Friday, 5 February 2016

All Our Yesterdays

Been a bit boring on the wildlife front so far this year. My hatred of the cold and the fact we're busy tarting up the house with a view to putting it on the market shortly means I haven't actually been out even to Far Pasture yet in 2016 (shock horror), but recently sorting through boxes of old 'stuff' I found a couple of photos (albeit shite ones) from my very first Dragonhunt from way back in the last century, so might as well go over it again.

It was July 13th 1997, I'd only been birding about three months and was offered the opportunity to tag along with Durham birding legends Chris 'Gibb' Gibbins, Dave Foster and my good mate Chris 'Syko' Sykes, who were off to Silver Flowes Nature Reserve in Dumfries and Galloway for the day hoping to find the rare Azure Hawker.
Bear in mind I hardly knew the existence of dragonflies at the time never mind an Azure Hawker, (my brief was that they were big, black and blue, and liked to perch on light-coloured rocks or the trunks of silver birch trees), but for me I was just going along on the promise of buzzards and crossbills to name but two lifers possible.

We got my first buzzards well before we arrived at the site, and straight off I was captivated by their soaring, (still am today), they were seemingly everywhere. After parking up we followed the long paths to the loch through pine forest, and my first crossbills were disappointingly high up in the trees, but in those early days you would tick a chicken sandwich if it added to 'the list'.
And on the way I also got my first dragonfly in the form of a Common Hawker, hawking the woodland ride, and not long afterwards a flypast Golden-ringed Dragonfly, now that was an impressive beast. It was a funny old day weather-wise (though typically Scottish) being a mix of bright sunshine and heavy showers, and as luck would have it, by the time we got to the loch the heavens had opened making a search for the elusive Azure Hawker even more difficult.

I remember Syko gave up almost straight away and took shelter under a tree while me and the others searched the shore of the lake for any sheltering dragons, but the rain got worse so eventually we all joined him under the tree and opened the sarnies and flasks. We were stood there a good few minutes as the lads rued their bad luck with the weather when it suddenly dawned on me that we were sheltering under a silver birch, so I glanced up the trunk as we chatted and started to laugh out loud. Gibb asked me what I was laughing at and I pointed to just above our heads where an Azure Hawker dragonfly clung vertically on the bark of the tree, pale blue and black, and looking like it was shivering in the cold to keep itself warm on the birch trunk.

Azure Hawker (honest) being expertly pointed out by a hooded Chris Gibbins (left)
Silver-ringed ear (right) supplied by Dave Foster.
Rain supplied by Scottish Weather

There. Can you see it now ?
Good, 'cos it's still the only one I've seen, and photographed (if you can call it that)

The others couldn't believe it, and in a flash it was netted and held expertly in the hand of Chris G so we could take in its features and photograph it. I remember it was quite pale, not the rich blue of the guidebook, but a male all the same, probably the coolness of the day contributing to its palour.
And unfortunately it was the only one we saw thanks to the typically cruel Scottish weather, though we did get a distant passing Osprey (another lifer) though it was no more than a blurry speck through my rain-soaked shitty 8x21s from Argos (though also available in other stores).
We eventually called it a day and retraced our steps, and typically by the time we got back to the car the bright sunshine of earlier had returned.
And it was here that Dave Foster heard a calling Peregrine and soon pinpointed it for me through his scope on the distant cliff face, I was well happy with that one, another first for my list and a really cracking view. Soon I returned the compliment as I spotted another Golden-ringed Dragon flying in and settling not far from the car. Again it was netted and scrutinised, what a beautiful creature.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (male), to date my only photo of the species.
Hand supplied by one of the Chris-es
The lads had told me how impressive dragonflies were and this one was certainly that. On the way home we had another stop-off at a roadside bog where Black Darter, Four-spot Chaser (or was that at Silver Flowes) and I believe a Keeled Skimmer were added to the daylist. I was beginning to get hooked and later that month enjoyed a weekend of birds and dragons in Norfolk with the same lads,  to whom I will always be indebted for introducing  me to these wonderful creatures.
The rest, as they say, is history :-)