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Tuesday, 4 June 2019

My First Dragons of 2019 - on 14th May, 2019

Sorry for the long silence. Lindsay and I have been away for a stay on North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides. A short while before we departed, some kindly soul reversed into my Smart car, with enough force to stove in the front end, so this kept me a bit preoccupied sorting out that mess (just got the car back today). Over the next few days I will be trying to catch up with the blogs I visit - but please bear with me while I sort things out! This post is one that I drafted before we went away.

The damselfly/dragonfly scene had been getting off to a bit of a slow start in these parts and, whilst I'd seen a few damselflies (Large Red and Common Blue) I'd not seen any dragonflies.

As Natural England had kindly issued me with a permit to visit Chartley Moss in Staffordshire (I live close to the Leicestershire - Staffordshire border) I thought I'd see if I had more luck there.

Chartley Moss is, I believe, the only floating bog in England and, as such, is potentially dangerous. It's possible to fall through the floating moss into the 12 metre deep water below, so care is needed! For this reason, I am encouraged by Natural England to take someone with me when I visit.

On this occasion I had the privilege to be accompanied by Leicestershire dragonfly enthusiast,  and 'thoroughly good bloke', Jim Graham.

Jim arrived at my house at 10h00 as arranged, but I'd was in the middle of a call from my insurance company to talk about arrangements for the collection of my Smart car which someone had wrecked by reversing into it. I managed to conclude the conversation fairly quickly and we set off in my other car.

Chartley Moss is less than an hour from my home, but there is a bit of a walk to the site from where we parked the car, so it was nearly 11h30 before we were on site.

We'd noted that a car was at an interim position with a note in the window saying that 'Steve' was on site with a permit. 

On the way to the main dragonfly area there were a number of Green Hairstreak butterflies around.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Chartley Moss
We also noticed several lizards scurry from the path we were following, but they were too quick for photography.

If someone had told me at the start of the year that my first dragonfly of 2019 would  be a White-faced Darter, I would not have believed them, but this did, indeed, prove to be the case as one flew off into the distance some time before we got to the open-water area.

We arrived at the water to find Steve there with a whole mass of very professional-looking photographic equipment. Apparently it had taken him several trips to get it all to site, and he was indeed a professional photographer, primarily specialising in video.

Steve turned out to be an extremely amiable person, and told us that it had been a bit quiet thus far, but he did point us at an emerged White-faced Darter which he said was almost certainly dead as it didn't seem to be securely gripping the stem it was on. It was only when I got my photos up on my computer screen that I saw that it was indeed dead, with a mean-looking spider making a meal of its abdomen!

Spider's lunch - Chartley Moss
Before continuing, I'll confess to a big mistake I'd made. As I was expecting/hoping to take close-up photos of dragonflies, and wanted to travel light, I'd only taken my 150 macro lens with me. I soon became aware that this was the wrong choice. Much of the action took place at a distance. However, when it was close it tended to be almost at water-level. This last aspect was a little problematic as, when one knelt down, one's knees sank into the moss and were instantly enveloped by 10 cm depth of water. Lying down to get a shot wasn't really an option without getting soaked from head to foot. A longer lens would have allowed a more acute angle of shooting. I'd have been far better off with the 50-500 with its good macro capability. For the most part, therefore, my photography was not good!

We soon found a White-faced Darter which was well into the emergence sequence, with its wings and abdomen already well extended, but it was good to watch this until it was ready to take flight.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss
Elsewhere, other emergences were taking place.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
At one point, Steve alerted us to a nymph making its way to the edge of the water, but we lost it after it went behind a clump.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (nymph) - Chartley Moss
I did manage a distant sequence of an emergence from just after the head and thorax emerged from what would become the exuvia (the shed skin of the nymph). Here's a shot from just after that happened (a very heavily cropped image - hence the poor quality) . 

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
The abdomen is slowly released and the teneral dragonfly then (as is usual for most dragonflies) hangs, head-down, whilst its legs dry out and gain strength so that it can grip the stalk that it's emerging on.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
After this stage, the dragonfly flips back up to hold onto the stem. Then starts the process of the abdomen extending to its full length and getting less translucent as it does so, while the wings are pumped up and dried, getting more transparent in the process. In the first two images, the wings have become visible but are very crumpled.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
In the next image, you can see the wings are still a bit crumpled and need to be pumped up to full size.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
In the next two images, you can see that the abdomen is extending and starting to show markings, and the wings are lengthening and becoming less opaque.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
Sadly, at this time, stamina was running out, and it was time to start our departure before seeing this beauty take to the air. However, during shooting the above sequence, I had a great opportunity when a teneral WFD made its maiden flight and landed in a place where I could photograph it.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss
On the way back, the numbers of Green Hairstreak butterfly seemed to have increased and I have never before seen so many at a single location.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Chartley Moss
Back on the track from the farm to the road, Jim spotted a Small Copper butterfly - my first for the year. 

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) - near Chartley Moss
Apart from the faux pas with the choice of lens taken, it had been a highly enjoyable visit, thanks to the company of Jim and Steve, and the wonderful action observed - the emergence of a dragonfly is one of nature's marvels and one that will never cease to delight and amaze me.

However, I do have to express some concern from observations at this visit. It seems that, for some reason unknown to me, the White-faced Darters were emerging much lower down than usual - often only just out of the water - and it seems that a significant number of emergences were coming to grief because of this. Most of the exuviae that I found were actually in contact with the water! I wondered if there was a wind-factor here, with the vegetation being too mobile for comfort at a greater height. However, although it was breezy while we were there, I wouldn't describe it as windy. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

My thanks to Jim for his company, and to Natural England for their permission to visit, both of which were absolutely key to this event.

I suspect that my next post will feature butterflies!

Thank you for your visit.