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Thursday, 7 June 2018

More Dragons and Damsels - on Sunday 20th May, 2018

I'll start by apologising to fellow bloggers for not visiting your blogs lately. I have been away on holiday in the Outer Hebrides where I had limited access to the internet, mainly due to my equipment rather than that of our base. I hope to start catching up on your blogs soon, but also have to start work on the well-over two and a half thousand frames I shot whilst away!

Just noticed a typo above - that should have been just over FIVE and a half thousand frames !!

So now to the subject of this blog post:-

I was booked to go on a visit to Chartley Moss, arranged by the British Dragonfly Society (BDS). Chartley Moss is one of the few floating moss bogs in the world and is managed by Natural England (NE). For reasons of safety and conservation, it is only visitable with organised groups and these are few and far between. My interest was that it is one of only three sites in England which have a population of White-faced Darter dragonfly.

I'd originally been booked on an afternoon visit but, because of demand, an additional morning visit was set up. As the weather forecast looked more reliable for the morning than it did for the afternoon, and as there was a space available I requested a transfer to the morning.

Chartley Moss is only 35 miles (56 km) from my home, it was easy to get to, and I arrived half an hour early. I'd been a bit concerned that there might be up to a dozen people on the walk and it might be a bit too crowded. I was, therefore, somewhat disappointed to learn that 25 people were booked! Everyone turned up, and so too did several other people that were booked for the afternoon walk but decided, unannounced, to turn up for the morning one instead.

Sadly, one of the party had limited mobility, and had to be propped up by a person on each arm. Dispensation was arranged for her party to drive to a farm which reduced her walking distance by about 300 metres. Here we picked her up again at the official entrance to the reserve at start of the walk which leads to the reserve (see the "You are here" marker on the below image).

Sign at entrance to Chartley Moss NNR
There was then a level walk of about 350 metres along the route of a disused railway line to a point which, on the map shown above, is adjacent to the top of the pale bit enclosed by the darker green bit. When the main part of the group reached this point, it immediately became clear that the way forward, down a steep woodland slope, was going to be impossible for the lady lady with difficulties. We waited here for for about 10 minutes, and she was still some way off when it was decided that one of the two NE personnel should go back to her to reassess the situation. The main group continued. 

It took a fair time to get to the target area of the bog, as we stopped from time to time to be given interesting information and demonstrations about the history and ecology of the bog. One of these demonstrations involved people jumping up and down, causing waves on the surface we were standing on and adjacent trees to sway from side to side quite dramatically!

As we got nearer to open water one of our number spotted a teneral male White-faced Darter in a tree some distance from the path that we dared not depart from!

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss
We arrived at the water's edge, and found ourselves standing pretty-much shoulder-to-shoulder at the edge of the 'pond'. There was plenty of dragonfly activity - mainly from male White-faced Darters (WFD). We did have sighting of the occasional female WFD, and there were a few Four-spotted Chasers too. 

I don't know what head I had put on when I'd got out of bed in the morning, but it certainly wasn't my photographic head! My images are virtually all very 'soft'. I suspect that I'd been over-ambitiously working with high aperture figures. Coupled with the difficulty in getting anywhere near the subject matter because of the number of people milling around and also the confinement to a narrow track for safety reasons, my results were very much less than satisfying. Here are a few of the better ones from an overall bad bunch:-

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Chartley Moss
This next one was, I believe, my first ever shot of a mature female WFD that was not conjoined with a male! I failed to get a usable image of a female that was ovipositing.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (female) - Chartley Moss
I suspect that this emergent female, below, had run into trouble, as I was a bit surprised to see the wings in such a crumpled state, particularly as the abdomen had already taken on colour.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral female) - Chartley Moss
I would have expected those wings to be relatively flat, as in this freshly emerged specimen which, unfortunately, I was unable to stop and observe its development. Note its exuvia bottom-right.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (freshly emerged) - Chartley Moss
I'm pleased to say that I did manage to collect a few exuviae at the end of the session after most people had already departed.

Once back at my car, I had a late picnic lunch and decided to call in at one of my regular odonata spots on the way home. During my previous visit, fifteen days earlier, I had seen absolutely nothing of interest. However, I was delighted to find plenty of Red-eyed Damselfly (although only two lily pads had so far appeared!), Azure Damselfly, and Large Red Damselfly. I also had a very brief passing sighting of either a Four-spotted Chaser or a Broad-bodied Chaser (probably the former).

It was great to see the Red-eyed Damselflies doing something other than sitting on lily pads or flying around when disturbed by other damselflies. Unfortunately as well as having the wrong head on my shoulders, as mentioned above, I found the light difficult as most of the time I was having to shoot straight into the sun, and I was constantly having to change exposure compensation, with values ranging from +1 to -1.7. Typically, in my experience, this species was rather 'nervous' and stayed distant

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
This was also, I believe, the first time I'd seen a female of the species - even if they were all coupled to males, mating or ovipositing. 

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male+female mating) - Ticknall Limeyards
Here's a pair in tandem, probably prior to ovipositing.

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male+female in tandem) - Ticknall Limeyards
I'd read about males of this species holding females under water for up to 30 minutes whilst ovipositing but never witnessed it. Whilst these do not show the female greatly submerged, it was interesting to see.

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male+female ovipositing) - Ticknall Limeyards
The Azure Damselflies were also busy, and a little more obliging for photography.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male+female in tandem) - Ticknall Limeyards
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male+female ovipositing) - Ticknall Limeyards
The Large Red Damselflies were even more confiding, and I did a little better with those than I did with any other species all day!

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
It was time to be heading homeward. I'd spent half the time at Ticknall Limeyards that I'd spent at Chartley Moss, but I'd taken twice the number of photos, in spite of seeing probably less than a tenth of the number of odonata seen at Chartley.

I will however, say that the visit to Chartley Moss was both interesting and worthwhile, even if I didn't get the hoped-for results, and I am very grateful to Ellie Colver of BDS and to Tim Coleshaw and Paul Shires from NE for the opportunity to visit this wonderful place.

Thank you for dropping by.

My next post, hopefully in about a week's time, will cover my recent stay on the Outer Hebrides. 


  1. Superb post and read Richard with some lovely photos of your visit. Wished I lived nearer to these as they are beautiful little dragonflies.

    1. Hi Marc. If ever you're coming up this way, I'd be happy to accompany you to see WFDs. I may have some good news on that front too!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  2. Fantastic White-faced Darter images Richard, they are uniques.

    1. Thank you, Bob. They are one of my favourite dragonfly species - and also rather rare!

      With my best wishes - - - Richard

  3. Hello Richard: First of all welcome back. I am glad that you got to see the White-faced Darter. In terms of the group size, a large gathering of enthusiasts can be a great problem. When I lead walks I strictly control the numbers most of the time, with upper limits that are not breached. My regular Tuesday rambles, for example, are restricted to eight (other than for the odd special guest.....Francine’s son visiting from Calgary, my daughter visiting from Ottawa. This practice ensures that every participant has a good chance to see the birds and take photographs if they wish to. With more people jostling for position it becomes difficult for everyone to do this, and the more forceful (and bigger, stronger people) always succeed in getting to the front. The only walk where I do not have a ceiling on the total is my annual March trip along the north shore of Lake Ontario, where we are looking out on the water at winter ducks and other species that are not providing only a fleeting glimpse. This trip regularly attracts around twenty-five people and all leave very satisfied. The rate of returnees is very high.

    1. Hi David. Regarding the group size, I did feel it was too large for the occasion and location. Fortunately everyone behaved themselves and acted with consideration. Although there were three people supervising the visit, I did feel that this number of participants did present a risk at what is, essentially, a relatively dangerous site.

  4. Considering the number of people milling around I think you are to be commended on a good job. Sounds like a trip to hell despite the beautiful Dragons.

    1. Fortunately, Adrian, everyone was considerate and well-behaved, and it was still an extremely enjoyable visit, although it could have turned out differently!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  5. Hi Richard! Awesome pictures!! How to get a dragonfly to stop shooting? Greetings

    1. Thank you, Anne. Fortunately, all these were sitting still. When trying to shoot them in flight it does tend to make the arms ache! Best wishes - - - Richard

  6. I have never been out with a group, and although it must help with sightings that I may well miss, I would not enjoy being with that many people especially if you are limited to where one can walk. I do not like crowds of any kind, so I think I would find this very difficult.

    Having said that I think your photos are great and I am glad that you tracked down the White-faced Darter.

    I managed a first for me the other day while out walking a Beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) male. Not the best photos, but conditions were difficult. It was darting around, not settling for any length of time, and the wind was blowing, so when it did settle the leaves were blowing all over the place! Never the less I was happy to get a couple of shots that were reasonable though not sharp.

    Have a good weekend, take care Diane

    1. I have to admit, Diane, that I am not fond of large groups these days, and much prefer to 'do my own thing'. In my working days, I occasionally found myself shepherding groups of of over 150 people (although I did have helpers!). It's not something I could go back to.

      Well done in finding Beautiful Demoiselle. I wish we had them near here. It's always difficult photographing such subjects in a breeze - which is why I take so many shots in such conditions, in the hope that one of them is in focus!

      Have a wonderful week. Best wishes - - - Richard

    2. Sorry to hear about the Lymes disease. My Mum had tick fever in Rhodesia and it knocked her for six so I hope that Lymes does not make you feel like she did. Take care Diane

    3. Thank you for your concern. I probably don't have Lyme disease, Diane, but I got half a dozen ticks on my legs in a high Lyme risk area, then stupidly picked them off with tweezers - squidging them in the process! I'm on heavy medication just in case, and it's making me quite dozy, I have to stay out of the sun, and I can't drink - I had a dry birthday!

  7. Hello Richard
    your efforts have been worthwhile,
    first-class pictures, very detailed .. super nice
    Greetings Frank

    1. THank you for your kind words, Frank. Have a great week! - - - Richard

  8. What an amazing reserve it sounds and looks a great spot. I think the lack of visitors no doubts helps.

    1. A great place, Doug, and I expect to be going back there in a couple of weeks - this time without the crowd! Best wishes - - - Richard

  9. Hi Richard,
    I have been sitting breathlessly watching these beautiful pictures of the white snout bubbles.
    Beautiful sharpness photos, fantastic colors and very nice and clear details. A big compliment.
    Your photo equipment will be a very good one if you want to photograph these beautiful dragonflies from so close by :-)

    Kind regards, Helma

    1. Thank you, Helma, for your kind words. I confess that, for every usable photo there are at least ten that are thrown away!

      With my best wishes - - Richard

  10. Unas fotos espectaculares de las libélulas, me han gustado mucho todas. Enhorabuena Richard, un fuerte abrazo desde España. Todo lo mejor!!!!

    1. Gracias, Germán. Disfruté tomando las fotos. Los mejores deseos de una Inglaterra cálida pero gris - - - Richard

  11. Great post Richard,enjoyed looking at every image,superb captures,looks like a very interesting place to visit.
    Sorry for the late response.
    Kind Regards John.

    1. Thank you, John. It was a great place, and I hope to be going back there soon - without the crowds! Please don't apologise for not visiting - I'm currently going through a hectic period too and been neglecting Bloggerland.

      My best wishes to you and Sue - - - - Richard

  12. Well, I was going to name my favorite dragon but discovered they are ALL my favorite!
    Well done, Richard!

    My apologies for the late comment. Took a couple of days and enjoyed the coast. Can't wait to see a "few" photographs from your trip!

    Gini and I wish you and Lindsay a happy homecoming!

    1. No apologies needed, Wally - I too have been somewhat distracted of late - mainly due to processing all those photos from the Outer Hebrides, but also getting involved in some interesting pre-arranged activities. I now have to start working on the next blog post.

      Thank you for your much-appreciated visit. With my very best wishes to you and Gini - - - Richard


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