Thursday, 31 July 2014

Not Much Action . . .

Paid a visit to Thornley Woods Pond yesterday hoping to be entertained by some hawker activity, as regular readers will know this is the best site in the borough for getting up close and personal with Southern Hawkers, often great entertainment with 4 or 5 males on territory and females trying to oviposit before they get captured by the randy males again.
Not great for photographing the males unless you have the equipment to capture them in flight, but the ovipositing females are usually a lot easier. I had the KK with me but knowing its limitations I was really only interested in watching the action.
And I was also interested to see if there was any increase in activity from Common Hawkers, which had also put on good shows here last summer, though no females were seen.
So what a disappointment it turned out. A gusty wind and sporadic sunshine didn't help matters but the first (and only) southern hawker male came on site at a quarter to twelve, fully 55 minutes after I'd arrived, and 15 before I was due to leave. He was non-stop searching for a female, skirting the pond time and again, buzzing me on occasions and giving superb binocular views of his green and blue colouration as he hovered frequently for decent periods of time. But after about 10 minutes he disappeared again in tandem with the sun.

Five Common Darter were also on the pond, a dozen or so Azure damsels, a couple of Emeralds and a Large Red, all males bar one azure female in a mating wheel.

One of five Common Darter males at TW Pond

It's actually usually better later in the season for the hawkers, in fact last year I remember it was September after the school hols (see Late Show, Great Show 14/09/2013), so plenty of time to catch up.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Ruddy Awful Photos

A mid-afternoon visit to Far Pasture on a hot and sunny Friday produced my second sighting of a Ruddy Darter there this year, this time a maturing male on the roadside ditch pool, which has been the most reliable area to see them over the last few years.
The intensity and direction of the sunshine made it difficult to get a near-decent photo, I got good enough views through my bins but every time he darted up from his perch (especially to have ago at a patrolling Southern Hawker) he always settled again facing away from me, so this is the best angle I could get him from :

Awful photo but this angle shows the waisted abdomen and black legs
of the ruddy darter

The Ruddy also buzzed a tandem pair of darters, golden tinted wings of the male suggested they may also have been Ruddys, and they disappeared low into the ditch out of sight probably to oviposit.

Two male Southern Hawkers were on patrol with the odd inevitable skirmish, and damsels were represented by a few emeralds, azure and blue-tailed.

A couple of gems - emeralds
On the main pond there were decent numbers of blue damsels but it was standing room only so I didn't stay long, and the Forbidden pond held nothing at all (and not that much water either), the open aspect here intensifies the heat, and the strong sunlight most likely sent everything running for the shade.
A couple of other colourful insects posed for the camera while I was waiting for dragons :

Helophilus trivittatus
A few of these colourful flies around the muddy ditch-pools which is
apparently prime breeding habitat. 

Don't know much about butterflies but
believe this is a Small Skipper.  
I had a return visit today but it was a bit gloomy this morning, and the roadside ditch is obviously going to be more productive in the afternoon due to the angle of the sun. Only a male southern hawker patrolled briefly this morning, though the kingfisher was showing well on the main pond.

The ringers also netted a juv kingfisher this morning, they reported loads of young blackcaps and chiffchaffs, the latter looks so tiny in hand it's amazing how far it flies each year on migration, and I learned how they told dull-plumaged willow/chaffs apart by counting the primary feather margination, so wasn't a wasted journey altogether :-)     

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Lakeland Adventure

Just back from a trip to Lakeland (not the shop), Windermere to be precise.
Only had one real opportunity for dragonhunting, when we took a trip over to Coniston to visit Brantwood (Victorian artist John Ruskin's house overlooking the lake) and on the way was a site I'd mapped out for Beautiful Demoiselle, the unfortunately named Yew Tree Tarn.

The southern outlet stream is (according to one of the best sites for beautiful demoiselle, but this is either out of date information, a lie, or I was just unlucky as there was not a sniff while I was there. Wasn't a bad site for dragons though, with a common hawker, ruddy darter, a probable four-spot chaser (too distant) and some common blue and emerald damsels.
But the star dragon was one of my targets for the year, a cracking female Black Darter, sunning herself further downstream :

Really pleased with that find, I've only ever seen one in tandem before so couldn't get a clear photo and like I say was one of my main targets this year, so made up for the lack of demoiselles a bit.

More goodies to come when we arrived at Brantwood. The view overlooking Coniston water was fantastic, and I'd just finished taking some panoramic shots when I was alerted by my better half that Sprog3 was being 'attacked' by a dragonfly. I turned to look as he waved his arms about like swatting a wasp and couldn't believe it when I saw he was actually being buzzed by a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, hovering just inches from him so was easy to confirm it was a male.
Within a few seconds it was gone, zipped off along the path and couldn't be relocated for a photo, but an excellent (if brief) sighting, certainly my best view of one since I actually studied one in-hand back in 1997.        

A great day then, two new species for the year and a space in my gallery filled :-)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Good Look and a bit of Good Luck

Last day of freedom before the school hols and I couldn't resist the sunshine so popped down to Far Pasture this morning. Plenty of folk in the hide hoping for a repeat of yesterday when apparently there were FOUR otters showing off and THREE kingfishers, so it looks like I picked a good day to cut back the front hedge then :-(
Had a good chat with my fellow wildlife enthusiasts but nothing much doing from the hide today so I eventually took my leave and went to have a look on the Forbidden Pond. A bit more life here but not much. Only one male Broad-bodied Chaser today, no four-spots at all and maybe half a dozen common darters (one ovipositing pair).
I stayed a good while in the hope of something else turning up but the only chance I had of any photographic action was of the damsels weaving through the thick vegetation on the other side of the fence, mainly emeralds today plus some azures.

Emerald damselflies, both males. Photos not too bad here as I was
able to rest my camera on the fence posts. 

A bit disappointed, I was in a quandary as to whether I should trek up to Thornley Woods Pond to get Southern Hawker on my yearlist before the hols or just go home where I had plenty 'stuff' to do.
Still hadn't made my mind up when I reached the top of the access road so it was a case of do I go left or do I go right?
In the event my mind was made up for me as a hawker appeared  in front of my eyes and alighted about 12 feet up a roadside tree. I got my bins on it and my luck had suddenly changed as it turned out to be an immature male Southern Hawker. Gettin!
The height it was at meant it was just too distant for anything other than a record shot (and a crap one at that), but it stayed for a good long while, preening itself as it hung vertically from an outer leaf.

First Southern Hawker of 2014, the broad antehumeral stripes told me
it was a southern straight away,

But the pale colouring meant I had to get a better
look to see it was an immature male.
After studying it a while I toddled off home, and did some of my 'stuff' before picking the kids up from school for  the last time this summer . . . . . . . . roll on September :-O

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

My big day out to Kibblesworth proved a bit of a mixed bag in the end. Three buses and a long walk took about an hour and a quarter from leaving the house. A bit of good fortune though at Gateshead Interchange when I spotted this fine looking moth :

Turned out it's a female Ghost Swift Moth, a new one for me :-)

On to Kibblesworth and I was hoping to get a new record species count for the year (previous best of 8 from Gibside), and get a record shot of each species seen, and connect with Black-tailed Skimmer and Emperor which would both be new for the year.

The Good : I've never seen so many Emperors; I counted 5-6 males and 3 females, and watching them was a treat. One male in particular hovered for long periods close by giving cracking views, and there was much chasing and skirmishing, a copulating pair and a couple of females ovipositing.
Other highlights were a dogfight between a male Emp and a Common Hawker (no prizes for guessing which one got chased off) and another male captured a butterfly but was chased across the pond by a rival, eventually dumping his load (a tortoiseshell) on the pond to avoid a kicking and sped off.  

The Bad : No sign of any Black-tailed Skimmers despite spending over three hours on site, very disappointing as I doubt I'll get another chance this year.
Also a very disappointing species count:
Apart from the Emperors and Common Hawker, the only other Dragonflies on show were Common Darters (50+) and Four-Spotted Chasers (c20). I did think I had a copulating pair of Ruddy Darters but the elongated frons and black legs (in the viewfinder) turned out to be shadow and blur in real life :-(
I didn't realise until later that I hadn't recorded a large red damsel, so the damselfly count was also a measly four, mainly azure and emeralds, with lesser numbers of common blue and just a few blue-tailed, giving a total of 8 species in all, no better than my Gibside count.

And The Ugly: A dozy cow with five dogs off the leash, allowing them to rampage through the margins of the pond where there were a lot of emerging dragons and damsels today, then chase a gaggle of six greylags from their resting place in the long grass onto the pond, then two of them charged into the pond making the geese fly up again and chased them along the shore and away 'til they gained height and flew over the trees out of harm's way. The dozy mare just sat there playing with her phone, and not even a chastening word. I can honestly say I fucking (sorry) hate her and her type who you see all too often in wildlife areas.

Also ugly are my photographs of the day. I did manage shots of every species I saw but very few are remotely in focus or decent enough to show, but here are the 'best' of them :

Azure damsel male, plenty of these on show

Copulating Blue-tailed damsels
Female of the infuscans-obsoleta form.

A rufescens form female blue-tailed

Four-spotted Chasers weren't easy to pin down.

This one kept me busy for a while also

Token Emperor shot, great time watching these today.

And an arty one to finish. Tandem
Emerald damselflies in the sunshine

The Birtley Bishop also turned up later on, but I was unsure of which category to put him in ;-)

School hols on the horizon, we're away to the lakes next week where I've got sites mapped out for Beautiful Demoiselle, Keeled Skimmer and Golden-ringed Dragonfly. Whether I'll get the chance to see them though is another matter. Adios.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Back with a Broad-bodied Bang

Gasping to get down to Far Pasture now the roadworks are finished so down I went this morning in bright sunshine.
Nice job of the road though surprised they hadn't done it all, and the car park is in a right old state with all the heavy machinery getting in there.

But that doesn't affect the wildlife, first thing I noticed is how much the vegetation has grown since I was last down, and the pond was full to the brim.
Apparently I'd just missed the kingfisher (yawn) but apart from a pair of dabchicks sitting on a nest (a bit late or second brood?) birdies were few and far between.
A single common darter was the only dragon on show, but azure damsels were aplenty, and a few emeralds as well.

Rotten shot of a male emerald damsel

I probably spent too long at the main pond and only had half an hour left to inspect the Forbidden Pond. After I fought my way through the jungle path I found an oasis of dragonflies, eventually counting 3 male and 1 female Broad-bodied Chaser (ovipositing), 3 Four-spotted Chasers, a handful of Common Darters (pair ovipositing) and a cracking immature male Ruddy Darter, which I was well chuffed with after failing to record one for so long last year.
Unfortunately, the barbed wire fence (installed last year) proved a major obstacle for the Krappy Kodak, and though I reeled off loads of snaps of every species I saw, very few turned out even remotely identifiable.

Rotten shot of a male broad-bodied chaser

Azure and emerald damsels were present in good numbers and a single blue-tail was the only other.

Great to have my patch back, be down again soon.    

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pond . . ering

Dragon hunting been a bit slow lately. I've only managed a couple of hour-long stints at Thornley woods Pond, hoping to catch sight of some hawker emergence, but to no avail.

A week ago I got a surprise there however, when a broad-bodied Chaser swept across the pond three times before flying off at speed not to be seen again. Unsure if it was a female or an immature male, seemed darker than the one I saw just a couple of days earlier at Gibside but couldn't tell other than that. But whatever, it was a site first.
And today another surprise as this time a definite male zipped through the pond at about head height, could see his powder blue colouring as he sped off but the sighting was as brief as it was unexpected. Maybe the more open aspect of the pond after the felling is luring them in, though I don't think the pond itself is suitable breeding habitat for that particular species.

The only other species new on the pond today were a couple of common darters, both males, one more mature (red) than the other, and when the inevitable skirmishes occurred, the redder male came out on top, always returning to the prominent perch mid-pond, whereas the younger individual had to make do with the boardwalk. Just as well as it was the only place I could get half-decent photos.

Four poses of one common darter
due to the fact I couldn't get a photo of anything else :-( 

Many azures and a few large reds made up the damsel numbers, but the only other sighting of note was a large orange butterfly, which flew over my head from behind, across the pond and away. I managed to follow it through my bins and could see it certainly wasn't a painted lady so must have been a fritillary. Opinion of those who know more about butterflies than me (almost everyone  then :-) reckon most likely a Dark Green Fritillary, not something I can say I've seen before, so a nice record.

As nothing was coming to the pond I decided to spend the last of my allotted time walking around the woodland paths to seek out any foraging hawkers. I quickly stumbled across another common darter, and after watching a juv. GS Woodpecker for a while I spotted my target, a hawker in a bit of a clearing, which I lost again almost as quickly. But I waited around and it came back, eventually allowing me to ID it as an immature male common hawker.

That was that, other highlights were a roe deer with two fawns in a roadside field and a vocal buzzard circling low above the woods.

The kids break up next weekend and serious Dragon hunting will be at a premium after that, so hoping to get a big day out sometime next week to get a few new species before the shackles are put on :-(  

Fingers crossed . . .

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Take a Walk on the Gib Side

Took advantage of the sunshine by trekking around Gibside to see how many species I could get, I reckoned eight, made up of five damsels (first emeralds should be out), 4-spot chaser, common darter and a hawker species.

First stop was the Walled Garden Pond, overcast conditions meant nowt was flying and the only damsel on view was this emerald, first of the year :-)

Shoddy photo but first Emerald damsel of the year
A good scan revealed nothing more at all so I moved on, and discovered a female common darter in the hollow walk which seemed to be practising ovipositing as it repeatedly pogoed on the patches of bare earth, but far too flighty and distant for a photo.
Then as I reached the summit at the other side of the Hollow Walk I spied a hawker foraging the treeline and after a few passes confirmed a male Common Hawker, another year first and species number 3 for the day. But again, no chance of a photo.

The Lily Pond had a big count of Azure damsels, with the raft of lillies in the centre wick with tandem pairs. Emeralds were emerging, with every burst of sunshine a few tenerals made their first tentative flights out of the thick pond margin vegetation. Large Reds were showing in decent numbers too, but they were the only 3 species on show.

Azure damsel (male) one of possibly a three-figure count today 

A good wait hoping for a 4-spot to show only resulted in a painful bite from a cleg-fly, which then went on a blood-fuelled frenzy as it tried to eat me alive and just wouldn't leave me alone. I've never uttered so many F-offs as I did in this short space of time, as the pest was like a one-fly swarm, taking advantage of every time I was distracted by landing on me somewhere else.
I really didn't want another bite so I eventually stopped to fight it off with my sunglasses, and after a Jedi-like battle of epic proportions, it succumbed as I twatted it to the ground with a backhand, and went against all my principles by dispatching it with my boot before it could regain its senses. Not proud of myself but it was a case of kill or be killed.

Back to the dragon-hunting, I decided to move on while the sun was away, and a lengthy walk produced nothing as I inspected a few minor sites which were either dried up or overgrown.
The Octagon Pond was next up, and here at least I got my sixth species, as it was populated by Common Blue damsels and precious little else, but at least they posed for the camera.

Plenty of Common Blues at the Octagon Pond, seems they favour
this pond and the Azures favour the smaller Lily Pond.

The eyes have it
So back to the Lily Pond for my final half hour stint. Still didn't have a blue-tailed damsel or 4-spot chaser, but a newly emerged emerald posed well.

A nice smile for the camera

Then became a bit camera-shy
At last a blue-tail appeared, though a photograph proved impossible as it weaved its way through the thicker grasses. It was the only one I saw, but number 7 on my species list for the day.
Then a hawker zipped in, but unidentified from its single pass of the pond, though I got the impression it was a female from the thick-waisted abdomen, and a few minutes later it was back, briefly foraging the trees behind me, and was indeed a female, a common hawker. This was shortly followed by the male again on the other side of the pond..

Time running short now I started the long trek back, still a species short of my target, but on the downward slope of the Hollow Walk a flash of bright yellow crossed my path, and I knew immediately it was a Broad-bodied Chaser female, a species I'd never recorded at Gibside before. I relocated it hunting in the dene and with a bit of patience grabbed a few record shots.

Broad-bodied Chaser - a Gibside first
As I did so an NT Ranger I knew appeared (doing a butterfly transect), and she showed me some pics taken yesterday of a male Bb-C they had netted down by the river. Great to know they've reached here, but then again Far Pasture is just across the river so they may be from the Forbidden Pond. :-O

A return to the Walled Garden Pond (this time in sunshine) produced less than my first visit had (which now seemed a lifetime ago.)
So that was that; my target of 8 species was reached, with 2 year firsts in Emerald Damsel and Common Hawker, and best of all a site first with that cracking Broad-bodied Chaser. Enjoyable day out, though knackered walking in sunshine. (Cue for a song?)