Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Migrant Crisis of a Different Kind . . .

Every day the 'flood' of Migrants is reported on the news, but as far as I'm concerned it's a 'drought' of Migrants, . . . Hawkers that is.
There's been a few at Far Pasture but I've not yet managed to get one settled to photograph. Reports from Shibdon Pond however, tells a different story, with George telling me of several, including tandem couples and sending me a neat photo from Sunday to whet the appetite.

One of several Migrant Hawkers at Shibdon on Sunday, where was I? Far Pasture, seeing nowt. 

Yesterday I went to Shibdon to see for myself, . . . . and saw exactly nothing :-(
Then George sends me a video (sorry George but it's not gonna win any Oscars) of a female ovipositing in a dead reed stem, . . . also from yesterday :-O


I was convinced he was attacked by the dragonfly at the end but he says not, shame, add a bit of screaming to the soundtrack at the end and it might have got on You've Been Framed :-)

Apparently they are coming out when the afternoon sun has warmed them up, 1.30 to 3pm being the peak time, so my hour and a half from 10.45 to 12.15pm was a bit of a waste, despite warm air and sunshine in the latter part.

Today I'm stuck at home in an attempt to finish the final garden-tidy before the weather changes completely for the worse. This afternoon was lovely, and lo and behold George sends me some more pics of Shibdon Migrants he's taken . . . this afternoon.

More Migrant Hawkers at Shibdon, while I was at home doing the garden :-(
All photos courtesy of George Simpson
The frustrations of this year are becoming a bit tedious, will I get the chance to finally photograph a migrant or two myself? Well the forecast for the rest of the week is still favourable but with loads of chores still to do I'll be chomping at the bit to have another try, but wouldn't bank on it.

Just have to watch this space, as they say. :-/

Friday, 25 September 2015

A Brief Reminder of Summer (though not this one)

It's been a fortnight since I had a good scout around, lack of sunshine and pessimism the main reasons, but today offered decent weather so I took a chance on finding some late-season dragons.

Thornley Woods Pond first stop, dunno why as it's been so poor this year, and apart from a common darter foraging along the path, no dragonflies at all showed on the pond, another mega-disappointment, though I'm wondering if maybe I should have tried mid-afternoon when the sun was at it's strongest rather than the cool late morning with shadows still covering half the pond.

Only the bird-life kept me interested for the half hour I gave it before moving on. A chiffchaff singing heartily, four mistle thrushes moving through the treetops, a couple of goldcrests flitting through and a GS Pecker bounding from tree to tree. A Speckled Wood was the only butterfly on view.

I walked down to Far Pasture hoping for better there, and a good start, as opposite the wood yard four Migrant Hawkers were on view, including a pair in the mating wheel, rising into the trees from the long grass.

Not much else along the road so I nipped into the hide after a chat with Roly in the car park. A good few tandem pairs of common darters was a welcome sight, maybe 20 individuals in all, and brief intermittent sightings of male migrant and southern hawkers but nothing remotely photographable.

Blue tit from the car park - significant only because it isn't sporting a ring.

Out of the hide again and the sun was stronger now in the early afternoon, though still a chill when the clouds came over. Nothing much along the road so I decided to have a look on the Forbidden Pond.
It's looking decent now with the late summer rains and a dozen or so common darters were present, mainly males but 3 or 4 ovipositing pairs, and two male southern hawkers skirmished briefly, the victor patrolling the pond unsuccessful in his search for a female.

Best of the forbidden Pond - a couple of the more photogenic darters
Photo opportunities were still in short supply, not helped by the fact I forgot to change from the super-macro setting on the camera (d'oh!)
Back on the road again I checked out the corner area for Ruddy Darter, and lo and behold, found one on the fence.

Ruddy Darter in the usual area

Had to take pics into the sun but some arty effects to be had 

Liked this one as the wind tipped his wings
Wasn't really expecting to see one so that was a bonus.

I spent the rest of the time trying  to get decent pics of common darters, but I don't know what it is about this year, all the pics are on the fence or on the road, getting one perched nicely on a tall plant stem with an uncluttered background has been nigh on impossible.

Male sitting on the fence

Sitting on the side of the Fence

A tandem couple - also sitting on the fence

Close-up of the coupling action

The female, looking a bit past her best
Back to the wood yard and the corner of the opposite field was again productive for migrant hawkers. A couple of males hawked the treeline and a splendid lemon yellow female gave lovely close views as she hunted close to the gate where I stood, alas too quick for photos and none of them even looked like settling anywhere.
Final sighting was in the woodyard itself, just beyond the gate a male southern hawker was foraging very successfully in the sunshine. I watched him for a while in hope he would settle, but again nothing doing, and that was me lot.
Good session for observing, exceeded my expectations, but not too good for photos.            

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hardly a last Hurrah . . .

With the sun shining and chores done early, off I went for a Dragonhunt. First target Thornley Woods Pond for some Southern Hawker action. Alas, it didn't work out. One male turned up just a couple of minutes in so my hopes built up, but after a quick search of the far margins he was off and didn't return.
Two skirmishing common darter males kept me entertained for a short while as I tried in vain to snap one hovering, this being my best attempt :

If you think this is a rubbish flight shot
you should have seen those I binned
I'd intended to stay for an hour regardless but there were no further dragonfly sightings at all so I gave up forty minutes in and trekked down to Far Pasture wondering just what had happened to TWP. More emergence this year but my visits have all ended in disappointment, just another crap stat for this summer or a sign of decline, only time will tell.

Far Pasture was much better for common darters number-wise. Great to see so many mating wheels coming up from the fields and tandem pairs on the pond, a conservative estimate being 40 individuals. Also on the pond 2 Sth Hawker and 2 Mig hawker males but all flighty and brief sightings only.
No damsels now, might have expected a few emeralds to be still on the wing but nothing. Nowt settled close enough for a photo either so quality of sightings was poor even though quantity was good.
Things were getting so bad I even resorted to taking a picture of a nuthatch while chatting to Roly in the car park, I mean, photographing birds in dragonfly season, what's my world coming to?

Back on the road the Ruddy Darter was in his usual place but didn't hang around for photos either, no hawker sightings at all in the fields so all was left for me to do was see if I could get some killer shots of the darters on the fence. This didn't prove easy either but here are the best of what I got :

At least someone was happy

keep smiling

Sorry did I give you a fright?

The look that says it all

Don't know how many dragonfly days are left now. Obviously I won't be getting any new species so all that remains is to try and get the best shots possible of what's left before the weather turns to total shite. Depressing ain't it :-(  

Monday, 7 September 2015

Last throes of Summer

The met office forecast for today had us covered in gloomy cloud all day so I had decided to start the end of season garden tidy, what a mistake :-(

From the back garden it was blue skies filled with chattering house martins, a couple of chiffchaffs singing from the dene, buzzards soaring on high, butterflies-a-plenty, bees, wasps and my first two garden fly-through dragonflies of the year in the form of a migrant hawker and common darter. It was just like summer, though a bit too little and a bit too late.

Yesterday was similar. I was up and about early (for me) in hope of finding and photographing a dew-covered dragonfly in the fields near Far Pasture. It was bloody freezing, a proper autumnal morning, I wandered for what seemed like hours (actually it was) but didn't find a dragonfly until precisely 10.30am, by which time it was too late for the type of photo I was after, as the sun was shining brightly and autumn had turned back to summer.

First dragon of the day, a red-tinged female Common Darter, the colouring denoting she's past her prime

Over the next hour more Common Darters came out, mostly males, some immature yellows.

One of the more mature male Common Darters on show 
 I repeatedly paced up and down the lane on the bend looking for the Ruddy Darter from Friday, following every dragon I spotted until I had an ID, and eventually struck lucky with one flying the edge of the pony field which landed in good view but too distant for decent photos. He came closer eventually but every time I tried to approach he was off again so the photos aren't best quality.

Ruddy Darter again, probably the same individual as Friday.

Soaking up the rays as the bright sunshine reflects from the leaf surface

No hawkers at all on show yesterday, very disappointing, but nice to see the Ruddy Darter again.



Saturday, 5 September 2015

All's Well that Ends (and begins) Well . . .

The day began well yesterday, as I was putting the kids' lunches up early morning there was a mixed flock of tits working through the back garden, mainly consisting of juveniles of great, blue and coal tits. Then I spotted a bright young Willow Warbler in amongst them and finally a cracking juv. Blackcap. 

Later I needed to go to Swalwell B&Q so (taking my bins and camera) my better half dropped me off near Shibdon Pond where I had a stroll around the back to look for perching Migrant Hawkers. In the atmospheric gloom it was always going to be a long shot and so it proved with nowt to be seen.
A quick look in the hide gave 13 Black-wits, a Common Sand and a good count (strange phrase to use as I didn't actually count them) of Shoveler, then a walk along the river to B&Q gave not much else.

I couldn't even get what I wanted in B&Q but by the time I came out the sun was shining through the clouded skies. I hopped on the bus with the intention of going straight home but as the sun seemed to be getting stronger I decided to hop off again at Thornley Lane, nip down to Far Pasture for a quick search and could still walk home from there in time for school coming out.

Now I've lost count of the number of times I've tried for Ruddy Darter here during the latter half of the summer, and now autumn has arrived (technically I'm still waiting for spring) I'd all but given up hope of seeing one this year.
I walked as far as the Forbidden Gate with only half a dozen common darters to show for it, and accepting it just wasn't to be I began the slow walk back, still searching as I did so, 'til I spotted a nice red darter on the fence opposite the roadside ditch (the favoured habitat of the ruddy).

Even as I approached I wasn't sure due to reflecting sunlight, but reeled off a couple of distant record shots until Bingo! I positively ID'd a Ruddy Darter at long last.
He was a bit flighty at first but as usual with this species, once he was accustomed to my presence he allowed me to get shots from point blank range, and once flew up and landed on my forehead, which I obviously couldn't get a picture of :-/

Bingo! Ruddy Darter, a cracking male in his prime,
after weeks of trying :-)

Taking pictures into the sun isn't ideal but the rich colours of the Ruddy still show superbly
A cracking little dragonfly.

Tilted his head nicely for a profile portrait

Even a token poo shot.

'Sunburned' face and chestnut eyes, jet black legs

This my favourite shot of the day I think

Showing some fine detail in close-up

What a little beauty. I was well chuffed with myself as I didn't want to miss out a Ruddy this year, another of my favourite dragons (don't know how many favourites I can have) There weren't any others around but I was happy with that for now. So my day finished as well as it had started, and I still got home in time to pick up the kids from school :-)