Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Day after the Night Before

A lovely dragonfly day today, unfortunately I spent much of it recovering from a heavy night of Guinness drinking and stomping to the hits of the 70s at the Red Kite, where my mate's band (The Starjumpers) put on a cracking show for the punters, many of whom turned up in fake 70s gear (at least I hope it was fake).

Anyway I digress, bottom line is by the time I emerged from my pit at 10.30am, most of you will have put a full shift of birding in, and by the time I had composed myself well enough to get some fresh air and walked down to Far Pasture with the kids, the sun had gone in :-(

Had a canny chat with Derek and saw a couple of female migrant hawkers at last in the top field where there was also a couple of males, but otherwise there wasn't a lot to see. A couple of  male southern hawkers by the roadside ditch, one on the main pond and just a scattering of common darters, one of which I managed to get to land on my hand.

The forbidden pond was again devoid of dragons, it's been very poor here so far this year, and am wondering if the late season common darter mating frenzy of the last couple of years is going to be repeated.
August wasn't a good month at all weather-wise and by now there are usually a lot more darters around, especially on the roadside fences.
Can't actually believe we're into September already. I still need to get photos of a Migrant Hawker female and find some Black Darters in the borough, as to date none have been spotted.

No photos today, didn't actually bother to get my camera out of my bag. On the plus side the kids go back to school on Tuesday and the weather looking promising for a couple of sessions during the week, but on the downside I've loads of gardening and other chores to do before the autumn kicks in as well as get some work done (we actually gathered a few conkers today which is unusually early) so I'll have to get meself organised.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Twitch Hunt and a Live Plug

Despite being a self-confessed non-twitcher and non-lister (birds) I couldn't resist taking a bus up to Shibdon Pond this morning to see Gatesheeds first ever Yank wader in the form of a Pectoral Sandpiper, a great find yesterday by eagle-eyed Rob (Gatesheadandbeyond).

And a cracking little wader it is too, performing for a grateful audience in front of the hide. It was a bit dull just after a period of heavy rain so my photos are no more than record shots, and when the sun eventually did come out I failed to get one remotely in focus.

Among the supporting cast of waders were an adult and juv Ruff, a couple of Greenshanks and a Green Sandpiper, not a bad haul for a single visit here.

Before I left a Migrant Hawker (m) made an appearance, hovering for long periods but still not long enough for me to focus my increasingly Krappy Kodak so a couple of distant efforts is all I could muster.

Quick plug for my mate's band The StarJumpers, playing at The Red Kite, Winlaton Mill tomorrow. A stomping night of 70s New Wave and Glam Rock, top entertainment guaranteed.

Get yersels there if you've nowt better to do. Can't wait :-)   

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Strange Yellow Object Spotted in the Sky

Yes folks, the sun actually made an appearance today, after being more scarce than rocking-horse shite during most of August, and after yesterdays more than stressy day out with the kids (5 days and counting) I couldn't wait to get out for a couple of hours this morning.

Far Pasture was my chosen destination, no targets in mind, just a bit of peace and quiet. As it happens it was a decent session with 6+ Migrant Hawkers, 2-3 Southern Hawkers, a Ruddy Darter, a decent number of Common Darters and an Emerald damsel.
I reeled off some photos but not best quality today, and basically just enjoyed watching the hawkers hawking and the darters darting. Didn't even bother visiting the hide, just happy to soak up the rays by the roadside.

Ruddy Darter (male)
best shot I could get over a fence

Migrant Hawker (male)
the only one perched was a bit too high for a decent shot, but several
were active, though no females again.

Common Darter (female)
Happy to smile for the camera
Good to bump into Roly as I haven't seen him in a while, and not much doing bird-wise but forgot to mention an adult Hobby was photographed here on Sunday morning, though must have been just passing through as it didn't reappear in the few hours I was there (or today).

Monday, 25 August 2014

I Can't Believe It's Just Butter . . . flies

Our second summer visit to Cragside today, obviously with the chill air and overcast skies it wasn't going to be too good for dragons. In the event we took a different route today and didn't visit the Tarn. The Formal Gardens had a patch of Buddlia (or however it's spelt) and it was chocker with butterflies despite the unfavourable conditions.

I counted 12 Red Admirals . . .

7 Peacocks . . .

5 Small Tortoiseshells . . .

2 Commas . . .

2 Green-veined Whites, and a large White which flew off
before I could photograph it.

So with all the butterflies around I thought I might find something later at Nelly's Moss Lake but there was not a dragon to be found. Wasn't a total waste though as I stumbled across this cracker in what is usually a good dragonfly spot.

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar - only the second one I've seen.
What a size, this one must have been full-grown at about 80mm
and what a beauty !

Believe it or not, the first one I saw was in my back garden, ambling
across the patio. Never seen the actual moth yet though, wonder
how big they are ? 

The poor weather of late may well have had an adverse effect on late-season dragonflies. Will try to get out local to check before the rain comes again.   

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Wind and the Willows . . .

Very windy this morning but otherwise not a bad day, probably not the best for a dragonhunt but I thought I'd have a look at Thornley Woods pond as I haven't been up for a few weeks, hoping for a bit of hawker action.
As I walked up, the sheltered part of Paddock Hill Woods held 2-3 common darters and possibly a migrant hawker but by the time I got to TWP the sun had disappeared and there was very little shelter as the wind whistled through.
First hint of sunshine and a couple of common darters appeared, but soon disappeared again with the sun. I then found a single azure damsel (m) sheltering in emergent vegetation but the wind and cover made it impossible to get a photo before I lost him too after a particularly bracing gust.
Wasn't much fun at all really and I was just set to go when a female Southern Hawker came in and began searching for places to lay eggs. I chased her around the pond margins in vain until eventually she settled on a floating log, where I was able to rattle a few shots off, but with conditions not exactly ideal no more than a record of the event.

Southern Hawker (female)
She was still hanging around the pond as I left, and I decided to call in on Far Pasture on the way home. The wind was just as bad here, in fact it must have been gale force during the night as a set of drawers seems to have blown out of someone's house and were now scattered along the side of the road :-(
Not much showing at all on the way down, so just a quick look on the pond and a chat with the ringers in the car-park, who were also having a poor day and were packing up early.
It looks like one of the home-made willow branch 'kingfisher perches' is taking root in front of the hide, which means that if someone doesn't remove it soon, there'll be a ruddy great tree blocking the view before long :-(
The ringers had netted a kingfisher this morning, and were just releasing a willow tit when I arrived, otherwise they'd only had a few chiffchaffs. I remembered to ask about the 'sibe' which had been ringed last winter, they said they netted six chiffys last winter, including a pale one, and put them all down as nominate race :-O

A few common darters showed on the way back up the road, and in the sheltered part of the saw-mill field at least three migrant hawkers (all males) were foraging but coming nowhere near close enough for a photo. Only this common darter on the fence posed for the camera, so I duly obliged.

Common Darter (male)


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

NightHawkers and the NightCrawler . . .

After a rowdy day with the kids an evening visit to Far Pasture seemed just the tonic as the sun was still shining brightly, though the wind was just as gusty as it has been the last few days.

A female Southern Hawker was spotted by the sawmill gate no sooner had I emerged from the gloom of the steep tree-lined access road, and three well-ripe female common darters lined up along the roadside fence.

My first stop was the roadside ditch, but the low-strung sun made viewing difficult, and mostly in shadow now, there was nothing to see. But a Southern Hawker (m) zipped head-height along the road and settled in the trees opposite, but not for long and was soon up again before I could ready the camera. He did the same again and settled for a third time as he made his way along the line of trees, long enough this time to rattle off a few pics, but was up again before I could get close enough for a good one.

Southern Hawker (male)
only shot I managed which was remotely in focus from his
all too brief stay.
 A roving band of long-tailed tits working their way through the same trees didn't help matters and the hawker soon disappeared, though the tits were quite entertaining for a while.

A quick look on the pond revealed nothing at all, but coming back along the path I was surprised to see this creature ambling along in front of me :

At first glance I thought this was a type of hawker larvae . . . 

. . . but a closer look revealed the massive pincers of a
Great Diving Beetle Larvae, a colossal size this is probably the
only predator in the pond more deadly than a dragonfly larvae.   
After that bizarre sighting (I'll have to do a bit of research to find out what it was doing on dry land) it was back to the ditch, and I spied a cracking female Southern Hawker resting in the sunshine on the fence opposite.

Couldn't believe my luck and got closer and closer as I reeled off shot after shot, eventually getting  another set of best ever photographs of a particular dragonfly, my second of the week following the migrant hawker a couple of days back :-)

Southern Hawker (female)
A rare treat getting one perched on a fence like this. Previously I've
only managed to photograph them while ovipositing.

The closer I got the more she looked ready to fly,
abdomen raised I could see she was a bit nervy. 

But still moved in for the killer photo.

And in close-up

There it is at the correct angle, my best ever shot of a
female Southern Hawker, and with the Krappy Kodak as well :-)
A male migrant hawker was foraging further along the road but was difficult even to get the ID never mind a photo.
But another cracking little session, Far Pasture seems to be my lucky site at the moment. :-)

Some other Odonata news I've never bothered to post over the last week :

Aug 7th - Gibside
Emerald Damsel x 8, Common Darter x 1 - Walled Garden Pond
Common Darter x 4 - Orangery/Hollow Walk
Emerald Damsel x 40+, Azure Damsel c20, Southern Hawker (m) - Lily Pond
Migrant Hawker (m) x 2 - Top of Hollow Walk (first of 2014)
Ruddy Darter (m) Common Darter (m) - Walled Garden Pond

Migrant Hawker also reported at Stargate (re George Simpson/Michael Eccles)

Aug 9th - Far Pasture
Access Road  : Migrant Hawker (m) x 1, Common Darter 4-6
Pond : Emerald Damsel x 1, Common Blue Damsel x 2

All sightings made in a few minutes early on, sun disappeared and saw nowt for the next forty five minutes as the sky was as black as a witch's minge.

Aug 10th - Shibdon Pond Hide
No dragons as the weather was rubbish (again), but just a bit of long-overdue crack and gossip.
I heard tell that one bloke (unknown) has had Golden-ringed Dragonfly at Gibside the last two summers :-O Will try and get some more information on this one. I did have a good look around for the species early in July after hearing previous rumours but found nothing, though of all the sites in Gateshead this looks the most promising for the species with open woodland streams running down to the river.
Also a negative report of Black Darters so far this year at Burdon Moor and Stargate.

Mid-August already :-O and the only real photographic target left for the season is female migrant hawker, hoping Shibdon Pond will deliver if we get a decent September :-)

Monday, 11 August 2014

Day After Bertha, bertha my targets Showed Well . . .

After the remnants of Hurricane Bertha hit us overnight (by no means as bad as expected) the sunshine of today presented a good opportunity for a dragonhunt, despite the blustery wind I reckoned Far Pasture would be a bit more sheltered, being at the bottom of the valley.
So with Sprogs 1 and 3 to accompany me we made our way along, dodging the fallen branches which littered the Derwent Walk, and discovering our favourite conker tree seems to have lost all it's nuts in the storm.

Targets today were for me to get decent pictures of Ruddy Darter and if possible Migrant Hawker, but what followed was far beyond my expectations.

At the top of the access road before the steep descent to Far Pasture, two migrant hawkers were fighting with each other and against the wind. One soon made an exit stage left, the other perched nicely at head height on a solid-looking Cow Parsley by the roadside, and despite a buffeting from the wind and having a camera poked in its face, it stayed put long enough for me to get some cracking views without the aid of binoculars, and probably the best photos I've ever had of this species :-O

First view as I picked him out, the blue spotting on the abdomen
confirming a male.

A bit closer and the diagnostic yellow tee shape at the base
of the abdomen is apparent even at distance. 

A profile view 

And from the underneath, an unusual angle but had
to take the opportunity as he seemed very settled.

Closing in and note the grey eyes confirm an immature male,
when mature they will be bright blue. 

Better view of the eyes, the yellow tee and superb colouration
of the abdominal segments.  

A shame the sunlight was so bright, but amazed
at the standard from the Krappy Kwality Kodak today
I probably would have got even more had it not been for a passing 'White Van Man' eventually blowing him from his perch.

The trip out was worthwhile already, and we made our way to Far pasture hide to be told annoyingly we'd just missed an Otter, but at least we saw photos of it through someone's viewfinder :-(
Very blustery now, and dull. The only dragon on the pond was a single blue damsel holding on to an emergent stem for dear life as it swayed about like a tiny flag on a pole.
The water level was right up, the little grebe nest hidden below the island bushes was still in one piece but now empty. Three chicks have hatched I was told, so a bit of good news. A lone parent fished and kept going back into the reeds so I presume they were sheltering from both wind and otter.
To be honest I've never seen the place so devoid of life. Nothing else was out in the open, silence was the only sound.
Same on the Forbidden Pond, the water level was looking a lot healthier than the last time I looked but neither bird nor dragon was in attendance.

I wasn't feeling lucky any more but as we peered at the roadside ditch a tandem pair of darters were busy ovipositing, flicking eggs onto the damp grass from well above the ground, making them Ruddys, in contrast to the dipping action into water of the common darter. 
It proved impossible to get a focus shot while they were 'busy', but eventually the female broke off and flew off, leaving the male alone by the roadside, and though a bit flighty at first, he soon got used to our presence and settled nicely for close-ups, even settling on my hand no less than three times for belting views at eye level.

Best I could get of the ovipositing pair, but great to see after not
having seen a female here for three years.

The lone male settled for a rest after the exertion . . .

. . . and allowed some superb views . . .

. . . from a variety of angles.

He then settled on my hand as I got closer

And didn't seem bothered as I stuck the lens in his face.

Didn't seem to want to move so I snapped away

Back down to earth for a front-on view of his superb

And finally another angle of this little cracker 
The kids wanted him on their hand too but he wouldn't transfer allegiance and we gave up after a few goes as he flew back to the ditch. But especially pleasing considering how I struggled to get a Ruddy Darter last year.
What a great double though, really chuffed with todays efforts, and especially the performance of the much maligned camera :-)        


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Reputation Un-Tarn-ished . . .

One of the highlights of the season over the past few years has been our annual late-summer pilgrimage to Cragside where Black Darter has been a virtual certainty at Slipper Tarn since I discovered them there about four years back.
Today was a lot earlier in the month than we usually go but I was still very hopeful as everything else so far has been earlier than normal so only the weather was a slight concern.

Hopes for a good day cranked up a few notches with the car park producing a few Common Darters and a couple of supersonic hawkers zipping through, but first we had to go through the rigmarole of the visitor centre and shop, a walk to the pump house and see the new Archimedes screw, across the  iron bridge and to the mansion (Wayne Manor as the kids call it).

By the time we returned to the car to pick up the picnic I was chomping at the bit, but at last we began our ascent to the Tarn and its Anisopterian treasures.

Slipper Tarn - Cragside NT
A hidden gem of an acidic pool, never fails to deliver. The
grassed shoreline (distant right) gives fantastic views of dragons on
the Tarn, interspersed with large rocks for perching Black Darters.  

More Common Darters and a distant hawker along the track, and before we knew it we had arrived at the Tarn, with the first Black Darter to greet us, hovering in front of me as we approached a picnic table. These little beauties have a habit of resting on anything light-coloured, and our chosen weather-worn table and benches had no less than three males in attendance.

But surprisingly it wasn't the darters which were the main entertainment, the Tarn was wick with Common Hawkers. I've never seen so many in one spot; 8-10 males all busily searching for females, each one meticulously inspecting every nook and cranny around the pond margins, resulting in numerous clashes and needless to say not even one looked like perching up anywhere for a photo.

But the close-proximity hovering offered fantastic views of these superb dragons, and for once even the kids and my better half were mesmerised by them, with oohs and aahs more akin to a fireworks display.
Three males were successful in their quest for a mate as I watched, though one ovipositing female put up a mighty struggle, they were all carried off into the trees.

A single Southern Hawker (m) was also present, a good representation of Emerald damsels, a couple of common blues and a blue-tailed.

But back to the Black darters, they too were present in good numbers, and I chased down many a teneral hoping to find a male in yellow colouring, but only females seemed to be emerging today. Two pairs in tandem were also seen, and all in all it was probably even more than last year, certainly more variety with all the females around. The sunlight was just right for photos, and even the Krappy Kodak produced a few I was happy with.

Male Black Darter resting on our chosen bench

Here he is from above, a cracking male in his prime.

This teneral female posed obligingly for the camera

The males pick out something pale to alight upon 

Another female, more strikingly marked but
still a youngster.

Another cracking male

I thought this teneral was a male but in close-up shows the
appendages of a female

Yet another teneral, and yet another female
Mating pair of Black Darters, loads of different action and behaviour
today, but I still haven't found a yellow immature male specimen or
witnessed ovipositing by this species.

But the stars of the day were definitely the common Hawkers, I could have watched them for hours, but got my fix before we moved on to the more demanding and popular pastimes of the adventure play-park and ice-cream.

The return journey allowed another stop-off at the Tarn on the way back, late afternoon though and the shadows of the trees were over the water, and it was now the turn of the Emerald damsels to come out in force, with many more than had been working the margins earlier.

Emerald males - comparing the colouring of the thorax helps age them,
the bright green specimen (top) is in his prime, the copper look is
sported by the more mature individual (bottom).

I got too close to this feller and he started threatening the camera,
bending his abdomen over his head then under his body, his
claspers are stretched far apart as if ready to grasp,
never captured this on camera before.

The Tarn
That large patch of lush emergent vegetation is where the
female hawkers were hiding

My three budding entomologists, Rowan (right) was my spotter today,
he found a few tenerals in the grass, and a mating pair.

By now there were only two or three hawkers and similar numbers of darters, probably just as well as we couldn't stay long, but what a cracking session, best of the year so far, no doubts :-)