Thursday, 24 November 2016

Review - October 2016 and Summing Up

The good weather continued into early October, enabling me to carry out one final mission, to find a Gateshead Black Darter at Stargate Ponds.
A visit on the 3rd came up trumps, with 4 males and a female, and 30+ common darters being not far off a best count of the year.

Black Darter male was happy to help out when I was struggling
to get close enough for a photo on the boggy ground.

The first female Black Darter I've ever photographed in Gateshead

That indeed proved to be the last hunt of the late summer sun, as temperatures plummeted soon after, but a good day out to finish the season.
Afterwards just a few snatched visits to Far Pasture on the odd sunny day where, with autumn now well and truly kicking in, I took my final pictures on the 17th. Stragglers hung on at Far Pasture and Shibdon, with Migrant Hawkers being reported almost to the end of the month, but I wasn't able to get out any more so that was the end of the Dragon Hunting Season for me for 2016.

A late season Common Darter photoshopped at Far Pasture on the 17th

Autumn Darter, a colourful composition from the same day

My original shot, it only settled long enough for one click of the camera, so not bad considering.

Summary of  the season in Gateshead :

A warm spring had meant early damsels, but June was a washout and summer months only gave us sporadic periods of decent weather. Combined with my own inability to get out very often this meant it was a mainly forgettable season. Like last year, the late season sunshine was a much-needed bonus, but sadly it didn't last into November like 2015 had.
Of my local sites, Far Pasture gave me the worst year I can remember. The Forbidden Pond was barren after its 'clean-up' last winter, the Chaser Pond I'll never know if it was as good as last year as the resident Jersey family put me off investigating it, and there was hardly a dragon or damsel to be seen on the main pond.
The roadside was good for early damsels, but even these were few in number. No chasers, no Ruddy Darter for the first time since recording began, very low numbers of Common Darter and below average numbers of late-season Hawkers. All-in-all, a measly 2 out of 10.

Thornley Woods Pond was excellent early season, with emerging red damsels kicking us off in early May and a record number of Southern Hawkers emerging in late June and early July. However, visits during August and September revealed very few damsels of any description, and even fewer adult hawkers, a bitter disappointment as I didn't witness a single ovipositing female. 6 out of 10 for a season of two halves.

The River Derwent was another big disappointment with very few Banded Demoiselles being sighted despite many attempts to catch up with them and good numbers being reported from other local rivers, ie the Teams and the Wear. 2 out of 10, just hope it improves next year.

Gibside is a bit difficult to evaluate, as the couple of visits I did manage came up trumps with early season damsels and especially the Emeralds in early July. However I just wasn't able to get there at the times I wanted, and visits with the family were generally on overcast days. The Walled garden Pond was a disappointment, I hoped to catch a Ruddy Darter here as I have done in past years, but apart from a couple of red damsels there wasn't a dragon to be seen. 7 out of 10 for damsels, 0 out of 10 for dragons.

My one visit to Kibblesworth saw me dipping on my target species of Black-tailed Skimmer, another poor day overall rescued only by a couple of Emperors. 1 out of 10 (for the Emperors).

All that seems like a disastrous year, but there were a couple of sites which bucked the trend :

Shibdon Pond; not a site I visit with any regularity but late season Migrant Hawkers have become a highlight of the calendar. This year I got exceptional views and photos of a pair in a mating wheel, THE highlight of the season, so a mighty 8 out of 10 for this site.

One site which didn't let me down this year was Stargate. Two visits, one early season for the chasers, and one late season for Black Darters, were both excellent days out for numbers of dragonflies present, photographs taken and entertainment. 9 out of 10, I really should visit here more often.

By next spring I'm hoping to have moved on to a new patch, I do hope so as I really need a change of venue and the challenge of exploring new sites. The valley is becoming a bit stale with my most frequented sites not producing the goods in the last couple of years. Hopefully a good summer weather-wise is all that's needed, but Far Pasture will take a few years to recover from the Forbidden Pond being cleaned out, and Thornley woods Pond is in a bit of a state; emergent grasses are taking over, the pond itself is full of leaf litter (unavoidable in the middle of a woodland) meaning it's devoid of aquatic plants, and the water is teeming with Sticklebacks, enemy of all aquatic larvae and tadpoles. The future don't look too bright.    

Doom and gloom, but I'm always hopeful that next year will be better, no matter where I am. :-)

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