Thursday, 30 June 2016

48 Hours Later . . . .

Returning to Thornley Woods Pond this morning I really didn't expect to see the same two Southern Hawkers in exactly the same place as I left them 2 days ago :-O

The male just off the boardwalk, as I had left him, just above his exuvia

The female at the north end, wings still folded, surely perished?

I feared the worst, they must have perished, so decided to collect them as specimens to study at close-up. Tricky, as the male near the front of the boardwalk was too far out to reach, so I had the bright idea of using my telescopic cleg fly swatter to remove him from his stem and then fish him out of the pond with it.
But as soon as I touched the stem he began to move, then started to vibrate his wings, not dead after all, so I gently removed his exuvia instead and packed it up for later.

Still alive, so I used the zoom I didn't have the other day 

Interesting angles as he began his climb

A steady ascent

His exuvia I managed to collect after he'd climbed clear of it.

But this means it's been 48 hours since he emerged at least. When I left on Tuesday the weather closed in not long afterwards, and it was belting down with rain for most of yesterday, meaning conditions have cooled right down since he emerged and hasn't been able to make his maiden flight.

The second individual was also in the exact same spot, but clearly a female as I moved round and got my bins on her. I was thinking she had definitely perished, her wings were still closed across her back. But once again as soon as I touched the surrounding grass her wings rose perpendicular to her body and snapped into place as if a button had been pressed. Incredible.

The same female as top pic, wings now held at right angles to the body

In clear view now as I'd cleared away the grasses thinking she had expired

Allowing some even closer shots

Conditions today weren't  that much better than Tuesday. Overcast with dark clouds, and every now and again a bit of warmth as the sun peeped through  gap, but an overriding chill was the order of the day so I fear they may not survive another night as they must be in a severely weakened state; they couldn't possibly have fed since they escaped their final instar.

Scanning the whole of the pond I spotted  another hawker, then another, and another, until I had SIX emerged Southern Hawkers mapped out around the margins, plus another three unattended exuvia in the far grasses. This is by far the most I've ever seen here at any one time, but whether all (or indeed any) make it to a mature adult state appears to be in the hands of fate.

One of a further four emergences discovered, distant in the far grasses

This female I spotted not far from the first male

The pond today, the male is at this end of the main clump halfway along the boardwalk

From this angle you can see how much the emergent grass is taking over.
I stayed on site for as long as I could but little progress was made by any of the emerging hawkers, I filled my boots with a variety of photos from all angles as number one inched his way up the grass stems and occasionally was buffeted into a new position by the wind. Great for photos but not too good for the dragons.

Blown into the open by a sudden gust, I couldn't resist a last burst of photos

A nice shot to finish, probably my favourite 

Another visit tomorrow if I can to find out how many of the six have made their escape. At the moment I'm not too hopeful :-/ 


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Early Success

Today I'd arranged to go to Thornley Woodland Centre to take some pictures down, and thought I might have a look on the pond while I was there in case there was any sign of Hawker emergence. I was already weighed down with gear so didn't take my bins or XS-1, but packed my trusty old Kodak point and press which I used a couple of years ago with mixed results after the Stargate incident (when I fried the electronics in my Panasonic by dropping it in the pond).

At this time of year the pond looks more aesthetically pleasing as the surface is covered in duckweed but I was still surprised by the amount of lush emergent grasses now poking through; it covers almost half the pond now.

But lo and behold, I couldn't believe my luck when spotting (almost straight away) a hawker dragonfly in a patch of these grasses just three feet from the boardwalk. With body totally inflated and wings spread it had obviously been out a good while (it was 1.30pm now) and with a thinner 'waist' I deduced a male Southern Hawker, though the angle wasn't good for viewing with the grasses in the way.
I straight away regretted not packing the XS-1, but fired away with the Kodak and got some fairly poor record shots (it was also quite dull now as well, with the forecast rain on the way) :

First Hawker of 2016 - a male Southern

With wings spread it shouldn't be long before he takes flight

From this angle we also get a better look at the exuvia

I wasn't going to get any better shots so searched the grasses for any further signs of emergence. A single male Azure damsel and a tandem pair of Large Reds was all there was to see, so I checked the north end. I was sure I could see an exuvia in the distant grass (I had no bins remember) so moved around the margins and was delighted to find another hawker, this one more recently emerged, still pumping the wings up, but in a much more viewable position so was able to get a better shot.

The second hawker, another male me thinks looking at the appendages

Wings just about fully formed but with conditions cooling, might take a while to get away

I looked further round the margins but couldn't see any more and had to get on with my task so left them to it.

The rains came not much more than an hour later. I was safely back at home after lugging my bags home down the A694 (why didn't I learn to drive?) (Oh yes, I tried but almost killed myself that's why). I'm sure the first individual would have been away by then but can only hope the second one managed to make it's maiden flight before the heavy rain started and washed it off it's chosen stem, it's a precarious time the emergence, especially in our unpredictable climate.

I couldn't remember if this was my earliest sighting but looking back through my records I had a teneral Southern Hawker here on June 26th in 2014,and had spotted exuvia four days earlier on the 22nd. Should have gone prepared really :-/ 


Monday, 27 June 2016

Keeping up with the Coenagrions

Didn't manage to get out this weekend so I'll catch up with a few damselfly encounters I haven't yet posted.

First I got this cracking shot of ovipositing Large Reds at Shibdon Pond sent to me by Shibdon George on the 14th, the first he's noted there. It's a while since I've recorded any there meself but as I don't get up there very often that's no real surprise.

Female Large Red damsel half submerged as she lays eggs on the plant stem.
A dangerous occupation as she can be taken by an underwater predator.
Great photo of something I've never been able to study in close-up before and I think the first time I've ever seen
a picture of damselfly eggs, so nice one George.
Courtesy of G. Simpson

At Gibside on the 20th I encountered damsels and not much else at the Lily Pond. Plenty of them but on a sunny afternoon they weren't in the mood for posing for close-ups, so just a few record shots.

Blue-form Azure famale 

Azure male

Large Red male in the sunlight

Immature Common Blue damsel male
Can't recall seeing such a pale specimen before

At Stargate last Thursday four species of damsel were on show, mainly Blue-tails but I did manage to get some canny shots of both Common Blue and Azure in the mating wheel :

Common Blue damsels in the mating wheel- First female of the species I've noted this year

Same couple making the perfect heart shape - aaaaaaaaah

This Azure pair landed at perfect height for a few snaps

Unusually they allowed me to get right up close

Look at that face, he seems to be enjoying it . . . .

. . . . mind you, she doesn't :-/

I haven't seen a lot of Common Blues so far this year, but for the first time I've captured three stages of development from teneral to mature, so can do a side by side comparison :

Top to Bottom
Teneral, Immature, Mature.

Interesting to see the colour change as they age.
Another busy week in store so touch and go whether I can synchronise a spare hour or two with a spell of sunshine. Forecast isn't that great so we'll have to wait and see :-/ 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Star date at Stargate . . . .

Been over two weeks since I last had a decent DragonHunt, so with the one sunny day of the week yesterday I took the chance on a promised visit to Stargate for my first actual Gateshead dragonflies of 2016. All systems go, with our two species of Chaser the target !

A 10 minute bus ride followed by a 35 minute walk and I was there, and before I'd reached the ponds a flypast male Broad-bodied Chaser was a welcoming sight.

I visited the small shallow pond first, remembering two years ago this had been brilliant for female B-b Cs with no less than FOUR photographed on the same perch close by.
But last year the dry spring meant it was bone dry when I visited and there were none at all.

This year's visit is a couple of weeks later than normal, and the pond is drying out rapidly again, though the muddy margins show it has very recently been at a decent level.
The only chaser on show was a flighty Four-spot, but my attention was grabbed by shimmering wings in the sparse tufted grass around the margins, where I was delighted to discover four recently emerged Common Darters, my first of the year :-)

Newly emerged female Common Darter, an unexpected bonus

Great to have one out in the open, newbies are often well hidden deep in the vegetation.

This one was well hidden, but just enough showing to get close in. 

The small pond, much in need of water.

I also found an exuvia at the base of one of the tufts, the first I've ever found belonging to a Common Darter, so delighted with that :

Common Darter exuvia, a 'lifer' of sorts

Over to the main pond and this too looks in need of topping up, only half its normal size and with so much exposed rock it was almost traversable. Though initially only damsels were present (mostly blue-tails) once the first Chaser appeared (a 4-spot) it was quickly followed by a couple of male Broad-bodies and for the remainder of my visit it was non-stop action, with 3-4 individuals of both species checking each other out, skirmishing, searching the margins for females, occasionally finding one, copulating, and ovipositing, but very little perching, especially in decent range for the camera.

About the best shot I could get of the Broad-bodieds from my first session at the main pond.
I do like making rubbish record shots into more arty efforts of the insects in their environment. 

Pair caught (just about) in mid-air copulation.
Not easy to photograph as they still whizz about in the mating wheel
and it's all over in a matter of seconds
I waited patiently by my self-made perch in searing heat now around mid-day but the Chasers were far too busy to pose for me, so I had a walk around to see if I could find any perched up in the gorse which has proved fruitful in the past, but not today, and eventually I found myself at the sheltered bog-pond where luckily a male Broad-bodied was overseeing his female as she oviposited.
Job done, she settled on a dead stalk in the open some distance away, but I approached stealthily and managed to get her from a few angles as she rested :

Happy to see this female B-b C land in good view so clicked off a record shot in case she
zipped off when I tried to get closer.

But no she stayed put and I could get some better shots
The brown staining at the tip of the abdomen is from the water where she'd just been ovipositing
Here she looks like she's attempting to unscrew her head

She was well settled and allowed me to move around for a different angle.
Zooming in note the forelegs held to the side of the head poised ready to grab her next meal. 

And another angle

And back again for one final shot before I left her to rest
Close-up of the abdomen. Quite a mature female this one

Happy with that little encounter it was back to the main pond where the chasers were starting to tire, one male in particular I noted kept resting on several emergent stalks in one area close to shore, so I staked it out for a while and patience paid off with some more 'arty' record shots.

A bit distant but a decent composition showing his powder blue abdomen

Probably the closest he came, beautiful colouring

Like this shot against a reflected sky (background is actually the pond surface)

A different male in a more 'crowded' area of the pond

Just the Four-spots to get now but they weren't playing ball at all. I estimate there were at least 3 males and 2 females on the pond but they weren't settling for more than a few seconds, or if they did it was too far out for decent shots, or the one time one landed on my perch it was a bad angle and he was straight up when I tried to move around, never to return :

Four-spot on my perch, could have been a good shot had his angle been better,
but with hind legs raised he was still alert and sure enough was off again as soon as I moved.

Another environmental 'arty' shot from some distance

I didn't have much time left now, but a last visit to the bog-pond paid dividends with another male Four-spot, which eventually came close enough for decent record shots :

Distant on the bog-pond, but a good angle this time.

Shimmering wings in the strong light, my best four-spot shot of the day I think
Saved the best 'til last. 
That was that, time to go. A pleasing session in the end, glorious day and my first Gateshead Dragonflies of the year, three at one site, the teneral Common Darters being a cracking bonus. Just hope I don't have to wait so long 'til my next hunt :-O

Estimated totals at Stargate Ponds June 23rd 2016 :

Broad-bodied Chasers   - 5m 3f
Four-spotted Chasers     - 3m 2f
Common Darters            - 2m 2f
Blue-tailed damsels        -  100+
Azure damsels                -   40+
Common Blue damsels  -  c10
Large Red damsels         -    5