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.       

Monday, 7 August 2017

Away in Galloway

Spent much of last week at Kippford in Dumfries & Galloway. The weather was a bit grim at times but an enjoyable few days. It's prime Golden-ringed Dragonfly country and I'd targeted a couple of sites for Variable Damselfly, but sadly the weather played its part in spoiling any potential dragon hunts, with only 8 odonata seen during our stay, namely 5 emerald damselfly, 2 common darter and a single migrant hawker.
The damp weather had its plus points however, on the first morning I discovered a couple of giant slugs outside the caravan door in a mating wheel (or doughnut), the first time I've ever encountered such a spectacle:


Like a slimy doughnut, these mating slugs left a helluva mess when they'd finished

Our static caravan was nicely placed at the woodland edge, and with a plethora of filled feeders provided, the resident birds put on a continuous display for us when we were at home, with many juvs of all the common species coming to the feeders regularly.

Our 'terrace' feeding station, a constant source of entertainment when we were 'in residence'


Juv Robins were most numerous, sometimes half a dozen at a time

This juv GS Woodpecker was a daily visitor

A family of Jays, 2 adults, 2 juvs, were frequent but very nervy visitors, I could only get shots
if I was semi-hidden  

Coal Tits were numerous, this one was like a statue as it must have spotted a predator up above
and remained motionless for a long while. 

Another juv Robin, probably the easiest bird to photograph 

A group of Robins of various ages

Long tailed Tits were regular, anything up to 8 individuals, mostly juvs.

Young Dunnock was quite confiding too

Full list of visitors :
Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Jay, Magpie, Crow, Blackbird, Dunnock, all daily.
Siskin and Wren seen once only.

It's also prime Red Squirrel country, so we were delighted to see these running around outside the caravan, along with rabbits and a resident wood mouse.



Red Squirrel, Rabbit and Wood mouse all regularly seen, taken through caravan windows.

A trip to the nearby (Solway Firth) coast gave an enjoyable few hours rock-pooling and collecting shells, with the kids being rewarded with ice cream after walking the coastal footpath between the villages, where I encountered the migrant hawker. Also added Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing, Linnet and Oystercatcher to the trip list (if I was keeping one)

Kippford Coastline
From distance it looks like a layer of sand in between the mud (left) and rocks (right) . . .

. . . but close up it consisted of possibly millions of shell fragments stretched along the tideline

No idea what this is but it stood out like a sore thumb (hope its living and not just the result
of someone's giant sneeze) 

We found quite a few tiny shore crabs (this one about 1cm wide) and encountered
tiny fish, shrimps and winkles (willicks), the first time I've seen them actually moving,
they really are just tiny black snails. 
Another interesting natural encounter was a visit to the Creetown Gem Rock Museum one rainy day, a fascinating display of fossils including a 175 million year old dinosaur footprint, amazing to think I'd touched a piece of earth where a dinosaur had actually stood all those years ago.

Some fossilized fish

A dino egg fossil
Random Swallow pic (tribute to Leonard Cohen).


It was our final (late) afternoon before I managed a walk in the top woods, which we'd avoided  due to the muddy paths after continued rain, but even with overcast skies I had to have one attempt to find a Golden-ringed dragonfly. I found the woodland pond but no dragons to be seen here, the nearby open rides with areas of fern were the best bet for my target species, but all I managed to see were a female common darter, a few emerald damselflies and a small frog.

I found this cracking woodland pond, much bigger than Thornley.

Male Emerald Damselfly
You can see where the bluish pruinescence is just starting to show at either end of the abdomen
on this immature specimen

Female Emerald Damselfly
profile shot, with ovipositor shown nicely in front of the yellow flower (obviously planned)

Common Frog
A few of these around in the woods, mostly tiny, this one a couple of inches.

A canny break with plenty of interest so not too disappointed, though it feels like I'll never photograph a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, have tried for six years now in which time I've probably seen four, but always flying or perched too high up for decent views. The summer ain't over yet though, I'll keep trying :-/