Thursday, 22 October 2015

Last Rites . . .

Time to declare time on what has been a mainly disappointing dragonfly season for 2015 (though not without some memorable highlights), still a few stragglers kicking about but I've got too much on now to get out looking for the last of them.
A couple of visits to Far Pasture is all I've managed in the last fortnight and only a few common darters to show for it. I didn't even bother getting my camera out first time, and here are (most likely) the last photos of the year, just snapshots really, even the dragonflies themselves seem to have lost interest :

This old female has seen better days (I know the feeling)

Another fence-perching male to finish

Same dragon, different angle, probably the last photo of 2015
 
Migrant Hawkers were still being seen at Shibdon well into October, George Simpson sent me this very colourful autumnal picture on the 13th :

Cracking photo capturing the autumn sunshine, nice one George :-) 

And a close-up of the actual dragon, again a very colourful and seasonal composition

Otherwise very few late reports from Gateshead though other parts of the northeast have seen decent activity in the October sunshine. A nice report with pictures from Sedgedunum Warbler from his local pond a case in point :
http://sedgedunumwarbler.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/last-hurrah.html

That's it them, thanks for looking in and for the contributions again this year, it's nice to know there are like-minded people out there. I'll do my annual review when I get time otherwise a period of hibernation might be in order as my usual dose of SAD syndrome will no doubt kick in once the clocks go back.

Adios for now, its been emotional . . .  

Friday, 9 October 2015

Darting About in the Sunshine . . .

A return of the sunshine meant a return to Far Pasture after an almost two-week absence. It always amazes me (especially at this time of year) how after a period of bad weather and cold overnights lasting a few days, the minute the sun shines again the late-season dragonflies are back out in force. No specific target today as at this time of year you never know what you'll get so more of a dragon-safari than a dragon-hunt.

Though the forecast had been good, the reality today was a mix of sunshine and cloud, and a lot cooler than promised, but the darters were still out in good numbers. The heavy rain from the early part of the week meant the flash pool in the pony field had filled up again and several pairs of common darter were busy ovipositing when I arrived on site.
On the main pond a few pairs were doing likewise, and the Forbidden Pond was also busy while the sun shone.

Not many hawkers around though; a mig on the Forbidden Pond, a southern in the pony field, and a further 3 migs in the top field including a female.

Today was just a matter of enjoying whatever was on show, the late season mating frenzy of the common darters always brings opportunities for photos, so I just tried to get as close as I could to any darters along the fences, and with the cooler atmospheric conditions a few decided to put up with the intrusion of having the x-s1 shoved in their faces far longer than usual.
Results, some nice close-ups and a few where I could manipulate the actual shot, rather than shooting best I could from the angle of approach before the subject tires of me, which is what usually happens when the dragons are less docile in higher temperatures.
So here you are, possibly the last batch of the season, only time (and weather) will tell :

One of many mating wheels - not a great technical photo, just liked the colours and the composition 

This courting couple stayed put longer than usual, allowing me to vary the shots . . .  

. . . like focussing on the female . . .

. . . or focussing on the male . . .

. . . and moving in close . . .

. . . and closer . . .

. . . and even extremely close :-O

Lovely blue skies above this male on the fence

This feller seemed a tad shy

Looking happy to be out in the sunshine

just a beautiful day for basking

Older males showing a bit of wear and tear on the wings

Even this late still the odd immature male

Some pleasing results there, it always helps when I can actually balance the camera lens on the fence itself, and the good October light (not too strong like in high summer) aids in sharpness and exposure.
Another productive little session, hope it's not the last I see of the dragonflies this year, I'll keep trying 'til the end. :-)
        

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Crisis? What Crisis?

The Migrant Hawker crisis has been well and truly averted. I somehow managed to sneak a couple of afternoon visits to Shibdon Pond at the end of the week as the glorious sunshine continued into October and ended the season with a fairly satisfying Dragonhunt.

On Thursday there were plenty of Migs about but mostly in flight. Michael E. was also present trying his luck, and so the long periods of waiting between perched up dragonflies resulted in some interesting chat about the good old days, dragons and butterflies, and I even learned a few things about the latter so cheers for that Michael.

All in all a frustrating session photography-wise, I only reeled off about half a dozen photos of a couple of perched up Migs, so not a great deal to choose from but here are the best of them :

First Migrant hawker photo of 2015, and I had to wait until October.

This male was at a good angle but quite distant, the mangled pulp under his chin
is the discarded part of his meal. 

Lucky escape.
This caddis fly was plucked out of the air by a male Mig just in front
of me, then the dragonfly flew towards my face and spat it out!
It landed on my top then fell to the floor, looking none the worse
for the experience. 

A bit disappointed with Thursday's results overall despite a pleasant session, but a second opportunity came on Friday as I had to go into Newcastle to drop some work off at the gallery, so took my bins and camera and hopped off the bus near Shibdon Pond on the way back, timing it nicely to coincide with the peak time for the Mig hawkers early afternoon.
Again everything was a bit flighty and a few shots got away early on thanks to me being too slow with the camera and a pesky darter guarding territory along the boardwalk which had the frustrating habit of putting any nearby perched up hawker back in the air again before I could get a shot off.

This darter was a constant pain in the backside, guarding territory by the open pool
which happened to be the best area for the migrant hawkers 

And this is a typical result of his meddling :-(

I did manage to get a couple of shots of one Migrant hawker which didn't turn out bad but once again he was up before I could close in properly and that was my only reward for the first hour on site :




I now feared it was going to be another frustrating session as the hawkers flying around my head were in constant feeding mode, only settling briefly to quickly consume a snack then were up again.
But at the far end of the boardwalk I came across a male Southern Hawker which looked like tiring and was buzzing along the thick wall of reeds looking for somewhere to perch.
I waited patiently and sure enough he eventually settled on the tall reeds, giving me opportunity to rattle off some shots before a second male came along and the inevitable skirmish took them both away.

Southern Hawker (male) record shot before I closed in

Managed to move round without disturbing him and get a better angle with the sun behind me,
then used the softly softly approach to get a few close-ups
 




Overall quite pleased with those. Unlike the Migrants, he allowed me to get close and probably
would have got closer still if the second male hadn't come on the scene.

Not my target species but with time getting on at least I had something to show from my visit.

I made my way back along the boardwalk though fearing my last chance of getting a decent Mig shot was over. Then as I approached the open pool I got a view of my first female of the day as she zipped low across the water to the nearside, and I retraced my steps to see if she had stopped to oviposit in the reeds but lost sight of her.
I couldn't relocate her but as if by fate I stumbled across a settled male lower down in the reeds and prayed he would stay still 'til I could get near enough for some decent shots. I didn't want to get too close as I feared putting him up again as they had all been a bit flighty in the afternoon sunshine, but luckily this one stayed put long enough for me to end the session on a high, eventually allowing closer shots than had been possible with my previous 'models' :

Migrant Hawker (male)
Luckily I was able to move round to get him against a dark patch in the thick vegetation for a better shot.
 




 
Changed the angle slightly as I attempted to move in

Bingo! A nice close-up at last

All the main ID features of the Migrant Hawker
Thorax pattern (thin stripes instead of thick plates) allows easy distinguish from Southern hawker
Shoulder pips (instead of stripes)  and obvious brown costa (instead of yellow) on front of wings distinguish it from Moorland hawker (no longer using the name common)
And of course the diagnostic yellow tee shape at the base of the abdomen which only the Migrant has.
Just in the nick of time as I had to get the bus back for the kids coming out of school, so happy enough with those, and if that was to be my last Dragonhunt of the year, then those two sunny early October sessions at Shibdon were worth waiting for, it's what dragonhunting is all about :-)