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Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Drakelow NR and Contact with an Alien - on 13th August and 28th September, 2017

Sunday, 13th August

I'd not visited Drakelow Nature Reserve, managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, for some time, mainly because of the construction of a solar farm taking place next door to the reserve. As the work had now finished and this place can be good for dragonflies as well as birds, I decided on a visit on 13th August. Because of the bird factor, I took the 50-500 lens on my camera, rather than the 150 macro.

I'd not been on the path for long when I found a young rabbit that was much more confiding that usual. 

Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) - Drakelow NR
A little further on I found my first Southern Hawker of the year. 


Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (male) - Drakelow NR
There were surprisingly few butterflies around, but this could have been because it was breezy. This rather worn female Common Blue was settling on the path-side vegetation from time to time.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (female) - Drakelow NR
There was a pair of Black Swans on the far side of one of the lakes, but too far away for sensible photography. I photographed few birds that day, but the next is of one of them.

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Drakelow NR
A little further on I found my first Migrant Hawker of the year. Happily, this was a female. It's not often I see the females of this species - I wouldn't be surprised if the sighting ratio was 50 males to 1 female!

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (female) - Drakelow NR
There were a few Speckled Wood butterflies on the reserve.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Drakelow NR
At the risk of confusing the reader, further on I found a mating pair of Common Blue - this time Common Blue Damselfly, rather than Common Blue butterfly!

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (pair mating) - Drakelow NR
I was a little surprised at how few Common Darter dragonflies were around - here's one:

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Drakelow NR
As I was heading out of the reserve, I stopped by a lake and a Kingfisher flew in and landed in a distant tree. This is the best I could do before it flew off again! This was extremely exciting for me as I'd not yet had my close encounters with Kingfisher which feature in some of my earlier posts.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) - Drakelow NR
Thursday, 28th September

Well over a month passed before my next visit. I arrived at lunch time and stopped off beside a lake to have a quick look around before lunch. There were a few dragonflies around including several Common Darters, a couple of male Migrant Hawkers, and a possible Southern Hawker seen briefly at a distance. I only managed photos of Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Drakelow NR
There were several Caddisflies around, but I do not know of hat species they were.

Caddisfly species - Drakelow NR
I noticed that one particular type of flower was attracting numerous bees that seemed to look very white. I have no idea what this plant was, or what the species of bee was, but I believe that the pale colouration of the bees was probably due to a covering of pale pollen. This is one with a little less pollen on its abdomen.

Bee species - Drakelow NR
I also saw the first of many butterflies here.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Drakelow NR
I took my picnic into the first hide and was nearing the end of my lunch when a couple of old acquaintances arrived. During our chat they informed me of an alien that they'd seen on the reserve, and where it could sometimes be seen.

Having finished my lunch, I set off into the reserve. I was soon finding a few dragonflies, but only managed to photograph two species. 

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Drakelow NR
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Drakelow NR
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Drakelow NR
I also saw what will almost certainly prove to be my last damselfly of the year - a Common Blue Damselfly.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Drakelow NR
An adult Dock Bug (a close relative to the shieldbugs) presented itself nicely in the sunshine.

Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus) (adult) - Drakelow NR
Butterflies seen included several Speckled Wood, but I didn't photograph any of that species.


Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Drakelow NR

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Drakelow NR
By this time I'd passed by the location that the alien was said to frequent, and I didn't see it. However, it was there on the way back as I reached the main path. Although it had been described to me, I still couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the size of the Yellow-bellied Slider that had hauled out of the water - it must have been as big as a dinner plate!

It was in a very difficult position for photography and facing away from me behind bushes as I stood on the nearest part of the bank. Here's a view from the side path that I'd just come down.

Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) - Drakelow NR
Eventually I was able to find a place where I could just get a view from the near part of the bank, where I waited until it turned its head, as in the next image.

Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) - Drakelow NR
I hung around for a while in the hope of getting a better view, but it didn't seem to want to move so I continued to a more remote part of the reserve. 

I saw very little, other than a few Migrant Hawker dragonflies that were very uncooperative, and some Common Green Shieldbugs. The Common Green Shieldbug is very variable in colour in all its stages. This can be seen in the following two images showing 5th instars (nymphs) of the species. 


Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasena) (5th instars) - Drakelow NR
The adults are also extremely variable in colour, and take on a brownish hue as autumn progresses. However, I have never before seen one with the extreme colouration as shown in the second image. At first I thought I'd got a different species!


Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasena) (adult) - Drakelow NR
To my utter surprise, as I made my way back to my start point, I found the Slider was out of the water and making its way across the path in front of me.  As I approached, it stopped. giving me the opportunity to take some closer photos. Sadly, however, it was in deep shade, so I didn't do well. 

Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) - Drakelow NR
Not wanting to disturb it too much, although it had probably grown up with human contact, I didn't stay with it for long. I did, however, for some crazy reason decide that I wanted to touch it. I very gently touched its carapace with the tip of a finger, taking care not to go anywhere near its mouth (they can, I understand, take chunks out of you!). I had made contact with an alien!

My last photos were of another Migrant Hawker. This one was in better condition than the first one.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Drakelow NR
Yellow-Bellied Slider

The Yellow-bellied Slider is a native of the southeastern United States (Florida and Virginia). Like the Red-eared Slider (more usually known as the Red-eared Terrapin in UK), it is traded as a pet. Sadly, although these are usually bought as cute little creatures, they can grow to a very large size, and outgrow their welcome. I do not know what the responsible or humane way of disposal is, but it is certainly not releasing them into the wild, where they cause all sorts of problems. I suspect that this individual was released into the River Trent, which adjoins the reserve, and made its own way into the reserve (the reserve is members-only with a security gate). I'm not sure whether this Yellow-bellied Slider can survive an English winter (recommended temperatures for keeping them are higher than those of the average UK centrally heated home), but Red-eared Terrapins can certainly survive an English winter. 

When I encountered this creature out of the water I wished I knew what the best course of action was. I felt sure that, if I'd had something I could put it in securely, I should have picked it up and transported it to somewhere where it would be dealt with in an appropriate manner. If anyone has any views or knowledge on this subject, I'd be pleased to hear them. When I mentioned what I'd seen to the none-too-helpful person who was working on the site (those that know the site will know precisely who that person is) I was just told "yes, and there's Red-eared Terrapins here too".

Thank you for dropping by. I have absolutely no idea what the subject of my next post will be.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Seeing Kingfisher in a Different Light - on 19th September, 2017

On this day I decided on another visit to the Kingfisher location that has featured on three of my previous posts. It was a sunny afternoon, but I'd had other things to do so it was mid-afternoon when I arrived. Nothing of interest was visible from the first hide so I carried on to the second hide and sat there for a while, chatting to gentleman who had been there for quite a while and seen nothing.

After probably about an hour my companion declared that he would set off homeward, but call into the first hide on his way back. I stuck it out for perhaps another quarter of an hour before setting off myself as the sun was starting to go down and light conditions were getting a bit difficult. As I approached the first hide my earlier companion beckoned to me - he'd got a Kingfisher sitting on a post.

There are three posts in front of the hide and they are all just under 20 metres from the hide. The left-hand post is of medium height, the middle post is very short and is only just visible above the grass bank in front of the hide, and the right-hand post is tall. When I arrived, the Kingfisher (a female) was on top of the tall right-hand post. Sadly, with the sun now low and golden, this post was totally shaded by the nearby trees whilst the background was still in full golden sun. This presented an interesting photographic challenge which I partially manage to rise to.


Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Leicestershire
She fished from this post for a while before heading down to the far end of the pond and disappearing from sight. For the next quarter of an hour we had fleeting glimpses before she returned in front of the hide, landing on the middle post, which was in sun. I eventually managed to find a spot in the hide from which, if I stood on tip-toe, I could get a shot without the bird being obscured by the intervening grass. With the golden light on her, the blue plumage took on a somewhat greener hue than I usually see.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Leicestershire
Fortunately she only fished from this middle post for a short while, before moving to the left-hand post, which was also in sun, giving the greenish hue to her plumage.




Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Leicestershire
After this she returned to the right-hand post before disappearing to the nearby brook.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Leicestershire
It had been another spellbinding session in the presence of this wonderful bird. I think that this will be my last Kingfisher post - for this year at least!

Thank you for dropping by. I suspect that my next post might feature an alien!!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Launde - on 24th September, 2017

I'd decided to have a run out to the east of Leicestershire to see if I could find any Little Owls, as they have been worryingly thin on the ground lately. I didn't see any on my outward run so headed off to Launde Abbey to see if the small pond by the road junction held any dragonflies. 

To my surprise, there were more dragonflies there than I'd ever seen before, although they were all Common Darters. What is more, almost all of them were either engaged in mating or in ovipositing in tandem. 

Here are a couple of males that I found, which were not preoccupied with the mating process!


Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Launde Abbey
Here are a couple of shots of mating pairs.


Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (mating pair) - Launde Abbey
And here are some shots of these dragonflies ovipositing. They fly in tandem and the male positions the female so that she dips the end of her abdomen into the water to oviposit.

Hopefully, the last few images will give some idea of the orgiastic atmosphere of the situation!






Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (pair ovipositing) - Launde Abbey
There were times when I got four and five pairs in shot, but the focus on some of the pairs was way out.

I had limited time available here but, shortly after departing, I had a pleasant short session with a Red Kite.





Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - near Launde Abbey
Sadly, no owls were seen on the homeward run either.

I returned to Launde Abbey with Lindsay nine days later - we had a most enjoyable lunch there - and a very quick stop by the pond showed that the Common Darters were still at it! I hope this means a strong population next year - I understand that the larvae take just a year to develop.

Thank you for dropping by. I'm currently unsure what my next post will feature.