Saturday, 31 August 2013

It's Dire 'ere . . .

It's oft been said I put a load of crap on these pages, but never has it been so true as today because guess what this is :


Yip, a piece of dragonfly poo ! From a Common Darter to be exact. In fact this one :

Anyone got any paper ?

I just happened to be watching it through me bins when this little nugget fell out of it's rear end and I couldn't resist taking a closer look using my 10x loupe, then photographed it (for posteriorty?)

That's about the size of it.

Well I can't remember seeing a dragonfly take a dump before. (I'm not a saddo honest). Anyhow (back on the science-fiction theme again) I thought it resembled a microscopic Alien egg.

Maybe curiosity got the better of me, whereas I suppose for the dragonfly it was just 'business' as usual.

Perhaps I should just get out more  . . . . . :)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Black Day ? Not 'Arf !

Cragside today with target in mind of Black Darter which I've been successful with here the last two years. Of course I had to manipulate the family day out to my advantage, but with route planned the only obstacle was the rather overcast atmospherics.

So to Slipper Tarn, so called because it's the shape of a giant footprint, apparently made by the 'giant slipper yeti' who wore slippers because he didn't like walking on pine needles (it's all true I assure you).
Anyway, it's a cracking little acidic pool which gave me my first black darter for many a summer two years ago, but I didn't follow up the visit last year.
We had our picnic here so I could have time to do a search but it was still very dull, and best insect for a while was this Red Wasp, not uncommon but first I've photographed so a lifer of sorts.

Red Wasp
Note the reddish colouring on the abdomen
bit of a giveaway really 

On the tarn itself a couple of emerald damsels were about all I could see, but then a 'gettin' moment as I spied a basking black darter on one of the many light-coloured rocks in the area :

My first Black Darter of 2013

Happy with that and lunch over it was off to the play-park,where the kids settled and I left my better-half in charge as I nipped over to Nelly's Moss Lake which had turned up trumps around this time last year with a mating pair of S. danae and a couple of singles.
But the cloudy skies meant it was never going to be easy and so it proved. A good scour produced just a couple of common darters and surprisingly I flushed a teneral darter of some sort, but it fluttered away and settled too far off track for me to seek out and identify.

Common darter at Nelly's Moss Lake
not what I was looking for but a nice enough specimen

Mid-afternoon and we retraced our steps back to the car park, once again passing Slipper Tarn, but this time it co-incided with the only meaningful sunny period of the day and the place was suddenly alive with dragonflies; two common hawkers, four common darters and no less than SEVEN male black darters :o most of which posed nicely for the camera as they basked on light surfaces like rocks and benches (and leaves).

Male Black darter at Slipper tarn - basking on rocks

or on leaves

token common darter here as well

Though this one on the bench was easiest to approach

Fantastic eyes, jet black

Superb little dragonfly, smallest of our darters.
So by far my most successful black darter hunt, though it's not easy to get good photographs as distance and the direction and amount of sunlight is git important when photographing a black subject like this (my excuse and I'm sticking to it) but happy enough with a few of my pics of what is a cracking little dragonfly.

And with Black Darter in the bag that's the last of this year's dragons I'm likely to see. Really need to get a female of this species though so that'll be my target back in Gateshead when I get the chance. They tend to keep well hidden during the peak period when most other dragons are active, often mating away from the pond in the morning and coming to lay their eggs late afternoon when chances of being 'molested' by other males are vastly reduced, as later in the day (being typical blokes) all thoughts of sexual conquests are replaced by the need for a kebab (or was that just me after a night on the town back in the eighties).

Good day though, just a few loose ends to tie up now before the season ends.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Whats the Buzz ?

Glorious day today so after a bit of gardening (yak!) took sprog1 down to Far Pasture (with his new pair of 10x25s) in hope of getting better pics of ruddy darter, so was taken by surprise by the lack of activity.
A couple of emeralds and a single ovipositing common darter on the pond, good views of a preening snipe close to the hide and sprog perked up when a heron flew in. Nothing at all on the forbidden pond (after we flushed the green sand), and no sign of any ruddys anywhere.

Common darters aplenty though along the access road but mainly in the fields again. We watched a migrant hawker hunting for ages but would it hell settle for a pic.
But as we watched I got a new borough record as no less than TWELVE common buzzards were up soaring in the air together, knocking spots off my previous record of 8. A couple of them were calling so I told sprog how to recognise them as they mewed like a cat, to which he replied "That's strange, as they're called buzzards I thought they would buzz?"
Never thought of that before, the logic of kids is a wondrous thing.

Further along the road a second migrant hawker was hawking another field, and a larger hawker came across but was silhouetted against the sun so couldn't make it out properly. Another highlight here was seeing a weasel zip across the road, first I've seen in ages.
Another hawker on the way back along the derwent walk high up was probably a common judging by the coppery tint to the wings as they caught the sunlight.

Pleasant little session all in all, lovely summer scene, quiet, peaceful, not even a breeze, just the mews of buzzards, a couple of snippets of song from a chiffchaff and the 'buzzing' of a willow tit as we watched the dragonflies and butterflies flitting about in the sunshine. Could have stayed all day.

Best of todays pics, all common darters :

Finally the grapevine from around the borough reports black darters out at Stargate, with a couple of males photographed on bank holiday Monday. Hope I can get over there before long.  

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Case of the Mysterious White Dead Thing . . .

Found a disc of old photos and re-discovered a mystery I'd forgotten about from ten years back. I'd only just moved into the valley a few weeks earlier and came upon this scene along the Derwent Walk late morning on October 18th 2003.

A very large, dead, and mainly white bird was being pecked at by a couple of crows. A long trail of white feathers could be seen going away from the body, whether blown by the wind or a trail left as it crashed to earth or been dragged along by something I don't know. What the picture doesn't show is that there are pylons and power lines going across the field, a possible (or even probable) cause of death.

I've cropped both photos and in the close-up shots you can see an area of black to the left of the body. Unsure if this is tail or wing but I do remember one of the crows pulling at the wing on that side of the body, stretching it out to reveal long black primaries on an otherwise white wing though can't remember extent of black fully.


It was only about ten minutes walk from home and I promised myself to go back with my scope but either got side-tracked or just being a lazy sod, didn't, so it still has me baffled after all these years :(

Friday, 23 August 2013

And about Ruddy Time . . . .

Yip, finally nailed a Ruddy Darter at Far Pasture this afternoon. Bright sunshine when I arrived, nice view of a buzzard flying in low then perching in a tree, loadsa darters basking on the fence and road, and at last the ruddy which I got a few record shots of but then stopped to chat to Roly who was just leaving and informed me of a spot fly showing really well further down the track.
By the time we finished our chat the sky had clouded over and the darters disappeared meaning the record shots were all I got.

So I ventured further on in hope of geting the ruddy on the way back, and watched Roly's flycatcher for a while, showing so brilliantly that even I could get a couple of decent shots :

As per usual the sun didn't come back out again. On the pond brief sightings of a migrant hawker and what looked like another ruddy darter, and back up the track plenty of darters but now only in the fields, sticking to the long grass (not literally) rather than coming to the roadsides in the now quite blustery wind.
Ron H arrived just as I was packing up so I passed on the spot fly info and hopefully some better pictures will emerge (though Roly had some crackers as well).
Then just time to watch a frustrated female southern hawker feeding in the tunnel of trees at the base of the steep bank; I say frustrated because the wind was blowing a lot of airborne seeds around and she kept catching and discarding them (obviously not a vegetarian then).
Happy with finally getting the ruddy though, I'm sure I'll get some better shots before long.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Assassins in our midst . . .

Not much to report on the dragon front, but this beastie at Far Pasture needed further investigation I reckoned, as it seemed to have some sort of fly in its clutches.

I thought it may have been a horse-fly but on investigation it seems it's a type of Robber Fly, another fascinating if not gruesome inhabitant of the macro-world, though I prefer their other common name, Assassin Fly, which sounds more sinister and I think suits them better on learning of their habits :
Like dragonflies they feed on flying insects caught in mid-air, and like darters they strike out from a perch, catching the prey in their bristly legs, but the comparison stops there. The prey is taken to the perch (in this case the fence) to be eaten but instead of crunching jaws, the robber fly has a short proboscis with which it pierces its victim, releasing a chemical mix which acts first as a paralyser to subdue the 'meal' then disolves the insect's innards which are sucked up the proboscis like a straw until they are basically sucked dry, empty husk discarded.

Assassin in Action
Proboscis injected into the thorax of the fly, soon to be sucked dry.
For those who like useless information the white 'beard' is there to protect
the eyes of the robber from flailing limbs apparently and is
called a Mystax from the Greek for moustache.

But it's another case of science fact meets science fiction, their method of dispatching prey wouldn't be out of place in a sci-fi horror. I've seen quite a few of these in the Far Pasture area and apparently they aren't averse to sticking their needle-like mouthparts into humans either, so take heed, evil is out there !!!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Scotland Revisited . . . .

Been up to Dumfries and Galloway for most of the week on a short family break. Most enjoyable but dragonhunting and keeping the kids happy don't exactly go hand-in-hand. I also spoilt myself first day by getting us lost in the forest, so traumatic an experience that from then on the kids refused point-blanc to go anywhere near the woods again, but I did get a brief sighting of a hawking golden-ringed dragonfly, though no sooner had I confirmed ID it disappeared again.
Three other hawkers seen that day but only one identified as a common hawker.

Otherwise lack of opportunities and mainly overcast days kept dragons down to a minimum, only one common darter and a handful of emerald damsels completed my sightings for the trip, and a planned visit to RSPB Mersehead was cancelled due to it pissing down all day Thursday. Avian highlights were plenty of red kites, buzzards and ravens, and calling tawny owls each evening.

The only darter seen on my travels

One of only a few damsels seen on my travels

So back in the land of plenty, a morning out with the Birdman promised much but delivered little in the way of dragonflies, a search for Black Darters at Burdon Moor only produced common darters and emerald damsels (but a triad of Whinchats were a welcome borough lifer for yours truly)

Typical shite shot of  2 of 3 Whinchats
A gateshead borough lifer (or three)

We also nipped in to Far Pasture hoping to pick up Ruddy Darter but again only the common variety showed.

A roadkill darter at far Pasture, must have had an off-day

But at least this one's got something to smile about

Will try again during the week, forecast seems to be in favour of dragonhunting. Meanwhile here's yet another moth which doesn't seem to warrant a space in Collins Incomplete Insect Guide.

Answers on a comment please. Cheers. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Rain almost Stops Play . . .

Last thing I expected when I went out in bright sunshine late morning was a soaking but another quest to find Ruddy Darter at Far Pasture resulted in three . . . soakings that is, not ruddys.

Short sharp showers meant rain stopped dragonhunting before it moved on to stop play at the Ashes test a few miles away in Chester-le-Street. So I spent more time in the hide than anticipated, spooking a Roe Stag in the car park on the way; a momentary stand-off as I approached the entrance, standing his ground in the centre of the car park, good set of antlers, probably the biggest I've seen on a Roebuck, but he soon turned and fled, no chance of a photo.

Only an Emerald damsel showed on the pond, but hirundines aplenty, a couple of green sands and a sheltering buzzard were the birdy highlights, and more ducks than an England scorecard at the moment.
In between showers I went roadside to try and track down the elusive ruddy, the area before the bend in the road has always been good for basking ruddys, but any sort of dragon was slow to come out today, maybe only 8 or 9 common darters along the whole stretch, a few more males today though, and a female with a big nose (?)

who are you calling beaky?

As suspected the forbidden pond is now fenced off, though still easily viewable from the new fence I suspect, but all the surrounding rough areas are being fenced off so the field can be used to house cattle I hear :O a much better deterrent than barbed wire I suspect.
A well camouflaged moth has caused another quandry for me, any pointers in the right direction welcome.

Another handsomely marked moth for my
unidentified collection

A good period of sunshine before I left meant a common hawker (male) arrived briefly on the scene, chased off by a butterfly of all things ! (the shame of it)
But the session ended on a high as my first Migrant Hawker started quartering the field in front of me, a pale-marked individual, not sure if because it was an immature or just affected by the cool of the day. Nice to see all the same, but as I lost it when someone pulled up for a chat, no photos of that one either.
Still, week 3 of the hols ends on a bit of a high, but ruddys will have to wait.            

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sitting on the Fence . . . comma . . . or not.

A day at home so took a couple of the sprogs down to Far Pasture this afternoon to see if any Ruddy Darters had turned up yet (first sighted on this date last year). First thing I noticed was this submarine popping up in the middle of the field, now that all the lovely rough has been obliterrated.

Up periscope

But as it happens only a couple of common darters and blue damsels on the main pond, so spent most of the time by the roadside which is usually more productive anyway, especially for identification purposes as it's quite easy to get proper close up to darters perching on the roadside fences and therefore excellent for photographs.
Alas; no ruddys sighted at all today and maybe no more than ten common darters, all but two of those being females. Here's a few of them :

A few of those sitting on the fence today,
this last one almost going into the obelisk position.

But like I say it's often quite easy to get decent close-ups :


The Comma

The artist in me is always looking for summat a bit different or a decent composition :

Giving the subject a sense of place is often easy to
do here, with the column of Liberty
a constant backdrop.
And this darter appeared to be giving it
the once over from a more prominent perch

And it looks like there will be even more fences for the darters to perch on, as while we were there a tractor and a pick-up turned up carrying fence-posts and rolls of barbed wire, be interesting to see if this is yet another imposition on our freedom to roam (enough barbed wire and keep out notices here already seem to be aimed at the good-intentioned nature recorders rather than being a deterrent to the fly-tippers, doggers and those generally up to no good . . . unlike the darters, I'm not sitting on the fence ;)