Friday, 14 August 2015

Black and Tarn

One thing I do look forward to during the school summer hols is our annual visit to Cragside, where the Slipper Tarn is the best site I know for Black Darter and to date has never failed to deliver.

Slipper Tarn (Cragside NT Estate)
An elevated acidic lake half way up the hillside trail from the main car park to the play area 
Today was no exception, though a lengthy delay due to roadworks on the A1 meant we arrived a lot later than planned, and didn't get to the Tarn until after 2pm after doing lunch and stuff. It's a lovely walk from the main Car park to the Tarn (and eventually to the play area which is the main target for the kids) but a 15 minute stop-off produced numerous Black Darters; mature males, females, a few tenerals and a new photographic first for me, as I'd never before managed to find an immature male. It was exceptionally warm and sunny up there today (yes I said warm and sunny) and the dragonflies were very flighty. Usually I find the Black Darters quite approachable but not today which means the photos in the main aren't as good as I'd hoped :

Black Darter (immature male)
My first photographic record of this stage of development so a good result after four years of visits here

Black Darter Immature male
Colouring similar to female but abdomen noticeably waisted and
black side-markings a wavy pattern rather than straight-edged (see below)


mature female found away from the lake later in the day
Striking similarity to the immature male but note the subtle differences in abdomen shape and patterns
Mature male
A striking dragonfly in his prime, still lots of bright yellow on show 

This would have been a cracking picture but for the single strand of grass waving around which
just got in front of his head as I snapped him, hence the vertical line of blurring

This feller is quite a mature individual, his yellow markings dulling down somewhat
Other dragons on show today included 4 male Common Hawkers (all of which proved too flighty to get on camera), a couple of Southern Hawker males, a good number of Emerald damselflies, a single male Large Red damsel and an unidentified blue damsel flying low across the water.

Many Emerald damsels at the Tarn
This one a male 

Mating and ovipositing pairs too

This male was the only Large Red damsel I saw today 

Other sightings of interest were a Giant Wood Wasp by the play area, though it didn't perch long enough for a photo (still haven't got one of those photographed despite seeing many) and just as we came out of the slow traffic past the A1 roadworks near Stannington, a hovering Kestrel caught my eye, but I wasn't expecting what happened next as it was attacked by a Peregrine as we approached! The kestrel neatly side-stepped the attack, then fled into the nearest trees, leaving the disappointed Peregrine to posture aerobatically for a moment then slowly glide off, great moment seen well thanks to the roadworks (never thought I'd say that).

Back in the valley, another disappointing visit to Thornley Woods Pond earlier in the week resulted in two Common Darters, a dozen or so large red damsels but once again not a hawker to be seen. Early afternoon in good sunshine so no excuse.

Large red damsel male at TWP
One of maybe 8 singles, plus 3 tandem pairs 

The only hawker I did find that day was a female Southern at the top of Far Pasture bank, possibly the same one I photographed there last week, but foraging today she didn't perch up anywhere, though I was treated to a close-up of a kill as she snatched a flying queen ant (swarms of them today) from the air right in front of my face.
A few Common Darters by the fence along the access road but still no Ruddys, and once again no damsels here.

Cougar on the prowl ?
This over-mature female common darter (bottom, told by the redness of the abdomen) seems to be
stalking the immature male (top).

Star of that particular day though was a cracking Stoat running across the path in front of me. Brief, but as always, a wow moment.


  1. Learned something from your post today Alan.....Wavy lined patterning on the immature male Black Darter :-)

  2. Might be just a generalisation Warren but certainly noticeable on those I saw on the day, obviously if you get a good look the overall shape and appendages are a better indication.