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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Alvecote Wood - on 22nd May, 2016

One of my targets this year was to try and find the elusive Hairy Dragonfly. I'd seen one briefly at Rutland Water last year and only managed some distant images. When I saw, in the current Dragonfly News (the magazine of The British Dragonfly Society), that there was to be a visit to a private woodland, only some 10 miles (16 km) from me, in order to survey for the presence of Hairy Dragonfly I was immediately interested. I contacted the organiser of the visit, Peter Reeve, and managed to get myself a place on the visit.

Alvecote Wood is owned and managed by Sarah Walters and Stephen Briggs. I'll not say much about this wonderful place other than it won the Best Small Woodland in England award from The Royal Forestry Society in 2014. I do, however, suggest you read more by visiting their website at http://www.alvecotewood.co.uk. In 2015, Hairy Dragonfly were seen here, and we were there to look for evidence of them breeding here.

I arrived a little early for the stated (very civilised) meeting time of 10h30, and was greeted by Peter, Sarah and Stephen. By the time we had assembled I think that there were probably 8 of us (I didn't count) plus our hosts. After a short introduction covering the history of the wood, and the work that was being done there, we started looking at a couple of nearby ponds. 

It was interesting to see a large swarm of bees gathering in a nearby tree, but they didn't bother us, although we got the feeling that we were being investigated from time to time. The dark out-of-focus mass in the centre of the second image is the core of the swarm.


Bee swarm - Alvecote Wood
 In the ponds near the entrance we found Large Red Damselfly, some of which were ovipositing.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (ovipositing) - Alvecote Wood
After a little while here, we made our way to the ponds which are in the recently created Betty's Wood. Almost instantly on arrival, Hairy Dragonfly was seen! In the area, Four-spotted Chaser were emerging in some numbers, and Azure Damselflies & Blue-tailed Damselflies were also seen, although I didn't attempt to photograph these. Also present, of course, were many more Large Red Damselflies.

It was not easy to photograph the full emergence of the Four-spotted Chasers as we all wanted a turn at viewing the proceedings, so my collection of images is more than a little disjointed! Here's a couple of images of them just after the dragonfly has burst its head, thorax, and legs out of the casing and is hanging down until things dry out enough for it to use its legs to hang onto a stalk. I think that these are probably of the same dragonfly.


Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (emerging) - Alvecote Wood
 Here, one has got its wings out but they are not yet fully pumped up and dried.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (emerging) - Alvecote Wood
In the next image the wings are nearly ready for use, although still folded.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
This next one has opened its wings. It has not yet got much colouration in the body, and the wings are still somewhat wrinkled.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
These next two are ready for flight, although there's still some wrinkling in the wings.


Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
This one has made its first flight.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (immature male) - Alvecote Wood
The Large Red Damselflies were busy ovipositing here too. In these next two the female is, I believe of the form 'fulvipes', with less black on the abdomen. Most of the ones I saw were of this form.


Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (ovipositing) - Alvecote Wood
In this next one, however, the female seems to be of the form 'typica' - and a teneral?

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - Alvecote Wood
This next one is a teneral female.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
As the main objective of the visit was to check the site for evidence of Hairy Dragonfly breeding there, the initial focus was in looking for exuvia of that species. This was soon found. Now I know nothing about exuvia identification so it is possible that this first image is of a different species, although I don't think so. I should have made notes!

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (exuvia) - Alvecote Woods

These next two images are of a different exuvia to the one above - the first with the exuvia in situ, and the second after it had been harvested by one of our number, using an ingenious home-made gadget with a long pole!


Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (exuvia) - Alvecote Woods
Sadly, I did not see a Hairy Dragonfly settled at any time, which was more than a little frustrating from a photographic point of view. I did spend half an hour or so trying to get some shots of one in flight, but didn't have any real success as they were flying fast and unpredictably. This is the nearest I got to obtaining a reasonable image. I wouldn't normally have cropped this one so tightly, but the right hand side of the image is right on the edge of the frame - in other words, I nearly missed it completely!!!

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (male) - Alvecote Woods
After around three hours,  we wandered back to the entrance, seeing that the bee swarm had totally dispersed.  I'd had a marvellous time and learned a lot, even if the photographic opportunities were not quite as good as hoped for on that occasion.

I'd like to thank Peter Reeve for arranging this splendid visit, and for his help and advice during the visit.

My thanks to Sarah and Stephen for being the perfect hosts. I'm extremely impressed by their passion for their wonderful nature reserve, the hard work that they put into it, and the fabulous results that they are achieving. I hope to be returning soon.

This visit gave me the confidence and inspiration to go out the next day to seek the legendary White-faced Darter - more about this in a future post!

Thank you for dropping by.

24 comments:

  1. I am envious. I really enjoy dragonflies but rarely do I see them. I'll have to go out and sit in the wetland just over the hill.
    Grand images here even if I don't find any of my own.

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    1. Good luck with your hunt for dragonflies and other insects, Adrian. I'm looking forward to seeing you apply your maco skills to these, so don't let me down!!!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  2. Lovely blog Richard - thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Sarah - I couldn't have done it without you! Hope to see you and Stephen again soon.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  3. Just great pictures! A fine description of the place. Fascinating to see the dragonfly hatch. We'll attempt to look for the dragonflies which hatch. Should take a clear, because here their emergence occurs. Can you advise how to tell the difference between a big and a small pond dragonfly (Leucorrhinia) from each other? I put my blog pictures, and when I described as dragonflies, I can not make out whether it is the same species or not.

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    1. Thank you, Anne.

      In UK, the only Leucorrhinia we get is L. dubia. This is very localised, and far from common. We do occasionally get L. pectoralis (only 2 records this century!).

      I see that in Finland you get L. dubia, L. rubicunda, and in the south of the country also L. pectoralis, L. albifrons, and L. caudalis. As I don't know in which part you live, it would take several pages of writing to explain the differences between all 5 species. I recommend a book 'Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe' by Dijkstra. If you live in the north of Finland, it is easier to explain the differences between the two species, so feel free to come back to me on that one!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  4. Great write up backed up by some lovely photos. Very nice emergence shots and I do love an exuviae shot. Very well done with the flying Hairy. Never managed one in flight, very tricky to get.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, Marc. I hope that we will meet up soon

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  5. Elusive Hairy Dragonfly? Now that sounds like something from a horror movie! I think it's time for you to get back to your beloved Little Owls Richard!

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    1. I wonder what you'll make of my next post, David, which will probably be on the White-faced Darter.

      I'll consider my knuckles severely rapped in the matter of the Little Owls. I do realise that I've been keeping away from them somewhat, due to the rather depressing situation on that front.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  6. That swarm of bees looks a bit scary! Really glad you found the target species.
    However the dragon emerging are my favourites. I just find the whole process fascinating to look at. How long does it take to emerge completely?

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    1. I must admit I was a little wary about standing so close to that swarm, Doug. It would only take one of them to decide I was a threat and the whole lot could have descended on me. As I've never been stung by a bee, I don't know if I'd have an adverse reaction!

      I had an even better experience with emerging dragonflies the following day. On that occasion, I timed one from the nymph leaving the water to the dragonfly taking its first flight and it was as good as exactly three hours. More on that one in my next post, when I finish processing the 1,136 frames I shot on that day!!!

      Have a great weekend - - - Richard

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  7. Hi Richard, what a fabulous place, you certainly nailed the emerging Four Spotted Chaser, some really great detailed images, brilliant. Lucky the bee swarm didn't come your way.
    Regards John

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    1. It was a great place, John, and we should go there together one sunny Wednesday evening. I was a little worried about that swarm as we were all rather close and they could have taken exception to us at any time!

      Sorry I didn't make it out yesterday - see you soon - - - Richard

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  8. Very interesting post Richard!
    It is great to determine if the rare Hairy is breeding in the water dams of your area.
    I can't help you much with the exuvia, at first view they look quite similar in the Aeshnidae family. Experts only can tell they difference between species.
    I relly enjoy this post and discovering what dragons you've got around you.
    Keep well, enjoy both your weekend :)

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    1. Thank you, Noushka. It seems that Hairy is slowly spreading northwards, and is much less rare in these parts than it used to be.

      The gentleman who was our guide was quite an expert in exuvia, and was telling us species and sex. He's since confirmed that my memory on the identification was correct.

      My next post will be on Leucorrhinia dubia - extremely localised in England! Soon I hope to be photographing Platycnemis pennipes which is another speciality which we have very local to me.

      Take good care - - Richard

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  9. Well I think you did excitedly well,your Hairy Dragonfly in flight shot is a stunner,loved this post,so much fact supported with outstanding sharp detailed images.
    A very big well done.
    John.

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    1. Thank you, John. I'm still very much a novice when it comes to the dragonflies, but I'm getting really wrapped up in them. Encouragement, like yours, helps me want to learn more and do better.

      I hope that you and Sue are having a good weekend - - - Richard

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  10. Interesting post and brilliant close up pictures of the Dragonflies especially of the Four-spotted Chaser, how long does it take for the dragonfly to emerge and then take flight?

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    1. Thank you Linda. I'm no expert on dragonflies, but I think the time for emergence is probably influenced by the weather - so much of the process is dependent on various bits being 'pumped up' and drying out. When I observed a White-faced Darter on Monday it took almost exactly three hours from nymph leaving the water to dragonfly flying, but that may have been longer than usual as, although it was sunny when the process started, it soon became cloudy, cool and breezy, so most of the ememgence was in less than ideal conditions.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  11. A most wonderful post of the different dragonflies Richard and I am glad you found the Hairy Dragonfly. The photos you took are so crispy clear just wonderful.
    Regards,
    Roos

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    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words, Roos. It was a wonderful session, but I'd have swapped it for you experience with the young Peregrines!!

      Take good care - not long to wait now until June arrives! - - Richard

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  12. Beautiful dragonflies and damselflies shows you.
    The tapering of the four spot dragonfly you can pretty piecing screen.
    Nice sharp and clear pictures which I enjoyed very much.
    My compliments.

    Greetings, Helma

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    1. Thank you, Helma! I'm sure I could learn much about macro techniques from your splendid work! Best wishes - - - Richard

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