Sunday, 30 June 2013

Pastures New and Pastures Far . . .

Out with the Birdman this morning and the day started well when I spotted a rabbit in the field opposite the bottom of our road, first ( live ) one this side of the valley this year, and about 11 weeks too late to make the Centurion list!
Anyway a new Gateshead site for me as we visited Milkwellburn Woods where Steve had a singing tree pipit earlier in the week. No luck for us today though, but a good trek around the woods gave us pleasantly surprising views of an early Hawker dragonfly along one of the rides.
It takes a while to get your eye in after not seeing any for a long while and was difficult to make a positive ID as it was very flighty and windy too. A couple of brief fixes on it made us conclude it was a common hawker, certainly a pale blue/black mosaic though it looked rather small, but like I say it takes a while to get your eye in again on jizz.
It disappeared after a strong gust of wind (not from me) but this is the spot it was at :

Common Hawker at Milkwellburn Woods?
(looks similar to tree Pipit ;) 

At the recently formed (by DWT) pond our luck got even better as a female Broad-bodied Chaser suddenly swept into view, settling for a photo opportunity close but semi-hidden in the tall grass around the pond. Got some fairly decent pics tho, and first B-b C (f) seen this year so a great find.

Broad-bodied Chaser (female)
Thought it was a giant wood wasp when it first came into view

But it settled nicely for a few pictures

Just a shame it was partly obscured

Also on the pond were a few large red and azure damsels, pick of which was this tandem pair of azures, the female being the uncommon (around 10%) blue form.


We decided to give Far Pastures a try (again for four-spot chaser) as the sun was shining but stars on the pond today were a family of three kingfishers (though we only saw two) and this time I managed to get some pictures of the actual bird rather than just its reflection.

Kingfisher (male)
same perch as the other day 

Now in front of hide for better views

Caught him just as he came out of the water and
back on tothe perch.

Best pose of the day, superb colouring in the sunlight

Before we left I had a cheeky look at the Forbidden Pond and to my great surprise found a male Broad-bodied Chaser patrolling. Excellento! And I couldn't believe my luck when he eventually settled for some cracking pics just in front of me. Result !

What a result, male and female at two different sites

Best shot of the year so far of this particular species

So a day of surprises, and other things I learned today were ; It takes five years to grow a saleable xmas tree (don't ask) and some people will actually steal a bag of sh**e (ask Steve)

So turned out to be a cracking session. Cheers Birdman !

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Sentinels at the Forgotten Meadow . . .

Was taking my exhibition down at Washington Wildfowl Centre today so looked in on the 'Forgotten Meadow' pond which is small but good for dragons.

Today a few male common blue damsels and plenty of azures, good number of tandem pairs, many of which were ovipositing on floating and submerged aquatic vegetation with the male standing to attention in the 'sentinel' position, guarding the female as she laid her eggs.


The only other damsel to catch my eye was this orange/yellow individual ovipositing alone. I only managed one shot before she disappeared and it isn't the best :

Note the very inconspicuous antehumeral stripes,
ruling out both common blue and azure 
But good enough to confirm yet another variation of the blue-tailed damselfly, a mature female of the colour form infuscans-obsoleta, meaning she started adult life as a pink/red rufescens form like I photographed at far pasture the other week. And unlike most other damsels, the female blue-tail oviposits alone, usually late in the day when the males aren't so active, so I was quite fortunate to capture this event in the early afternoon.

The blue-tails are fast becoming one of my favourite damsels, so many colour variations to go at and they are so unlike other damsels in many respects. For instance they will mate after just 3 or 4 days while still in immature colouration. Probably just as well as it's reckoned their average lifespan is just 10 days though they can live for up to 8 weeks. And they're one of the easiest to observe as they develop, tending to stick to the waterways all their adult life, flying low amongst the vegetation, and will fly in cool and overcast conditions while most other species sit it out til the sun shines. Like them a lot.

Just one more picture to finish off, something different, a nice colourful composition of a bumble bee :
Bombus pratorum (I think)


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Reflections, of one sort and another . . .

Nearing the end of June already and most targets for the month accomplished. Only the elusive four-spotted chaser (of the early flying dragons) yet to be successfully hunted with camera and by this time next week I'll be thinking Black-tailed Skimmer and Emperor at Kibblesworth (where of course there will also be plenty of 4-spots) but I'd still like to get one in the valley before then.  

Today I went out in pretty unfavourable conditions (overcast and cool) hoping the brief sunny spells would increase as the day wore on, and in hope of getting (a) some better banded demoiselle shots by clockburn lake and (b) tracking down a four-spot chaser at Far Pasture. Unfortunately the sunny spells became less frequent rather than more so a bit of a disappointing couple of hours as far as my targets was concerned.

A good scour of the riverbanks along by clockburn lake produced no demoiselles but an abundance of blue-tailed damsels here, though masses of froglets along the path prevented me from checking the inner stream for fear of causing an amphibian massacre.
Highlight was this beaut of a violacea form female blue-tail, my photo doesn't fo it justice, it really was strongly coloured violet.

Didn't notice at the time but this violacea individual
has a deformed wing.

But look at the colour of that thorax!
A beauty, best example of the form I've seen to date

And another different variation of the male photographed with this immature having a bright green thorax.

Immature male, will turn to blue/green before becoming a
mature blue male. 

Moving on to Far Pasture the pond was bereft of dragons in the gloom, though a kingfisher made an appearance just after I arrived. I poked my camera out the window, zoomed in on the electric blue through my viewfinder and took one snap before it alighted. Result :

Kingfisher at Far Pasture today.
Nothing unusual you might think . . . .
Except that this is the actual photo I took, total pillock that I am. I somehow 
managed to photograph its reflection, missing the bird by about three feet! 

Yip, my skills with a camera never cease to amaze me.

The sun eventually arrived, a cue for damsels to suddenly appear, and one duckling tried its its best to catch some but failed again and again, wish I'd filmed it to be honest, it was both cute and dramatic at the same time (depending who's side you were on)
But the sunshine didn't last so I left and had a look by the roadside. Nothing much here either but one common blue damsel was particulary obliging, accepting an intrusive camera down to point blank range. But once again my skills let me down, had I been able to focus on his head rather than thorax I would have got some cracking shots. Never mind, here's the best of what I did get.

That was that then, nothing new to report and the forecast for the next few days plus stuff to do  means at the moment I don't know when my next hunting trip will be. Shocking!    

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Quirk and a Query . . .

Haven't been out today, just thought I'd share a couple of recent photos. One of an apparent 'smoking' damselfly and another of a moth I hadn't noticed before and can't seem to ID. Here you are :

Azure damsel smerkin' a tab ?

Or is it just chewing on some sort of tiny grub ?

Unidentified Moth ?

Several of these small (not much more than 1cm) moths were out in the mid-day sun at Far Pasture last week. Thought it would be easy to ID being so nicely coloured but my Collins 'Incomplete' Guide to British Insects once again lets me down. I certainly haven't noticed them before so a new one for me if it can be identified, so any moth fans out there care to help me out it would be very much appreciated.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Dragonflies came in two by two, hoorah!, hoorah! . . .

A whole week since I last did any dragon hunting, and I was itching to get up to Stargate to check it out for Broad-bodied Chasers (our most striking libellulidae) so despite a forecast which said the sun would disappear by lunchtime I took a chance and got the Odonatamobile out of the garage, pumped up the tyres and away I went.

First stop Clockburn Lake to look for banded demoiselle (our most striking damsel). Disappointingly none to see, though good numbers of  blue-tailed damsels were on the wing. Pity 'cos it's the best place along the river to photograph the demoiselles.
Didn't really have time to search the riverbank properly so continued my journey with the next checkpoint being the river at Hagghill, where the demoiselles appear each year, but being a raised point isn't the best for photos.
I wasn't disappointed; two males were skirmishing below as I peered over the fence. Magic! they truly are a bonny damsel, an absolute treat to watch these on my home patch. In between bouts of fighting the males perched up for brief periods, at least allowing me to get a few record shots, but mainly I just watched their fluttering antics, slow deliberate wingbeats, metallic Prussian blue/green bodies, great stuff :)

Banded demoiselle (male) - first of the year !

Not the best shots but considering the distance involved
 I was expecting a lot worse !! 

I took my leave with a long journey ahead still, wanting to spend as much time at Stargate before the weather turned unfavourable.
Still bright sunshine as I approached my destination though bouts of cloudiness were increasing, bringing gusty wind with it which was a worry, but as soon as I arrived at the pond-side, two powder blue male broad-bodied chasers were skirmishing in the margins, Gettin there!!
I made a fake perch in the hope of attracting them at some point but the open aspect of the pond meant the wind kept them flying while over the water today, but luckily I was able to follow them to their sheltered resting stations where I got most of my photographs over the next hour and a half. I never saw more than two so presume that was all present, and here's the best of my photos :

Broad-bodied Chaser (male)
First of the year at Stargate Ponds

The yellow 'side-lights' show up really well
in this profile shot

This one landed on the path briefly for a head-on view

Shot of the day, not obscured for once
Those dark wing patches are diagnostic among similar pale blue species.

Parting shot, nice profile view

Quite chuffed with a couple of those, the males in general aren't as approachable as the females so taken at maximum zoom from quite a distance they turned out quite sharp, probably due to the excellent sunshine (don't often say that). Beautiful insects these, making the nigh on two-hour round trip well worthwhile.
Four species of damsel on the wing here too, in good numbers, and it was obviously a big emergence day as I witnessed many a maiden flight by large numbers of tenerals all around the pond.

Many common blue and azure damsels today

. . . and blue-tails

best damsel shot of the day

blue-tail and large-red

Also plenty of these fellers around the pond margins . . 

. . .and plenty of this going on.

A mating wheel to finish.
Common blues with typical green female form

The only blot on my copybook today was that I didn't manage to photograph the two Four-spotted Chasers which were also present. They never ventured up my end of the pond and I discovered why they call them chasers as I chased them all over with out once getting close enough for a photo.

The excellent dragonfly pond at Stargate
(believe it or not there is a four-spotted chaser in the picture)

So a great day, and as it happens the forecasters got it wrong again, my gamble paid off as the sun shone nigh on continuously for my ninety minute stint, though unfortunately for Michael A. who arrived shortly before I set off home again it clouded over just as I left. A bit cooler for cycling though so I wasn't complaining. (selfish get that I am)

Mission accomplished, two great dragons added to my hunted list for 2013 :]

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A sequence of event . . . .

Haven't been dragonhunting this weekend though did try for the singing wood warbler in chopwell woods this afternoon. Heard it singing ok but failed to lay eyes on it, must be getting desperate to attract a mate 'cos it was belting out its rattling song continually, and has been all day according to the Birdman who photographed it earlier (see his blog).

Never mind, back to Friday and a sequence of photos capturing a tandem pair of red damsels TURNING CIRCLES as the female lost grip of the stem they were on and they almost toppled off into the pond, but the male somehow swung around and regained a grip on the stalk . . . .

Look I can see our house from here . . .

. . . oops . . .

. . . going . . .

. . . going . . .

. . . timberrrrrr!! . . .

. . . dive, dive, dive . .

. . . no going back now . . .

. . . how did he do that ? too quick for the camera . . .

 . . . a bit of a tangle . . .

. . . right, this time get a grip woman! . . .

Never a dull moment in the exciting world of Odonata, just wish our summer was a bit longer.