Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Review of the Dragonfly summer 2015 - Part 2 (of 2)

Into August thenand the awful weather continued to dominate the summer. This, combined with the school holidays and sadly a family bereavement, meant dragonfly days (indeed days out of any kind) were few and far between.
Early in the month (and before everything went pear-shaped) our annual family summer outing to Cragside provided the usual dragonfest at Slipper Tarn, once again a major highlight of the dragonfly summer, with Black Darters in abundance, including for the first time immature males, so a great result that :-)

We hit lucky with the weather today, as seen in the strong shadow being cast by this cracking male Black Darter
one of many on show at the Slipper Tarn.

But the stars for me were a handful of immature males, I'd never even seen one before
never mind photographed one.

Note the wavy lines along the flanks of the abdomen of the young male . . . .

. . . . compared with the straighter edges along the flanks of the female.

I spent the majority of August just snatching brief visits to Far Pasture when a bit of spare time allowed, which did get me some superb views of a female Southern Hawker at the top of the access road on the 4th, an area frequented by hawkers on most of my fleeting visits :

Perched low down, I could get some good angles on this
tired female Southern Hawker.

And on the 26th a male posed similarly in the same area :

Beautiful markings on the mature male Southern Hawker
Despite those two close encounters, my visits mainly showed low numbers of common darters, and similarly small numbers of damselflies, and despite a few treks up to Thornley Woods Pond where past years have provided spellbinding encounters with the southern hawkers, this year proved to be the worst ever, with just the odd patrolling male, and I never once witnessed the ovipositing of a female, in past years a guarantee and highlight of the calendar.

The valley was poor all round if I'm honest, but reports from Kibblesworth at least showed it had not lost any of its star billing, including stunning news on the 26th, when Ron Hindhaugh (Notmanywords) photographed a superb male Brown Hawker there in flight, a cracking find and a cracking set of photos too :

Brown Hawker (male)
Without doubt Gateshead's star dragon of 2015 - and first sighting of the species in over a decade
Sadly circumstances meant I still couldn't get over to Kibblesworth to try and see this beauty for myself, but I'm determined to get over next year and hopefully find another, we'll see ;-)

It was early September before I finally caught up with a Ruddy Darter at Far Pasture, a long time in coming (indeed I was beginning to wonder if it was coming at all), but worth the wait for this cracking little dragon, and a single male was seen numerous times during the month by the roadside :

Ruddy Darter (male)
These confiding little dragons are one of my favourites

Once they get used to your presence they are usually very approachable for close-ups
Note the extended black around the frons, black legs and a combination of rich rufous colours giving its name.

Southern and Migrant Hawkers were also thin on the ground for the most part, with a maximum of 4 Southern and 5 Migrants (including a pair in the mating wheel) seen on the same day at Far Pasture being the best count, though none remotely photographable. So if it hadn't been for the Ruddy encounters, September too would have been a non-event.

But we were due a bit of luck and lo and behold, the mildest autumn in years prolonged the dragonfly season beyond normal parameters and ensured some cracking late season entertainment. George Simpson had been keeping me informed of the build up of Migrant hawker numbers at Shibdon Pond, sending some lovely photos over, and when early October brought possibly the best spell of sunshine of the entire year, I spent a couple of afternoons up there trying to get some shots of my own, hard going on the first outing, but quite successfully on the second, and a bonus male Southern Hawker as well :

Migrant hawker (male)
My first visit to Shibdon didn't offer many photo opportunities despite a decent number present,
 this being the best of them
A similar pose started off the second session well, but it was hard going after that as feeding time
kept the hawkers airborne for long periods.

This male Southern Hawker was star of the show on my second visit,
I could see he was tiring so waited until he settled before closing in for photos.

And got some decent shots in the not so harsh autumn sunlight

Until a second male came along and the inevitable skirmish took him away :-(

Then I stumbled across this Migrant Hawker low in the reeds for best photos of the day of that species too. 

Again getting some cracking close-ups to end an entertaining session on a high.

Mild weather continued through late October into early November, and small numbers of Common Darters hanging on at Far Pasture gave me ample opportunity for some late season photos, one mating couple in particular allowed some superb close-ups :

This pair wouldn't budge even with a camera stuck in their faces, so I could focus on the male . . .

. . . . then shift focus to the female

And amazingly my latest ever record, with still a dozen Common Darters still present on November 10th, 6 days later than my previous latest sighting.

Common Darter at Far Pasture - one of a dozen still on November 10th
So a poor year at least ends with a new record
I'd heard during a cold spell that work had been going on at the Forbidden Pond, so I had a look on my last visit to the area and couldn't believe what I found :

Forbidden Pond :-O
The whole area had been basically removed. All surrounding vegetation taken away, and the pond had been
dredged to make it deeper, with a man-made bottom (like a massive garden pond) in place to stop the water
from draining away. Looks bad at the moment but hopefully it will be landscaped and be better in the long term 

So to summarise ; on the plus side, the melanotum form Large Red damselfly in the first month was my personal dragon of the year, though Ron's Brown Hawker was undoubtedly Gateshead's dragon of the year.
A new pond to keep tabs on at Far Pasture was a bonus, though I wish they'd kept the ponies out a while longer, and now it's a matter of wait and see with the reconstruction of the Forbidden Pond.

I enjoyed searching for demoiselles in the valley, and early season chasers and late season darters and hawkers were all good sessions, it was just the middle bit (the actual summer) which was a major let-down.
My species count of 14 was the poorest since I began this blog 5 years ago, I only got out of the valley twice over the summer which didn't help in that respect, was gutted not to get to Kibblesworth at least once, and didn't even get a proper day out at Gibside, which is just over the road and always good for a dragonhunt at the height of summer.

This of course was mainly due to the weather, which had a knock-on effect from very early on. The long winter, the short cool spring and finally the basically shit summer had a drastic effect on the state of ponds and early season damselflies which I've never known to be in such sparse numbers. Only the Indian Summer (to mid Autumn) saved the season from total disaster, Shibdon Pond providing the best sessions late on.
Of my local patches, Thornley Woods Pond was disappointing for the second year running with hardly a hawker to be seen, and is beginning to look really overgrown since it was opened up three years back.
Far Pasture had all the usual suspects, bonus four-spot chasers, but disappointing numbers-wise especially damsels.

All in all I have to say 2015 was poor in so many respects, but still with some cracking memories.
I'm already looking forward to seeing that first pale damselfly fluttering up out of the grass on milky wings come early May, so bring on 2016, when I'm sure the disappointments of last year will soon be just distant memories. Thanks for reading, and for all your comments and sharing of sightings over the year, much appreciated :-)


  1. I'm already looking forward to what I can see this year, let's hope it's a better one!

    1. I'll be disappointed if its worse, that's for sure :-O

  2. I blame the weather Alan !!!
    It has changed soo much in such a short period of time, very worrying.
    You can see the improvement in your photography and some of your images are quite average....coming along nicely.
    The worst part of it all is the potential demise of Thornley Woods pond. I had my best ever dragonfly experience when i sat and watched the full emerged of a Hawker for over 3 hours. It took so long as it was a slightly chilly autumn day. Unfortunately it took so long i never saw its maiden flight as i had to leave to pick the missus up from work. I remember i felt sick the first time i visited there a while back and saw they had cut all the surrounding trees down. I thought then it wasn't good and the huge alteration to the habitat might have huge consequences. It was a fabulous spot to visit previously. I'm sad now thinking about it. There's always someone fucking things up for the wildlife !!!!!

    1. The awful weather was the biggest factor in the disappointing season last year John so I can't write off Thornley Woods Pond altogether even though the trend isn't looking good. Hoping it was just a one-off and normal summers will be resumed this year (watch out for my next post on climate change).
      As far as the photography goes, a bit of a mixed bag, too much experimenting early season, too much blurring occurs in hand-held shots when I can't get a good support and the lack of depth of field in macro setting still needs to be addressed. Will get better, cheers :-)