Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Tiger, Tiger . . .

Gibside today, hoping to continue my run of good form with the damselflies, the Lily pond there has been one of the best sites locally for damsels, easy access, photo-friendly, and plenty of them.

I was hoping there was going to be a lot of Large Reds about, a couple of years ago I found my one and only melanotum form female (mostly black abdomen), by far the rarest of the three forms, though it was a case of shoot first and ask questions later, as I had the kids in tow that day and didn't have time to study anything so just photographed as many individuals as I could and found it later as I reviewed the photos on the laptop. So thinking there should be a lot out by now, thought I'd try my luck again.

Today however there wasn't a lot about unfortunately, and it was disappointing to see that most of the lush vegetation used as shelter and perching posts had been removed from the front of the pond, opening it up presumably for access for pond dipping, (a popular pastime hereabouts) but could explain the unusual low numbers of damsels today. Or maybe I've been spoiled by my success yesterday and the unseasonal hot spell, forgetting it's still relatively early in the dragonfly season for big numbers to be about.

Anyway, just a few reds to be seen, more azures but mainly immatures and the odd teneral, nowt special at all really.

So, disappointing from a damsel point, but that was inconsequential as I had already stumbled across  an insect I'd always wanted to find in Gateshead, an insect buzzing around my feet like a large greenbottle, and it wasn't until it landed that I discovered it was a beetle, a Green Tiger Beetle :-O.

Green Tiger Beetle - what a beaut
for once waited for me to get my camera out of the bag so I could get a photograph

Though it didn't hang around for long. I lost it when it flew up into the grassy bank

Back to the damsels - a teneral azure (male)

immature azure (male)

One of the few large reds - an immature male

I'd only ever seen these cracking insects once before, at Waskerley Reservoir where I was fascinated by their speed across the sandy floor, and never got a good look at one as they were non-stop, like they were powered by Duracell.
They're widespread but not common, found in open sandy soils where they use their speed on the ground to chase down their prey, ants, spiders, mainly stuff which doesn't fly away. They're actually good flyers themselves, like I said, this one was buzzing around me like a big fly. Their larvae dig pits in the soil and catch passing insects for food. 
I made it a 'bucket list' beetle there and then, I had to find one in Gateshead, and get a photograph; job done. :-)

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A Demoiselle First

Love it when a plan comes up trumps.
Living now in close proximity to the best stretch of the River Derwent for Banded Demoiselles, I'd already planned to make an earlier than usual visit to the Hagg Hill area to look for immature or (dare I dream) emerging Demoiselles (I usually first visit early June).
This morning I put my plan into action, though being a school day much later than I would have liked. I set off along Woodhouse Lane (being careful to avoid the increasing amount of dog poo) and decided to try a new route by going down a path I'd never tried before, and lo and behold, it brought me out on to the Dewent Walk exactly where I wanted to be, to traverse the meadows and reach the river banks at the slow moving stretch by Hagg Hill less than 15 mins. after leaving home.
Part one of the plan a success, now to see if I could find a demoiselle.

To be honest I wasn't really expecting to, thinking it was probably too early still, but had to have a go otherwise I'd always wonder. So I couldn't believe my luck when the very first patch of emergent waterside vegetation I scanned, I found a male demoiselle half-hidden in shade.

The unmistakeable Banded Demoiselle, even half hidden.

Because of his position right on the river edge and semi-hidden he wasn't at all easy to reach for decent photos (most of which I've chucked) so I moved on, as where there was one there had to be more, but it proved to be a case of beginners luck, with no more to be found after a good 40 minute search, so I returned to my first stop and matey boy was still there, though had moved a bit further along his 'clump'.

Scores of these down by the river
An unusual type of froghopper Cercopis vulnerata

Two more, I'm guessing a male and female

Not sure if this little critter is a Ladybird
Looks the part but strange patterning.

I took further photos of the demoiselle, more in the open now so I was pretty sure this was an immature individual, his pale chocolate eyes and 'wing ports' differing from the usual black (eyes) and red/brown (wing ports) of the mature individuals I'm more familiar with.

Look at those pale brown eyes

Good shot of the pale wing ports

Not too bad as I held the camera at arms length and shot without being
able to look through the viewfinder 

He got sick of my probing and flew a bit further out in the open for at last a decent view (almost)
The Prussian blue wing spots only really showed from certain angles, obviously the pigment wasn't at
full strength yet.

I left him there, and retraced my steps back to the Derwent Walk, where I ambled along to my next port of call, Clockburn Lake outlet stream, via the Butterfly Bridge.
Here there were many a damsel out in the sunshine, mainly blue-tailed and azure, some of which were paired up and ovipositing, and eventually I found my first Large Red of the year, a mature male, followed by another two singles and also two tandem pairs, which proved difficult to photograph.
I tried in vain to locate a Common Blue damsel to give me a full house of early species but to no  avail.

Couldn't resist this Goosander family as it sped past in close formation along the river
by the outlet stream.

A rufescens form immature female blue-tail

And what she will eventually become - rufescens obsoleta, the mature form

Mature male blue-tail

Teneral blue-tail, I watched it flutter up from the margins and land on the wall

Plenty of Azure damsels at Clockburn lake too, mostly mature males

This one was actually trying to dislodge some poo

About half a dozen pairs were ovipositing in one
sheltered patch  
This immature blue-form female was enjoying a snack

Immature green-form female with one deformed wing,
though it didn't appear to hamper her much.

Male Large Red damsel, fully mature
my first of the year.

Another male was very fond of this rock by the stream, kept returning 

Looks like a lunar landscape

He was giving me some looks, even raising himself up in some threatening posture
as he stared me out

Back at home a bit of research and I'm convinced today's find had freshly emerged in the early hours of this morning, the pale parts I mentioned earlier a sign of this. Tenerals and immatures are incredibly difficult to find, from what I gather they generally emerge very early morning under cover of darkness, and males very quickly develop the metallic blue/green colouring and blue wing patches. Certainly the first immature I've seen, so my cunning plan came good, a happy lad am I.     

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Peek - a - Blue

Needed to get out today to find some damsels, but with cloudy skies it wasn't going to be easy. Clockburn Lake was my site of choice as it's inhabited by a good population of Blue-tailed damsels, and one of the things I like about this species is it doesn't tend to shy away from the gloom like others, maybe their smaller size and heat-retaining dark colouration has something to do with it. Even this early in the season there should be a few emerged by now, so even in cooler conditions like today, they should still be active.

In the event I was right on all counts, not big in numbers but enough to make the journey worthwhile, especially as some of the immature females were dark pink examples of the rufescens form, a cracking little lady to view and photograph.
That's another of the things I like about this species, the variation of colours in the maturation process of the females, the guides usually show the five standard forms but there are so many shades of colour in between there's a lot to keep the interest going for just one species.

A few tenerals rose up from the waterside, and though only around 8 variously coloured individuals were on show, they were easy to track as they fly low amongst the vegetation, so it was just a matter of waiting for them to settle then use a bit of stealth to try and get close enough for a decent shot. Not always easy, but got surprisingly close to one or two. The downside now being because of the overcast conditions, the light wasn't particularly favourable for photographs. But I got a few, here's the best of :

Got my best shot early doors, as this male blue-tail played peek a boo from behind a stem

Had I not seen him land I wouldn't have known he was there, kept moving around the stalk as I tried
to get an angle for a photo, like a green woodpecker does in the woods.    

Typica form female, just about fully mature

Same individual from the side

Mature male, meaning he must have emerged nearly 2 weeks ago

First of the rufescens females, a beautiful deep pink thorax

Same, from above

And another angle, a cracking form of blue-tail

The first was then joined by a second (just about in focus, right)

After devouring a meal this one hung on for a while . . .

. . . .before it too played peek a boo

Who's watching who?

A few azures were showing too, but if out in the open soon disappeared when disturbed, unlike the blue-tails which carried on as normal.

Very pale teneral Azure male, freshly emerged today

Whereas this one is almost fully mature, so again getting on to a fortnight old. 

Still no Large Reds yet, unusual as they're not often outside the first two species I see, might try Gibside Lily Pond if the Sun gets out, usually a good site for them.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Nice Swan Surreal

George alerted me to the fact a Whooper swan had appeared at Shibdon Pond on Thursday (11th). Unusually late for this species which should be off to arctic climes by now, but strangely this year there's been a few kicking about in Northumberland recently as well.

I headed down there after the kids had been fed and watered at tea-time, and found said Swan distant at the far end of the pond. Being a lazy so and so I decided to wait for it to come to me rather than head along to the feeding platform, so had a gander at everything else on the pond to see what was about on this pleasant spring eve.

Ten minutes and the Whooper started making its way round the back or the island, along the far bank of reeds and slowly but surely into photographic range. Have to say it was slightly surreal to be photographing a Whooper Swan while all around it Swallows and Sand Martins were dancing close to the water's surface, a clash of seasons if ever there was one.

First sight - Whooper at distance 

Eventually made its way along the far shore

Drifting in amongst the throng

Standing proud on a backdrop of gulls

Just missed the 'heart' shot with a mute swan - my fault

Showing the typical stiff-necked pose as opposed to the mute's s-bend

Last shot before the heron spoiled the serenity

Lots of 'Common' stuff also on the pond :

Common Tern

Common Gull

Common Sandpiper

My time was almost up when a Grey Heron flew across the pond from the right and put everything up in the air, quite a spectacle as there were by now a good few hundred gulls loafing around, numbers had built up slowly over the last half hour or so, but within a matter of half a minute the pond had emptied. The cormorants remained on the raft but gulls, terns, the few waders and many ducks had departed. Then I realised even the Whooper was notable by its absence. The 7 mute swans were now assembled at the feeding station end, but no sign of Harry Whooper (Boomtown Rats c1979)

Footnote - George tells me 'Harry' was there Friday morning, coming close in to the feeding platform, a tame one? May explain it hanging around blighty :-/