Notes on Use of This Blog

1. I have a policy that I always reply to comments on my blog, even if it's just to say thank you.

2. Please don't submit comments that include your own web address. For obvious reasons, they will not be published.

3. I'm now on Twitter - @RichardPegler1

Friday 18 May 2018

Downy Emeralds - on Monday 14th May, 2018

I have a 'hit list' of dragonflies and damselflies that I hope to see this year, and on that list is Downy Emerald dragonfly. This species is described as being "local in the British Isles, and mainly concentrated south of the Thames". The species is notable for only emerging during a short period, and this is probably one of the easier times to photograph them at rest. I was, therefore, stirred into quick action when I got a 'heads up' from Marc Heath who had documented the emergence in spectacular fashion on Saturday 12th May at Thursley Common (Surrey), which you can find here.

On Monday 14th May, having set the alarm for 04h30, I was on my way at 05h15, with my SatNav, telling me I would arrive at 07h50. It's a long time since I did any motorway driving at this hour and I was surprised at just how much traffic was around at this time. I'd been hoping to be early enough to miss the worst of the traffic round the M25, but at the south end of the M40 the SatNav was already telling me I was facing 23 minutes of delay. I did the first 100 miles (160 km) in about an hour and a half, and the next 50 miles (80 km) on motorway took a further hour and a half. I eventually parked my car at Thursley Common Moat Car Park at about 08h30.

Having put on wellies, as recommended by Marc, I set off to explore. Almost immediately I met a gentleman and got into conversation with him. He'd seen three Downy Emeralds in a bush the previous week and had come back, hoping to get some better photos. We searched the immediate area and found nothing, and so wandered off to check out some other areas of the lake, in case I had misunderstood Marc's advice. We still found nothing, so came back to the original spot. 

It was then that the penny dropped as to why Marc had advised wellies, and I gingerly stepped onto the boggy area at the edge of the pond and was relieved that I only sank in by about 3-4 inches (75-100 mm). My new-found friend, Tony Hovell, had not brought wellies, however, so was virtually confined to dry land, although he did venture out at one point and got wet feet!

I found a few exuvia, a couple of which were from Downy Emerald, but the only thing moving was a Large Red Damselfly that had very recently emerged and had not yet managed to fully elongate its abdomen. It was too far away to get a decent shot with the Sigma 150 macro, and so I went back to the car for breakfast and changed the lens to the Sigma 50-500 as it looked as if I would need the reach of that lens. 

On my way back to the corner at around 09h30, I met up with Tony again, and we spotted our first dragonfly - and it was a Downy Emerald! I spent a while trying to capture this creature in flight, but was having difficulty getting it in frame and in focus. Eventually I found a technique which helped, and got a few shots. 

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) (male) - Thursley Common, Surrey
We returned to the corner, spotting a pair of Redstarts that Tony had told me were there when he'd visited the previous week. It was apparent that the conditions had suddenly become suitable for the dragonflies and damselflies to become active.

I soon started to notice something that was giving some issues for photography, and that was the huge amount of pollen in the air which was coating everything, including my camera and the dragonflies. This rather interfered with the clarity of detail in my shots.

For a while, I 'had my eye in', and was getting a number of shots of the dragonflies in flight, although, for the above mentioned reason, I'm not over-happy with the results. Here are some more from the session:-

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) (male) - Thursley Common, Surrey
After a while, I seemed to lose the ability to track the Emeralds with the camera, probably due to fatigue - my arms were aching! I only once saw a Downy Emerald settle - it was on Tony's bush, and literally for a second and I missed the shot!

I was relatively dedicated to observing the Emeralds, but I did break briefly on a few occasions to photograph other species.

Apart from the previously-mentioned newly emerged Large Red Damselfly (first image below) I saw the start of another LRD emergence (2nd image), but didn't spend any time on it because of the awkward angle and wanting to concentrate on the Emeralds. I did take some shots of adults too (the last one is a male).

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - Thursley Common
There were a couple of Four-spotted Chasers mixing it with the Downy Emeralds from time to time, but these usually settled back on their distant territorial watch-points. I was glad I'd got the reach of the 50-500.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Thursley Common
There were several  blue damselflies around, but I admit to largely ignoring them. I did take a few shots - all of them of Azure Damselfly. The second image shows, on the lily pad, just how much pollen was falling out of the air.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Thursley Common
All the while I was at the Moat Pond, there was a seemingly endless stream of people with binoculars and cameras passing on their way to see 'the Cuckoo'. It seems that this Cuckoo has been trained to come to mealworms and approaches photographers to within just a few metres. If I'd not been on a mission, I might have been tempted - but I'm not sure. I did, however, take a couple of shots of the male Redstart that was keeping us company.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) (male) - Thursley Common
By 13h00, a while after Tony had departed, I was feeling rather tired and, as I was due at a wake that evening, and not wanting to fight rush-hour traffic again, I set off homeward. I got home a few minutes before 16h00, but was extremely tired and had a headache, so decided I should miss the wake. 

I wish that Thursley was closer to home, and that the getting there was not so frustratingly traffic-bound. I only covered a minute part of the place and the Dragonfly Boardwalk which, I am told, is also frequented by lizards, sounds rather interesting. I could probably enjoy a couple of days exploring there, so maybe I'll return one day? Certainly I'd enjoyed this day, and Tony's company added to the occasion.

As for the Downy Emeralds, I am booked to be on a British Dragonfly Society visit to a private site in Northamptonshire in mid-June, where the main target is this species. I suspect that I'll not even do as well as this visit to Thursley as there will be a dozen of us, and it's never so easy when one is in a sizable group. However, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. 

Thank you for dropping by. Once again, I'm not sure at this stage what my next post will be.

Thursday 10 May 2018

At Last! - on 8th May, 2018

Firstly - regular visitors to my blog might notice that I've changed the title at the head of this blog (although the web address has not changed). This was due to the fact that, although my interest in owls is still very strong, there has been very little owl content on this blog lately and the situation does not look as if it will change anytime soon. The current title may change again, however - I'm mulling over the possibility of changing it according to content, catering for four main themes - owls, birds (in general), butterflies, and dragonflies/damselflies. 

Now to the subject of this post:-

I had found it increasingly frustrating that, whilst people 100 miles (160 km) or thereabouts further south than my home had been seeing damselflies and also, more lately, dragonflies, I had seen none in these parts - neither had anyone else that I'd spoken to. A warm spell which started on Friday 4th May had me visiting one of my favourite haunts for dragonflies and damselflies, but I saw absolutely no sign of any action at all.

Sadly, that evening I managed to pull a muscle in my side which made it extremely painful for me to bend or sit down. I was concerned that this might wreck my ability to take advantage of the wonderful weather.

The following day (Saturday 5th May) I decided to check the situation and went to visit another favourite odonata location, taking my 150mm macro lens, rather than the 50-500mm zoom, to save on the weight I was carrying. I was fine when I was walking around upright, but bending down to do up my shoelaces was agonisingly painful and the pain from the slightest jolt when I was driving my car sent me into a cold sweat! Furthermore, I didn't find anything interesting to photograph!

The following day (Sunday 6th May) I was intending to join a Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust visit to Donisthorpe Woodland to survey for the Dingy Skipper butterfly, so drastic action was needed. Liberal applications of Ibuprofen gel, and regular doses of Paracetamol were resorted to and, coupled with care to find alternative methods to put on shoes and socks, things started to improve to the extent that I decided to risk it.

The group assembled at the entrance to the woodland, and the general consensus was that it was probably going to be too early in the season for the Dingy Skippers as everything seemed to be rather late this year. Whilst we saw several butterfly species, Dingy Skipper wasn't one of them and the only shots I came away with were of a Green-veined White - again I was carrying the 150 macro lens to cut down on the weight.

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) - Donisthorpe Woodland
I'm pleased to say that I was a little more comfortable that afternoon than I had been the previous day. However, I decided that I should have a very careful and relaxed day at home on the Monday, particularly as driving was still rather painful. 

I was worried that I was booked to give a talk in Stourbridge on the Wednesday evening and, although this is only about 50 miles (80 km) from home it would be a slow stop/start journey of about an hour and a half. I wasn't sure that my back would stand up to it, although it was improving. On the Tuesday morning (8th May) I decided that I had to put it to the test. After breakfast I packed up a picnic lunch and set off eastward with the intention, if all was well, to visit Rutland Water to look for damselflies (and possibly dragonflies) and then Ketton Quarry to look for butterflies.

I took my usual owling route, and the only thing of interest seen en-route was a Red Kite flying around with a huge clump of nesting material - I wished I'd got the 50-500 lens! 

I arrived at the Egleton Visitor Centre at Rutland Water, to find that the dipping pond had a 'no entry' sign on the gate. Having enquired at the centre, I was informed that, as a volunteer, I could enter.

Almost immediately I saw a colourless teneral damselfly fly away from beside the water, but failed to relocate it.  From what I saw later, I'm relatively confident that this would have been an Azure Damselfly - I'm confident it was not a Large Red Damselfly which was the first species I expected to find, if any!

I few minutes later I spotted an immature Azure Damselfly and managed to get some shots, although it entailed kneeling in the water at one point. 

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (immature male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
After a fleeting glimpse of a Large Red Damselfly, a second one then appeared and settled on an inaccessible distant leaf - I might have got a reasonable shot if I'd had the 50-500 lens on the camera. It then disappeared, never to be seen again.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (immature male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I then went off to the second, larger, dipping pond. Here I found several more teneral Azure Damselflies, and an exuvia of an Azure Damselfly. It was then that I realised that I'd forgotten to bring one essential bit of kit with me, and that was plastic pots for collecting exuvia!

Having struggled to get a shot of the exuvia in-situ (the first image below), I resorted to tearing off the leaf and placing it on a nearby table (the second image). I'm not sure if the middle left leg was lost from the exuvia, or whether the nymph had already lost a leg - I'm inclined towards the latter as it appears that the hind leg on that same side is shorter than its opposite number.  I realise, now, that I should have had more time photographing this exuvia from different angles as I didn't succeed in getting it home intact. Note: this exuvia is only about 15 mm long overall!

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (exuvia) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
As I had three more places I wished to visit, and there was little activity here, I didn't stay long, but set off for the Lyndon side of Rutland Water. 

I arrived to the news that the third Osprey chick in the Manton Bay nest was in the process of hatching. I stood and watched the nest activity on the screen for a while but was then drawn to the small pond outside the visitor centre where I'd seen a Large Red Damselflies on arrival. The staff in the centre informed me that they believed that this was the first day of the damselflies there.  As well as the damselflies, there were also several LR Damselfly exuvia around, but all too distant to get a decent shot, and the damselflies weren't cooperating either! Photographically it was a poor session, and it was starting to get a bit breezy.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (exuvia) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
As I was on a mission, I didn't stop long here either. My next port of call was Ketton Quarry where I hoped to catch up with some butterflies and, if I was very lucky, maybe a lizard or snake.

I arrived, and quickly consumed my picnic lunch before setting off into this old quarry. It had got rather breezy here, so I headed down into a more sheltered area. This proved to be totally unproductive, so I moved up into an area where the fence line was often good for Green Hairstreak butterfly. It was very breezy here, but I did see a Green Hairstreak briefly, low down away from the fence line. Two Brimstone were also seen, but not photographed.

Exploring the  quarry area immediately below, I only found another Brimstone and a Small Tortoiseshell. I came up out of the quarry, through the gate and then down the path beside the quarry. At the bottom was a sheltered area where a Green Hairstreak was holding territory and defending it against others of its kind. It was quite obliging for photography. Against some green foliage they can be hard to detect, except when they fly. However, sometimes their shade of green is different enough that they seem to stand out like a sore thumb against other greens. This tiny butterfly is only about 15 mm long (26-30 mm wingspan).

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Ketton Quarry
This specimen has relatively sparse white marks on the underwings when compared to the norm.

I then set off into an area that I'd not been into before and, to my delight, found a Grizzled Skipper. I took a distant record shot, before going in for a close-up. Sadly, the butterfly part-closed its wings and almost immediately departed. I did not manage to find it again. This small butterfly has a wingspan of 23-29 mm.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) - Ketton Quarry
My search for another Grizzled was unsuccessful, and so I decided to head back towards my car. I was pleased to see the Green Hairstreak was still holding territory where I'd left it - or so I thought until I looked at my photos. The butterfly that was there on my return visit was a different one - as can be seen from the unusual solitary white spot on the underwing!

After my session at Ketton Quarry, I headed off to the small pond at Launde Abbey in the hope of more odonata, but nothing was visible, so I headed homeward.

Sadly, no owls were seen on the homeward journey either, but at least I proved that my back would hold up for an extended drive, so that I could head off to Stourbridge with confidence the next day.

It was also good to get in some practice with the 150 macro lens. I only got it at the end of last season so haven't had much chance to work with it. I've got a way to go yet before I get the best out of it.

Thank you for dropping by - I have absolutely no idea what my next post will feature, but it's about time I got back to the birds.

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Whatever Happened to Spring? - 3rd May, 2018

As I write this, it feels as if we have been plunged into the depths of winter once more, with cold temperatures and the chill factor of stiff breezes taking us down to around 0°C at night and keeping us in mid-single figures during the day!

We did have some sunny and warm spells around the end of March, and then again in mid-April, but it's all gone to pot since then.

I'm living in hope of a late spring which will instantly transform into an early summer - time will tell! In the meantime I'm hanging onto the memory of the previously mentioned warm spells and wishing I'd paid more attention to the butterflies that showed in our garden at those times. They included Brimstone (male and female), Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip (male and female), Green-veined White, and Holly Blue. I only photographed a Brimstone and Orange Tip, and got some poor shots of a Small Tortoiseshell which I won't bother you with here. 

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (female) - our garden on 25th March, 2018

Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (female) - our garden on 19th April, 2018
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some extended warm sunny weather to re-boot the butterfly season and kick off the dragonfly season in these parts.

UPDATE: Since writing the above, the forecast has improved considerably, with the chance of some warm weather in a couple of days time. We had some sunshine briefly today (2nd May), after a morning of torrential rain, and were visited by a Holly Blue - not good shots as it stayed high up in the ivy and I could not get nearer than about 5 metres to this tiny butterfly.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (male) - our garden on 2nd May, 2018
I'm not sure what my next post will feature but, unless I'm very lucky, it's going to be birds of some description.

Thank you for dropping by.