Saturday, 16 September 2017

Homecoming

Back to Monday and I had a meeting in Thornley Woodlands Centre so took advantage of being on that side of the Valley by taking in a visit to Far Pasture, my first since late June.
As a site it's seen better days. Overgrown and high water levels mean there's never much more than the residents to see on the main pond, and viewing from the road is now much hampered by the thriving hawthorn hedge blocking sight of the main field opposite the car park. The roadside verges are way overgrown, covering the fence all the way along which was always likely to attract numerous basking darters in late summer.
Despite all this I really enjoyed a couple of hours wandering up and down the road looking for dragons, this had been my local patch for 12 years, it has given me some of my favourite wildlife watching moments, it was like visiting an old friend back in my home town, and in the main I wasn't disappointed.

My target was Ruddy Darter, last year I failed for the first time to find one at Far Pasture despite many visits. Today I checked and double-checked every darter I encountered along the roadside, but no luck.
Up to 3 Migrant Hawkers and a single Moorland were sighted in the bull field area (and half a dozen bulls), but it was the forbidden pond which came up trumps.
It's looking a lot better now, and the darters seemed to like it with over a dozen ovipositing pairs and several single males patrolling and fighting, but the biggest surprise was the damselflies. I would expect to get Emeralds this late in the season and saw 2 males, last year I had a late common blue on September 18th, today (11th) there were 3 present, but the biggest surprise was seeing a Blue-tailed damselfly with them, my previous late record being August 20th in 2015 (though I had reports of 8+ the same year at Kibllesworth on Sept 7th).
I also had a possible Ruddy Darter sighting here, a small red darter hovering in front of me momentarily before zipping off over a nettle bed never to be seen again, it looked good, deep red abdomen, bulging at the tip and looked relatively small, but I guess I'll never know for sure.

Basking dragons on the visible sections of roadside fence - a male common darter

A female common darter

The same female common darter

Hello!

Big zoom record shot of one of the three common blue damsels on the Forbidden Pond

Big zoom record shot of the male blue-tailed damsel in the same area

Still plenty of Red Admirals around, been a brilliant late summer for this species

And another
All in all a great session with 6 (possibly 7) species seen not a bad effort for this late in the season(I'm sure if I'd made more of an effort I could have found a Southern hawker as well.) And despite its shortcomings I really miss my regular visits to Far Pasture, will have to make more of an effort next year.  

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Last but Certainly not Least

Having missed most of the summer dragonflies thanks to school hols, crappy weather and more pressing things to do (not to mention I'm no longer just a 10 minute walk from Far Pasture so can't just pop out for an hour whenever the opportunity arises) I took the afternoon off from gardening (now the kids are back at school there's plenty to be done there too) and popped down to Shibdon Pond while the Sun shone, in hope of catching up with the last dragon to emerge (but by no means the least), the Autumn (Migrant) Hawker.

The days of this species being purely a late season migrant are well and truly in the past, so I much prefer the common name given to them in Ireland, the Autumn Hawker. A much more appropriate and evocative name I think, and this colourful little dragonfly is my favourite of the resident hawker species.

Over the last couple of years a September visit to Shibdon Pond has been one of the highlights of the dragonhunting season, thanks to Shibdon George sending me his photos which made me want to give it a go, and I haven't been let down yet (though it may take two or three sessions to get good close views), getting superb photos of a female for the first time two years ago, and even better ones of a mating pair last year.
First visit in the sunshine this year then, and the open pool area along the boardwalk as usual proving to be the best area for patrolling hawkers, with up to four seen here, and one further along by the tall reedbed, all males, and only one real opportunity for photos as one alighted in the open just by the boardwalk.

Male Autumn Hawker, diagnostic yellow T at base of abdomen

Close in to see other distinguishing features like antehumeral pips rather than stripes of the similar Moorland Hawker,
and brown costa (front wing vein) rather than yellow of that species.

Closer still you can see a defect on the right eye, the black patch at the rear right,
will give him a substantial blind spot on that side.

The abdomen in detail
Combination of powder blue and lemon yellow on a varied warm brown base makes this the most
eye-catching of mosaic hawkers in close-up  

The same hawker from a different angle. He rose from his previous perch to briefly skirmish with another
passing male, then settled again much deeper in the reeds.

I tried to get a flight shot but this was the best I could do, quite poor.

The session was worth it just for that one close view. I also took time to examine his superb markings at close quarters through the Papilios, a striking little dragonfly.
I had a good walk around the site with other dragonfly sightings being a single male Southern Hawker and 5 Common Darters (3m2f), also Red Admirals were still out in decent numbers, maybe 8 in a small area, and similar numbers of Speckled Wood scattered about.

Eventually a large block of cloud spoiled the fun so I had a 20 minute stint in the hide before heading home, highlights being 3 Redshank, 3 Snipe, 102 Lapwings, 3 Shoveler, a Kingfisher and a Swallow. Also a flyover Sparrowhawk put everything up once.

Three Snipe enjoying the sunshine at Shibdon

Canny session, my first decent outing in a good while, no doubt I'll be back for more when time and weather allow :-)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

That was the Summer that Wasn't


August is almost at an end and amazingly I haven't seen a dragonfly for 3 weeks (since we visited Cragside), which sums the school hols up nicely.
The only chance I've had for nature-watching in that time was a trip to Alnmouth last week, where I caught up with a few seabirds I haven't seen in a while, at least until the dogs chased them off and then the incoming tide ensured they couldn't return.

Plenty of Terns but at this distance my ID skills not good enough to fathom if there were any other species
bar sandwich and Common, 4 species of gull, oyks and cormorants made up the rest. 

On the sea this Guillemot was the only bird in photo range, but a raft of maybe a dozen Goosanders,
Cormorants, fishing terns and further out Gannets and Common Scoter kept me entertained while
the kids played. 

Plenty of Oyks about, with noisy flyovers totalling around 60 birds.

Otherwise it's been garden-watching only. The Buddleas took a while to bloom but eventually attracted quite a few species of butterfly, though not in any great number. And now the blooms are all but gone it's noticeable the butterflies are all but gone now too. I tried to get a photo of every species which came to the garden but failed with fly through Ringlet and Common Blue back in July, here are those I did manage to snap :

Red Admirals were most regular and most numerous, though peaking at only 3 shows how
low in numbers butterflies were in general. 

Small Torts maxed out at 2 though pretty regular

This rather faded Meadow Brown was a regular visitor for a couple of weeks

Comma, my favourite butterfly and this my favourite photo from the garden this year

Poor photo of a Small White but the only one I could get of this flighty visitor 

 
Large White was a bit more obliging, only visited on a couple of occasions

Another Comma, love the jigsaw puzzle shapes of the outer wings

 
Comma from the topside, contrasting orange and black, lovely colouring

Speckled Wood, another favourite, this one had extremely grey underparts 

Not sure if this was the same Speck Wood, taken same day but at different time
Peacocks took their time to find the Buddleas, but once they did were pretty regular.
Can't believe this is the best shot I got. 

Small Copper seen on a couple of occasions, another little beaut.



Green-veined White was the last species to visit just last week

Here it is showing the green veins
The only notable absentee has been Painted Lady, in fact I haven't seen any this year at all anywhere.

Though the birds are the most easy to attract and observe in the garden, I always like to see vertebrates other than the feathered kind, it always seems a bit more special, and the weekend turned up trumps with a grey squirrel running along the back fence to check out the feeders, though they are presently empty and fewer in number thanks to a pack of 'hooligan' squirrels earlier in the summer (more on that another time.)
Later that evening as I put a bathroom spider out the front door, a Woodmouse ran down the front steps, stopped and stared at me for a few seconds. then dashed into a hole in the dry stone wall. Pleased with that, my first mouse sighting, though MBH had seen one out the back a couple of times.

On Sunday my lawn-mowing disturbed a Common Frog from its hiding place among the border plants, which hung around long enough for me to show the kids and get a few snaps.

Common Frog, could obviously read

I pointed at the sign and it said "Reddit!"

Hopefully sticks around in the damp undergrowth, must dig meself a pond.

Pleased with that one too, another garden first. The 2 or 3 Pipistrelles we watch at dusk flitting around the garden as part of their larger circuit including the sycamores over the road made it a 4 vertebrate weekend, they never land obviously but come low enough and close enough to the windows to count them as a garden tick in my book :-/

Just as well the garden keeps me entertained, 'cos if that was the summer . . . . . What the Heck?      

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Back in the Game

After a fairly barren July (to say the least), it was good to get a bit of dragon hunting in at one of my favourite spots, namely the Slipper Tarn (or lake) at Cragside in Northumberland.
A family visit so not as much free time to spend there as I'd like, but it never lets me down at this time of year as long as the weather is reasonable, being home to a rich population of Black Darters, and an ample supporting cast of hawkers and damsels.

Today it was one of those Murphy's days, the Sun shone as we drove up the A1, the A697, the B6341, along the Estate Drive in Cragside to the Nelly's Moss car park, and for most of our walk towards the Tarn, but with the dark waters in sight it disappeared behind cloud, and never reappeared for more than a few seconds at a time for the rest of the day.
An all too typical scenario lately, but even so there were dragons on show, the pond margins a bit bereft of cover as for the second year running we seem to have chosen a day when the strimmers had been out, but good numbers of Emerald damsels showed with plenty of tandem and ovipositing pairs.

I find Emerald damsels generally the easiest to approach though the dull conditions helped.
At last I managed to get a 'peek-a-boo' photo in relative good focus, an obliging mature male.

Many tandem pairs on show


Making their way down the stems to begin ovipositing

And another look at the peek-a-boo male 

I was hoping to get a close encounter with a Moorland Hawker after reading TrogTrogBlog on Sunday which contains some superb photos of a perched up male, but the only one I saw was on continuous patrol around the pond, likewise a male Southern Hawker so no photos.

Black Darters didn't let me down though, they'd obviously been emerging during the sun-drenched morning as many a teneral rose up from the grass cuttings as I passed, a second wave by the look of it as a few mature individuals were also present, and a single Large Red damsel completed the array of species seen today.
Here's the best of the photos :

Hit lucky on arrival with this tandem pair of Black Darters landing on a dead stem just off the track

With the Sun behind clouds I was able to manoeuvre around

 
And get closer to see the male's grip on the stem,
 hmmm maybe clouds do have silver linings

Focussing on the female

She certainly has a smile on her face

Great to get such an unusual angle

one of many tenerals in the grass, this one a female

Again well settled so closed in




Around for a front view

A final close-up

Another teneral, this one a male, you can tell by the shape of the abdomen from above
waisted and slightly clubbed.

A distant shot of a mature male

Single female Large Red damselfly, not many around now, certainly no male suitors for this one

It's always a great day out at Cragside with something to keep the whole family happy, for me it's the dragonflies (obviously) and the amount of wild space to get away from the crowds. I only wish folk with dogs would abide by the 'on leads only' rule that apply at National Trust sites, I now offer gentle reminders to anyone not doing so as my kids are very nervy of dogs, one of the reasons we started going to NT estates in the first place. Today there were more than usual, one even jumped up at them which caused panic. Don't know why many dog owners don't care less about other folk re leads, keeping control, crapping, and respecting wildlife, selfish muppets that's all
Rant over.