Thursday, 20 October 2016

Almost Forgot . . .

With all the excitement of the discoveries on the 17th I didn't post the dragonfly pictures I took, not that there were many to be seen.
On the pond there were none at all in fact. Three tandem pairs were seen flying across the fields and no more than 8 or 9 singles of both sexes mainly sunning themselves atop the fence.

I spent some time trying to get the perfect picture of a darter on the fence with Gibside's Column to Liberty in the background. I try this every year but have never managed to get both dragon and column in reasonable focus despite trying every function and setting imaginable. Failing miserably again I decided to use artistic license and Photoshop to try and show what I was aiming for :

Something like this. Thanks, Photoshop :-)

I'm actually quite pleased with that, it looks as good as I thought it would if I say so meself, and here are the two photos I combined to get the result :


Another pleasing image was this one I didn't have to errr . . manipulate  to make look good. A darter obliged by landing on a strikingly coloured autumn leaf, though at a good height and only briefly, giving me time for only one shot, but it didn't turn out too bad. With a bit more time I would have wanted to get the face of the dragonfly in focus. But not to worry, you can tell what it is.

Autumn Darter - Landed in a very handy place for this colourful seasonal image

The original photo before cropping, an explosion of colour

This is the darter I was photographing when I spotted the Lichen case-bearing Moth larvae, which came trundling past just behind. As you can see he was enjoying a tasty meal at the time.

Finally a few old females were out basking in the sunshine, their colouring varying from dirty brown/grey to orangey red like a male.

Discoloured wings and reddish tinge of a female well past her prime  
Like I said earlier, there wasn't a dragon to be seen on the pond, but I couldn't resist snapping this Kingfisher which posed nicely on one of the jungle of sticks provided in front of the hide.

Can't say I'm a fan of the perching sticks some photographers climb out through
the hide windows to install with little regard for others (or the wildlife),
but the 'Kingy' does make for a pleasant picture. Only wish it had been sat atop a reed.
I'll probably have to get back to watching more birds for the next 6 months as dragonfly time is almost up I'm afraid, these may even be my last shots of the season. All too brief, and a long wait until next :-(

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Feeling a bit Firsty at Far Pasture . . .

Another visit to Far Pasture on the Monday 17th, this time to look for late dragons as the sun was shining nicely on a very mild autumn afternoon.
There wasn't a lot to report in truth and the undoubted star find of the day was one of the strangest, smallest (and rarest) creatures I've ever encountered.

While photographing a Darter on the top bar of the wooden gate just down from the sawmill entrance I noticed a tiny lump of lichen was moving slowly past the dragon. Intrigued I turned my attention to it, getting down to eye level and noting through the camera zoom it appeared to be an insect in a casing made from lichen and grains of earth, like a caddis fly larvae but on dry land. It was no more than 5mm long but as it waddled along at a painstakingly slow pace I was able to photograph it and put the photo on Twitter when I got home to see if it could be identified :

Dahlica lichenella ?
The dark head can be made out on the left, with three pairs of legs just behind as it shuffled
along the top of the gate. 
Lo and behold, it was eventually identified as a Lichen case-bearing Moth larvae, most likely Dahlica lichenella, one of three similar species found in the UK. It's an intriguing and elusive creature, hatching in March as a 1mm grub, growing to 5mm by late September, then overwintering as a pupae and emerging in the spring, when the adult moth lives for just a few hours of a single day, so little wonder they aren't recorded very often. In fact when verified this may be a first record not just for Gateshead, but for County Durham and the whole of the northeast region. Now there's a feather in the cap for my local patch :-)

Another first (but not quite so exciting) was this Ladybird, which I'd never seen the like of before. Turns out it's one of those invasive Harlequin Ladybirds which I've heard lots about but not seen. They only arrived in this country (from Asia) in 2004 but their expansion has been rapid. Generally larger than our native ladies they have voracious appetites for both aphids and our ladies larvae, which puts them in the pest bracket for the potential extinction of our native species, much like the grey squirrel has done for our reds. In winter they have the habit of finding quiet corners of a house to hibernate in their thousands, which I suppose is handy if we were wanting to wipe large numbers of them out :

Harlequin Ladybird
Harmonia axyridis
succinea type
And finally to confirm another first; apparently my Glossy Ibis sighting on the 16th (see previous post) was indeed a first confirmed record for Gateshead, so lets have another look at it :-)

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
A first record for Gateshead

So three firsts in two days at my local patch, not bad going for a much-maligned site.

And should you like further information on the Lichen case-bearing moths, here's the link :

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Patch Mega

Having been confined to barracks for best part of a fortnight it was a pleasure to get out of the house this morning. I knew there wouldn't be any dragonflies around but all these easterly winds turning up rarities at the coast had me thinking there must be something at Far Pasture waiting to be discovered. 
I was disappointed, not even a goldcrest to be seen. A few more robins than usual but only a few wagtails on the pans and a couple of proper British accentors foraging the trees (none of this Siberian rubbish) and a steady stream of skylarks overhead.
Disappointed, I had a look in the hide where a lone photographer was seated. I'd only been in long enough to note the water level was down again and the reeds blocking the left-hand pond had been strimmed away, when I looked up to see a large, long-necked bird going over at quite a height. Heron? I thought, as it's not unknown for them to fly with outstretched neck occasionally, but as it banked around to circle the pond I got my bins on it and it revealed a long, curved beak :-O
Wow! Had to be an Ibis I thought, but with camera still packed away in my bag and fearing it was about to fly straight over I pointed it out to the 'bloke with a camera' and asked him to get a photo, which he did.
I fumbled for my own camera while keeping one eye on the sky and thankfully the bird circled again, dropping lower as it did so and indeed kept coming lower as I at last rattled off a few shots, unfortunately blurry ones on macro setting :-(
But as I struggled in the panic to get it right the bird continued to circle and drop lower, it definitely seemed like it was looking to land. Alas, the local jackdaws were having none of it. They chased it skywards again then handed over to a couple of gulls to escort it from the premises. Gutted.
But at least I got one half decent shot as it banked away.

My one decent shot of the Far Pasture Glossy Ibis

Soon it was a distant blot in the sky, and our boc views revealed no more than the silhouette of a dark bird in the gloom, though it had to be a Glossy Ibis. But as I don't twitch (in fact I don't birdwatch much at all nowadays) so have no reason to look up rarities unless I see something out of the norm,  and with no fieldguide between us, 'probable' it was until I could get home.

A pleasant half hour or so chatting with Ian (my new found acquaintance) followed, then off home to confirm our sighting. On the way home I found where all the wagtails had been hiding, with a dozen in a freshly-ploughed field off the Derwent Walk, mostly pieds, with one white, one grey and one with strange facial markings I haven't been able to pin down yet.

Dark markings in a stripe front back and under the eye, all the others had
pure white/yellowish face. Plumage looked too contrasting and neat
to be a juv. Answers on a postcard please . .

My first Redwings of the autumn also, as I waited to cross the A694 a flock of 60+ went low overhead from the local dene (followed by a single over the garden later).
But as Ian's photos show (better than mine) a Glossy Ibis goes on my Gateshead list, my second rarity find at Far Pasture, following the Red-rumped Swallow back in 2009.

Glossy Ibis
courtesy of Ian Hey

Unsure if it's a Gateshead first, but a patch 'Mega' all the same, wasn't what I was looking for when I went out this morning, but it'll do for me :-)     

Monday, 3 October 2016

Darting about on Hands and Knees (and Toes)

Some days the hunter becomes the hunted. It certainly felt like that today during a trip to Stargate, where I thought I might have my last chance to see a Ruddy Darter this year. I tried Gibside yesterday but didn't see a single dragon, and only common darters (and not many of them) were showing at Far Pasture during the week.
At Stargate the bog pond and a small section of the main pond are overgrown with emergent vegetation (their favoured habitat) and a sunny early October day gave an opportunity to check it out. But in the event I drew a blank, not a Ruddy to be found, though I checked upwards of 30 red darters on both ponds which all turned out to be Common.

But my secondary target of Black Darter was much more successful. Three males on the bog pond, another male on the main pond and a female went to ground between the two, so a successful day on that count.
I got my first ever Gateshead Black Darter here in 2011 (October 1st), I remember it well as I cycled up here on a sunny Saturday morning after watching England beat Scotland in the Rugby World Cup of that year. Two brief sightings of males was all I got that day, though an ovipositing Moorland Hawker and a late Emerald damsel were good sightings too, so 4 males and a female was a good return today, though apart from the Common Darters there were no other species to record.
And the female was actually the first I've seen and photographed in Gateshead.

But back to the beginning; the tables were turned as I tried to hunt down the darters with my camera, as they kept landing on me, first on my knee as I crouched to photograph one on the ground, then on my hand as I waited for one to land, and finally on the toe of my boot as again I waited for one to settle close by. It's not unusual for darters to land on you but three in half an hour was a bit cheeky I thought. Here's a photographic record of the day's events :

A Black Darter in the hand . . .

. . . is worth another on the knee . . .

. . . and a Common Darter on the toes.

The day had started with a few Common Darters flitting in the sunshine . . .

. . .before the first Black Darter settled close by.

The darter in the hand was a well worn mature individual, typical of this time of year . . .

. . . and he wasn't easy to shake off as I fumbled with my camera in one hand,
am actually surprised I got a few shots in relative good focus as I couldn't
change any settings.
Moving on to the main pond, the pale rocks were a magnet for basking darters 

I could walk right across the pond on the dry rocky bed, as the water level was as bad as I've seen it.

And eventually I found another Black Darter among the commons
This individual flew past my head, I knew it was something different so followed it to where it landed
in the grass, at first view thinking it may be a female Ruddy . . .

. . . but as I walked around, taking care not to flush it with my shadow, it became obvious that
she was a Black Darter, my first photographic record in Gateshead :-)

The light was so strong for October. Females typically come to the pond in the late
afternoon for ovipositing after mating in the morning. Less chance of being
accosted by another male then. It was about 2.30 when this one appeared. 

Back to the bog pond but no more Black Darters, just a few commons
still flitting around in the sunshine.

Other highlights were cracking views of a Green Woodpecker as it flitted along the tree-line, singing chiffchaffs, a painted Lady butterfly and a field vole scurrying across the road as I left the reserve. A canny little session, for what is most likely my last dragonhunt of what has seemed all too brief a season.