Monday, 29 August 2016

Cragside Catchup

Here are the photos I took at Cragside Slipper Tarn the other week (for details of the visit see Black and Tarn Un-illustrated from Aug 15th)  :

Not the first of the day but certainly the most photographable Black Darter I encountered

I was able to focus nicely on him with the background a contrasting colour   

Lovely dragonfly, a male in his prime

This one had unusual horseshoe markings at the tail
This one shows how tricky it can be here when there's strong sunlight and reflective backgrounds.

The Moorland (or Common) Hawkers gave me the runaround but this male shows up
nicely against the dark waters of the Tarn  

There is a hawker dead centre of pic, but this just a view of the tarn itself
Star of the day though was this female Moorland Hawker resting in thick vegetation.

Don't often get the opportunity to photograph a settled female like this (or male for that matter)
so worked my way round for a better view

Another angle, the distinctive yellow costa along the front edge of the wings
and pale brown eyes of a young individual.  
On our second visit I managed a clearer shot of a flighty male Moorland Hawker
Not great but all the ID features are there

Not many Common Darters on show but this one perched nicely on the back of a bench

A final Black darter on the same bench, too reflective for a decent pic

And finally a female Black darter at last, same bench, same strong sunshine, same reflective surface,
same crap result.

One of my favourite sites, recommend a visit late July or early August for the emergence of the Black Darters. Need a bit of luck for the Hawkers though.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Going for Gold

In this Olympic summer I've had a few tries for a gold of my own, Golden-ringed Dragonfly that is,  but sadly to no avail.

At Pow Hill on the 10th the weather wasn't too kind but at least during the bouts of  sunshine I got my first Moorland Hawkers of the year; first a male hawking under trees by the bog pools, then a female doing likewise beside the car park, which we watched for some time but wouldn't land anywhere for a photo.
Star of the day here was a common Lizard which scuttled across a boardwalk ahead of us, and obligingly stopped halfway to give the kids (and my better half) a decent view of their first ever lizard in this country, sadly my camera was still packed away at this point.
But I was also pleased to see one of my favourite 'monster bugs' in the form of a Giant Tachinid fly, which happily did stick around for a few photos :

What's that coming over the hill ? Is it a monster ?

Is it a monster ? Well no, it's a Giant Tachinid Fly (Tachina grossa)

Actually no it IS a monster, a brute of a fly at around 2cms it's the size of a queen bumble bee,
and plug ugly to go with it. 

The same day we drove in to Blanchland where again I hoped to find a Golden-ringed, but the rain put a stop to that and dramatically cut short our visit.
We returned on the 21st (a better day altogether) and walked along the river to the Baybridge car park and picnic area, which has seen regular sightings of my target over the last few years, but possibly a bit late in the season now, despite good sunshine and a thorough search of the area, not a dragonfly of any description to be found. Still, now I know how easy it is to get there I'm sure we'll try again next year.

Finally just yesterday (26th) we visited Hamsterley Forest so the kids could try out the new 'Viking adventure trail' and I would hopefully get along to the Grove area which by all accounts is a hotspot for Golden-rings. Alas my luck was out, the forest drive is closed at the moment and it wasn't a good idea to take the kids away from their adventure play to go on a long walk looking for dragonflies. It may well be too late in the season anyway, but again, now we know how easy it is to get there, (and the kids really liked the adventure trail) an earlier visit is on the agenda for next year.
A female Moorland Hawker entertained me for a while along the roadside trees, and four common darters were the only other dragons to show.
A good afternoon out all the same, but I can't help feeling we should have done it first week of the hols. At the moment I feel like the bloke who finishes fourth in an Olympic final. :-/


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Hanging out at Far Pasture

Finally got me laptop fixed so a bit of catching up to do (though not as much as you might expect considering it's been out of action for 4 weeks).

First some action from Far Pasture. Just three visits to summarise. On the 5th the highlights were a perching Kestrel and an obliging Large White butterfly, before the journey home saved the day with an immature male Southern Hawker spotted at the top of the access road (an area which was very productive last year for the species too).

Kestrel atop the dead tree, a regular perching post for birds of prey in the area.

Constantly on the look-out, this brown-capped female annoyed the
resident GS Woodpecker, which was constantly alarm-calling throughout the time
she was perched, though didn't make an appearance.

She posed for quite a while before being joined by the male, then they
left the scene together, though didn't seem altogether friendly.  

This Large White butterfly was far more obliging than the few common darters
in the area, which remained un-photographed.

Don't know much about butterflies but the bold wing-spots mean this is a female,
the male having very faint markings in similar position.

Still often referred to as the Cabbage-White, they were much more abundant
in the 70s when I had the job of squishing their eggs on my dad's cabbages;
they were always covered in them, and if any were missed the cabbages were reduced
to skeletons in a very short time. 
  Happily for me the Southern Hawker was much more photogenic than the darters had been.

Bright sunshine at the top of the access road, this feller was well camouflaged, the glistening wings
gave him away.

Showing the pale markings of an immature male

Closing in and he was pretty much settled, the usual bright blue tail markings are
almost white.

The yellow markings are very pale too, and the brown eyes are another sign of
his immaturity.
Also note the unusual black mark at the left of the frons, (significance later.) 

Moving around for a look at his face, still a striking creature.
 That encounter saved the day from total disaster, and the next visit a week later (13th) was pretty similar. A very low count of Common Darters at the roadside, none on the pond at all, and another encounter with a Southern Hawker at the top of the access road on the way back.
But at least this time the darters were in photographable view :

Maturing male Common Darter

Immature male Common Darter

Another immature male posing at a good height at last

Closing in
A couple of scares with cleg flies here as well (I clobbered one just as it started to bite) so we didn't hang around for too long. I did take a look at the Forbidden Pond as the ponies appear to have been removed from the field now, but it remains devoid of life :

The Forbidden Pond
Deep and without aquatic vegetation it holds no attraction for insect or bird. It's holding water well enough
but in my opinion is too deep for dragonflies. I've looked a few times now and have yet to see either
dragon or damsel anywhere near it.
Time will tell as the vegetation takes hold but at the moment it's just a sterile environment with no cover
for waterfowl either.
 But, the journey home again produced the bonus of a male Southern Hawker in the same place as last time :

I waited for this tiring male Southern Hawker to find a perch before closing in, but his position was just out of reach
and into strong sunlight, so decent photos proved difficult, but luckily he soon found a new perch
in better view. 

Still fighting against the strong sunlight, but the bright blue and vibrant yellow/green
markings of the mature male are clearly in stark contrast to the palour of the individual
the previous week, though I wondered if it was the same male, now a week older and sporting
mature colours.

But clambering around for a better angle I can see there is no extra black marking at the left of the frons (as pointed
out earlier in the post) on this fella, so not the same one. 
So a second male feeding here. This one too has a distinguishing black mark
making a distinctive 'cat's eye' mid-thorax.
Another one to keep a look out for. 

My last visit to Far Pasture was late afternoon/early evening on the 22nd, but despite being a warm and bright evening, the whole area was in shadow from the lowering sun, and only half a dozen Common Darters showed on a small stretch of fence still bathed in sunlight.

So no Ruddy Darters yet, they seem to be getting later every year here, and the hoped for Migrant Hawkers weren't anywhere to be seen either, again they are usually out by now hawking the fields opposite the woodyard. To say Far Pasture has been disappointing this year is an understatement. And even at the top of the access road, there were no southern hawkers present on this occasion :-/

Monday, 15 August 2016

Black and Tarn Un-Illustrated

Enjoying a bit of digital detox since the laptop 'incident', but still need to keep notes of my dragon sightings, and as this blog is effectively my notebook, I'll persevere with the iPad without photos even though I struggle with the tiny screen and pop-up keyboard.

A look at Far Pasture on Saturday at last gave few darters, though 6 commons (all roadside) is not a good count for this time of year. The main pond had only 3 common blue and 1 emerald damsels. The Forbidden Pond was again devoid of all life forms, it's a bloody shame what they've done to it :-(
A bonus was spotting a tiring Southern Hawker male at the top of the access road which eventually settled and posed nicely for photos, and the first time Sprog1 has been able to study one with the Papilios, he was most impressed :-)
A second hawker at the same spot remained unidentified.

On a better note, today was our annual visit to Cragside, for Black Darters at the Slipper Tarn. A week or two later than I would have liked as too late now to catch the emergence which usually takes place late July and early August.
As ever, a family snack-stop as we climbed the hillside path to the play area, while I searched for dragonflies to photograph. There weren't actually a lot of Black Darters on show compared with previous visits, the undoubted stars being the hawkers, maybe half a dozen Moorland (common) and a couple of Southern males in constant search and skirmish mode in the heat of the early afternoon. a scattering of Emeralds the only damsels on show.
Also met a very nice bloke, photographer and fellow blogger Chris, who kindly put up with the intrusion of the kids and showed us a toad he'd found in the freshly strimmed grass. He managed some cracking flight shots of the male hawkers (something my XS1sadly isn't too good at) and latterly put us on to a female Moorland Hawker which had alighted in a thicker patch of the remaining tarnside vegetation, which posed lengthily for photos. Such an opportunity for that particular species doesn't come around too often for yours truly, so thanks a lot for that Chris, much appreciated.

In the cooler late afternoon on our way back down to the car park we looked in again. If anything there were even more hawkers now including a female Southern, but Black Darters were still thin on the ground, though I photographed both a male and female on one of the benches still bathed in strong sunlight.

I'll upload my photos when able, meantime keep an eye on the blog of my newfound acquaintance Trogtrogblog (linked on the right) for his photos of the day and much more, well worth checking out.

Day's totals :

Moorland Hawkers : 6-7 m 2 f
Southern  Hawkers :  2-3 m 1 f
Black Darters.        :   c8 m 2 f
Common Darters   :   3 m
Emerald damsels.  :   16+ m 4+ f

Another great session at Slipper Tarn, always worth a visit for Black Darter :-)

Saturday, 6 August 2016

A message from your sponsor

Just a short post to say I've unfortunately smashed my laptop so don't have Internet access at the moment. Using the kids iPad but it's too fiddly and can't upload photos. Don't know how long the situation will take to remedy so enjoy the rest of the summer, will be back some day soonish hopefully.
Am checking my emails every couple of days if anyone needs to get in touch.
Happy hunting :-)