Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Review of the Dragonfly Summer 2015 - Part I (of 2)

A big (if belated) Happy New Year to all my readers and fellow Odo-enthusiasts, time for a review of last Dragonfly season, though 2015 was by no means the best on record (large dose of understatement to start).

Have to say I was looking forward to the 2015 season, being armed with my new Fuji X-S1 camera (after losing my Panasonic lumix last year in the Stargategate incident) and ultra close-focussing Pentax Papilio binoculars for viewing dragons in supermacrovision, I couldn't wait to get started.

But wait I did, the winter, though not particularly harsh, dragged on through early spring, resulting in a particularly cold but dry April, resulting in delayed emergence, and when the sunshine finally arrived in May it didn't hang around for long.

I found my first teneral Azure damsel at Far Pasture on May 8th which was as pleasing as it was surprising, and numbers increased slowly during the month, but May consisted of mainly cool, dry weather, meaning reports from elsewhere were all negative, and shallow ponds throughout the borough were left bone dry by the prolonged lack of rainfall, again affecting emergence and numbers.

First dragon of 2015
Teneral female Azure damsel @ Far Pasture
Only very late in the month when the sun appeared again did I find my second species, a teneral Large Red damsel at Thornley Woods Pond, after numerous disappointing visits for this usually early emerging species, so a very slow start indeed. But May ended with a cracking highlight when I found a melanotum form female Large Red damsel at Gibside Lily Pond on the 30th, my first ever of this rare form, and just reward for scrutinising or photographing every individual possible for the last five years :-)

Large Red damsel (Gibside Lily Pond)
Female of the rare melanotum form, whereby each abdominal segment contains a large percentage of black
(rather than red), and is the only form which retains the yellow antehumeral stripes (braces) when mature.
June was different altogether, as our first period of warm and sunny weather continued, and the early dragonflies at least burst forth with a vengeance.

A maximum of seven Broad-bodied Chasers at Far Pasture Forbidden Pond in early June was a best ever count, though my attempts at photographing them were poor.

Male Broad-bodied Chaser
Very difficult to get a pic from a decent angle at the Forbidden Pond, and a good number present meant
skirmishing took up most of their attention, never posing long enough for an approach.
And then a tip-off about the previously unvisited pond in the next field came up trumps for Four-spotted Chasers, with a maximum of five seen on frequent visits to the end of the month. A lovely pond this which on occasions was teeming with Azure damselflies for certainly the best damsel count of the summer (and another 4 species present in smaller numbers) so I don't know how it's escaped my attention these last few years.

Far Pasture 'Ponyfield Pond' A hidden gem in the valley

Four-spotted Chasers repeatedly came to provided perches offering superb photo opportunities

Beautiful wing markings of this male in his prime

A trip along the river to Haghill on the 11th resulted in an excellent count of 13 Banded Demoiselles, including one which captured a Mayfly and landed beside me on the path to devour its meal.

Opportunity missed
Banded Demoiselle afforded an unbelievable opportunity for photos as it devoured its meal on the path beside me,
but despite reeling off over 40 snaps I was unable to get one in perfect focus, as I was still struggling
with the settings of the X-S1 in the early season.
Unfortunately, after an excellent first two weeks of the month, the rest of June was back to cool and cloudy weather with hardly a dragon to be seen, resulting in very poor counts for damselflies all round.
Into July and again the early part of the month was by far the most conducive to dragonhunting. A return to the 'Ponyfield Pond' at Far Pasture gave me some cracking photos of a Four-spotted Chaser at last, and a trip along the banks of the Derwent for Banded Demoiselles paid dividend with some superb close-up views and decent photos as well.

A superbly poised Four-spotted Chaser, a new alpha male taking the most prominent perch on the pond.

Love this snap of the same male, he appears to be having a right laugh.
Male demoiselle in the meadow on the banks of Clockburn Lake, unexpected but super views. 

This male gave even better views through the Papilios on the bank of the river,
gorgeous metallic sheens in the sunshine, and superb wing patches on this prime specimen
Thornley Woods Pond was still disappointing but 6-8 exuvia found early month and an emerging female Southern Hawker was the only one I would see this year.

Southern hawker exuvia, one of 8 found in total

Female Southern Hawker emerging
I missed her maiden flight after spending almost an hour watching I took a five-minute wander
and she'd gone on my return, sod's law strikes again.

On one visit I spotted what I thought was a drowned male Southern Hawker in the pond which made a quite captivating if tragic image, but he began moving so I fished him out and left him to dry.

Tragedy and beauty in one image, immature male Southern Hawker apparently drowned.
But not so, he started twitching so I fished him out and hung him on a bracken frond in the sun.

Which is where I left him to dry out, and only hope he recovered to live out his second chance.
The remainder of July was again poor. I didn't manage my annual pilgrimage to Gateshead's flagship dragonfly site, namely Kibblesworth Brickworks Pools as I couldn't synchronise a day off with good weather so missed out on Black-tailed Skimmer and Emperor there, though they were both reported in decent numbers through the month.
Also the ponies were back in the field at far Pasture, preventing me from checking on that lovely pond again for the duration of the summer :-(

By the end of the month the last of the damsels, the Emerald, was on the wing but not in any great numbers and photo opportunities were few and far between, and Common Darters were also beginning to show, though in disappointingly small numbers too.

I caught a decent emerging day at Gibside Lily pond mid-month, and captured some decent images
on a brief visit during a family day out. This immature Female Emerald was best of the bunch.

Or was it this one? for once I managed to get the whole insect in decent focus,
must be getting better (or just lucky) 

An arty shot of a Common Darter, taken between gaps in vegetation but a nice composition.
 By now of course I had the school holidays to contend with as well, would the second half of the season be any better than the first? Find out in part two of my season's review, coming up shortly. Cheers :-)


  1. Bated breath mate, bated breath.

  2. I was actually trying to follow your directions to the forbidden pond when I found the ponyfield pond and then gave you the tip about it. Funny how these things work out.

  3. Cheers lads, and yes I remember it well Liam, more to come soon . . .