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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 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.

Saturday 21 May 2016

A Magical, Mostly Macro, Day - on 17th May, 2016

With a relatively good weather forecast for Tuesday (mainly sunny, with light breezes) I took the decision to have a day out seeking dragons, damsels, and butterflies.

Wanting to get to the target areas as soon as possible, I bypassed my usual owling sites and took the quick route to Rutland Water. Here, I made directly to the Egleton side of the reserve, and the dipping pond near the centre. I'd seen Hairy Dragonfly at this spot last year and was hoping for a repeat. I spent some time searching the area, but the only photos I took were of a Green-veined White butterfly.

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Looking for a more productive site, I set of to the south side of Rutland Water, and the Lyndon Reserve. Outside the Visitor Centre, there is a small pond, which featured in my last post, and I was keen to see what had happened since that visit.

A spider was the first thing I photographed. I don't know what species this one is, but I'm pretty sure that it's one of the Wolf Spiders.

Wolf Spider species (?) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
There were several Red and Black Froghoppers around the pond. These are only approximately 10mm long.

Red and Black Froghopper (Cercopis vulnerata) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
On this visit, I only saw the one newt in the pond, but I did manage some slightly better shots than I did the previous time that I'd seen newts here.

Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) (female) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
The main attraction here was, of course, the damselflies! Whilst they were not particularly numerous on this occasion, they did keep me busy. Once again, however, my photographic efforts were somewhat frustrated by the limited access. I did, briefly, see one damselfly, which I believe was a teneral Azure Damselfly, but all the rest seen were Large Red Damselflies. These were seen in several stages of their life-cycle.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female - exuvia below) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
At first I thought this next one had not yet emerged, but then I noticed the 'white string' and what appears to be a tear on the back of the thorax, so I believe it's an exuvia.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (exuvia) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I'm still very much a novice when it comes to the odonata, so please tell me if/when I get something wrong! I believe this next image to be of a teneral male. I'm going by the not fully developed colouration and the slightly drooping abdomen.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I think this is either an adult or immature male. I'm more used to seeing adult Large Reds with red on the side of the thorax and a red 'collar', which is why I'm expressing doubt.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
These next two are of adult males as I'm more used to seeing them. Until I started taking macro shots, I'd never appreciated that fabulous metallic top to the head and thorax!

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Whilst there, I also witnessed this species mating. I found it interesting that there seemed to be a short period (perhaps only lasting five minutes) of orgiastic mating with several pairs in close proximity, and then nothing. This only happened twice in the nearly two hours that I was at this spot.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (mating) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I was in danger of loosing sight of my main objective for the day, which was a visit to Ketton Quarry - a disused quarry on the eastern edge of the county of Rutland and which has a reputation for its butterflies. I'd never been to this place before, so was looking forward to a visit.

I soon found the place and wandered into the reserve. The first problem I had was in trying to sort out which would be the best location. My first venture was down into an area which I subsequently found out is known by 'the regulars' as 'the Barbecue'. This looked to be an interesting area, and I started to explore.

The first thing of interest that I found was a Bee Fly. I'd never knowingly seen one of these before, although they are, I understand, quite common. I never saw it settle on anything but, fortunately, it had a habit of hovering. I wish I could have frozen that wing motion better. If you want to know more about this fascinating insect, I recommend Phil Gates's post on the subject which you can find here.

Bee Fly (Bombylius major) - Ketton Quarry
Shortly after this I spotted one of my target species - a Grizzled Skipper. I've never photographed this species before. This one was quite obliging.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) - Ketton Quarry
It was while trying to relocate this butterfly after it had flown that I found a Common Lizard. Amazingly, it was only two days previous to this that, in reply to a comment by ADRIAN, on this blog I'd said "if I knew of a place for lizards near here, I'd be there in a flash!". This one didn't present itself out in the open but at least it didn't scurry away when I approached it!

Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara) - Ketton Quarry
It was while I was trying to find the Grizzled Skipper again that two more people arrived. It turned out that the quarry was their 'local patch' and so I gained all sorts of useful information whilst chatting with them.

I continued to explore, and found a Comma.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Ketton Quarry
One of the two gentlemen was slightly limited in his mobility, but the other very kindly offered to show me round the area whilst his friend remained in the Barbecue. I wish I had made a note of this gentleman's name as he was so helpful. 

He first tried to find me Green Hairstreak, but the sun was intermittent and it was a bit breezy in their favoured location, so none were seen. He then took me to another area to try and find Dingy Skipper, and we soon found some. First, though, we found my first Small Heath of the year.

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) - Ketton Quarry
We didn't waste any time on this relatively common butterfly as the Dingy Skippers were calling. A pair of skippers gave themselves away by having a period of interaction with each other. Although my guide was carrying a camera, he very generously let me have first shot at getting photos. Here's some of a relatively pristine specimen - I think it's a male. It was the first time that I've photographed this species too!

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) (male) - Ketton Quarry
A short distance away, another Dingy Skipper was found - a dingy Dingy Skipper, as noted by my guide! I think that this was a tatty female.

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) (female) - Ketton Quarry
We then wandered back to the Barbecue to rejoin my companion's friend, who beckoned us over to show us a Grizzled Skipper that he'd been watching.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) - Ketton Quarry
Hopefully, this will not be the last time that I connect with this delightful species.

The two gentlemen departed, and I suddenly realised that it was 16h00 and I was hungry and very thirsty, and had forgotten to have my lunch, not having had anything to drink since 09h00, so I returned to my car, stopping to look at the holes left by Hornet Moth larvae in the base of some nearby trees.

holes left by Hornet Moth (Sesia apiformis) larvae - by Ketton Quarry
The two skippers, and the lizard had been on my target list for the day, and I'd only missed out on Green Hairstreak (butterfly) and Adder (snake). It was now time to head homeward, and try and find some Little Owls en-route. I thought that I was going to be out for a duck, but one was spotted at my LO Site No.41. It occurs to me that, sadly, this is the first image I've posted of a Little Owl for a long while.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
I fully expected the day's excitement to be over, but as I drove away from the owl nest tree I spotted what I took, at first, to be Yellowhammer in the field beside the road - although the location wasn't right. As I got nearer I realised that I was seeing my first Yellow Wagtails of the year. There were four males and two females. I quickly got my car into a position where I could observe, and got the camera out again!

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) (male) - near my LO Site No.41

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) (female) - near my LO Site No.41
Now it really was time to head home - after one of the best days I've had in a while!

My thanks to the two gentlemen who helped make my visit to Ketton Quarry so enjoyable.

Please let me know of any corrections I need to apply!

Thank you for dropping by.