlight was a pair of buzzards out enjoying the sunshine as well, great to see the male skydancing as his mate circled below, then the pair did a synchronized side-by-side hover, before they split up and one was mobbed by a couple of crows over the west wood, must have been very annoying as many times the buzzard twisted on its back in the air reaching out at the corvids with talons outstretched. Great ten minutes entertainment, other raptors in the area were a soaring sparrowhawk and 3 or 4 red kites passing over.

To the pond then, and though it was late afternoon now the sun still shone brightly, so a bit disappointing to only find two Large Red Damsels here, both mature males. No photos as the first was too distant and half-hidden amongst the grasses, and the second flew past me but I lost it against the bright sunlight. I scoured the pond from the boundary fence but sadly nothing else to report.

The forecast is good for the next few days at least, though I have a busy weekend ahead and plenty of gardening to attend to when the kids go back to school. I can feel the frustrations building already :(  

Monday, 27 May 2013

Late News . . . .

The local grapevine (in this case The Birdman) informs me that no less than 5 (five!) species of Odonata were on the wing on Saturday at Kibblesworth Brickworks pools, Gateshead's premier dragonfly site.
Don't know in what numbers but the species recorded were Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed and Common Blue damsels, and the usual first dragonfly Four-spotted Chaser.

That's all the early species so I'll have to try and hunt them out locally (let's hope the kids want to go to Gibside later in the week ;)


Sunday, 26 May 2013

And They're Off . . . .

The 2013 Dragon Hunting season officially got underway today with many Azure damselflies (Coenagrion puella) on the wing at Far Pasture.

A scouting mission to Clockburn Lake outlet stream had produced nothing yesterday despite the sunshine but with another sun-soaked day today I couldn't resist an hour down Far Pasture late morning, and it proved worthwhile as I found around two dozen Azure damselflies, a mix of both male and female in various stages of maturity to kick off the dragon hunting season for 2013.

All specimens were found away from the pond on the low greenery around the car park and access road opposite. It wasn't easy getting photos leaning over a fence topped with barbed wire but I snapped away just happy to get a few record shots, most turned out as expected (ie crap) but one or two were half decent showing a lot of interesting features. So here goes :

Not a good picture but first damsel of the year -
an immature female azure, a very pale lilac at the moment
but will develop into the typical green form.  

A teneral female azure -
note the very pale, almost grey colouring and
milky wings of a freshly emerged individual.

Another imm. female azure of the typical green form. Though they all begin
adult life as a pale lilac, this one will no doubt develop as green as the abdominal
segments are solid black along the back with only dividing lines showing.

This female is maturing nicely into the lesser-seen blue form. Note that on the
blue form small bands of colour shows between the black abdominal
segments. Only around 10% of females are of this form.  

The first male azure seen. The abdomen is
nicely turning blue but the thorax is still pale lilac

Another male of similar age to the last, note the red eyes in the immature.

This specimen almost fully mature, tail band is getting its blue colouration
now and eyes are black.

This one had me fooled, I thought it was a blue-tail when I took it
but obviously it's just another male azure. 

This specimen looked to be about fully mature so must have
emerged almost a fortnight ago. 

Nice to get a shot from a different angle. Too far away for
a great close-up of the face though. 

Another quirky shot to finish.

So it's a start, great to see them back. As usual I'll be trying to hunt down all 16 regular Gateshead species and anything new I can get on my travels (dare I hope for better weather than last year.)
But in the main I'll be recording from my local sites, hopefully with a new super-macro lens for some cracking close-ups.

Friday, 24 May 2013

One Year on . . .

A year to the day since I began Dragonhunt 2012 and as you can imagine I didn't even bother looking. I'm thinking of changing my blog to 'The Weather Whinger' because it's all I seem to do these days.
For those reading not in the northeast of England today has been cold wet and windy, hardly ideal conditions for dragonflies so still nothing to report.
We're in danger of having the shortest dragonfly season in history at this rate. It's been confirmed that this spring has been the coldest since 1979 and 6th coldest since records began, and with dragonfly emergence somewhat reliant on warmer temperatures I'm wondering if any have actually bothered yet this far north.
Reports on the BDS website have sightings as far north as Lancashire but the western side of the country has been on average a lot warmer than the east over the last few weeks.

I did actually have a look at Thornley Woods Pond and Far Pasture yesterday, but again sunny spells were at a premium and it was hardly surprising there was nothing to see in between the bouts of rain and hail, though paddock hill woods did provide my fifth butterfly species of the year with this Speckled Wood :

But again it's a sad fact that here we are at the end of May and off the top of my head I can tell you exactly how many butterflies I've seen so far in 2013, Small Tortoiseshell 3, Peacock 3, Orange-tip 1, Green-veined White 2, Speckled wood 1, unidentified 1, so a grand total of 11, very poor.

The outlook for the weekend is a lot warmer and sunnier (I'll believe it when I see it) so I'll try and get out for a look somewhere if possible, because by Monday by all accounts it's back to wet and windy again.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Out and About, but still there's nowt . . . . .

Had some business at the metrocentre yesterday so biked there and back. The river levels have quickly fallen considering it looked about to break its banks when passing on Saturday, though still resembles fast moving tea with a touch of milk (though it's probably right up again after last nights downpour).
After being attacked by a couple of scotty dogs near B&Q it was a welcome sight to see my first common terns of the year at Swalwell bridge, heard their high pitched croaks mixed in with a few squealing swifts up above me, looked up to see a couple of slender white shapes in with the black arrowheads darting across the skies. Love the swifts, their banshee squeals as they whizz past is one of the quintessential sounds of the summer and they were squealing like mad today all along the river, the heavy atmosphere keeping their insect prey at a low altitude.

Another great sight on the river (from the bridge) was a mother goosander and 11 (yes eleven) goosanderlings(?) There can't be many cuter sights, with their fluffy little chestnut caps and grey and white uniforms she looked like she was on the school run. At one point they all tried to get on her back, and the speed they could paddle through the water was amazing. Wonderful stuff.

11 identical goosanderlings whizzing along

Cuties or what ?
Hitching a ride . . . typically I'd packed my camera away
when they all piled on

Away they go, great viewing comes to an end

A quick look on Shibdon pond and eight terns here, noisy and active, just how I remember them. Four gull species, an oik and a common sand were the pick of the other birds.

Some rather dull photos (in more ways than one) from Shibdon

Stopped off at Clockburn Lake on the way back, the landscape of the outlet stream changed yet again, showing obvious signs of the aftermath of the weekend floods, as what vegetation remains was caked in mud.

Back home I looked back at my records for last year. My first dragonhunt was on May 24th, blue-tailed, common blue and azure damsels all found at clockburn lake or far pasture. Just four days away from that date and the bankside vegetation is nowhere near as lush as it was this time last year, and with temperatures still well below normal for the time of year it'll interesting to see if anything does in fact come to the breeding sites by the end of the week. Just hope I can get down on Friday for a comparison, as there's not even a hint of a damsel at the moment.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Still Nowt About.. . . .

First sortie since last Thursday (not that I expected to find anything but quite a nice day so what the hell...) Biked along to Clockburn lake, still not much growth in the vegetation along the outlet stream, no exuvia to be found anywhere in the area so no signs of any imminent damsels. But the wild rhubarb by the river is starting to sprout, should hopefully find some banded demoiselles among it around the end of the month. Plenty of small toadpoles in the stream.
Highlight at the lake was a singing sedge warbler, and two pairs of very smart looking reed buntings.

Stopped off at the Nine-arches viaduct for a raptor watch, cloudy now but a great count of 7 common buzzards high above, most I've seen soaring together in a good while. A couple of red kites, sparrowhawk and kestrel made up the raptor count, but the hirundines were in swarms, coming in low as the dark rainclouds gathered.
Made a stop at Far Pasture in the hope the clouds would pass and the sun might reappear to bring out a large-red damsel or two but if anything it got worse so I called it a day before the rain came. Little to report here bar a good count of swifts.

So a very slow start to the flight season, would expect usually to have a large red by now, but so far haven't heard of any anywhere in the borough, though information through the local grapevine isn't as forthcoming as in the past.
Wondering what the knock-on effect of last years early season washout and this years delayed spring will have. By the last week in May usually five species of damsel and the first four-spotted chasers are on the wing, so not long to wait but already feeling a little deflated.    

Friday, 3 May 2013

It's not all Dragonhunting . . .

I thought I was being a bit previous going out looking for red damsels yesterday. I had a good scoot around the valley but nothing damsel-like to be found anywhere, though I would think the recent warmer weather will have led to the first emergence and just a matter of time til the mature adults appear at the ponds.
Was a lovely sunny day and I suppose the biggest surprise was the lack of butterflies on the wing, only five seen all day, 2 small tortoiseshells, 2 green-veined white and a silhouette I couldn't make out.

I did spot a palmate newt in thornley woods pond but not much else, though a very vocal pair of kestrels kept me entertained there.
Walking through the valley best birds (apart from a plethora of singing migrants) were soaring buzzards and sparrowhawk pair, GS woodpeckers, treecreeper and several nuthatches, one of which had extensive rusty-red flanks and was so pale underneath the redness really stood out. I looked it up later at home and had myself believing it could have been a scandinavian type, however unlikely that is, but suffered a brain-fart as I couldn't remember whether it had white underparts or just very pale buff. Just wish I'd taken a photo 'cos it was right in front of me, certainly a very unusual-looking bird.

To cut a long story short I returned to the site today to see if I could relocate it, and instead found a female Pied Flycatcher! A Gateshead lifer for both me and the Birdman, whom I txted and luckily he was just on his lunch break so turned up minutes later and didn't have long to wait before the pied-fly came again giving us cracking views, though my photos were worse than usual as I still had it set to macro (D'oh!).

Believe it or not these were the best photos
I could get of the Blurred Flycatcher, despite
it showing very well.

Though I saw a few nuthatches the very pale one didn't make an appearance, might give it another go or just consign it to room 101 where all the unsolved mysteries are stored, though to be honest I'm now pleased I didn't get a photo of it yesterday, otherwise I would never have returned today and got the pied fly, a cracking bird for the valley.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

New Season - Bring it On !!!

The 2013 Dragonhunting season gets underway this month, and though I've yet to hear any reports, Large Red Damsels should be on the wing by now so I'm hoping to seek one out tomorrow (as well as some summer migrant birds) with a tour of some of my local woods and ponds.
No real targets this season as I only get frustrated by the weather and don't think I'll be able to get out much anyway this year, so I'll just be seeking to hunt out all the Gateshead residents and improve my photographs of them (new galleries coming soon!)
Anything else will be a bonus, but with plenty of sites in the valley to cover I'll mainly be recording species locally when I have a couple of hours to spare.

So first expeditions for May will be nothing strenuous, the large red damsels followed by the trio of blue damsels, and by late month hopefully the first dragon (four-spot chaser), and the glorious banded demoiselle, all found at sites locally.

Will be great to welcome back some old friends, as Eric and Ernie used to say "Bring me Sunshine!"