Thursday, 6 November 2014

The DragonHunter is leaving the building . . . .

November now and it feels like the dragonhunting season is well and truly over. The summer just seemed to fly past, and due to my 'mishap' with the camera early doors and the fact my trusty bike has been out of action all year among other things, it wasn't a particularly good year for getting about spotting new species and recording interesting aspects of dragonfly behaviour.

The fact is I just seem to be repeating myself now after four years of dragonhunting in basically the same areas and not having anything new to enthuse about, so have decided to retire this blog before it becomes too static.

I don't see me getting out and about much until next spring anyway so I'll probably start a new blog when I feel I have something interesting to write about, and will post a link on here if and when that happens.

Meantime I'll post any wildlife sightings on Twitter (@alanmould) and you can follow my arty adventures on www.alanmouldart.blogspot.co.uk

All that remains to be said is Thanks very much for reading and for the comments, I've learned a lot about dragonflies in four years of doing this blog, and I hope I've been able to relay some of my enthusiasm and interest on to you too.

Cheers.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The DragonHunter has left the building . . . 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

More Sun, More Fun, . . .

A late morning stroll down to Far Pasture was just what I needed; sunshine, fresh air and a bit of wildlife, nowt better after being cooped up for the best part of a week.
Was wondering if there'd be any dragonflies about, well I wasn't disappointed. Not so many now but still estimate up to 20 darters seen including a few tandem and ovipositing pairs, and eventually a couple of Migrant Hawkers showed in one of the fields.

Last pic of the season? who knows
From the hide a young grey wag was star performer, picking insects from the mud. A water rail showed well but briefly and a sparrowhawk zipped through. Many a teal and common snipe loafing about in the sun, 3 dabchicks and plenty of moorhen in fresh plumage, bright red and yellow bills outstanding in the bright sunshine.

Back outside many a common bird around the car park, small flocks of goldfinches and long-tailed tits in the hedges, trees still very leafy I was surprised to see after the recent winds.

In the air 4 red kites and a buzzard, a flyover redwing and two grey wagtails. The forbidden pond had a couple of pairs of darters and little else.

Finally I found this unfortunate little creature in the middle of the road :

Poor little vole staring up its own backside
Dunno the story here but it looks like the head has been bitten off and either just spat out and left, or the culprit disturbed before it could consume its meal. Whatever, not a particularly pleasant way to end the session, but despite not seeing anything out of the ordinary, just watching the everyday creatures going about their business is rewarding enough. And after the shock of the sudden drop in water levels the other week, I have to say Far Pasture has been 'Far Better' since the sluice was unblocked.   

Friday, 17 October 2014

Fun in the Sun

Hot and Sunny this morning, so couldn't resist taking probably the last look around Far Pasture for dragonflies this year.
Just a few common darters on the approach road but 3 ovipositing pairs in the flash pool over the fence. Just my luck as the sun disappeared so I went for a look in the hide. A semi-decapitated dead rat outside the hide door was quite an unpleasant sight, and the Jack Snipe watchers inside only had negative news, though apparently up to four have been sighted now. Common Snipes were enjoying the sunshine though, with 31 counted when something put them all up in the air.

Star birds today were the Water Rails. Three showing really well, including one which swam across the pond. Great birds these, and a treat to have such good views so I hung around a while after the sun reappeared, as did several common darters, singles and pairs, but I could only cringe as the nearest water rail went dragonhunting himself and snapped a few up, sometimes leaping in the air to do so. Maybe I don't like them so much after all :-(

Nasty Water Rail finishing off a Common Darter

BEEP BEEP !
A Southern and a Migrant Hawker (both males) made brief appearances and eventually I decided to look outside.
The car park feeding station was very busy, a couple of willow tits and a nuthatch joined the commoner species along with a bank vole. A couple of goldcrests flitted through and 5 autumn Redwings flew overhead.
Out in the open it was nice to see a swirl of 6 Red Kites and a Buzzard, with Kestrel and Sparrowhawk close by too.

A very high-flying butterfly was the only one I saw today, the height of it made me guess it was a migrant species but as it was no more than a silhouette I had no idea what it was.
Dragonflies were showing well now, common darters in abundance, and a couple of migrant hawkers, one a very bright yellow female, hawked the field.

Possibly my final dragon photos of the season now as one darter remained still on the fence allowing me to get close. At first I thought it may be a very late Ruddy judging by the shape and colour of the abdomen from distance, but closer inspection showed it to be no more than a Common.

Dark red abdomen with unusually bulbous tip had me hoping
this might be a very late Ruddy Darter

But from this angle the pale stripe on the legs and minimal black
markings around the frons show it to be no more than a Common.

This is a more typical common darter with a more parallel-sided abdomen.
 
Considering the cold and wet weather we've had since my last outing over a week ago, there were far more dragonflies than I was expecting, and am wondering if the thin abdomen in the top darter is through wastage caused by lack of food. Dragonflies have a large crop in which to store food for periods of bad weather, but this time of year those tend to last longer and maybe this feller didn't have enough in the larder. Just a thought.
All in all today there were around 30 darters, 2-3 migrant hawkers and a southern, though thanks to one hungry water rail there are now at least three less darters than there were this morning :-(    

           

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

New Star Attraction at Far Pasture

News of a very showy Jack Snipe at Far Pasture on Sunday had me chomping at the bit to get down there to check it out, the last one I had here was 7 or 8 years ago and took over 10 hours of watching in 5 visits to finally pin it down, and then only a short mid-distance view, but as it was my first I remember it well.
Last year I went flushing them at Newburn with the former birdman of gateshead. We had over a dozen in flight, some decent views but to get one showing well at my local patch is what it's all about.

So this morning (anticipating a lengthy stakeout) I set off, sun shining but the air not fully warmed up so no dragonflies en route, and as I entered the hide, one of the many watchers already there announced the Jack Snipe was already showing, and it was too, giving as good a view as you could possibly want for this elusive little wader, less than 10 feet from the hide, right out in the open on the mud. Excellent!






Jack Snipe at Far Pasture
not the best collection of photos but a rare treat to get one out
in the open like this 
After filling my boots with photos and binocular views I sighted a water rail weaving through the reedmace and a bit later, two of these cracking little birds showed well as they fought noisily further up.

Great to see Water Rails too - one of my favourite birds.
Lucky to get this one as it set off like a roadrunner just as I was about
to snap it. 

I counted 23 common Snipe basking in the sunshine, a pied wagtail showed well, a grey heron stood sentry-like on the far island, a single dabchick seen, and there was a good presence of moorhen, teal and BH gulls. A pleasant surprise was 2 passing swallows dipping in for a drink, brief but nice to see.

Back outside there were plenty of common passerines including willow tit, and in a short space of time I had 5 tit species and a chiffchaff foraging the oak tree by the gate. A couple of red kites and a buzzard were airborne highlights.
Dragonflies were starting to appear now too, all common darters, some individual, some tandem pairs, and I took the opportunity of photographing this copulating pair on the fence.




It always amazes me at this time of year that despite a period of cold and
wet weather, as soon as the sun shines the dragonflies are back out
in force, good numbers at Far Pasture still. 
Prof Pochard turned up just as I was about to leave (I'd txted him about the Jacky and he said he'd get down at lunchtime) so I walked back along the hide for another look.
It was standing room only now, as well as the birders and photographers the Volunteers had turned up to do some work so the car park was chocker as well, but it was like This is Your Life as just about everyone local I knew was out today. Needless to say my trip turned into a two and a half hour session, but I'm not complaining.
Early afternoon now and the dragonflies were showing well too, plenty of tandem pairs of common darters on the pond, and a couple of migrant hawkers and a southern hawker arrived before I left.

Good session, nice to see some old faces, and very nice to see little Jacky knocking the Kingfishers off their perch (not literally) as the new star attraction. :-) 

            

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A Few Loose Ends . . .

Hasn't been the best of ends to the Dragonfly season, though strictly speaking it hasn't ended yet with still plenty of Common Darters and Migrant  and Southern Hawkers to be seen at my local sites.

September just seemed to fly by, and in the main I've been too involved with other things these last few weeks to get out dragonhunting proper, so here's a summary of my latest fleeting site visits and garden sightings :

Tuesday 30th September
Thornley Woods Pond - (late morning) Nothing. Neither a darter nor a hawker in sight. The sun was out for most of my visit but after half an hour I gave up. A poor year here for the usually abundant Southern Hawkers, and unlike last year I didn't note any Common Hawkers at the pond, though there were a couple in the woods earlier in the season. 
However, on the way back I did find a male Southern Hawker on the small overflow pond searching for females, though with no luck he flew off, probably to the main pond.
Far Pasture - (early afternoon) Much more activity with many darters on the roadside fences and the ovipositing pairs count was well into double figures on the pond. 3-4 male Migrant Hawkers in the area too and a single male Southern.
After the clearing of the sluice, the roadside ditch  has drained completely, wondering what effect this will have on the Ruddy Darter survival rate over the winter.
And due to lack of rainfall during the month, the Forbidden Pond is now just a couple of shallow puddles, though a few common darter pairs were still busy egg-laying. 

Nothing different on the dragonfly front to
photograph but there were four very fresh-looking
red admirals at the top of Far Pasture access road. 

Here's another in discussion with a Comma.

Monday 29th September
A tandem pair of common darters flew through the garden . . . that was a first :-)

Friday 26th September
A migrant hawker (male) landed briefly on the outside of the kids trampoline in the back garden, unfortunately flushed up when I approached it.

Thursday 25th September
Shibdon Pond - A male migrant hawker and common darter viewed from the hide on a cool day.

Tuesday 23rd September
Thornley Woods Pond - 10-12 common darters including 3 ovipositing pairs, just one male Southern Hawker on fruitless search for a female.
Far Pasture - Good numbers of common darters on the fences and a few tandem pairs on the pond which (after the sluice has been unblocked) had lost a good three feet of water.

Plenty of common darters on the roadside fences 

The more mature individual seems to be more approachable.  

Took this one because it was a nice contrast of colours.

Far Pasture Unblocked
The old water-line is clearly visible on the reedmace stems.

 
Now into October there won't be many more opportunities to get out, though I would expect Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters to be with us for a few more weeks yet. I won't declare the season closed just yet but don't hold your breath folks . . . .

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Last Piece of the Jigsaw . . .

Since starting the Dragonhunter Diaries four years ago the one dragon (of the Gateshead regulars) which has eluded my camera has been a female Migrant Hawker. I haven't even seen that many, and it wasn't 'til Mid-October last year I saw my first one hawking the top field at Far Pasture.   

This year however, the species has been more abundant than ever, and already during August I had two females hawking the same field and then one in tandem on the pond at FP, though none even close to being photographed.
Shibdon George alerted me to better opportunities along the boardwalk at Shibdon Pond late last summer, and has been keeping me informed recently, so I've been waiting for the chance to get up there and try my luck. Today that chance came.

I bussed up to Swalwell mid-morning hoping a scan from the hide first might bring me some interesting waders (or even a Glossy Ibis or something mega) but disappointment was an understatement. It's not often you can say there's nowt about and mean it, but as they were strimming in front of the hide today, I can honestly say there was absolutely NOTHING to be seen on the pond from the hide. Just my luck.

Instead I went straight into dragonhunting mode and my disappointment was soon forgotten on the boardwalk when I found first a male, then a female Migrant Hawker, close to the walkway and still quite docile so allowing me to get quite close up.

So here she is, my first ever photographed female Mig :

First contact - a record shot before the approach

Moving in - a cracking yellow individual
Profile - vivid yellow marrkings
on thorax and base of abdomen

Best ever photographs, best ever views, in fact the first
time I've ever seen a female perched up like this
 
Gettin!!
Have to say I was quite happy with that little lot, it was still quite dull so the photos could have been better, but a bit of photoshopping cleared them up a bit.

I also got decent photos of the male, though he was a bit more alert and only put up with my intrusion for so long.

Love this angled shot of the male - superb blue eyes
of a mature individual

Best shot of the season for the male as well, capped a good day here.

Common Darters were also beginning to appear, so with mission accomplished and the weather improving all the time I decided to call in to Thornley Woods Pond on the way back. A dozen or so common darters here too, aggressive males fighting over females and then each other after a tandem pair was formed, melees involving four males at a time were quite vicious.
No damsels today, I fear they've all gone now, but more surprisingly no Southern Hawkers :-O
This is the first time ever that I've visited during good weather and not seen at least one, hasn't been a good year at all for them here, very disappointing, I fear numbers are gradually diminishing if the trend of the last two years continues, certainly something to keep an eye on next year.

On to Far Pasture, decent numbers of Common Darters but again still nowhere near as many as recent years. Half a dozen ovipositing pairs on the Forbidden Pond, similar numbers on the main pond where I would have expected many more in the sunshine today. A few emerald damsels still flitting around and another 4-5 Migrant Hawkers, one female gave excellent views as she oviposited alone in the nearside margins, laying eggs in reedmace stems well above the waterline. Amazingly she came close enough to photograph on occasions but the focus on my camera let me down and I came away empty-handed, I suppose it would have been too much to ask for, getting an ovipositing female on the same day I get my first ever. Never mind, not complaining, here's another photo of the Shibdon female to finish:

One for the Gallery
Love it when a plan comes to fruition. Cheers George :-)            
  

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Black Spot and an Ant-elope

I managed to locate Gateshead's first Black Darter of 2014 today at Kibblesworth Brickworks Pools but a poor count of dragons here today, though I think we arrived a bit early, as things were (literally) just warming up as we prepared to leave.
Other dragons on show were a couple of migrant hawkers, c8 common darters, a few emerald damsels and a blue-tailed damsel. None of which I bothered to photograph.

Back to Friday, and the last of our three nests of Black Garden Ants swarmed, a lot later than usual. The winged kings and queens have usually eloped en masse in the nuptial flight by mid-August, gauged by temperature, and two of our three nests did so, but the third nest beside the back door is in shadow most of the time and due to the poor August hadn't yet swarmed, though I've seen them abort on a few occasions while the other nests close by held successful launch parties.

Over the years it's been great entertainment, and can often become a feeding frenzy for the local birds, I've had house sparrows and blackbirds feeding on the ground, robins and blue tits 'fly-catching' from the cherry tree and good numbers of starlings and hirundines feeding in mid-air, plucking the unfortunate ants out of the sky before they had a chance to fulfil their destiny.

On one memorable occasion a passing band of swifts got in on the action, swooping low into the garden to take the ants just after take-off. I stood perfectly still by the corner of the house as swifts brushed past me at breakneck speed, circling around the greenhouse and back in again for more. A great experience to get so close to them and one which probably won't be repeated, though I live in hope.

On Friday the star 'ant-eater' was a jackdaw fly-catching from the house roof opposite, time and again it darted out, snapped up a victim and returned to the roof. Others were mopping them up in mid-air, as were a few starlings.
The ants themselves are rubbish flyers, mainly clambering up to the highest point they can reach before taking the leap of faith, some go straight up, others seem to tread water before making any headway skywards, and some plummet straight back down to earth again, either perishing or dusting themselves off and having another go.

Even at the highest point at the top of the greenhouse, the future queens
were literally clambering on top of each other to gain a bit of
extra height.

The one above was like someone someone making a leap from the high-diving board for the first time, scuttling forward to the edge as if ready to go, but stopping abruptly, changing her mind and scurrying back again. She did this numerous times and I still don't know if she made it in the end.

Numerous others came to a sticky end in the spiders webs, of which there are many, constructed in nooks and crannies of the greenhouse. One individual was right out of luck, she became entangled in a web and there was no escape anyway, but then a wasp attacked her before the spider had a chance to claim its prize, with the result that she was dismembered in the web and eaten in double quick time, leaving only a pair of wings and a head for the spider.

This unfortunate individual flew straight into a web and was
immediately pulled in by the spider in residence.

If it wasn't bad enough flying into a web, this poor sod was
torn apart and devoured by a passing wasp. 

The wasps seem particularly fearsome at this time of year, and another was actually trying to get at spiders which were cowering in their shallow holes, they hold no fear over those stripey bastards.

As always it was a highly entertaining event though they reckon only one in a hundred flying princesses will successfully form a new colony and become queen, a stat at which I'm not surprised, given the carnage I witness each year :-O        

Friday, 5 September 2014

By George . . .

Yesterday at Far Pasture I was slightly distracted by the appearance of the otter, and then in the hope it would come back, so I spent more time in the hide than I normally would have, there were plenty of migrant hawkers around but no females (which was my target for photographic purposes) and I tried to get one of the males in flight, something I could hardly do with my Panasonic (sob) never mind the Krappy Kodak, as you can see :


Believe it or not these were my best efforts. I decided to show them as what they
do show is the vivid blue 'banding' effect at the base of the abdomen,
a diagnostic ID feature in flight for the male Migrant Hawker.
Later back home I received an email from Shibdon George, sending me a couple of cracking snaps of migrants he'd taken yesterday, along with some movie footage, all of which I intended to upload, but unfortunately I've mislaid the movie file and one of the photos won't open now I've downloaded it. So here is the one remaining photo (apologies George) :

Migrant Hawker (male) at Shibdon Pond by George Simpson


Lovely photo of a mature male, showing those cracking blue eyes. It looks like there is obviously more scope for getting pictures at Shibdon than at FP so that'll be my task next week (weather permitting), a trip to Shibdon to see if I can finally photograph a female Migrant Hawker.

Edit : A female mig actually flew through the garden this morning, but didn't bother stopping. In fact it's been a canny week for dragon spotting at home as I've been out in the garden a lot, a total of 4 hawkers and 2 darters have passed through, only a common darter bothered to stop, perching on the side fence for a while, and only the female mig was a definite ID for the hawkers, the others just zipped through too quickly.   

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Brief Encounter, and a Murder Mystery

Far Pasture beckoned again today with the sun beating down and a couple of hours to spare, so off I went, with the intention of finding a female Migrant Hawker to photograph.
In the event I didn't even see one, but there were plenty of other dragons to be seen and a bit of other interest, so I'll concentrate on the interest then list the sightings at the end.

Approaching the roadside ditch a couple of skirmishing darters low in front of me both had the look of ruddys, one flew off and I located the other which indeed turned out to be a ruddy :

Another Roadside Ruddy

Then I spied a mating pair of common darters on the fence opposite, and knowing how difficult these are to approach I used 'stealth' photography ie approached them taking small steps, getting a shot off with each step and see how close I could get. As it happens on this occasion they didn't flinch, allowing me to get to point blank range from which even the KK could rattle off a few shots I was pleased with.

Not often you can get this close-up to a mating pair
without them flying off.  

but I got even closer, and noticed the extended black down
the side of the frons on the male, unusual in this species. 

a close-up of the female, she too appears to have extended
black around the frons. 

And the whole affair, possibly the best photo of common darters
mating I've ever taken, certainly the closest. 

 Then something very strange. Looking back along the road I got my bins on a darter which looked like a Ruddy, but also didn't 'look right'. I walked back and found a badly injured male Ruddy Darter, abdomen still pulsating, head still intact but thorax badly squashed.

Is it the same ruddy I just photographed ? I hope not :-(
I didn't remember passing it on the way in, I surely would have noticed, and after inspecting the injuries again, came to the conclusion it must have been 'taken' by a bird, (the injuries to the thorax caused by being grasped in a beak) and then dropped from the sky for whatever reason and onto the road.
Anyway a couple of minutes later it had expired and as I had a collecting container in my bag I scooped it up and will inspect it later with a magnifying loupe.
By strange co-incidence it's exactly a year to the day since I found the injured Southern Hawker by the A694, though that one had a slightly happier ending.

In the hide I was greeted with the news an Otter was about, and it duly showed in the channel by the right hand island, inspecting the recently deserted Grebe nest then swimming out into the open, diving and leaving the tell-tale trail of bubbles across the open water, surfacing briefly then under again into the centre reedbed. No more than 20 seconds but as with my other otter encounters, one I won't forget.
It also served the purpose of sending the birds in the reedbeds scattering into the open pond, confirming there were still 3 juv little grebes as well as the parents, meaning the whole late brood has survived thus far, as three eggs were hatched just a month or so back.

So to the dragons, here is a chronological list of sightings :

Top field : 2 male migrant hawkers hawking the field, 3-4 common darters on the roadside fence.

Roadside ditch area :  1-2 ruddy darters, 5-6 common darters (1 mating pair) 2 male migrant hawkers.

Pond : 2 male southern hawkers, at least 4 male migrant hawkers, 20+ common darters including half a dozen tandem pairs and 2 pairs ovipositing, 8 emerald damsels including 2 pairs in tandem, 3-4 azure/blue damsels (unsure of species).

Roadside ditch again (this time in overcast conditions ) Possible ruddy female, 2 southern hawker males, 2 migrant hawker males, 3-4 common darters.

Still a bit more to share but I think I'll leave it 'til tomorrow. Knackered now.

Cheers.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Seven Up

The second part of my adventure in the sunshine yesterday took me to Far Pasture, and first thing I noticed (difficult to miss it really) was this Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar crossing the road, what a size!





Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar, my second one this year,
what a monster :-O
I picked it off the road, not wanting to see it squashed by a passing motorist (though judging by the size of it there might have been more damage to the car) and placed it on a fencepost where I took the snaps.

And where I left it
A canny start and with a few flighty darters by the roadside it was looking like a good session in prospect.
The roadside ditch had a couple of Migrant Hawkers close by and a male southern, but otherwise not much to report. More migrant hawkers as I made way to the hide, and on the pond itself, quiet at first but a few common darters in the vegetation under the window with a couple of pairs ovipositing in the shallows, a few emerald damsels, some in tandem and then I spotted a ruddy darter on a broken stem under the window so snapped away.

Yet another Ruddy Darter, been very good for them
at Far Pasture this year 

Performed a bit of sky-pointing
Pleased to find another ruddy, but then the hawkers started to come in, eventually at least five or six migrants, with 4 males skirmishing in one melee and then a tandem pair crossed the pond towards a reedbed. A very good count here though sadly none of them would perch for photos.

The Forbidden Pond was again very poor, a couple of tandem pairs and single common darters, plus an unidentified hawker which whizzed through.
On the way back up the road again, probably four migrant hawkers hawked the top field, so I reckon there was easily a double-figure count of the species here today, very good after relatively poor years of late.

Trekking back through the woods another insect on the ground caught my eye in the form of a large, fat beetle scurrying across my path. I quickly got off a few shots before it disappeared into the undergrowth though a moving subject does not make for decent photos.


Just make out the 'splayed' antennae, a clue
to its identity 

Quite a fast runner

And a lovely blue tinge to the shell of the beetle

I reckon it to be a Dor Beetle Geotrupes stercorarius, a type of dung beetle, quite common but not easy to catch in the daytime.

A quick countback  and I make that 7 species of Odonata seen at both sites today, 2 hawkers, 2 darters and 3 damsels. Not bad for early September.
And later in the day I received an email from Shibdon George, telling me there are plenty of Migrant Hawkers around the boardwalk of Shibdon Pond also, so somewhere else to visit in the coming days.
Cheers.