Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Owl and the Cockchaffer

Sunshine and soaring temperatures over the last couple of days meant there must be a few damsels on the wing by now, so I thought I'd try a few spots in the valley where early damsels have appeared in past years.
First stop Far Pasture, azure damsels usually first on the scene here, and my 'lucky' spot paid dividends with a handful of immatures, a bit flighty in the sun but I soon got my eye in and rattled off a few photos of my first damsels of the year.
A quick check of the bull pond, a couple of tenerals rose from the margins but I couldn't find any emerging or exuviae. Plenty of tadpoles in there though.
Next port of call was Thornley Woods Pond, best site to catch emerging Large Reds in past years, but before I got there a couple of cracking sightings.
I glanced into the woodlands opposite the Wood Yard gate as I passed on the way out from Far Pasture and couldn't believe my luck. A young Tawny Owl was literally 'out on a limb' enjoying a snooze in the dappled shade. Marvellous, my first owl of any description this year.

Snoozy Tawny, but keeping half an eye on me

Didn't appear to move all the time I was there,
but note he's looking directly at the camera no matter which angle I took him from 

It was well settled, despite the attentions from a dunnock, a robin and a blackbird it remained visibly unmoved. I filled my boots with photos, though cursing the strong sunlight coming from exactly the wrong direction.

A selection of damsel shots, an immature male azure

bluing up nicely, this one's been out for a few days

another immature male azure

immature female azure, green form

same female, different angle

I left the owl in peace as I'd found it, and continued my trek to Thornley via the main road for speed. Almost there I stumbled across a massive brown beetle on the path, a Cockchaffer, and only the second one I can ever remember seeing. A large cumbersome beast it was struggling to make headway on the tarmac so to save it from a possible squashing I scooped it up in a small container I carry around and took it with me on my short journey to the pond, where I set it free and got a few macro shots to commemorate the occasion.

An impressive size, but not the best walker, trundling along at a snails pace
(no offence to snails)

The wings of the cockchafer look to quite lengthy, probably need to be
to get this heavy beast off the ground.

From above, one antenna missing, the beetle probably an inch and a quarter in length.

Not a great shot, but just to illustrate the sheer bulk of this insect, a whopper in every sense.

A thorough search of the margins around TW Pond ended in disappointment, not a damsel (nor a trace of emergence) to be found. Another nail in the coffin for this once excellent dragonfly pond.

My third port of call was Clockburn Lake outlet stream. I wasn't expecting to find any blue-tails (the speciality here) but there may be an outside chance of a large red. In the event there was neither, just a couple more azures, but with nesting swans I didn't want to venture too far along the shoreline.
I did locate a toad, but was too slow with the camera, and it jumped into the water and under a big rock just as I pressed the shutter. Typical.

Like a typical bird, the toad leapt into the water just as I pressed the shutter.
I had better luck with a Garden Warbler though, which shot across the path and started belting out a song from an open perch, giving me the opportunity to photograph this species for the first time ever. Bonus.

Garden warbler, a few heard around the Clockburn Lake area
and my first ever photo of this usually skulky bird

In truth I couldn't see it through my viewfinder thanks to the sunshine reflecting
so just pointed at the general area and pressed. Close crop but relatively good focus for me :-) 

The journey home had a few cameos to keep me entertained. Swifts and swallows aplenty, grey and pied wagtails at the Butterfly Bridge, and a common whitethroat performing its aerial song was a treat.
A very pleasant few hours, just like summer it was, apart from the lack of damsels, but at least it's a start. After seeing damsels and dragons appearing all over the country over the last week or so it's easy to forget that the North East climate is the worst in the country, and our dragons the last to emerge. My high hopes brought down to earth with a proverbial bump. Better luck next week I think. :-/



  1. How lucky are you with that Tawny Owl I have yet to get a decent picture of one and I still haven’t seen any Damsel or Dragonflies yet but I have my fingers crossed.

    1. Yeah I definitely struck lucky with the Tawny, but it's a good time to find them with the youngsters 'branching out'. Keep your eyes peeled Ron, your turn will come :-)