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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Heather - on Thursday 25th May, 2017

Lindsay and I have been away on a 10-day holiday to Scotland. We've been back for just over a week, but I've been busy processing the thousands (literally) of photos I shot whilst we were away. I apologise to my friends out in Bloggerland and Twitterville if I've been absent for a while - I hope to catch up soon.   I shall soon start working on a blog post or two which will cover our holiday but, in the meantime, here is a post which I wrote before we went away.

Heather - in this context, no, not a girl's name, nor the name of a flower emblematic of Scotland, but the name of a village close to my home and pronounced 'hee-ther'.

John was scheduled to be on duty at Rutland Water, but had to pull out for health reasons, and the forecast had me not wanting to wander far from home, so I decided on a revisit to a pond on the edge of Heather that I'd first visited seven days earlier, and which looked quite promising for dragonflies. 

On the way, I called in at my Little Owl Site No.02. An owl was just emerging from inside the barn as I arrived, and ran along a beam in the remains of the roof. I thought he looked a bit guilty as he did so, and wondered what he'd been up to!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (male)  - my Site No.02
On arrival at the Heather pond I immediately spotted a mating pair of Azure Damselflies.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (mating) - near Heather
There were good numbers of Blue-tailed Damselfly around. The second one is an immature male as witnessed by the greenish hue to the thorax. On reflection, the first one looks is if it might not be that old either!

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male) - near Heather
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (immature male) - near Heather
There were large numbers of Common Blue Damselfly around the lake.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - near Heather
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (teneral male) - near Heather
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (mating) - near Heather
As with my previous visit here, it seemed that, with every step I took, two or three teneral damselflies took flight out of the grass ahead of me and flew up at 45 degrees into the adjacent trees. The number was absolutely astounding! I did try to photograph some of these, but for me the problem was that they'd not yet taken on any colour, and I couldn't identify the species. 

unidentified teneral damselflies - near Heather
My suspicions are that both these images are of Common Blue Damselflies, with the first being a female and the second a male.

The real stars of the show were, however, the Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies, of which I saw four. One, in particular, was relatively obliging. Yes, I missed that damselfly exuvia until I came to process the photos!

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - near Heather
It had been a most rewarding and enjoyable hour spent by the lake, and I intend to return here to see what else turns up during the season.

Hopefully, my next post will be Pt.1 of my account of our  Scottish holiday.

Thank you for dropping by.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

A Morning at Rutland Water - on Saturday 27th May, 2017

On the bank holiday Saturday I was booked for a turn of monitoring duty from 09h00 until 13h00 on the Rutland Osprey Project. As it was expected to be rather busy with visitors, I was extremely grateful that someone volunteered to accompany me for the morning - thank you, Linda!

As it takes around half an hour (allowing for distractions) to get from the car park to the hide from which the monitoring takes place, I set off from home just before 06h30 so that I could take in some of the more promising parts of my usual owling route there.

I saw two Little Owls at my Site No.41, but didn't get any shots of them.

A Little Owl was seen at Site No.23, for the first time since January.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
Arriving at my LO Site No.34, I eventually spotted one of the owls further down the field, so turned the car round and drove back down the road to get a shot.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
I had no further owl sightings before arriving at the Lyndon Visitor Centre, Rutland Water. Here I unloaded 'The Beast' before setting off. Let me introduce you to 'The Beast'.

'The Beast'
'The Beast', known to some as 'Rick's Lunch Box', has only recently been put into service, following a paint job. It consists of a modified fishing trolley, on which is mounted a recycled recycling box. The box, given to me by a kind friend, has been modified with a fixed internal padded compartment in the top and on one side (the near side in the photo) that my camera fits snugly in. The idea is that the camera can be quickly dropped in if it starts to rain. There is enough room in the bottom of the box for warm clothing, waterproof clothing, drinks, etc. My insulated picnic bag sits comfortably in the other side of the box next to the camera compartment. As I found on my visit to Whixall Moss, the box can also serve as a seat!

On my walk to Waderscrape Hide (from which we do the monitoring) I was keeping my eyes open for dragonflies. However, I was delighted to find a Small Copper butterfly in the field adjacent to the path. It stayed distant, so these are heavily cropped images taken with the lens at full 500mm zoom.

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I saw many Chimney Sweeper day-flying moths in the meadow beside the path. 

Chimney Sweeper (Odezia atrata) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I had a bit of a surprise as I entered Tufted Duck hide. The hide was empty, but a shutter was open, and through it there was a close-up Yellow Wagtail. If the shutter had been closed, opening it would have frightened the bird away. It is not often that I see this species - let alone get so close!

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) (female) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
On reaching Waderscrape hide, it soon became apparent why I hadn't been seeing many damselflies - the Reed Buntings were snaffling them as soon as they emerged!

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
The female of the species was also showing frequently, if not 'showing well'.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Even more prominent than the Reed Buntings were the Sedge Warblers. In my last post which featured this species at Rutland Water, I stated that I was not sure whether I'd been photographing the same individual all the time, or whether there was a profusion of ringed Sedge Warblers. This caused me to keep my eyes open on this occasion, and I'm sad to report that it was almost impossible to find a passerine that hadn't been ringed. 

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Water Rail were seen a few times, but not photographed, and Water Vole was seen just the once by Linda - I only saw the wake afterwards!

The Ospreys were not very active, just taking the occasional joy flight around the bay, but staying very distant.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
In the event, a band of very heavy rain passed through, and visitor numbers were down on those expected, so we weren't kept quite so busy as expected. 

At the end of my shift I wandered back to the Visitor Centre, where I treated myself to an ice cream and took a couple of shots of the damselflies outside the centre, before setting off on my travels.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I had a short spell at Ketton Quarry, but it had got windy and cloudy, so little was seen and I didn't stay long but headed homeward.

As I passed Site No.41, one of the Little Owls was out, in the remains of its nest tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Thus ended a day with a very enjoyable shift at Rutland Water. Thank you, Linda, for your company on the shift.

I'm not sure what, and when, my next post will be, but suspect that dragonflies will feature again! 

Thank you for dropping by.

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!