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Thursday 25 August 2016

Emerald Damselfly - July and August, 2016

The Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) is relatively common and widespread in UK. It is, nonetheless, one of our most attractive damselflies and, fortunately, relatively approachable. 

Sunday, 31st July

I'd not been seeing many in 2016 so, on 31st July, I paid a visit to Alvecote Wood, where they have several ponds which looked spot-on for habitat. Alvecote Wood is privately owned and only usually open to the public in summer, when it can be visited between 18h00 and 20h00 on Wednesday evenings, and on the last Sunday in the month between 10h00 and 16h00. This visit was on a Sunday.

I arrived on site to find a falconer was there with a rather fine selection of birds. However, my main target was at the ponds, so off I set. 

I first saw Common Darter, but more of that later. My second sighting was of my target species, and a pair of Emerald Damselflies coupled up and in the centre of a pond, so not good photographic subjects.

Emerald Damselflies (Lestes sponsa) (male and female) - Alvecote Wood
Further explorations of the various ponds found quite a few more of the species, but all males! Hopefully you can see from the following images why I find this species so attractive.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I was just getting ready to depart and as I made my way alongside one pond I found a solitary female of the species. They're not as colourful as the males, but still very attractive.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Incidentals to the Visit

As mentioned, above, there were a number of Common Darters around. These seemed to be recently emerged, although I didn't spot any exuvia - primarily because I was looking for the emeralds.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (teneral male) - Alvecote Wood
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - Alvecote Wood
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
There were also a few Blue-tailed Damselflies. I did take a couple of distant shots of these mating, but they weren't usable.

There were some butterflies around, including several skippers.

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) (female) - Alvecote Wood

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) (female) - Alvecote Wood
There were also many Green Leaf Hoppers. These are only approximately 7 mm long, and I've never taken much notice of these before - however, the females are rather attractive.

Green Leaf Hopper (Cicadella viridis) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Green Leaf Hopper (Cicadella viridis) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Back near the entrance, I took some time out with the falconry birds. The Barn Owl was sitting up in a tree, looking relatively natural.

falconry Barn Owl - Alvecote Wood
The real star of the show for me, however, was the Long-eared Owl.

falconry Long-eared Owl - Alvecote Wood
This ended a most enjoyable day.

Thursday, 4th August

This was my regular afternoon out with pal John. This day was not totally focused on Emerald Damselflies, nor even the odonata in general, and the somewhat exciting non-odonata aspects were covered in my previous post to this blog which you can find here. 

Our ramblings took us along the 'woodland ride' which runs parallel to the west shore of Lagoon 2 at Rutland Water. Here we found several Emerald Damselflies - and they were all female! - somewhat in contrast to my findings four days earlier.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Other Odonata Seen During the Visit

There were Common Blue Damselflies in the area, but I tended to ignore those. However, there were a few Ruddy Darters and a few Southern Hawkers too. One Ruddy Darter in particular was amusing to watch as it was clearly trying to hide from us by dipping behind a railing, but coming up to check on us from time to time.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (immature male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Wednesday, 17th August

My third foray in search of Emerald Damselfly was at Alvecote Wood again. This time I went for one of their short Wednesday evening sessions. I arrived shortly before 18h00 to find that no one was around. Having respectfully waited until the official opening time, I made my way down to the ponds where I found Sarah (one of the two owners) and a local dragonfly enthusiast (whose name I've managed to forget) already engaged in looking for, and photographing the odonata. 

It was soon commented on that there was not as much about as was hoped for, particularly in the way of dragonflies. It was not difficult, however, to find the Emerald Damselflies.

It was quite sunny, and the low evening light made for some pleasant, but challenging photography, although not the best light for bringing out the salient features of the species. This first image might help you understand what I'm talking about.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
At first it was the males that we were spotting. The next image is of the same damselfly as the one above, but with a closer approach.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
As the sun got lower, the lighting conditions became more interesting, and playing the lighting became a significant factor. This period also seemed to bring out the females of the species. The difference between these next two images of the same damselfly was effected purely by leaning slightly to the right to take the second image.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
By now, we were all concentrating on the female emeralds.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
I found, more by accident than design, that it could even be beneficial to get the damselfly in shade - with my own body!

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
I noticed that my two companions were taking quite a lot of photos facing into the setting sun. Some recent damselfly images by Marc Heath prompted me to try this. I have to confess that I now appreciate how difficult this is! These next two, taken while experimenting with different levels of negative exposure compensation, won't win any prizes but it's a start, and I find them quite effective in an odd sort of way!

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Incidentals to the Visit

The only other dragonfly I photographed was a Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Alvecote Wood
There were a few Common Blue butterflies around, but I only grabbed a shot of one of them.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male) - Alvecote Wood
On my way to the ponds, at the start of the session, a Scorpion Fly (quite harmless!) was spotted.

Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis) (female) - Alvecote Wood
There seemed to be numerous Long-winged Conehead crickets around. These were quite fascinating as, if you moved, they ducked round to the back of whatever they were sitting on. They then slowly reappeared again. The first one, with short wings, and a black stripe (rather than brown) down its back is a nymph. That antenna reaches right to the top of the image!

Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (female nymph) - Alvecote Wood
Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I'd had a most enjoyable time trying to get more images of the Emerald Damselflies, and observing their behaviour.


My first visit, beside water, was in the daytime, and yielded (primarily) males. My second visit, to a location maybe 50 metres from the water, was also in the daytime and yielded only females. My third visit, again beside water, was in the evening and started by yielding mainly males but, as the sun started to set, the females started showing. 

I suspect that males like to be by the water and females prefer to be away from the water, but return to the water to mate and oviposit, and to roost in the evening when they are less likely to be disturbed by males and other species. 

My next post might feature something other than dragonflies and damselflies!

Thank you for dropping by.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Rutland Water - on 4th & 11th August, 2016

At the end of my last post, I said that my next post would probably feature some birds and, possibly, some owls. Wanting to be true to my word, I shall share a couple of visits with you. Unfortunately, in so doing, I will be replicating some of what my pal, John, has already published on his blog as we were both present on both occasions!

Thursday 4th August

Thursday is my regular afternoon out with John. As Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier had both recently been reported at Rutland Water, and I'd not been there to look for dragonflies for some weeks, that is where we agreed to go.

On my way to pick up John, I called at my Little Owl Site No.02. The roof of the barn that houses the owls is now in serious condition, and sighting have been few and far between lately. I was on the verge of drawing a blank this day when I noticed an owl sitting amidst a huge pile of wood from where a tree or two had been cut down.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.02
Having picked up John at his home, we set off, taking our usual 'owling route'. No owls were seen until we got to my Site No.34. This is a site where the owls were displaced by Jackdaw and Stock Dove in succession this year, and we'd gone for quite some time without seeing an owl here. We were over the moon, therefore, to see a juvenile LO here a week or so earlier. On this day, we were to be lucky again. An owl was spotted on a distant post at the field edge. We are not sure whether this was an adult or an advanced juvenile (I suspect the latter) as we could not get a good enough view, or photographic image, at this range.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.34
We sat watching for a while, and then I noticed a second bird on the far side of the field. This was definitely a juvenile! This shot was taken from the car.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my LO Site No.34
Further on, at Site No.42, an owl was spotted on a barn door. It wasn't until I looked at my last few photos that I saw a second owl had been present - does seeing a shadow count?

Little Owls (Athene noctua) (adult plus shadow!) - my LO Site No.42
On arrival at Rutland Water, John treated me to an ice cream and we then set off to see what we could find.

We drew a complete blank at the dipping pond and so set off northwards, first calling in at Redshank Hide. Little of interest was seen here but then someone arrived who said he'd just had good views of a Great White Egret from Grebe Hide - so off we went. 

When we arrived, we quickly found the egret, but it was in the distance and largely obscured by intervening vegetation.

Great White Egret (Egretta alba) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
After a while it moved out of view so we headed off towards Osprey Hide. On the way we saw and photographed several damselflies and dragonflies, but I intend to leave the ones from this day for a future post. 

Little of interest was seen from Osprey hide and the dragons were calling so we headed back towards Grebe Hide. On arrival, we were quickly treated to the sight of a distant Osprey.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
The next thing I knew, I had a female Marsh Harrier in sight. This did some distant passes.

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
The harrier then did a close pass. I managed to lock on with continuous focus and keep the bird in frame, and the camera kept running - till it went 'clunk'. Sheer joy turned to deep disappointment when I found that every single frame was 'unexposed' black. Once in a while my camera suffers an electrical disconnect from the lens - and this is what had happened. I'm just waiting for the quieter season when I can afford to lose camera and lens for a couple of weeks whilst the problem is solved.

The GWE was showing better this time, although still at a great distance.

Great White Egret (Egretta alba) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
The Egret moved off and we decided it was time to think about heading back. A shower of rain had us hurrying into Redshank Hide, and there we found the GWE again, standing on a roosting box - not very photogenic at all, but at least it was a bit closer!

Great White Egret (Egretta alba) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
The egret was busy preening. Suddenly it flew. John nearly missed it as he was coming to show me photos on the back of his camera. I managed a few shots that I'm quite pleased with - and this time the camera didn't fail!

Great White Egret (Egretta alba) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
After the egret had flown, it really was time to go as the weather didn't look too promising.

We took the usual 'owling route' home again, seeing a juvenile again at Site No.34

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my LO Site No.34
We also found a juvenile at Site No.47, sitting just outside the nest entrance. 

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my LO Site No.47
Thus ended an altogether pleasant day.

Thursday 11th August

Today was our turn for a spell of duty on The Rutland Osprey Project. Our shift is from 13h00 to 17h00. John and I have to travel independently as John's domestic arrangements mean that, although he's nearer to Rutland Water than I am, he can't arrive before about 13h15 to 13.h30.

I set off from home at around 10h15. It was raining and very windy when I left and, although the rain soon stopped for the rest of the day, there were high winds all day, until just before I arrived home again. I took the usual route but, given the windy conditions, was not surprised that I didn't see a single owl on the way there. I did, however, see a Red Kite at one of my Little Owl sites. Sadly, I only managed a record shot.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - by my LO Site No.41
I arrived somewhat early at Rutland water, mainly due to lack of distractions en-route, so I headed of to Shallow Water Hide.

Surprisingly, in spite of the wind, there were a few dragons and damsels around. This must have been a difficult time for a teneral male Common Blue Damselfly!

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (teneral male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
The views of the Osprey nest and favoured perches are somewhat closer at Shallow Water Hide than they are at Waderscrape Hide, where we do our duty of monitoring the Ospreys, and looking after the members of the public who come to visit. Here's a couple of images from Shallow Water Hide. The Rutland Water Ospreys are known by their ring numbers. However, for a long while the female breeding here was known as 'the Manton Bay unringed Scottish female'. Later, as a concession to brevity, a competition resulted in her being named 'Maya'.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) (juvenile) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) (female - 'Maya') - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I didn't have long at Shallow Water Hide before it was time to head to Waderscrape Hide to start my duty. On the way, I stopped to photograph an obliging Comma.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I also photographed another Common Blue Damselfly which I'll show here as, for those unfamiliar with these, it shows how these colour up from that shown in the previous image when they've been around for a while.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
On arrival at Waderscrape Hide I found that all the windows were closed because of the wind, and people, including several children, were keenly watching a couple of Little Egrets in the water immediately in front of the hide. I went down to the far end of the hide and, to my intense embarrassment, opened one of the hide windows. Although I did this very carefully, I sent the egrets flying!

Banished to the corner, my spirits were soon lifted again when a female Marsh Harrier did a pass in front of the hide. Photography was difficult as, after my last effort, I'd not opened the top window in front of me.

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) (female) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Fortunately, a Little Egret returned to the water in front of the hide and, by this time, I'd got the top window open. The vegetation in front of the hide has grown quite high and, even with standing on tip-toe, it was difficult to get shots of the bird without the blur of blowing grass heads fouling up the images. In the first image I can imagine the the bird is trying to show that it can look just as tall and impressive as a GWE!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I didn't manage to capture the departure of the egret, and the Marsh Harrier did a couple more passes before John arrived at 13h45 - that'll teach you to be late, John!!

The wind was blowing strongly from left to right in front of the hide, and the Egrets were very active - possibly because of the wind. When they were flying with the wind they were jet-propelled, but against the wind they were accommodatingly slow!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Juvenile Osprey, T8 put on a bit of a show for us.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) (juvenile - T8) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
We had good numbers of people in the hide to watch all this great action, and real enthusiasm was shown by people of all ages, with plenty of questions being asked - and answered to the best of our ability! This was one of those days when it really felt good to be a volunteer.

We had several passes by Little Egrets. This is a different one as you can see by the full set of wing feathers.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
There was another real bonus when Maya did a lot of leg-dangling followed by a close pass.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) (female - 'Maya') - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
With a request from my wife to not be back too late for dinner that night, and with John and Barry there to look after the visitors who were thinning out in numbers now, I took my leave at 16h30 and headed homeward. 

On my way home I was pleased to see a Little Owl at my Site No.34, but even more to see on at Site No.41, where we'd not seen one for a long while.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.41
Thus ended a day at Rutland water where the expectations had been low, due to the high winds, but the reality was a superb day. It all goes to show that it can be a great place to visit when conditions look less than ideal.

Don't forget Birdfair at Rutland Water this weekend (19th to 21st August, 2016). I'll be on the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society stand from 09h00 to 11h30 on the Friday. Please call and say hello if you are there.

My next post will probably be back to damsels and dragons, or possibly butterflies.

Thank you for dropping by.