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

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 . . . .