Thursday, 26 June 2014

In Your Face, damsels . . .

Must admit I'm a bit lost without Far Pasture to scuttle down to when I have a couple of hours to spare, but only two weeks to go before the roadworks are finished (according to the signage) and so making do with Thornley Woods pond at the minute, which has produced just Azure and Large Red damsels (and a single blue-tail) to date, but just waiting to catch some Southern Hawker emergence, and with about half a dozen exuvia scattered about it shouldn't be long.

Today the damsels (along with the sun) were in hiding most of the time I was there but there were plenty to be found on the pond-side grasses and brambles, with the overcast conditions keeping them grounded for long periods.

A bit of searching revealed plenty of damsels

With a bit of synchronized perching thrown in

But this enabled me to get close-up to a couple of individuals and potentially some cracking shots. Unfortunately (sorry to keep harping on) the Kodak just isn't up to the job and I'm a bit disappointed with the results, which I have to say looked a lot better in the viewfinder at the time.

An aggressive-looking Large Red

Wing-spreading seems to be a sign of aggression
but I managed to get right in the face of this feller. 
Don't often get up-close face-on with a blue, they're usually
more wary than the reds. 

But this one was quite happy for a close-up,
shame my camera wasn't.

There wasn't much else doing but the sun got out just before I was about to leave so I hung about a bit longer, and saw a teneral hawker making its maiden flight from the rough at the back of the pond. I tried to track it through the trees as it slowly fluttered off but despite thinking I had it pinned down, I was unable to relocate it when I moved around. Shame that.
I presume it was a Southern Hawker as to my knowledge they are the only (hawker) species which breed there, though Common Hawker males have been seen patrolling the last couple of summers.

A pleasant enough little session then, though my jinx continued on the way home as the top came off the kids water-bottle I had borrowed in my backpack, soaking my hat, notebook and binoculars (no harm done), though the camera escaped a wetting this time.    

Monday, 23 June 2014

A Riverside Walk

A couple of shots from today. Had another trip along the river hoping to get better views of Banded Demoiselles, but as the sun shone only in short bursts it wasn't really the best of days for looking. Started up by Swalwell bridge as I'd been given a tip-off by Shibdon George about an area he'd seen some.
It looked a decent area but as I said the sun wasn't out much, and coupled with a family party of grey wags and a blackbird zipping out to capture anything flying over the water it might be already too late to find any here, though I did test the Krappy Kodak out on a blue-tailed damsel and a speckled wood butterfly :

Female blue-tailed damsel of the violacea form.

Speckled Wood
one of the few butterflies I'm familiar with

I moved on upstream; in truth there are a few likely looking stretches of river, but one in particular I'd had success at in the past was now too overgrown to get anywhere near. Another site looked even better habitat with meadows stretching back from yon side of the river, but no demoiselles at the moment, though I'll certainly pay another visit in a couple of weeks when numbers should be at their peak. Bumped into an old work and birding colleague here who was actually trying to find demoiselles himself after reading last weeks report (good to see you again Mal).

Together we walked back to Hagghill, and when the sun shone it duly delivered a couple of skirmishing males, but again on the other side of the river where I'd parked myself last week. More of a surprise was the appearance of the Reservoir Birder here, himself a bit of a rarity these days (though I doubt anyone would twitch him :-)

The sun stayed out for a good while so I stayed here a while myself, but maybe only three male demoiselles danced in the sunshine, and all on the far side. I'm definitely thinking a mid-July visit will be more productive so will leave this particular species for a couple of weeks and move on to another target.      

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Plan C from Outer Space

Put plan C into operation today, ie I borrowed my better half's Canon Powershot S95 as it has a 15x zoom and a macro setting, and went up to Thornley Woods Pond to try it out after studying the manual last night.
Unfortunately it turns out it's no more than a complex snapshot camera and despite trying out a lot of functions in good light for the most part, only one photograph came out semi-decent, and it's nigh on impossible to get a real close-up in focus.

Large Red Damsel (male)
Best shot of the day
The others produced worse results than the Krappy Kodak, so it's back to square one for the moment at least. I did spy this alien-looking bug-eyed creature I don't think I've come across before, though couldn't get it in focus despite a few attempts :

Looks like something out of a 1950s B-movie (or should that be Bee-Movie) but despite the distinctive appearance I still have no idea what it is.

The good news on the dragon front though is that there were 5 Southern Hawker exuvia in the far margins, earliest I've noted them here but then again I don't usually look this early.
There were also far more Azure damsels than I've seen here before (50+), and probably more Large Reds as well (c30) with lots of mating and ovipositing going on from both species.

I also got a Brimstone butterfly, a species I don't note much around these parts, a female judging by the pallid look, but unfortunately it was dead on the path by the road, so probably clipped by a car.

So what next? as Plan D doesn't exist it looks like back to Plan B and the Krappy Kodak :-(

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Jewels of the Derwent

The appearance of the sun took me by surprise today so after cutting the back lawn I went on a hunt along the river for that jewel of a dragonfly the Banded Demoiselle.
First stop was Clockburn Lake outlet stream (a common tern was fishing on the lake) but a good search revealed none to be had, though the area was teeming with Azure and Blue-tailed damsels, and a few Large Reds.

Plenty of Blue-tailed Damsels on show at Clockburn Lake
A mating wheel (top) and a cracking rufescens female (bottom)

I think the flooding of the last few years has changed the river a bit here, I'm sure it's not as slow-moving as it use to be and consequently I haven't had a demoiselle here for the last two years, which is a shame because it was always the best place to photograph them. But I'll keep trying.

So I moved on to the banker site of Hagghill, but as I was on foot decided to try and view it from the east bank of the river rather than the west as I do when I'm on my bike.
I crossed the new Butterfly Bridge, scanning the riverbanks either side, but despite glorious sunshine only Mayflies were dancing about on the water.

I trekked along the riverside meadows, and despite a few diversions I eventually got to a point opposite Hagghill, though the viewing wasn't as good as I'd hoped as the vegetation was extremely tall and lush, blocking the view of the nearside just about altogether, and hidden drops along the steep-sided riverbank prevented me risking getting too close, but I took up the best vantage point I could and it didn't take long for the demoiselles to appear.
First a female, then a male, a pair of males skirmishing, a tandem pair assaulted by another male, more skirmishing and another female. I reckoned 6-8 males and 3 females in the area but as it wasn't the best of views so most likely a few more. I also spied a Dragonfly briefly passing a gap in the vegetation, but too quick to make an ID, another puzzler.

Getting a photograph of the demoiselles proved nigh on impossible. For once I could have done with a few clouds to keep them grounded but the early afternoon sunshine meant long bouts of skirmishing as the two males spiralled upwards then a quick drop to cover, but all too brief a stay as the next skirmish soon started.
Great to watch but not much fun for the Dragonhunter, armed with only the much maligned Krappy Kodak.
I reeled off about 20 shots in my stay, but none were in proper focus, and these were the best of a shite bunch.

Banded Demoiselle (male)
Even in shite photos, still a beauty.
Getting a shot of a female was even worse, look at the state of this :-(

Can't expect anything better at the moment I'm afraid, feeling a bit lost without my Lumix. And just to make matters worse I realised I'd lost my water bottle somewhere along the journey (and boy did I need a drink in the heat today) but on the plus side I did photograph this Goosander family on the river, and a pair of Blackcaps showed well in trees on the opposite bank, though I didn't see any youngsters with them.

Mammy Goosander and 6 chicks

 The trek home was a bit of a plod without water, but never mind, mission accomplished. Banded Demoiselle in the bag  :-)   


Saturday, 14 June 2014

World Cup - England v Italy

With the World Cup now up and running I thought I'd take a look at England's first opponents Italy, in a dragonfly sense of course.

Many species appear in both countries so have dual nationalities; like the Emperor, Southern and Migrant hawkers, Four-spot and Broad-bodied Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer and Common Darter. All of these though would of course choose to play for England if given the choice.
The stars of the Italian team then are:

Italian Goldenringed Dragonfly
With a name like that, first name on the team sheet

Lesser Emperor
Emperor of Rome no doubt

Broad Scarlet
Team Captain (Captain Scarlet?)

Red-veined Darter
A must for position of midfield general covering large distances
on migration, has the stamina to last 90 minutes, extra time and penalties.

Violet Dropwing
With the Italian eye for beauty this one has to make the starting line-up 

Southern Skimmer
The Italian team affectionately known as the Azzuri (the blues)
so this one a must for the team
(all photos (except RvDarter) sneaked with apologies from, the best dragonfly photos on the web)

A very colourful bunch, but good enough to beat England?
Well here's my England Odonata World Cup Team (if there was such a thing) to play against Italy tonight :

In goal we have the Common Darter; perches on the crossbar, lightning quick off his line to snuff out danger, adept at plucking out of the air and as agile as they come between the sticks.

In front of the goalie is a defensive line led commandingly by the team Captain the Emperor.
The Emperor has an imposing presence, using his size and strength to fend off attacks and use trademark crunching tackles on anything trying to fly past him. Has been known to (literally) eat opponents.
His central defensive partner is the Southern Hawker, another big defender, a busy dragonfly and excellent close marker, likes to repeatedly hover in front of opponents to slow them down and allow his defence to regroup.

At Right Back is the Black-tailed Skimmer, holds his position well, but has the agility to hassle opponents doggedly and the burst of speed to get forward when opportunity knocks.

Left Back is the Four-spotted Chaser, a tigerish defender, patrols up and down the left hand side of the pitch. Not afraid to get forward but returns to his defensive position at speed after an attacking foray. Links up well with the Broad-bodied chaser on the left wing, who's direct and speedy wing-play can burst through the tightest of defences. His only failing is the tendency to get caught offside as he perches on the corner flag.

In the centre of midfield is a trio of very different dragonflies. The defensive midfielder is the Brown Hawker, patrolling the area in front of the defence from side to side, large and aggressive he'll pick off anything which strays into his territory.
Just in front of him is the Downy Emerald, a tireless flier covering every inch of the pitch and can pop up anywhere, leading speedy counter-attacks along with his partner the Migrant Hawker, a box to box player who links up with both defence and attack. Difficult for opponents to track him as he can turn quickly and makes endless zig-zagging runs.

Out on the right wing is the Banded Demoiselle, the David Beckham of the dragonfly world. Looks good as he poses about with a shimmering metallic sheen and deep blue wing patches, but his pace is deceptive, nonchalantly fluttering about one moment, but a sudden change of pace and he's away past you in the blink of an eye.

Up front on his own is the imposing Common Hawker who thrives in the lone striker role, patrols the edge of the opposition box, has the ability to shy away from his marker, but seizes the opportunity to attack aggressively when the chance comes, and has an unbelievable strike record.

On the subs bench is the Black Darter, a diminutive utility player and super-sub. Should really be in the starting line-up but due to late emergence can only come on in the second half.

What a team! Come on Engerland!!!!!!!!

Unfinished Business Finished . . .

Back to Stargate today, scene of last weeks camera disaster, in an attempt to nail a Broad-bodied Chaser with my Krappy Kodak.

First thing I noted though in amongst the (again) mass emergence of damselflies were a few emerging Common Darters, first of 2014 for me and I managed to track a couple down for obligatory photographs.

Common Darter - teneral female

Common Darter - teneral male

No sign of any Chasers though, bar the four-spots which seemed to be in slightly larger numbers than last week with about half a dozen chasing around, but that's all they did, seldom settling either in decent range or for longer than a few seconds.

Then another incident (is this place jinxed for me this year?) as a man walking his dogs, one of which was a big bull-necked rottweiler type, walked past me, the demon dog growling aggressively and straining at the leash to get at me as they passed by.
"Thank feck its on a lead" I thought, but then couldn't believe my eyes when, no more than 20 yards further on, the bloke let it off the lead, and inevitably it made a bee-line straight for me, charging along and barking/snarling like the bloody big killer hound that it was.
I was shitting bricks and all but leapt in the pond, I couldn't look and turned me back on it shouting at the daft get of an owner to call it off, which he eventually did with the smallest of mumbled apologies.
As he took it off one way I ambled shakily round the back of the pond, not settling back into my mission before man and dogs had all disappeared from view. Wanker!

So back to the task in hand, I'd created a fake perch and been on site for the best part of an hour without any sightings of my target species, but then had the bright idea of checking the minor pond (which in years past had been all but dry but noted last week it was brimming.)
Lo and behold, there were no less than FOUR female Broad-bodied Chasers zipping about here, and straight away I found their perch among the gorse where THREE of them had settled.

Three of a kind - Broad-bodied Chasers (all females)
apologies for image quality 

I sat by the perch for the next hour, and was rewarded with fantastic views and photographic opportunities, but obviously with my Krappy Kodak I was going to get no more than record shots, a shame because the Chasers were posing at all angles, but here are the best I could get :

This one appeared to have remnants of spider webs on the left wings


Broad-bodied Chasers from all angles, best of a bad bunch.
A Blue-tailed damsel also used the same perch 

On the pond the spiders were taking a few
damsels, this one next in the queue to be
wrapped up.

And Pond 3 where all the action was (main pond in the background)
The gorse bush front of the central pylon is where the chasers
were perching.

I was hoping at least one of the Chasers would turnout to be an immature male, something I've yet to photograph, but it looks like all of those are at Burdon Moor :-(

Female anal appendages, note they are small and have quite a gap
between them. The males are noticeably longer and sprout from the
centre of the tip.   

Never mind, might yet pay another visit here, thoroughly enjoyed the up-close-and-personal views of this cracking species of dragonfly, though ultimately disappointed with my final images :-(  

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Goodbye Old Friend

A visit to Kibblesworth Brickworks Pools this morning wasn't as productive as hoped. Plenty of damsels and dragons on show in the sunshine but no new species to report.

A good count of 40+ Four-spotted Chasers, certainly living up to their name today, very active with lots of mating, ovipositing and general chasing about.
A good count of damsels as well, with Common Blue and Azure well represented, lesser numbers of Blue-tailed and relatively few Large Reds.
Not many photographic opportunities (especially from the four-spots) which is just as well as I only had my Krappy Kodak with me, which doesn't have a macro or image-stabiliser and must be the world's slowest focuser, so often the target had flown while my lens was still trying to lock on.
Here's the only two semi-decent pictures I got :

Common Blues in the mating wheel

Blue-tails in the mating wheel
This time the female is of the infuscans form

Bad news is that my trusty old Panasonic is officially dead, tried it this morning but not a flicker, its only use now is either a doorstop or a paperweight. Only myself to blame, lesson learned (I hope)
Looking to get a Canon SX50 as a replacement, but when that will be is another matter . . . .

Friday, 6 June 2014

D (for disaster) - Day

Could hardly contain my excitement when I read the Met Office forecast for today, and planned my first dragonhunt of the (official) summer with a hike up to Stargate Ponds to see if the chasers were in (or out).
The damsels certainly were. A big emergence day with tenerals making their first flights by the bucketful, but they were taking a bit of a hammering from the sand martins and swallows in a non-stop feeding frenzy.

Stargate Ponds - a gem of a dragonfly site
I circumnavigated the pond and there must have been three-figure counts of azure, common blue and blue-tails, with just a few large reds in the mix as well, and the majority were pairs in tandem or the mating wheel.

Lots of mating activity today - mainly by common blue and azure damsels

Common Blue Damselfly - tandem pair
First photographed of 2014 

Azure damsels in sentinel position, ready for ovipositing

Another azure pair in egg-laying action.

Blue-tailed damsels
First time I've ever captured a mating pair, the female is
of the typica form, very similar in colour to the male.

Lots of emergence today - unsure of the species here; on the left is
an empty larval casing (exuvia), but on the right is actually a larva
I found climbing up the stalk to emerge. Another first.

Female blue-tailed damsel
immature of the rufescens form

Mature female blue-tailed damsel of the infuscans form.
At rest here but when I first spotted her she was ovipositing, alone as
this species does.
I'd been there a good 20 minutes before spying my first Four-spotted Chaser. Not the easiest dragon to photograph when they're in search mode, though a second male did perch in good view for a while, sadly just too distant for a decent photo, and then my attention was diverted when I heard rustling wings near to my right, and looked down to find a female Four-spot ovipositing, repeatedly dipping to the waters surface among the emergent vegetation and flicking her abdomen rather like a darter.
I tried in vain to get a photo but she was non-stop so it wasn't an easy task.

Male Four-spotted Chaser - striking markings on the wings

Best shot I could get of the ovipositing female, but yet another first
for my collection. 

I have to say the Four-spots are the little brown jobs of the odonata world, but (like their avian counterparts) get a good prolonged view of one and you find they really can be a bonny dragonfly. Obviously the older they get the duller they become, but in prime condition like the few I saw today, (much like the humble house sparrow) their colours form superbly contrasted patterns. And the dark marks on the wing nodes of the perched males (the actual four-spots) showed beautifully.

Then at last a bright yellow female Broad-bodied Chaser skimmed across the surface of the pond at speed then began busying about in the margins. Time to make a fake perch I decided, and snapped a dead branch from a nearby tree.
But as I attempted to insert it in the shallows of the pond it was a bit awkward, so needing two hands I let go of my camera, forgetting the strap wasn't secured around my neck, and bingo, down into the pond it went. Disaster! :-O
Quickly fished out, drips shaken off, dried off, switched on, but dead . . . .
I could see by the way the viewfinder had immediately fogged up the water had got inside, so I removed the battery and memory card, opened all the compartments and laid it on my jacket to warm in the sun.

Typically, as I sat there at the pond-side, a Four-spotted Chaser perched itself close by, as if taunting me. Great views through my close-focussing bins, and would have been a cracking photo opportunity as it stayed for bloody ages, even when I moved about hoping to scare it off. But no, I could have got as close as I liked, in fact it didn't move at all until was mobbed by a couple of blue-tailed damsels.

Still sitting next to my stricken camera and pondering the consequences I took a closer look at the emergent grasses in the margins, and found it plastered with damsel exuvia, including one which was facing down rather than up, which meant it would be that of a blue-tailed damsel, being the only species to emerge this way. Another first for me, Oh if I only had my camera.  :-(

There had been no further sightings of any Broad-bodied Chasers while I sat, so, deciding to call it a day, I packed my poorly camera away and took a look at the sheltered pond on the way out. Lo and behold, the female Broad-bodied was here too, eventually settling at the far side.
I made note of where she was and moved around the outside of the surrounding trees, then through a gap back to the pond close to where I hoped she wasn't anymore. But my luck was out. She remained perched on the low outer-branch of a tree offering a bloody good photo opportunity for someone with a nice, dry, fully-functioning camera, which unfortunately today was no longer me. :-(

I watched her for a short while before heading off, and promised her in true Arnie style, "I'll be back."          

I managed to upload todays photos by putting the memory card in my old Kodak camera, which for any other purpose is truly shite (doesn't even have a macro function.)
The advice offered via t'internet is let the camera dry out thoroughly for a couple of days before replacing the battery and trying it out and there's a good chance it will be ok. But on the downside they also say on no account switch it on before it dries out as it might truly fry the electrics, unfortunately the first thing I did after I fished it out and shook the water off was switch it on to see if it was still working :-O (Well you would, wouldn't you, it's just instinctive?)

Only time will tell . . . . . . . .