Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Before the Rains . . .

On Sunday we had a family day out to Cragside, and very nice it was too (unlike last week's nightmare at Hamsterley).

On the way up there a high-flying Red Kite just south of the river Coquet was the furthest north I've seen one (in England). And once there, highlights were a Red Squirrel trotting nonchalantly across the path in front of the kids, a Humming-bird Hawk Moth (first I've seen in a few years), umpteen Red Admirals, and a visit to the Slipper Tarn, which (despite being too early for Black Darters) was alive with dragons and damsels.
Four-spotted Chasers were the most numerous dragonfly on show, first I've seen here but I've never visited in June before, though the best sighting was a patrolling male Moorland Hawker, first of the year and possibly the earliest I've seen, fully mature so he's been out for a good few days now.

Yip that's a Moorland Hawker dead centre

Also a couple of teneral hawkers (probably Southern but can't be certain) made their maiden flights from the emergent vegetation, one of which somehow narrowly avoided becoming a meal for a Jay as it rose up to the treetops.
Emerald damsels were also emerging on the day, and a few Large Reds, Azure and Blue-tailed made up the numbers.

Liked how the sunlight caught this tandem pair of large reds

Azure female

Immature Emerald female, first decent shot of the year for this species

And a bit closer
All in all a pleasant day out.

Back to Saturday and a pictorial round-up (though not a very good one) of some of the other dragons I saw at Bowes Valley NR while simultaneously dipping the Red-veined Darter :


Teneral Common Darter female, one of three I saw on the day 

Four-spotted Chasers proved incredibly difficult to catch perched up

I followed this one to his roosting perch when the sun disappeared, but the wind made it a bit tricky to
get a good angle 

Broad-bodied Chasers were also very flighty but at times alighted on the bare earth 

But I had to be quick as they didn't stay still for long and invariably rose up if I tried to approach

Females were even worse, not landing at all, so I tried to catch them in action while ovipositing





Not too bad for flight shots

Last chance for a male Broad-bodied, again though didn't allow me to get close before he was off

I think frustrating is the best word I can use to describe that little lot, happily I got the good shots of the Skimmers (see previous post) otherwise with dipping the R-v Darter as well, the four mile (plus) walk involved might have seemed a lot longer :-/

On Monday I met up with Ron H who joined me on a Demoiselle safari along the Derwent. The weather wasn't great, the lack of sunshine kept the females away from the river but still good enough for a few hopeful male Bandeds to appear and I'm sure Ron was happy with the photo opportunities which came his way (see NotManyWords for the results.) He returned the favour by kindly becoming a magnet for the Cleg Flies with at least three bites, while I remained unscathed and unbothered by them (Cheers Ron). I was quite happy to let Ron get the shots on this visit, my efforts were mainly distant and/or blurred. Only one male settled in really good view :



 
My best pics were of a Longhorn Beetle as we walked back through the meadow, another of the common Rutpela maculata species :










 That's the third individual of that species I've had in the last few days, and all have shown different  amounts of yellow and black. This isn't unusual it's a very varied species though the pattern always seems based on the same template :

Three Longhorns, same species, same area, different patterns, worth looking out for.


Since Monday it's been a bit damp to say the least, and looks to be staying that way for the rest of the week, so a good time to catch up. Here's hoping for a few more dragon days before long, so much to see, so little time :-O.

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.