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             


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed following you through the Dragon. year
    Picked up a few I.D. tips also. Thanks for that. Look forward to next year.

  2. Cheers John, and as Arnie said (on more than one occasion) . . . I'll be back!