Thursday, 22 September 2016

Indian Summers, Autumn Hawkers

Early autumn heat waves seem to be coming a bit of a norm of late, so an overdue visit to Shibdon Pond boardwalks to try and pin down a Migrant Hawker or two seemed too good an opportunity to miss, with me having to go to Ikea for a few frames, I thought it rude not to call in for an hour or so on the way.
George had given me the kick up the backside I needed by sending a few pics to me yesterday, and so glad he did, because today presented me with superb photo-opportunities for my target species.

I immediately got two males patrolling the first section of the boardwalk just out of the shadow of the trees, skirmishing with each other and a couple of feisty darters. I thought they would never settle so carried on walking right along the boardwalk but didn't see any more dragons, so retraced my steps to the beginning again, watched the action patiently and waited.
Eventually my plan paid off as two alightings gave me a couple of reasonable shots of two different males in quick succession :

As good as it got early on, patrolling males along the boardwalk corridor 

Peek-a-boo. First to settle was this fellow, note the small tear in the hind wing

A second opportunity soon after, no tear in the hind wing so a different male. 

A close-up before he was off

Shortly afterwards a tandem pair rose up and flew off over the reeds. Then a big surprise as one of the males I'd been watching zipped low into a patch of broken dead vegetation about 15 feet away and an eruption of FIVE males followed it out, chasing and separating they flew in all directions, certainly wasn't expecting that.
I decided to scour that area as it seemed to be the roosting place, and discovered another male perched up in the reeds :

Male number three, distant but great angle.  

But then out of the blue a pair in a fully-formed mating wheel touched down about 10 feet from the boardwalk, gettin!
I'd never got a close look at a mating wheel of this species before so was ecstatic, and reeled off a few shots before they went up again, but couldn't believe my luck as they flew slowly towards me and landed just three feet away, right next to the boardwalk :-O

Back of the reeds for a first ever photo of the migrant hawker mating wheel

After the record shot, a bit of zooming and a pleasing result.
But then they were off again. 

I spent the next 10 minutes reeling off shot after shot as I stealthily approached them (they're notoriously flighty in the wheel) but couldn't believe it as they stayed put as I closed in and was able to photograph them eventually at near enough point blank range.
I got some cracking shots (if I say so myself) and couldn't really wish for better, so that particular bogey is well and truly nailed. Fill yer boots with this lot :

The same pair landed just to my right

Another shot before I started to move around

Slight change of angle

Taking my time now as they looked well settled

A 90 degree turn looks better I think

I've only ever photographed one female Mig so concentrated on her
for the most part

I'd always assumed the male claspers grasped the thin neck of the female,
this close-up shows they actually cover front and rear of the top of the head
Learned something new :-)

The shots kept coming as the dragons stayed put.

Another close-up of the female, this one shows her needle-like ovipositor for injecting eggs
into plant stems

Profile shot

Was great to watch in close-up, the abdomen of the male was pulsating continuously.
Happy with those last few shots :-)
I may well have got even more angles and close-ups but my luck didn't hold, as a group of schoolkids on a nature outing had to squeeze past along the boardwalk. I pointed out the mating dragonflies to the group leader who told the kids to walk quietly by and have a look, which the first half dozen or so did, but needless to say, one of them couldn't resist snapping off a reed stalk right next to the dragons and up they went, frustrating to say the least.
Never mind, I can't complain, plus I still needed to get to Ikea anyway. I would say 7 males and 3 females on show today; most I've seen here, and certainly one of the best moments of the season with that mating pair.
Shibdon Pond in September for Migrant Hawkers is becoming another one of those 'must do' experiences in the Dragon Hunting calendar, can be frustrating like my visits last year, but days like today are worth waiting for. And I also had the bonus of a Kingfisher zipping through a gap in the reeds and passing just over my right shoulder, doesn't happen every day :-)  

Monday, 19 September 2016

Late Again

Following on from the late emerging common darter at Shibdon the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Common Blue damselfly sweeping back and forth across the Forbidden Pond at Far Pasture on Sunday.

Common Blue Damselfly, Far Pasture Sept 18th 2016
Not the best photo but the best I could get.
Binocular views and jizz confirmed the ID

This is by far the latest common blue I've ever recorded, beating the previous record of a single female on 21st August 2011 at Burdon Moor by almost a month :-O
I would normally only expect to see Emerald damsels this late in the season, and even then have only beaten this date twice, 19th Sept 2012 at Far Pasture, and my latest ever damsel record of October 1st 2011 at Stargate.

Other late damsel records have been Blue-tailed with 8+ at Kibblesworth in 2015 on September 7th (Rob S), though my latest ever Banded Demoiselle was just this year, the females photographed along the banks of the Derwent on July 20th.
It was a double up for Azure and Large Red, with single males of both species seen at Thornley Woods Pond on September 5th 2012, an exceptionally late record in the northeast for the Large Red which are usually the first to emerge in the spring, and even more remarkable when looking at the BDS last recorded dates for the species that year, noted as 19th August in Berkshire, a full 17 days before my sighting at TWP :-O
One for Gateshead :-)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Better Late than Never

Had an interesting Photograph sent to me today by Mr Shibdon himself (George Simpson) which on opening I thought was nothing unusual, just a female Common Darter; but then it dawned on me it was a teneral, meaning it had actually just emerged today!

Teneral female Common Darter at Shibdon Pond today
Hope the mild weather lasts a while longer for her
I don't even have a record of an emerging Common Darter beyond August, though do see a few immatures late on, but lately the only females seen have been well into their prime, often showing the reddish abdomen of beyond maturity. So an excellent late record, well spotted George.

If that one was better late than never, it seems the elusive Ruddy Darter is unfortunately going to be just never. Another visit to Far Pasture on Tuesday gave me Common (1m) Southern (1m) and Migrant (4or5m) Hawkers, and a few Common Darters in tandem and ovipositing on the main pond, there was still no Ruddy to be seen.

A number of tandem pairs around but still not as many as I'd expect
on a sunny mid-September day after such a mild period. 

Best action was this wasp v caterpillar tussle which was really a 'no contest'

The wasp wasn't able to take-off with such a bulky item so constantly chewed away (nice!)

It all got a bit gory for me as the half caterpillar still appeared to be moving, no idea of the species :-/

My favourite pic of the day though was this Darter which appears to be firing lasers from its wing

I may yet have another try but it's looking like this will be the first time in a decade I haven't recorded a Sympetrum Sanguinium at Far Pasture Ponds. They've been becoming more and more of a rarity the last few years, with four in 2014 bucking the trend of just 1 or 2 since 2011, but a failure to record any is just another symptom of the falling numbers of all species here. Not good when it's my local patch :-(

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Autumn arrives . . .

The stop-start Dragonhunting season slumped back into action yesterday with a double site visit to Thornley Woods Pond and Far Pasture.

At Thornley I was hoping to photograph ovipositing female Southern Hawkers, but a 45 minute stay produced one five minute visit from a male of the species which was unsuccessful in his attempts to seek out a female.
The only other dragons on show were half a dozen common darters consisting of four very territorial males and a tandem pair. I tried to get some flight shots as there was nowt better to do but they all came out too poor to even post.
Another poor show from my star Hawker site :-(

On to Far Pasture, with the primary target of Ruddy Darter (surely there has to be one by now) and secondary target of Migrant Hawker, notable by their absence on my last visit, but known as the Autumn Hawker in Ireland (a much better name I think), surely there has to be some by now.

Low numbers of Common Darters by the roadside, hardly surprising as they usually perch on the fences but the roadside margins are so overgrown there's hardly a space for them this year.
The Forbidden Pond at last held both bird and dragon. The half a dozen mallards flushed up as I approached, leaving 5 pairs of ovipositing common darters and a few single males in the heat and 'shine. It's a start anyway.
First Migrant Hawker here too, as a male slowly quartered the field in the distance.

A visit to the pond and my first thought when I arrived in the hide was the number of birds present, all gathered on the far island benefitting from the recent drainage work which has drastically lowered the water levels.
Even a pair of Mute swans had returned, and what was that sitting preening itself at the front of the far island? A colourful drake Mandarin. A just about annual sighting here but much more showy than last year's, my record photo of which was no more than a red beak sticking out from behind a clump of grass 50 yards away.

Spot the Mandarin
Believe it or not, some folk in the hide hadn't :-/

A few darters were darting about (what else?) in the sunshine, and at last a male Migrant Hawker made an appearance, giving decent views and perching occasionally, giving me the chance of (no more than) a blurry record shot.

Distant shot of Migrant Hawker (male)

A second male and a female briefly showed but still no Ruddy Darter.

Back outside another two Migrant males were seen in the fields, and despite checking every darter I encountered, the Ruddy proved elusive.

This female Common Darter was the most obliging individual of an otherwise photo-free session 

At least she seems to have something to smile about

Ruddys seem to be getting later each year here, it was early September last year when the only one turned up so I haven't given up hope altogether. The lack of dragons all season here is a bit worrying, though not surprising given the events and changes, plus the knock-on effect of the last two poor summers.
I'll keep trying :-/