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 For obvious reasons, they will not be published.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

Saturday 28 September 2019

Another Good Day! - on 21st September, 2019

With only 5 days notice, volunteers at Rutland Water were invited to attend an evening talk at the Volunteer Training Centre, given by celebrated naturalist and presenter, Nick Baker. Fortunately I was free and so decided, weather permitting, to tie it in with an afternoon visit to the east of the county.

When the day arrived, it was forecast to be a warm and sunny afternoon, but a bit windy. I felt that it was worth a return visit to Eyebrook Reservoir to see if I could get any closer to the Willow Emerald Damselflies that I'd enjoyed six day previously.

I arrived at around 14h45 to find just one other car there, and two people on the bridge, gazing over the parapet. When I asked if they'd been looking for the Willow Emeralds, I got a blank look. They'd no idea what a Willow Emerald was, so I explained. They quickly joined me in an attempt to find one, and decided to leave after just a few minutes with no luck. However, just as they were about to get into the car, I spotted one flying and called to let them know, whereupon  they quickly joined me once more.

Almost immediately, the emerald flew to the nearest point I'd ever seen one at at this location. However, it only stayed for a couple of seconds and was into the sun, and I completely fluffed the shots. Fortunately it flew to a place only about three times the distance away, and I did get a some shots, although none of them were good as the light was still in the wrong direction and the branch it was on was swinging about in the breeze like a mad thing! It did, however, keep flying out briefly over the water and returning to the same twig.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcoletes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir
After a while, I went to have a look over at the other side of the bridge, and was joined by my two companions. Nothing of interest was seen, however, and the two of them decided it was time to go. I returned to the south side of the bridge again, to find the emerald had gone. After a while I found what I have to assume was the same individual as it was behaving in the same fashion but its new favoured twig was now double the distance from me than that of the twig it had abandoned. I took a few shots and, in spite of the increased distance, got slightly better results, probably due to the twig being more sheltered from the wind and in a position where I could shoot with a better light direction.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcoletes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir
After being here for an hour and a half, and having had no sign of a Willow Emerald for nearly half an hour, I felt that it was time to try a different location with a different target species.

As the meeting I was attending was at Rutland Water, with an 18h00 for 18h30 start time, it seemed logical to head there, particularly as there was a location there that I'd previously found quite good for Migrant Hawkers.

I'd got some business that needed attending to at the Volunteer Training Centre first, so called in there, after which I was given permission to leave my car there and walk into the reserve from the VTC.

I was soon seeing Common Darter dragonflies, and some were reasonably obliging. In the third image, below, you can see two of the attributes that make these insects the efficient predators that they are - the amazing eyes, and the powerhouse that drives the wings.

Common Darter (Symptrum striolatum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
There were still a few Common Blue Damselflies around, but I confess to not paying much attention to these.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
There were a few butterflies around too, the most notable of which were the occasional Comma.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
It was, however, the Migrant Hawkers that provided the spectacle of the day. Soon after entering the site, I had been seeing the occasional Migrant Hawker flying around, but never settling - and flight shots would have been a non-starter for me as they were against a close backdrop of trees and shrubs.

As I approached the path that leads down to Shoveler Hide, I noticed a lady standing in an open area who seemed to be gazing in wonderment at something. I soon found out what - there were around 20 Migrant Hawkers milling around in an area not more than 10 metres across! I have never experienced anything like this in my life. I stayed for a while, hoping that one would settle, but found it impossible to keep track of any individuals. I think I did get a glimpse of one female, but it was definitely a male gathering.

In the end, I gave up and took a stroll along the hedgerow that forms the edge of Sharples Meadow. Here I found that there were around 10 hawkers in a 100 metre stretch and that several were settling from time to time. 

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
The next image would normally have been consigned to 'the bin' but, before doing so, I saw the insect clinging to its abdomen, which I hadn't seen at the time of shooting. This insect was, I believe, Chironomus plumosus - the largest of the non-biting midges in UK.  

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Chironomus plumosus (male)  - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I carried on with my exploration of the Sharples Meadow hedgerow for a while, but my time was running out, and I soon had to hurry back to the VTC. I did get a few more shots on my way back.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
On my way back, I found a second area with around 20 migrant hawkers milling around. These seemed to be showing signs of settling, probably because it was getting late in the day (17h45). I'd have loved to have hung around for longer, but I did manage a shot of two dragons together, albeit at a great distance.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I got back in time to quickly devour my picnic tea, before going in to the meeting. 

I'd not done any research on Nick's talk before booking for it- going purely on the talk's title - 'Rewilding'. If I'd taken the time to research it, I'd have realised that it was not about rewilding projects for the land, but (as per the subject of Nick's book, which I was hitherto unaware of) improving of our own powers of observation of nature by the 'rewilding' of our full range of senses. If I'd have known this I would, perhaps, not have booked to attend, but I'm so glad that I did as it was extremely enjoyable, being both highly entertaining and very informative.

The meeting finished over an hour later than expected, so I made my way home by the most direct route - I'd originally intended to take a countrified route in the hope of seeing some owls. However, I did have the pleasure of seeing a fox cross the road in front of me at two locations on my way home. Thus ended a most enjoyable afternoon and evening.

In Praise of the Sigma 50-500 Lens

The Sigma 50-500 lens is an extremely versatile lens, and is my preferred lens on virtually every occasion. Every photo, above, was taken with this lens. It performs remarkably well for distant subjects with the lens at 500mm, and is a useful macro lens as well. I use a Nikon D7200 body with 24 megapixel sensor.

To give more detailed information, the last three Willow Emerald images were taken with the lens at 500mm, f10. They were very heavily cropped to approximately 1/40th of the original frame.

The macro shot of the Common Darter head and thorax was taken with the lens at 290mm, f10, and again was cropped to approximately 1/40th of the original frame.

If one winds the lens back to around 140mm, it is possible to focus on objects 3 inches (75mm) from the lens hood, giving a truly macro capability. 

The only occasions when I use a Sigma 150 macro lens in the field instead of the 50-500 are when I know that I won't want the long reach and want to reduce the weight I'm carrying. This is relatively rarely as I soon found that I tended  to regret the decision to leave the 50-500 at home. The 150 macro comes into its own when I'm shooting moths from the moth trap or insects in the garden.

Thank you for your visit. With the current weather forecast being not so good, and prospects for a photographic trip out looking a little slim, my next post will probably be a somewhat retrospective one.

Sunday 22 September 2019

Friday 13th! - 13th September,2019

On Sunday 8th September, Willow Emerald Damselfly was reported from a site in Leicestershire and Rutland (VC66). This was a first record for the vice-county. This damselfly is rapidly expanding its range in UK, but I'd had my first-ever sighting of this species in Norfolk at the beginning of July.  

Undaunted by the ill omens that are supposed to surround a 'Friday 13th' date, I decided that I needed to go and 'twitch' this species, which was at a location on the far side of the county to my home.

I set off mid-morning, taking a rural route. Nothing of great interest was seen on the way, but I did stop en-route for a while to look at a small group of Barn Swallow, which included many juveniles, on some wires near one of my old Little Owl sites.

The location I was headed for was the inflow at Eyebrook Reservoir. I was expecting to find a crowd there, but arrived at 11h45 to find just one other vehicle and three people in attendance. All three had been looking for the Willow Emeralds, but had not yet seen one, although they'd seen scars on distant branches through the 'scope that one of them was using. I was told that they'd looked both sides of the bridge, but only spotted evidence on the north side, so this is where they had concentrated their efforts.

After a while, three more people turned up, including a lady who had previously seen the Willow Emeralds, and who informed us that the south side was where they'd been seen. Our attention was, therefore, switched to the other side of the road.

It was not long before the first specimen (a male) was spotted although it spent its time trying to hide behind a distant twig (this is depicted in my header image, whilst this post is current).

After a while, I felt the need to sit down in my car and have my picnic lunch, during which time people's attention switched to the north side of the bridge. A Willow Emerald had been spotted there, although even more distant than the one on the south side.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir (north side of bridge)
Soon after this, sightings on the south side started to increase, with mating pairs and pairs in tandem ovipositing, as well as singles. Although I didn't see more than four at any one time, I'm sure that there were many more than this, and believe that the evidence shows a well-established breeding colony.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir (south side of bridge)
Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female - in cop) - Eyebrook Reservoir (south side of bridge)
Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female - post-cop) - Eyebrook Reservoir (south side of bridge)

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female - ovipositing) - Eyebrook Reservoir (south side of bridge)
By 13h45 I was feeling decidedly off-colour (I'd nearly turned back on my way to Eyebrook) and, in spite of the sun steadily moving round to a more favourable position, bringing the damselflies with it and getting closer, I felt the need to depart homeward.

A short way down the road, just the other side of Stockerston, I stopped near a pond to answer the call of nature (part of the reason for my need to depart from Eyebrook!). A quick look at the pond yielded Brown and Migrant Hawkers and, on the path to the pond, Ruddy and Common Darters. I only managed a passable shot of a Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - near Stockerston
My route home took me past Launde Abbey, and there is a pond right beside the road and grass to park on next to it so I stopped there. Last year, in the very dry summer, the pond had dried up completely and the mud on the bottom had a mass of wide cracks in it, so I feared for the dragonflies and damselflies there. A visit a few weeks previously this year had salved my worries as I saw plenty of odonata action. The pond vegetation, however, was far higher and more dense than I have ever seen before and there was barely any surface water visible. I did see a Migrant Hawker flying around the far side of the pond and a female Southern Hawker briefly came into view, ovipositing, but I failed to get any shots. I did manage to get a few shots of Ruddy and Common Darter, but I didn't stay long.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Launde Abbey
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Launde Abbey
The excitement for the day was not over yet as I found a Little Owl out at my LO Site No.23

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
As a measure as to how desperate the situation has been this year, this was the first Little Owl I had recorded since the end of March! I am sure that you can, therefore, understand how exciting this was for me. 

Thank you for dropping by. I might have to resort to older material for my next blog post, unless something turns up in the interim!

Monday 16 September 2019

Heather Lake - on 8th September, 2019

Having had a successful (health-wise) trip out with my camera three days earlier, I found myself tempted to visit Heather Lake to see what the dragonfly situation was there. This would involve less walking than my previous trip out, but did not give the option to sit down if I felt the need to take a rest. The morning did not disappoint!

There were still a few damselflies around, but only Common Blues were noted.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Heather Lake
I did not pay much attention to the damselflies as my interest was drawn more to the several dragonflies that were visible. I did, however, take some shots of a lone duck on the lake, not being sure whether it was a Tufted Duck or a (somewhat rarer) Scaup. My photo and description even had the local experts scratching their heads for a while before coming to the conclusion that it was just a 'Tufty'.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (female) - Heather Lake
I spent a rather long time trying to photograph Migrant Hawkers. Photographing dragonflies in flight can be a rather strenuous exercise, particularly on the chest and arm muscles, and I did not feel up to it on this occasion, so I waited for them to settle before moving in. Only males were seen on this occasion. I'm not sure what the hawker in the 2nd image, below, is doing but it was busy whirring its wings whilst settled - perhaps trying to generate some warmth?

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Heather Lake
There were plenty of Common Darters around, and several were busy ovipositing in tandem. For the ovipositing ones I did try some 'flight shots' as it is somewhat easier to wave a camera around when it is pointing in a generally downward direction.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Heather Lake
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male + female, in cop) - Heather Lake
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male + female, ovipositing in tandem) - Heather Lake
I've often heard it said that Brown Hawker are extremely difficult to photograph, with their unpredictable flight, and their reluctance to settle. I can, to some extent, understand this view, particularly in respect of their unpredictable flight. However, I have, with patience, managed the occasional shot of a settled Brown Hawker, although catching females ovipositing is more frequent. I was, therefore, somewhat delighted to photograph at least three Brown Hawkers (all male) on this day. It might have been more, but you can clearly detect three different specimens by looking at wing damage (last two images are probably of the same individual).

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (male) - Heather Lake
For a short while, I was distracted by the juvenile Little Grebes on the lake. 

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) (juvenile) - Heather Lake
My greatest delight was, however, seeing Spotted Flycatcher. I'm not a 'lister', but I can't remember seeing one of these before in the county, and I certainly hadn't photographed one in the county. I believed, at the time, that there were probably two, although I didn't see them together at any one time. Having looked at the two images below, however, my suspicions are strengthened!

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) - Heather Lake
I'd now been on my feet for two and a half hours with a heavy camera and been contorting myself into awkward poses in order to take photos. I was starting to feel I'd overdone it and so headed back towards my car, it not helping that I put a foot into an unseen hole under the grass as I did so and twisted my back as I stumbled! It took a couple of days to recover, but I'm delighted that I made the visit.

Thank you for dropping by. I suspect that my next blog post will largely feature the dragons, once more, but I feel that an owl is in the offing!

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Back Out With The Camera - on 5th September, 2019

Due to illness, it had been eight weeks since I had ventured out with the camera. However, I was now feeling much-recovered and confident enough for a gentle trip out. For my first trip, I chose to visit Kelham Bridge. It offered the prospect of some birds and didn't require too much walking. It also has a couple of hides, which meant I could break the journey and sit down for a while if it felt necessary.

In the event, the visit was somewhat disappointing. I saw no birds of note, and none that were in a position to be worthwhile photographing. I did, however, find a few damselflies and dragonflies although that was not my objective, or even expectation, as it was quite cool and rather breezy, with the sun showing from time to time. The dragons, however, were not particularly obliging. There were also a few Speckled Wood butterflies around.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (female) - Kelham Bridge
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Kelham Bridge
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Kelham Bridge
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Kelham Bridge
Usually I'd expect to see a few people at this place and, in fact, before I went I was concerned that the hides might be too full for me to find a seat. Clearly, not much had been happening here for a while and, encouraged by the dragons being around, I decided on a visit to the Sence Valley Forest Park which is nearby.

Although it was a fair walk from the car park there to the location I wanted to visit, I was not too bothered as there were benches to rest up on at approximately 200 metre intervals, including one beside the pool that was my target. To cut a long story short, although it was sunny, there was very little sun on the pool and absolutely no dragonflies or damselflies were seen there. However, I did see a few on my way there, and on my way back, and there were numerous Speckled Woods around too. Here are a few shots. For those of you not familiar with Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies, they can look very different, depending on the light shining on them and I hope the first two images, below, demonstrate this to some extent.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Sence Valley Forest Park
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Sence Valley Forest Park
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (female) - Sence Valley Forest Park
In addition to these, Migrant Hawker and Common Darter were seen, but not successfully photographed.

In spite of the sightings and photography being uninspiring, it had been an extremely worthwhile experience and, although these locations were relatively close to home and I'd only been out of the house for two and a half hours, it had boosted my confidence for further outings.

I expect my next blog post will feature another outing, three days later, with better sightings and which included a 'county tick' for me. 

Thank you for dropping by.