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.


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