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Sunday 16 June 2019

A Day In Rutland - on 12th May, 2019

I'm way behind with everything after returning from the Outer Hebrides. It had not been helped by me again succumbing to a chest infection. I am now (reluctantly) once more on a course of antibiotics and awaiting the results of an x-ray. I have, however, used my forced incarceration to process all the photos from the Outer Hebrides, and shall shortly start to write a report on that visit. In the meantime, here is a post for which I'd processed all the photos before the Hebridean adventure, and (hopefully) will require little writing effort!

It had been a while since I'd been out anywhere, the weather forecast was good, and I felt a visit to Ketton Quarry coming on to see if the Grizzled and Dingy Skippers were about yet. This was the day to find out!

I was on a bit of a mission, so I took the quickest route, arriving at around 11h00. I made a brief circumnavigation of the level section which leads from the car park to the gate which opens onto the slope into the first part of the quarry, seeing nothing of great interest until just before the gate, where I spotted my first Cinnabar moth of the year. It was not very cooperative, and when it settled it did so rather untidily - but at least it showed its hind-wing.

Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae) - Ketton Quarry
I spent about an hour searching the area, but didn't find the hoped-for Dingy or Grizzled Skippers. Here are a few of my finds.

Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - Ketton Quarry
Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina) - Ketton Quarry
Common Heath (Ematurga atomaria) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Ketton Quarry
At around mid-day I returned to my car to have a quick picnic lunch, but spotted a Holly Blue just before I got there.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - Ketton Quarry
In less than half an hour I was back in the quarry, and things had changed somewhat! Almost immediately I saw a Small Heath butterfly which flew and drew my attention to a Common Blue butterfly which, in turn, disturbed a Grizzled Skipper! The Small Heath was exceedingly tatty, so does not appear here, and I lost the Common Blue when I was distracted by the skipper, so only got a poor shot.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (female) - Ketton Quarry

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) - Ketton Quarry
Shortly after this, two gentlemen arrived. It turned out that they too were looking for the skippers, so I showed them where I'd seen the Grizzled Skipper, and it was still around. We stayed with it for a short while before making our way up the steep path that leads out of the quarry in a westerly direction. At the top I scoured the hedgerow while the other two descended into the area below. I didn't find anything to photograph so also headed downhill. Between the three of us we spotted Dingy and Grizzled Skippers. The real highlight was a mating pair of Grizzled Skippers - something that none of us had witnessed before!

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) - Ketton Quarry

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) (pair mating) - Ketton Quarry
After a most enjoyable time spent here, I set off to another part of the site, on which I'd seen Dingy Skippers in the past, and my two companions headed off on a circular walk around the whole site. 

I did find more Dingy Skippers, but I noticed that these were all tending to fold their wings soon after landing. I'm not familiar enough with this species to make any positive assumptions, but I'm wondering if this was because the day was warming up considerably and they found that they needed to minimise their heat absorption.

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) - Ketton Quarry
A Small Heath, in better condition than the previous one, proved difficult to photograph as it flew every time I got to within about six metres!

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) - Ketton Quarry
I also found a soldier beetle that I was not familiar with, although I understand it is a quite common species - Cantharis rustica :-

Cantharis rustica - Ketton Quarry
As I left this area, a Grass Snake sped across the path in front of me - too quickly for me to even raise my camera to it - and disappeared into a thicket.

I then passed through my original location and paid a visit to the small narrow 'valley' that heads up towards the north of the site. Here I photographed a few more insects, and also found my two companions from earlier, as they headed back towards their car. The first, below, is what I believe to be the very small moth, Pyrausta aurata, but there is a very similar Pyrausta, and I'm not sure.

Pyrausta aurata? - Ketton Quarry
Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - Ketton Quarry
Hairy Shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum) - Ketton Quarry
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Ketton Quarry
In the hope of finding dragonflies, I headed back to my car and off to the Egleton side of Rutland Water. To cut a long story short, I had a distant sighting of one teneral Common Blue Damselfly, and didn't get close enough to get anything other than a record shot. I was quite intrigued by something that I assumed, at the time, was a wasp, but turns out to be a cuckoo bee species! There was also a moth doing its best to look like bird poo!

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (teneral male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Cuckoo bee sp. (Nomada leucophthalma ?) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Epiblema sticticana - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
After this, it was time to head home after a most enjoyable and rewarding day, and there were no further sightings of interest.

Sadly, my day did not end on a high. When I was less than 100 metres from my home, the car in front of me stopped. I stopped, and then the car in front of me reversed into me at speed. Luckily, I had a witness to the event, or I think I'd have had a problem with the guy's insurance paying up. As it was, I was without my beloved Smart car for three weeks.

Thank you for dropping by. I suspect that my next post will feature the Outer Hebrides, and wouldn't be surprised if I had to break it down into two instalments!

Tuesday 4 June 2019

My First Dragons of 2019 - on 14th May, 2019

Sorry for the long silence. Lindsay and I have been away for a stay on North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides. A short while before we departed, some kindly soul reversed into my Smart car, with enough force to stove in the front end, so this kept me a bit preoccupied sorting out that mess (just got the car back today). Over the next few days I will be trying to catch up with the blogs I visit - but please bear with me while I sort things out! This post is one that I drafted before we went away.

The damselfly/dragonfly scene had been getting off to a bit of a slow start in these parts and, whilst I'd seen a few damselflies (Large Red and Common Blue) I'd not seen any dragonflies.

As Natural England had kindly issued me with a permit to visit Chartley Moss in Staffordshire (I live close to the Leicestershire - Staffordshire border) I thought I'd see if I had more luck there.

Chartley Moss is, I believe, the only floating bog in England and, as such, is potentially dangerous. It's possible to fall through the floating moss into the 12 metre deep water below, so care is needed! For this reason, I am encouraged by Natural England to take someone with me when I visit.

On this occasion I had the privilege to be accompanied by Leicestershire dragonfly enthusiast,  and 'thoroughly good bloke', Jim Graham.

Jim arrived at my house at 10h00 as arranged, but I'd was in the middle of a call from my insurance company to talk about arrangements for the collection of my Smart car which someone had wrecked by reversing into it. I managed to conclude the conversation fairly quickly and we set off in my other car.

Chartley Moss is less than an hour from my home, but there is a bit of a walk to the site from where we parked the car, so it was nearly 11h30 before we were on site.

We'd noted that a car was at an interim position with a note in the window saying that 'Steve' was on site with a permit. 

On the way to the main dragonfly area there were a number of Green Hairstreak butterflies around.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Chartley Moss
We also noticed several lizards scurry from the path we were following, but they were too quick for photography.

If someone had told me at the start of the year that my first dragonfly of 2019 would  be a White-faced Darter, I would not have believed them, but this did, indeed, prove to be the case as one flew off into the distance some time before we got to the open-water area.

We arrived at the water to find Steve there with a whole mass of very professional-looking photographic equipment. Apparently it had taken him several trips to get it all to site, and he was indeed a professional photographer, primarily specialising in video.

Steve turned out to be an extremely amiable person, and told us that it had been a bit quiet thus far, but he did point us at an emerged White-faced Darter which he said was almost certainly dead as it didn't seem to be securely gripping the stem it was on. It was only when I got my photos up on my computer screen that I saw that it was indeed dead, with a mean-looking spider making a meal of its abdomen!

Spider's lunch - Chartley Moss
Before continuing, I'll confess to a big mistake I'd made. As I was expecting/hoping to take close-up photos of dragonflies, and wanted to travel light, I'd only taken my 150 macro lens with me. I soon became aware that this was the wrong choice. Much of the action took place at a distance. However, when it was close it tended to be almost at water-level. This last aspect was a little problematic as, when one knelt down, one's knees sank into the moss and were instantly enveloped by 10 cm depth of water. Lying down to get a shot wasn't really an option without getting soaked from head to foot. A longer lens would have allowed a more acute angle of shooting. I'd have been far better off with the 50-500 with its good macro capability. For the most part, therefore, my photography was not good!

We soon found a White-faced Darter which was well into the emergence sequence, with its wings and abdomen already well extended, but it was good to watch this until it was ready to take flight.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss
Elsewhere, other emergences were taking place.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
At one point, Steve alerted us to a nymph making its way to the edge of the water, but we lost it after it went behind a clump.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (nymph) - Chartley Moss
I did manage a distant sequence of an emergence from just after the head and thorax emerged from what would become the exuvia (the shed skin of the nymph). Here's a shot from just after that happened (a very heavily cropped image - hence the poor quality) . 

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
The abdomen is slowly released and the teneral dragonfly then (as is usual for most dragonflies) hangs, head-down, whilst its legs dry out and gain strength so that it can grip the stalk that it's emerging on.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
After this stage, the dragonfly flips back up to hold onto the stem. Then starts the process of the abdomen extending to its full length and getting less translucent as it does so, while the wings are pumped up and dried, getting more transparent in the process. In the first two images, the wings have become visible but are very crumpled.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
In the next image, you can see the wings are still a bit crumpled and need to be pumped up to full size.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
In the next two images, you can see that the abdomen is extending and starting to show markings, and the wings are lengthening and becoming less opaque.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral) - Chartley Moss
Sadly, at this time, stamina was running out, and it was time to start our departure before seeing this beauty take to the air. However, during shooting the above sequence, I had a great opportunity when a teneral WFD made its maiden flight and landed in a place where I could photograph it.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (teneral male) - Chartley Moss
On the way back, the numbers of Green Hairstreak butterfly seemed to have increased and I have never before seen so many at a single location.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Chartley Moss
Back on the track from the farm to the road, Jim spotted a Small Copper butterfly - my first for the year. 

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) - near Chartley Moss
Apart from the faux pas with the choice of lens taken, it had been a highly enjoyable visit, thanks to the company of Jim and Steve, and the wonderful action observed - the emergence of a dragonfly is one of nature's marvels and one that will never cease to delight and amaze me.

However, I do have to express some concern from observations at this visit. It seems that, for some reason unknown to me, the White-faced Darters were emerging much lower down than usual - often only just out of the water - and it seems that a significant number of emergences were coming to grief because of this. Most of the exuviae that I found were actually in contact with the water! I wondered if there was a wind-factor here, with the vegetation being too mobile for comfort at a greater height. However, although it was breezy while we were there, I wouldn't describe it as windy. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

My thanks to Jim for his company, and to Natural England for their permission to visit, both of which were absolutely key to this event.

I suspect that my next post will feature butterflies!

Thank you for your visit.