Sunday, 28 June 2015

Back for Another Go . . .

Another snatched hour at FP Pond3 yesterday morning as the sun graced us with its presence for a time. I was given the run-around by the Four-spots again for the most part but got a few decent shots.
My best shot was practically the first one I took. I'd taken up the same position next to the perches as I had done on my recent evening visits, forgetting the sun was in a different position that time of day so had the sun to the front right rather than behind me. A bit dozy, and the camera was set to night portraits for some reason too but the photo turned out not three bad at all :

Despite the technical errors I thought this shot showed just enough detail and emphasised the brightness
of the day, a nice arty shot showing the four-spot in his environment. 

Once again a few Common Blue damsels
showed, but still no females.

Not a great shot but nice to get a comparison with a Common Blue and Azure.
Very similar beasts but the tail-light on the common blue (above) always seems
a couple of shades lighter.  

One of just two males on show, both very wary of me today
so visits to the perching sticks were few and far between. 

I ended up shooting from a fair distance at max zoom but at least the light was good.

And at least they put on a bit of a show for a change, though no females seen today.
 No Broad-bodied Chasers either. I reckon they've moved on now, renowned wanderers and colonisers they only stick around at any one site for a couple of days if no members of the opposite sex arrive, and though there has been both sexes here they tend to favour the Forbidden Pond, but as you can see from the photo below, it can't exactly be described as a pond at the moment :
The Forbidden Puddle - a tiny pool front left is the only patch of water remaining
Funnily enough, most of the ovipositing noted in early June took place in the front left corner, which is still slightly wet and muddy so giving the freshly laid eggs the best chance of survival (coincidence? Probably not). But as I also know this pond is home to many Common Darters which should be emerging now I wonder if we're going to see any from here this year :-( 

Something else to keep an eye on :-O 

Friday, 26 June 2015

Morning Glory . . . but Not Much.

Had to take advantage of the not-forecast sunshine on Wednesday morning, but not knowing how long it would last I didn't venture far.
Hadn't been to Thornley Woods Pond for a while so made the 20 minute trek up there just in case an early southern hawker might be emerging (more in hope than anticipation).

There wasn't; but there was a good count of Azure damsels, though only a couple of females seen. Large reds were present in smaller numbers but a better ratio of males-females. The pond here is changing as I've said before, emergent grasses starting to choke the surface now and a tree poking out in the centre. Only time will tell what effect this has on the pond-life overall but I'm still hopeful for hawkers later in the season.

Best of the Large Red photos:

Tandem pair

Note the tiny water mites attached to the underside of
the male's thorax, first I've noted since I wrote a piece on them
a couple of years ago, fascinating creatures in their own right :

There must have been 50+ azures on the pond, but only a couple of females seen, both attached to males. One couple in particular were continually pestered as they mated in the mat of emergent grasses :

Nosey male having a furtive look at proceedings

This one having a good old gawp

Now a 'Peeping Tom'

Eventually the couple lowered themselves further into the grasses where it was a bit more private
(apart from the dodgy-looking bloke with the camera).

Standard male posing shot

With only two species on site I decided a change of scenery was in order and trekked over to Far Pasture. Glorious sunshine all the way but alas, my jinx here continued as the cloud cover returned after only ten minutes, meaning the three male four-spotted chasers disappeared once again without coming to the perching sticks. Apart from that first visit I've had no luck here at all with the four-spots :-(
So it was another case of spot the damsel, plenty out in the marginal vegetation but I just concentrated on getting the best shots I could of the few individuals in decent view.

Male azure in profile

Blue-tailed couple in mating wheel 

Blue-tail making a nice contrast with the buttercup

Same Blue-tail seems to be making a naa naa na naa naa gesture

Tandem azures deep in cover waiting for the sun to shine again

"Typical bloke, always keeping me hanging on."

Another pretty disappointing session in the end. It's all a bit samey at the moment, beginning to sound like a scratched record. More hopeful after seeing the forecast for next week, though I'm a bit busy so might not get out 'til early July now. At least there should be some new dragons out by then :-/

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Flaming June . . .

I could have used a bit stronger language in the header, as the weather has been abysmal the last couple of weeks. Not a single good dragonfly day for almost a fortnight now, so have had to postpone site visits (Gibside, Milkwellburn Woods) and just grab the odd hour or so on patch when the sun has
bothered to emerge from behind the endless banks of cloud.
This has meant just a couple of snatched evening visits to Far Pasture pond3 and my first morning session in a while yesterday at Thornley Woods Pond and FPP3 again. Fact is I'd rather have some rain than day after day of cloud cover, at least it would give the dried up ponds a bit of life again. 

So really there isn't a lot to report. No new species on the wing and the only dragonfly sightings have been the four-spotted chasers at Pond3, and these just brief flights in the five minutes of sunshine which has greeted my visits. 2 to 3 individuals; 3 males yesterday, 2 ovipositing females the previous evening, though one was snatched by a male while in the process. Here's the best of a poor bunch of photos from my two evening visits :

The only time I've managed to get a four-spot in the frame was this
ovipositing female, hardly a competition winner :-/
A few azures around in the evenings, but all in cover.

A good number of blue-tailed damsels present in the evenings, flying in the
overcast conditions but never over open water.
This one a mature male.

A rufescens form immature female which is maturing into
the duller infuscans-obsoleta form below

Slightly more sunshine on the next evening visit, though fewer damsels about. I did find a couple of common blues though, few and far between so far this year :

In profile the thorax of the common blue seems to have a lot less black than the azure.

I'll get one of these front-on shots in focus yet (azure male)

Another azure male attempting to hide

Poor light for the most part not helping the quality of the photos, a few better one's from my morning session but I'll save those for later, even writing this mundane post is proving as dull as the weather :-/

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Today I met my Waterloo

On the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo I was hoping for better weather for my first day out since last Friday, but despite the less than ideal conditions I still went out dragonhunting, In the event I didn't need my 'Wellingtons' but was almost 'Blownapart' by the winds (sorry, best I could do)
Ever the optimist I took my sunglasses out with me, but ended up wishing I'd taken my gloves.

Far Pasture was the venue, I've been busting a gut to have another look on Pond3 since my last visit but first had a look at the forbidden pond which now has no water in it whatsoever, just a bit of mud in one corner, otherwise it's 'boney' dry.

I did find a couple of blue-tailed damsels and an azure in the surrounds, one a particularly striking rufescens form, though it was so overcast the resulting photos hardly did her justice.

The most colourful form of immature
blue-tailed damselfly resembling a British
Infantryman with red tunic and black trousers
Pond3 was also inevitably devoid of dragonflies, though I did track down a few more blue-tails (a species which tolerates cool conditions better than the other damsels) in the marginal vegetation.

A sheltering male blue-tail sporting the blue
of the French Army

A brief skirmish with an unidentified beetle

I searched sheltered areas but to no avail until a tall clump near the road turned out to be a bit of a refuge for azure damsels, with 8 counted taking cover from the elements.

That was that, an hour on site and I'd had enough. I shouldn't have bothered really but 6 days cooped up at home is enough for anybody. I fled the battlefield, defeated.

Back at home, sad news that the greenhouse Garden Bumblebee nest has failed as the queen was found dead, after four weeks of continuous comings and goings to her nest under a flagstone she succumbed without a worker ever emerging, another defeated Emperor.

The expired queen Garden Bumblebee
Bombus Hortorum 

The long face, a diagnostic feature which separates
them from the very similar (round faced) Heath Bumblebee 

Better news on the bee front, despite a few dead 'uns scattered around, the Tree Bumblebees in the garage roof are thriving, and the noises from the nest in the attic are keeping me awake at night, with more sudden loud buzzes than an episode of University Challenge. Glad they only last the one summer.

Sienna thorax, black abdomen tipped white
A Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

This species only colonised the UK in 2001, but has spread
rapidly now into most of England and Wales
Commonly nests in buildings (don't I know it)

Would have been great if I could have photographed an Emperor on Waterloo day but to be honest I was lucky to get the few I did. Hoping for better weather next week as the short-range forecast just looks like more of the same. Come on Summer !!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Nice Spot for a Four-spot

Had a cracking little session at Far Pasture early afternoon after learning that there were Four-spotted Chasers on Pond 3 yesterday, a pond I knew existed but have never visited for dragonflies before, I think because in past years it's had horses or bulls in the field.

Whatever the reason I can't believe I've never given it a try, it's an absolute belter of a pond, in fantastic condition and teeming with a plethora of pond-life.

I didn't have a lot of time today (just wanted to try and photograph the four-spots) so had a quick look so far around the pond edge then sat by the provided perching sticks and waited.

Two four-spotted chaser males were on the scene from the off, but more concerned with chasing each other than posing for photos at first. But eventually patience paid dividends and I was treated to some cracking views and excellent photo-opportunities.

As they zip around they look no more attractive than 'little brown jobs' but good views show
exquisite patterns on both body and wings

"Oi, gerroff my perch!"

This pic shows the four wing-spots extremely well

"Ah yes, I can see the blockage from here."
Note they were taken over a period of time from several different perches, but feature the same individual (told by the small 'cobweb' hanging from his right rear wing-tip).
Have to say I was really chuffed with the photos, for once the strength and direction of the sunlight, and the distance to the subject were all about perfect. (though I think I'll take my tripod next time).
I would say there were four male four-spots on site, constantly searching the margins (unsuccessfully) for females, though a couple of male Broad-bodies turned up and immediately one latched onto a female of his species for a brief mid-air fling.

Large numbers of azure damsels were on show, many tandem pairs copulating in the vegetation and ovipositing on the pond. Large red, common blue and blue-tail were also present but in much smaller numbers.

One of many pairs of copulating azure damsels

teneral blue-tailed, so they're still emerging

Star of the show though was the pond itself, great to discover a new site to keep an eye on, so thanks lads for the heads up (you know who you are). I'll certainly be keeping tabs on this one over the summer, as long as the horses/bulls don't reappear :-O

Pond 3 (as it will be referred to as from now) with chaser perches front left
superb quality and great access 
Rain forecast for the weekend may provide a much needed top-up for those ponds drying up quickly. Been a good week all in all for yours truly, but next week will probably be a slack one for Dragonhunting, lots to do so I'm selfishly hoping for not too much sunshine or I'll be chomping at the bit to get out again. Adios for now. . . . . .