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 :-)    

1 comment:

  1. Excellent account,as ever. The threatening Emerald is a cracker.