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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Visit to Alvecote Wood - on 30th April, 2017

Alvecote Wood is a great place for, amongst other things, dragonflies and damselflies. It is only about 12 miles (20 km) from my home, but is privately owned, and has limited access. It is only open to the public on the last Sunday of each month (between 10h00 and 16h00) and every Wednesday evening (between 18h00 and 20h00).

As I had not yet managed to see a dragonfly or damselfly this year (first emergences in these parts tend to be way behind those in the south and south-west of England), I felt that a visit to Alvecote Wood on this day might give me my first sightings of the year. Although it was rather windy, the sun was shining brightly and it was quite warm if one avoided being in the wind.

I set off from home a little later than intended, so took fast route that I am not used to rather than the scenic route. The only problem was that, at the point where I intended to rejoin my customary route, I took a wrong turn and ended up on a Motorway with no exit for nearly 8 miles (12 km). In the event, this turned out to be an even quicker route, and I arrived ten minutes before opening time. Luckily the owners, Sarah and Stephen, were there and I was allowed in.

Having had a quick chat, I set off and immediately came across a Muntjac on the path.

Reeves' Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Muntjac are not popular with the owners of Alvecote wood as they are not a native species, having been released from captive 'collections'. They are, however, present in considerable numbers, and they do damage to plant life, particularly plants of the primrose family - a delightful feature of Alvecote wood.

My stroll through the wood to get to the ponds was a pleasant one and the omens felt good.

path through Alvecote Wood
Having left the wood, there were a few butterflies about, but the wind was blowing strongly. The first two ponds yielded nothing, but the wind would have made things hopeless for photography anyway.

Fortunately the two lower ponds were in a sheltered position and I found my first damselfly of the year almost immediately - the hoped-for Large Red Damselfly. This is a very common species in these parts, and are reliably the first Odonata species to appear. I believe, however, that it's still relatively unusual for them to appear in April.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
 I soon found a second, more obliging, specimen.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
The shine on the wings, and the orange eyes, indicate that these males were relatively fresh. Those eyes will turn red with age.

More searching had me finding a female that had just emerged and was clinging to a reed just above the exuvia - the casing of the nymph that she had emerged from. I'd would dearly have loved to capture the actual emergence, but had to content myself with watching the newly emerged damselfly develop into a a fledged adult. Sadly this specimen was very low down, and to photograph it I had to kneel down on the soggy edge to the pond and bend over with my head nearly touching the water. As the process took over two hours, I found it necessary to abandon the position for a while every so often in order to straighten out the kinks in my arms, knees, back and neck - nearly falling over from dizziness as I did so. Please excuse, on these grounds, the somewhat dodgy photography.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
You can see in the above image that the abdomen is virtually colourless and not fully extended but the wings are forming nicely and extending just beyond the tip of the abdomen. In the next image, the abdomen has extended further, and the wings are longer, although still cloudy.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
In the next image, she has started to climb, the abdomen has lengthened further, and the wings are starting to become clearer. The pterostigma (spots towards the ends of the wings) are now showing.

She's now climbed a little further in the next image, and the abdomen and wings are at their full length. There's still a way to go, however!

In the next image, the wings are almost totally clear, and she's now taking on colour as she dries out.

All this time she'd been alert, and here eyesight was working - although how fully, I don't know. What I do know is that, from the start, if I approached her she dipped round to the rear of the reed. I did manage to get a shot of her from above, however.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
She now steadily made her way up the reed to the tip.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
Shortly after this she flew - she'll have gone somewhere safe, away from the pond, until she is fully settled and ready for her new life.

After she'd gone, I carefully collected the exuvia, and it is now with the small collection I have as souvenirs of such moments, stored in clear pots on my bookshelf.

As already stated, I'd had to have some breaks from this activity, and I used this time to search for other subjects. The Dandelions were attracting plenty of insects.

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - Alvecote Wood
It was, of course, the damselflies that got most of my attention at these times, however.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (female) - Alvecote Wood

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I'd been too busy to fully notice that I'd overdone the sessions with my body in strange positions, but a short period of relaxation on a nearby bench brought it home to me rather strongly. I struggled on the way back to the car, but did manage to take a few more photos as I went.

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) - Alvecote Woods
These are, of course, genuine British Bluebells. The Spanish Bluebells, found in so many British Gardens, are rather different. I've just read that the British Isles is home to around half the world's bluebells!

The next image is of a classic scene that changes dramatically throughout the year, and is always a pleasure to view.

from Alvecote Wood
Thus ended a highly enjoyable day - I'm still recovering!

My thanks to Stephen and Sarah for allowing access to this wonderful place.

I suspect that my next post might be on butterflies!

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Hi Richard! Oh how beautiful there is! Just wonderful observations! Wonderful shooting moments for you :-)

    1. Thank you, Anne, for your kind words. Sometimes things work out as we hope they will!

      With best wishes - - Richard

  2. Fantastic views you caught there, I love the Dragonflies, and the butterfly. Excellent work.

    1. Thank you, Bob, for your visit and your very kind words.

      With my best wishes - - - Richard

  3. What a beautiful place Richard,fancy coming across Muntjac Deer nice surprise,great shots of the Large Red and Green- Veined White.
    Looks like you had a grand day out,even with the wrong turn.
    Wish you both well,take care.
    John and Sue.

    1. It is a super place John and Sue, and quite easy to get to if I don't miss a turn! I ish I could visit more often.

      Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

    2. That should have been 'I wish I could visit more often'!

  4. Very nice post Richard. Nice to see you doing some Odo bashing with some lovely results.

    1. It was great to find my first damsels of the year, Marc, even if they were somewhat commonplace. Give it a month and I possibly wouldn't bat an eyelid at the sight of a LRD.

      Thank you for your kind words, and my best wishes to you - - - Richard

  5. Congratulations on this amazing sequence with the Large Red Damselfly, Richard. I find it quite outstanding. Sounds like you paid the price, however, by kinking your body in positions more appropriate to a youngster with a good deal more flexibility! What you won't do for the perfect photograph! And thanks goodness you weren't on a tight schedule so you could put in the time you needed to achieve these splendid results. Much love to you both. David

    1. Thank you, David. I'm still suffering for my efforts - can't lift any weight without severe pain across my chest. Even raising the camera to my eye is painful. Lord knows what I've done!

      As far as schedules is concerned, Lindsay is very accommodating. If she's cooking, she usually says she won't start until she see the whites of my eyes!

      Love to you and Miriam - - Richard

      P.S. Please tell Miriam that we have at least three Hedghehogs visiting us each night, but I suspect that we had four or five last night.

  6. Stunning sequence of the Large Red. I love those striking eyes in the image 'from above' in that sequence. Equally amazed at how quickly the colour starts to change. In terms minutes/seconds/hours how long does the whole process take?

    1. Hi Doug. Thanks for your kind words, and the question. From when I started watching to the point where it took flight was almost exactly two hours. It can be much quicker, but it can also take much longer. All those damselflies I showed in this post were young ones, with yellow to orange eyes. Those eyes will, in days, turn to a deep red, as will the yellow parts on the thorax. The green parts of the thorax will turn to a sparkley deep greenish gold.

      Best wishes - - Richard

    2. Never realised it took that long must be so vulnerable at that stage too

    3. It is a dangerous time, Doug. They can often fall prey to spiders, birds, and even dragonflies. Weather sometimes causes their development to fail also, and sometimes they fall into the water and drown - crazy for a species that spends most of its life underwater anyway!

      Their first flight is frequently up into the trees, where they are safer while they develop further into fully active adults.

  7. What a great series of events with the damsel, so very interesting to see. I only hope that you are feeling better since you put this post up and the pain has gone from twisting into abnormal positions!!

    Love the shot of the bombylius, they are such cute little insects.

    The bluebells are gorgeous. The ones I have in my garden are Spanish but I must say they are very pretty, the ones found in the woods here are much the same as your English bluebells.

    The fields when the rape plant is in full flower are incredible, they are all finished here sadly.

    Take care, Diane

    1. Hi Diane. I'm somewhat better, thank you, but still not right. It's my own fault really, because I just can't resist going out with the camera and taking photos in awkward locations!

      I only became aware of Bombylius last year, but this year they seem to be doing extremely well.

      The Bluebells are now finishing in these parts, which is sad, as they are such a wonderful sight. Not long now until the orchids appear. The leaves are showing well already.

      I hope you have a great week ahead of you

      Take good care - - - Richard

  8. Stunning close ups photography Richard. I am sorry these days I do not have the same time to comment on all your posts due to recent events but I appreaciae you posts and your comments on mine.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. Your visit and kind words are much appreciated. I too am finding time is at a bit of a premium these days. How ever did I manage before I retired???

      with my best wishes - - - Richard

  9. Hi Richard,
    That is a very beautiful area and close to home. It's a pity that this is so small for the public. The bunch is very sweet to see. The fire jam is awesome. Beautiful crisp and bright color and beautiful details!
    You even have the possibility of footgraving. Very beautifully pictured. The beautiful wild forest hyacinths are also so beautiful. Dandelion and insects may also be there.
    I enjoyed ej photos.


    1. Thank you for your visit, Helma. I fear that Google Translate is letting us down somewhere. I'm having difficulty understanding 'bunch', 'fire jam', and 'footgraving'

      With my best wishes - - - Richard

  10. Oh my! I nearly missed that post!
    What a lovely place, it looks so peaceful.
    Your Large Red images are superb but naturally what caught my attention is this peculiar buck.
    It is incredible that so many different species of animals from other parts of the world have been released in Europe. Not a good thing for our environment.
    Warm hugs to share with Lindsay :)


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