Saturday, 14 February 2015

That was the Summer, that was . . . In Pictures

As I never got round to penning a summary of 2014 dragon sightings last year I thought I'd do one now just to get the mood started for the summer :

After a mild winter and early spring I started looking for the first emergers in early May rather than the usual last week in May and was rewarded with first ever photographs of teneral large red damselflies at Thornley Woods Pond, first a female on the 8th, then a male on the 13th.
Finding the exuvia too this was the first time I'd obtained proof of breeding at the site, having only seen mature adults here in the past, so a good start to the season.

Teneral Large Red damsel female

The exuvia from which she emerged

Teneral male Large Red damsel, complete
with photo-bombing fly
My first trip to Stargate for Broad-bodied Chasers (June 6th) produced the technical low point of the season as my lovely Panasonic camera ended up in the pond and frazzled the electrics, leaving me with only a Krappy Kodak to record the rest of the summer's goings on. Gutted !

4-Spotted Chaser, just before the camera ended up in the water

Azure damsels in sentinel position, ready for ovipositing,
even closer to the time my camera ended up in the water. 

Common Blues in tandem
The last decent photo taken with my soon to be
deceased Panasonic

I  returned a week later with the Kodak and found a perching post where no less than four female Bb Chasers were alighting regularly, (a best count here) but my camera wasn't up to the task and the opportunity was missed, this really set the tone, and as one of the main points of the blog is to improve on my photos year on year and knowing it was going to be a hard slog with the Kodak it affected my enthusiasm for a while.

Two of the four female Broad-bodied Chasers
at rest on the gorse

Best Bb-C photo I could manage that day with the Kodak
It was a good year for Broad-bodied Chasers, as well as another four (this time males) at Far Pasture forbidden pond, there were first ever sightings at both Gibside (female, though the Rangers there also netted a male) and more surprisingly, at Thornley Woods Pond, where both a male and female made brief sorties on separate occasions. 

Thornley Woods pond was in fact very good early season, especially for damsels, with a record count of 50 Azures and 30 Large Reds on 22nd June, same day as 5 Southern hawker exuviae were found.

My first visit to Kibblesworth BWP was a bit disappointing, no sign of Black-tailed Skimmer the day I was there, and very few reports overall, hope for better his year as no two seasons are the same with this species, though the areas of bare earth around the pond (which attracts them here) are becoming more and more overgrown as the years go by.
An excellent count of Emperors the same day (at least 9) was the highlight, though getting a photograph was a lowlight.

Emperor at Kibblesworth
Shite but the best I could get
The school holidays slowed things down a bit but our trip to the Lake District brought my one and only sighting of  Golden-ringed Dragonfly of the year, and a first ever photograph of a lone female Black Darter, which made up for the disappointment of dipping on Beautiful Demoiselles at the site.

Two views of the female Black Darter not far from
Coniston Water
 Banded Demoiselles had been pretty hard going as well, Haghill as usual came up trumps, though proved impossible to get a decent photo with the Kodak, and casual sightings along other parts of the river were non-existent even at previously good sites.

Best shot I could get of a Banded Demoiselle
at HaggHill. The lack of versatility of the Kodak
was really getting on my tits by now 

Later in the holidays our annual visit to Slipper Tarn at Cragside produced a fantastic count of 10 Common Hawkers and umpteen Black Darters, including many teneral females for another photographic first.

Black Darter male
One of three resting on our picnic bench

Black Darter teneral female
note the white pterostigma on milky wings

Black Darter female
Even younger specimen

Male Black Darter in his prime
A cracking little dragonfly

And this Emerald damselfly was showing aggression towards the camera
as I closed in. First time I'd noted such behaviour
The second half of August was a complete washout, and it wasn't until September that things started to pick up again. Thornley Woods Pond produced a very late Large Red damselfly record on the 2nd, but otherwise late season here was a major disappointment. Hardly any Southern Hawker emergence was recorded, and despite many visits, the usual activity I love to watch here (skirmishing males, pairing up and ovipositing females) was almost non-existent, and for the first time a visit on a suitable day produced no sightings whatsoever. Again something to keep an eye on this year. After a brilliant summer two years ago the last two have seen numbers plummet.
In photographic terms, Far Pasture produced an excellent opportunity of a female perched up on the roadside fence, and at last the Krappy Kodak delivered the goods with a best ever photo.

Female Southern Hawker (tilted 90 degrees)
She was actually hanging vertical on the fence but a superb photo
even if I say so myself.

And a close-up
Well done Krappy Kodak

A much better year for Ruddy Darters though, Far Pasture especially productive with sightings most days at the roadside ditch, though not in great numbers. Ovipositing pairs were noted on a couple of occasions too, my first female sightings for a couple of years. Males also seen at Gibside Walled Garden Pond.

Ruddy Darter male at Far Pasture
Another decent effort by the Kodak

In close-up the colouring is sublime
One of my favourite dragons 
The other big success was also late season with Migrant Hawkers. These were seen in decent numbers at a number of sites, and even with the Krappy Kodak I got very pleasing photographs of immature male at Far Pasture, and mature male and first ever photos of a female at Shibdon Pond.

Immature male Migrant Hawker at Far Pasture
perched up for a long while he made a great subject

Superb colouring of the abdominal markings and grey/brown eyes
A treat seeing him in so much detail

And in close-up even the Kodak did a decent job 

At Shibdon this mature male Migrant Hawker posed well,
note the much brighter colouring and blue eyes

But the 'piece de resistance' was this female (also at Shibdon)
First one I've ever had the good fortune to  photograph 

Happily the Kodak didn't let me down
Look at those big brown eyes

Incredibly pleased with myself on getting this one, my number one
target for the last couple of years, many thanks to Shibdon George
for alerting me to their presence.
Those late Migrant Hawker photos were the undoubted photographic highlight of the season, followed by the variety of Black Darter females, the best ever female Southern Hawker photo and the teneral Large Red damsels, all much sought after targets.
Disappointments, obviously the demise of my camera so early in the season left a huge gap to fill, and though the Kodak eventually came good, it was only decent in those situations when I could get close enough and long enough to rattle off many shots, otherwise due to the lack of image stabiliser and terrible focussing mechanism it was very limited in its range. I missed a bucketfull of great opportunities, especially with the Broad-bodied Chasers, and many of the others at any sort of distance were very poorly focussed, as the camera seemed to focus on anything but the subject.

Other disappointments were not getting the planned Golden-ringed photos due to unforeseen circumstances, but I'll do my utmost to put that right this year as they really are special dragonflies. Missing out on Black-tailed Skimmer, lack of Southern Hawkers at Thornley Woods Pond and lack of Black Darters in Gateshead full stop (only saw one at Kibblesworth) were also on the downside.

Plenty to look forward to this summer though, as well as the usual round-up of local sites I'll be exploring a couple of new ones, also hope to add Golden-ringed and Brown Hawker to my photo collection, and aiming to get a trip away for a new lifer or two.
Already looking forward to seeing what results I can get with the new X-S1
The DragonHunter is back. Just depends on the weather now. Can't wait :-)


  1. God, May sounds sooooo far away.
    Great round up of the year Alan. I felt your pain losing your camera. All those missed photo opportunities. OUCH.
    You did capture some nice images nonetheless. The Migrant Hawker and Black Darter ones were eyecatching. Just think what's to come with the new bridge !!! Look forward to the new season kick off.

    1. Aye John, funny old year last year, good start, great ending, but very stop/start overall. Looking forward to this one with the new 'eyes'.
      Cheers for all your comments :-)

  2. Hi Alan re the Goldeneye. I’m not sure if anyone managed to get any shots of it. I was talking to someone in the hide on Wednesday who had seen some black and white birds, as he described them, the day before at the far end of the pond but he had not know they were Goldeneye. I must admit I had never heard of a Barrows Goldeneye before that day.

    1. Cheers Ron, an intriguing one. Looks like I was there a day early and you were there a day late. Hoping it's a mis-ID, not that I'm bitter ;-)