Sunday, 25 June 2017

Twitch, Dip and Skim

Seeing a photo of a Red-veined Darter on Ron H's 'NotManyWords' blog from Friday had me foaming at the mouth to get to Kibblesworth to try and locate it.
I've had a feeling one might turn up there (or a Lesser Emperor) before long as there have been many sightings of both of these migrant species all over the country so far this year. But with the kids wanting to go out Sunday I had to risk trekking over there yesterday despite the wind and periods of cloud cover in an attempt to find it.

In the event, after a shaky start it didn't turn out too bad, but despite a good three hours on site the Red-veined Darter was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed but not gutted (I keep telling myself), as it's not a lifer, not even a Gateshead tick. I photographed one at the same site back in 2006, but it would have been nice to get better pics, and it's good to know the first one wasn't a fluke, so always worth looking out for (yeah, I think I am gutted) :-(

Red veined Darter, Kibblesworth July 2006 - the one I did see :-)
Luckily, it was still an enjoyable session with 9 species seen on the day. New for the year were a few teneral Common Darters and a couple of Emerald damsels. Four-spotted Chasers were too many to count, a couple of male Emperors on occasion and Broad-bodied Chasers mainly on the relatively new smaller pond numbered maybe 4 males and 2 females.

Plenty of action to keep me entertained, but the stars were the Black-tailed skimmers. I haven't had too much luck with this species over the years and when I do encounter them I've found them to be very wary of attempts to photograph them. This was the first occasion I've had the X-S1 to get them with, and the results made the trip worth while :

Black-tailed Skimmer (mature male)
About as close as I could get early doors

A better angle this time, but could I sneak a closer view? 

Yip, strong sunlight on pale background though.

Back to a more typical view

This mating pair landed not far away but an obstructed view

Luckily they flew up and landed somewhere more open, I approached with stealth
and got a bucketful of close-ups

Good view of the grip, hanging on for dear life.

A change of view

Quite pleased with some of those, I didn't want to get too close as they seem to be a wary species
and fly off, I think I was lucky to get this close.

Single females weren't easy to tie down for a photo, this the best I could get

A bit easier when in tandem, but that head lock doesn't look too comfortable

I think that's what the kids call these days a 'face plant' 
For all Kibblesworth is the best site in the borough for range of species, I've always found it hard going to get decent photos, probably as it's quite a large site with a lot of ground to cover. Invariably the species you're looking for is tantalisingly just too distant, often leads you on the proverbial merry dance and it's all too easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That said, I've had some cracking photos there but it certainly isn't a site you can expect a quick visit to deliver. Despite the numbers present, it needs to be worked more than other more intimate sites where there's also less choice of target species.
I targeted the Skimmers today and managed decent results, but my photos of the Chasers and damsels leave a lot to be desired, and I didn't even bother with the Emperors. I think I'll post them another day, seeing as the forecast for the week isn't great, best leave something for a slack week.

Friday, 23 June 2017

I Just Can't Get Enough . . .

. . . sang Depeche Mode back in 1981, though (being a metalhead) I was more likely to be listening to Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Iron Maiden or Saxon at the time. And whereas the song referred to a relationship, my blog title refers to Banded Demoiselles, the heavy metal (if not glam-rock) dudes of the dragonfly world.   

With a spare couple of hours yesterday I made another trip to the riverside in mixed conditions, after first checking out Clockburn Lake.
No Black-tailed Skimmer today, but the male Emperor was patrolling again, and showing a lot better and closer than on my previous visit. Half a dozen Four-spotted Chasers and a helluva lot of azure and blue-tailed damsels (mainly on the outlet stream) were good to see too.

Back down to the riverbank opposite Hagg Hill (I'll call it Bomb bank I think, after the nearby bomb crater, left over from WWII but still highly visible) and after a slow start a lot of action with the demoiselles, sadly for me mostly on the river itself, the nearside of which is hidden from view, so I had to settle for watching the antics along the opposite side of the river, and it made great viewing, males chasing around in packs of four or five, or in a string chasing a single female.
Estimate of totals today were 10+ males and 5+ females, and occasionally singles came away from the water to perch giving me opportunities to photograph my favourite critters, though still no mating shot :

Male Banded Demoiselle, settled nice and close for my best shot of the day

Female, partly hidden but still a decent shot.

This female a lot duller than the previous one. I'm not sure if they naturally change colour
with age, but the discolouration on the abdomen of this specimen will be a result of dipping her rear end
in the river while ovipositing.  

I tried to capture some action on the other side of the river, but photo quality is poor
a mere illustration of their colourful fluttering flight.

Not sure what's going on here, but legs dangling means he's possibly either about to land
or capture a tasty titbit.

And another pic of that cracking male to finish

Walking back through the meadows I just decided to photograph anything which caught my eye and was in good view, here's the best of the rest :

Firstly, the only pic I took at Clockburn Lake, male Azure damsel perhaps visiting his former self,
ie the exuvia attached to the stem below

A good number of Meadow Browns on the wing today, also many Ringlets, otherwise just singles of other
Butterflies like Speckled Wood, Small Skipper and a small white type.

Forest Bug, a very rugged-looking Shieldbug 

This I presume is a type of Cassis Fly, though I stand to be corrected
Not even a good photo, just liked it 'cos it looks like a clip-on tie  

Hover Fly probably Helophilus pendulus

Looking at the stunted wings I thought this was an under-developed Capsid Bug, of which there were many
on the umbilifers close by, but I find it is a fully formed female Meadow Plant Bug which
(unlike the male) has naturally stunted wings.

There was quite a variety of solitary and ichneumon type wasps in the meadows, this large beast being
the most noticeable and probably the most numerous, but strangely not in my guide so will look it up later.

These impressive beasts were the most abundant species in the meadow
Five-spot Burnet, the demoiselles of the moth world

A type of Soldier beetle, but which regiment I'm not sure

My first Longhorn Beetle of the year, a dark colour variation
of Strangalia maculata 

Close by was this more typical variation showing much more yellow

And back at home another opportunity presented itself when a leafcutter bee (complete with cut leaf giving me an instant clue to the identity) landed beside me on the patio. Luckily I was just reviewing the day's photos through the viewfinder on my camera so was able to capture the moment very well (if I do say so myself.) Sometimes you need a stroke of luck, but more often it's just a matter of keeping your eyes open :

Leafcutter Bee Megachile centuncularis taking a rest after hauling a large piece of leaf from one of me shrubs.

The leaf was an obvious clue to ID, but the orangey pollen brush underside is a distinguishing feature
from similar bees

A second stop-off a bit later, the leaf parts are used to make sausage-shaped nest cells
in a variety of cavities

Another canny day with some interesting finds. Truly I just can't get enough of this macroworld.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Instant Karma

My Father's Day 'treat' of going to Hamsterley Forest so I could locate and photograph a Golden-ringed Dragonfly yesterday ended in disaster, to say the least.
I misjudged the journey time by about half an hour and long before we got there the heat had taken its toll on the mood of the kids, overheated, tired, bored, grumpy, whingeing, fighting. Just a normal day out really but consequently any thought of looking for dragonflies was knocked right back, and for the sake of our sanity we just had to do what the kids wanted to do (ie the adventure trail) but even that was by no means straight forward.

To cut a long story short it was one of the worst days out I can remember, a relief to get home. And it means despite many attempts at many different sites since I first saw a Golden-ringed at Pow Hill back in 2012, I still haven't managed to photograph one. A prime target for this summer, it's getting personal now.
Anyway, I digress.
Today I decided to have a big dragonfly day to make up for yesterday. I really wanted to go to Kibblesworth but the heat wasn't agreeable with a long walk so in the end I thought I'd just stay in the valley, Far Pasture was wick with Chasers I'd heard, so set out with that aim in mind.

First stop, Clockburn Lake to see what damsels were about, just a journey break really, but at the outlet stream I was greeted with the sight of the aftermath of the local arseholes Sunday barbecue, what a feckin' mess :

Not a pleasant sight to be greeted with

The sunshine certainly brings the scumbags out in force, but I couldn't just leave it like that

So using some of their own discarded 5p bags I cleared up, 2 minutes it took 

All fit nicely in a couple of bags, another 2 minute walk to the nearest bin and that's all it took.
See how easy it is scumbags?

As I placed the bagged up carnage in the bin I thought (what with yesterday and now this), it's only fair if I get rewarded for my good deed, at which point I spotted a large hawker type dragonfly zipping overhead towards the lake. I followed it down to the lakeside thinking it was too early for hawkers so was likely an Emperor.
But at the lake shore the first dragon I spotted looked like a Four-spotted Chaser, nothing unusual in that, but when it alighted in front of me and I got it in my Papilios, I could see instantly it was actually a Black-tailed Skimmer :-O

Wow! moment.    

Totally unexpected, a site first and (if I say so myself) a brilliant find. I last saw a Black-tailed Skimmer way back in 2013 at Kibblesworth, which since its discovery in 2006, has been up to now the only site in the borough to host the  species.  So it could be a significant find if not just a stray, time will tell on that score, but being another species I've managed to dip consistently in recent years, the instant Karma of the situation did not go un-noticed. Here are some pics :

The blue tinge to the abdomen instantly ruled out Four-spot

and everything else pointed to Black-tailed Skimmer

Even managed a flight shot.

By now confirmed as an immature male

From some angles the abdomen looking distinctly blue

But later on I found it was all a trick of the light

The large dragonfly which drew my attention originally did indeed turn out to be an Emperor (male) but stuck to the far side of the lake, where it mingled with half a dozen Four-spotted chasers, and with 4 species of damsel on show too, a 7-species visit.

Eventually I carried on my way, Far Pasture beckoned. No bulls in the field this year so off I trotted to the Chaser Pond, where 6-8 Four-spotted Chasers showed well, not too much prolonged perching, too busy skirmishing, and just one female appeared which was quickly pounced upon by a male for a brief mating session. A male and female Broad-bodied Chaser also showed briefly but no pics, and again a large hawker type came on the scene, which after much trying to pin down an ID I concluded this time a female Emperor, a basically dull-looking insect in flight, but its hyper-activity not helping matters.  I must pop back here and set up a fake perch, its a lovely pond and brimming with action in my short visit today.
A Grasshopper Warbler sang a couple of times from distance, and a Buzzard being hassled by a pair of kestrels were the avian highlights.

Best shot I could get of the male Emperor at Clockburn Lake, not even a good record shot

At Far Pasture I loved the effect of the reflections in the water on this otherwise
distinctly average 4-spot Chaser pic.

Another 4-spot, probably about 8 individuals here, a good count for this small pond

Best shot I could get of the female Emperor at Far Pasture

Common Buzzard (bottom) getting a lot of grief from a pair
of kestrels, (top and middle)

With the Broad-bodied Chasers I now had 8 species for the day, so thought I'd walk back along the riverside meadows to try for a Banded Demoiselle or two.
And just when I thought I was out of luck I came across Four males right where the slow section of the river changes to fast-flowing shallows. Marvellous! That's Nine species for the day in the valley, can't remember the last time I had that many, the good year continues :-)

Can't resist the Banded Demoiselles, and didn't expect to find four together.

Another gratuitous demoiselle shot

and another

and another

A bit different, this one out over the river

Now it was back to Clockburn Lake for another bash at the Skimmer, still patrolling and alighting in the same area so I was able to get a few more snaps from different angles:

From this angle you can see the abdomen is still more or less black and olive with a reflective sheen

Same insect, different angle and the blue pruinescence reflects in the sunlight   

Looks different with each varying angle, but first immature male I've photographed,
so an excellent encounter all round.
On the way home the flower meadows was alive with burnet moths and I also came across a couple of Harlequin Ladybirds.

Lots of these brightly coloured moths about, so got three for the price of one

A harlequin ladybird, saw my first last year, two on this plant, our native species may be worried

What a great day, Sunday's tribulations consigned to the memory bin, and even though this one started off just as badly I'll remember it for the right reasons for a long time :-) 

Emperor dragonfly - 2 (1m 1f)
Black-tailed Skimmer - 1 (imm. m)
Four-spotted Chaser - c16 (plus one which ended up in the stomach of a reed bunting)
Broad-bodied Chaser - 2 (1m 1f)
Banded Demoiselle - 4 (males)
Large Red damsel - c6
Blue-tailed damsel - 10+
Common Blue damsel - 10+
Azure damsel - 40+