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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Whixall Moss - on Tuesday 23rd May

I'd been looking for an opportunity to go back to Whixall Moss on the Shropshire/Wales border. However, if the visit was going to be any use to me it had to be fine weather, otherwise the dragonflies would be hard to find. On this particular day, the weather forecast looked reasonable, so I took the decision to forgo Tai Chi and go west.

On my way there, the weather changed from relatively pleasant to overcast with threatening dark clouds. I nearly turned back. I'm pleased to say that I persevered and when I was about three quarters of the way there it brightened up a little.

It's approximately a three hour cross country run in the car for me to get to Whixall Moss. Sadly, however, there were traffic issues and my journey took nearly three and a half hours, with me arriving at around 10h30.

I was a little concerned on arrival to find two bus-loads of children had been disgorged into the car park, but was somewhat relieved when told that they would not be going to the area I was going to head for.

Worryingly, it was still cloudy (but bright) and rather breezy. I unloaded The Beast (my recently constructed all-purpose box on wheels) from the car and set off.

Although the moss covers a large area, there was a very specific location that I was headed for which, allowing for distractions on the way, would take about half an hour to reach. 

I'd not gone far before I started seeing a few damselflies. I didn't take too much notice of these as my mission was to find my first dragonfly of the year - things have been very slow in this respect, close to my home. Anyway, here's a damselfly from then to be going on with. 

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Whixall Moss
There were also several Green Hairstreak butterflies along the way. This one didn't exhibit the tendency that I've previously noticed with this species, which is to turn side-on when approached head-on.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Whixall Moss
I saw a couple of dragonflies whilst I was walking, but I was on a tree-lined ride and the light was low and each time I just saw them momentarily as 'small and dark' before I lost them again. I suspect that these were White-faced Darters.

Confirmation that I was on the right track came in the form of this pleasant sign-board.

Sign - Whixall Moss
As soon as I arrived, I knew that things were probably going to be difficult. There was a good breeze blowing which wasn't going to help the close-up photography as things would be blowing about, in and out of focus and even in and out of frame! There was also a distinct lack of sun.

However, my first dragonfly of the year that I was able to positively identify was a White-faced Darter (not bad for an extremely localised species which some would consider rare). This was the one:-

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Whixall Moss
This particular individual used this stick, just above the water, as his territorial base. It was about 5 metres away from me. Occasionally he'd fly further away, and then come back to the same stick. I needed to find a specimen that I could get nearer to. 

My main interest was to try and find some female White-faced Darters. On my previous visit, last year, I'd only managed to  find males, a few teneral females, and females that were tied up mating. As females will tend to roost in trees and bushes I started looking in such places - unsuccessfully! I did find this caterpillar, which I believe is of the Yellow-tail Moth. 

Yellow-tail Moth caterpillar (Euproctis similis) - Whixall Moss
Last year, the male WFDs that I saw were either settling on the duckboards round the bog, or on patches of short ground vegetation. The former doesn't look very natural in an image, and the latter gives a somewhat cluttered background, as shown in the next image.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Whixall Moss
I was, therefore, rather pleased this time to get a few opportunities to photograph them clinging to sticks.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Whixall Moss
It's now time for the arachnophobes to look away! A couple of times this Raft Spider made its way across the open water. It struck me as being a rather magnificent-looking creature, even if it didn't look at all friendly!



Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) - Whixall Moss
These spiders are described as 'scarce' and are one of the two largest spiders in UK. They detect their prey by feeling the movement of the surface-tension on the water and can then run across water to catch their victims. They are also known as the Jesus Spider because of this ability (walking on water - not running after victims!).

My attempts to photograph a female WFD came to virtually nothing.  A couple of times a female had a brief spell of ovipositing - flicking her eggs into the water. However, I only managed a blurred shot.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (female - ovipositing) - Whixall Moss
About half-way through the session the sun came out, shortly and the action increased somewhat. A pair of WFDs started mating and landed in the grass, but I could not get a decent image for love nor money. This was the best I could do - you would probably not notice the female in the image at first glance!

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (mating) - Whixall Moss
I started to take notice of some of the other dragonflies and damselflies that were in the area. The most noticeable were the Four-spotted Chasers. At first these refused to settle anywhere. However, after an hour or so they started to oblige to a degree - sadly, never near to me, so these are both with the lens at 500 mm.


Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Whixall Moss
A female Four-spot started ovipositing by dipping her rear end into the water. I missed the dip, but got this poor shot.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (female -ovipositing) - Whixall Moss
Suddenly, a male coupled up with her, and I did manage to get a record of their copulation in mid-flight. 


Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (mating) - Whixall Moss
Shortly after this session I had a bit of an odd turn, and had to sit down quietly for half an hour. It was after this that I noticed a teneral female WFD that had developed unseen by me, and was almost ready to fly. I kicked myself for missing this sequence. You can see the exuvia behind its right wings.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral female) - Whixall Moss
I did take some shots of the damselflies whilst at this spot. Here are a couple.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male + female) - Whixall Moss
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Whixall Moss
It is only when looking at my photos that I noticed something that I've never seen before in a dragonfly. In the image below, the male Four-spotted Chaser seems to have something akin to a penis under the outer end of its abdomen. This does not relate to my understanding of the sexual organs of dragonflies which are unusual and complex to say the least! Any suggestions (no rude ones, please) would be appreciated. 

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Whixall Moss
I took many more shots of male White-faced Darters, so here are a few more images.





White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Whixall Moss
The session was starting to take its toll on me, and I felt that I'd done enough so started back towards my car. At one point I stopped to take a rest and noticed some action in a wet area beside the path. This gave me my final photos of the day, although my head wasn't working correctly and they were taken with the camera on inappropriate settings. Shucks!

It was only when I got the images on my computer that I noticed the damselfly exuvia under the dragonfly in this next image!

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Whixall Moss
I had some last shots of WFD too.


White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Whixall Mos
It had been relatively breezy all the time, but when a freak sudden short gust which must have been at about 100 miles per hour (160 kph) ripped through and tore the dragonfly from its perch and nearly threw me into the water it really was time to go.

I'd had a great time, which would have been even better with a bit more sun and without the breeze. I hope to return again later in the summer. The WFDs will not still be there, but who knows what I might find!

Thank you for dropping by. I suspect that the next post will be a short one - but no promises!

28 comments:

  1. Another enjoyable post to read Richard.

    I've yet to see my first White-faced Darter, but following some Biodiversity Action Plans, if I travel a short distance into Cumbria or Cheshire I stand an excellent chance I reckon. A smart dragonfly, and you achieved some excellent images on your trip to Whixall Moss.

    Regards

    Pete.

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    1. Thank you, Pete. They're such a super dragonfly, that I hope you get out and find one soon.

      With my best wishes - - - - Richard

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  2. Excellent post Richard backed up by some lovely photos. Quite jealous looking at them, it makes me want to go back there again.

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    1. Thank you, Marc. If you're ever intending to return to Whixall, I'd be delighted to meet you there. I now know of a Clubtail location not too far away.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  3. I'm pleased you didn't turn back Richard,other wise we would miss out on these super images,loved your W.F.Darter shots,and your Female is stunning.
    Sue had to rush past your Raft Spider shots,but,I love them great to see,hope you recovered from your funny turn.
    Take Care.
    John and Sue.

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    1. Thank you, John and Sue. I'm also very pleased I didn't turn back or leave early. Sorry if the spider images disturbed you, Sue!

      I hope you're getting better weather than we are. The high winds are the worst bit.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  4. Good morning Richard: You are nothing if not dogged and persistent! Your determination paid off with some fine work and I am sure that you were happy overall with the day. Sorry to hear you had a bit of a turn and hope that everything is now okay. Love to you both from David and Miriam.

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    1. I'm fine, thank you, David! I'm more than happy that I persevered on the day.

      Love to you both - - - Richard

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  5. Hi Richard! Incredibly beautiful picture! Congratulations!! Greetings

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    1. Thank you, Anne. Best wishes - - Richard

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  6. Hi Richard, it most certainly looks a wonderful place to visit and you've managed some cracking images, the White-faced Darter is a stunning Dragonfly, they do say they see them occasionally on the Woodland Walk at Rutland, great post, hopefully see you soon. I'm on duty tomorrow. All the best, John

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    1. Hi John. I suspect that any reports of White-faced Darter at Rutland Water are totally erroneous as there have never ever, to the best of my knowledge, been confirmed reports of them anywhere in the county. They are currently only believed to exist at six sites in England - two in West Midlands and four in Cumbria. The habitat is totally wrong too - they're a sphagnum moss-bog species. See you soon - - - Richard

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  7. Hi Richard,
    What a great post!
    I am really pleased to see these White faced dragons, a species very localised indeed, here too.
    But you've managed to take the quadrimaculata mating wheel in flight and although I have tried many times, I never got a shot as sharp as yours..... special congratulations :)))
    I am leaving for Madagascar tomorrow until the end of the month... I can't wait!
    Keep well and take care :)

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    1. Hi Noushka. Thank you for your kind words. The quadrimacula mating shots were purely luck!

      Have a wonderful time in Madagascar. I shall be waiting to see what you come back with - so much to see that is unique to the island.

      Take good care - - - Richard

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  8. Magnificent photos Richard and interesting post. It has been quite cool and windy here so I have had no thought of going to the lake to try and get any photos.
    Hope you are feeling better, take care Diane

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    1. Thank you, Diane - yes, no point in going to the lake in dull cold windy weather! I'm fine now, thank you.

      With my best wishes - - Richard

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  9. I forgot to add that Nigel is as now treating his second spider bite this year. He managed to get the first one while we were in RSA in February. Ten days ago he was bitten here in France but we have no idea how, or when until it came up. Another course of antibiotics and 2x daily dressings. At last it is looking better, but still a nasty wound and he says still very painful. Sigh. Cheers Diane

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    1. Sorry to hear that Nigel has been suffering from spider bites. They sound absolutely horrible! They're something that we don't need to worry about in UK, although Im can still understand why people have phobias about them. I hope that Nigel is better soon - - -Richard.

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  10. Brilliant photos, and my favourite is the White-faced Darter, superb.

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    1. Thank you, Bob. Much appreciated! Best wishes - - - Richard

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  11. Hi. Excellent photos. I like a lot. Greetings.

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    1. Thank you, Matti. Best wishes - - - Richard

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  12. Can't believe you got a raft spider. Never knew they were down in the part of the country either.

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    1. This particular place is an ideal habitat for them, Doug, including plenty of prey! Best wishes - - Richard

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  13. Hi Richard,
    These are really beautiful pictures of the dragonflies and also the vegetable. The Venwitsnuitlibel is beautiful to see. I have never seen this one myself. However, I saw a spotted white dragonfly last week. Your photos are beautiful and you could also photograph a pairing of these dragonflies. The other dragonflies and jufers are also beautiful.
    I'm afraid of spiders so that's nothing for me though, have you taken a nice shot of hahahahaha .....

    Best regards, Helma

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    1. Hi Helmand. Thank you for your kind words. Sorry but I'm unable to visit your website for a few days. I hope to be able to do so after the weekend. Best wishes - - - Richard

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    2. Sorry Helma. The spellchecker changed your name to Helmand! !!!😊

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    3. I'm also always wrestling with the translation program hahahaha ....

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