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Tuesday, 12 October 2021

TITUS JOHN WHITE

It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of Titus John White.

John's wife, Veg, phoned me this evening to tell me that John had suffered a fatal stroke on the night of Sunday 10th October.

John has had Barn Owls nesting in his garden since he built two fabulous Barn Owl boxes side-by-side. Titus John White was not his real name but was suggested by me when he wanted to start a blog, but felt the need to withhold his identity to protect his beloved Barn Owls from unwanted (and illegal) disturbance. Titus White - Barn Owl (Tito alba).

John was one of the kindest persons I have ever met, and had a wonderful sense of humour. We had been pals for many years with us first meeting through one of John's friends suggesting that John contact me because of my passion for owls.We subsequently met up on a weekly basis to spend the day seeking birds and other wildlife to photograph, and later shared shifts together as volunteers on the Rutland Osprey Project. Lately, our meetings had become less frequent, but we still exchanged telephone chats from time to time.

I will miss John greatly, and my thoughts and best wishes are with Veg, and the rest of John's family at this difficult time.

God bless you John - may you fly peacefully on silent wings.

Friday, 8 October 2021

September In the Garden - 2021

I'm very much behind with all matters Blogger at the moment due to a recent return from the Isles of Scilly where the last few days were a little blighted by two days with no internet on the island and the ill health of one of the family. We then returned home to find that our electricity supply had failed with the distribution board tripping out, seemingly soon after our departure from home, and that we had three freezers and a fridge full of festering food, virtually all of which had to be disposed of. It then took a couple of days to clean down and decontaminate everything. We have now started re-stocking, so that we can eat!

I have already offered a blog post on my dragon hunting outings in September. This post features some of the observations in our garden for that month. From the header image that is there while this post is current, you will not be surprised to know that it includes - - a dragonfly!

Sunday, 5th September

It is not often that we get a Comma butterfly in our garden, so I was pleased to be able to get a few shots of this one. You can see the 'c-album' on the underwing that the scientific name refers to.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - garden
We get overspill from the bird feeders, some of which falls onto the soil and germinates. I tend to let some of the sunflowers grow, but usually weed out most of the other spillage. One plant had looked a little dofferent so, out of curiosity, I let it grow. It grew quite tall and then started producing very small, but beautiful, flowers. I think it was probably a linseed plant.
 
Linseed? - garden
That afternoon, while sitting in the conservatory, Lindsay and I noticed what, at first sight, appeared to be four white butterflies having a close-quarters altercation. We initially came to the conclusion that this was males wanting to mate with a female. The numbers soon built up and there were eight of them involved. It was probably around ten minutes before I realised that this was seven Small Whites mobbing a Brimstone butterfly - I have never seen such behaviour in the butterfly world before. As all this happened at probably over 5 metres distance, I did not manage to capture the event well but, hopefully, the following may convey something of the situation.

Small White (Pieris rapae) + Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (female) - garden
Eventually the Small Whites gave up the chase and the Brimstone rested, giving me time to get up to the top of the garden and get a few close-ups.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (female) - garden
Wednesday, 8th September

Red Admiral is one of our most common butterflies but is also one of the most spectacular. I find its underside just as appealing as its upper side.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - garden
Also common, and usually very apparent at this time of year, is the Garden Spider, which is one of UK's largest spiders. They string their large webs over considerable distances, often catching me in the face - to my discomfort! They are quickly on the scene to cocoon their captured prey to add to their larder.
 
Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) - garden
Saturday, 11th September

Here's the upperside of the Red Admiral, photographed on this day.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - garden
Thursday, 16th September

The garden moth trap went out that night, and resulted in 40 moths of 12 species. The two favourites were a Frosted Orange (a 'lifer'), and Common Wainscot (2) purely because it has a subtle elegance.

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago) - from garden moth trap

Common Wainscot (Mythimna pallens) - from garden moth trap
The most interesting in some respects, however, were the 11 Lunar Underwing. I have only had this species on a few occasions, and never witnessed the huge range of colour forms. Here are a few of the eleven trapped to give you some idea - yes, that orange one has been confirmed as Lunar Underwing by an expert!
 
Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa) - from garden moth trap
 
Friday, 17th September

I noticed several Common Green Shieldbug on one of our fuchsia bushes. They are sometimes known as stink bugs. Here's one of them.

Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina) - garden
While looking at these, I noticed a colourful small beetle-like insect. This turned out to be Pantilius tunicatus - one of the Miridae.

Pantilius tunicatus - garden
Tuesday, 21st September

I have no idea why I continue to get excited whenever we get a Crow visit the garden. They used to be a very scarce visitor, but lately they've become an almost weekly visitor. For whatever reason, here's this month's crow image!

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden  
Wednesday, 22nd September

In spite of my efforts to attract dragonflies and damselflies by installing a mini-pond last year, this was only the second time this year that we have seen a dragonfly settle in the garden.  At first, I took it to be a female Common Darter and was hoping that it would visit the pond and oviposit (although this is usually done in tandem with a male). However, on closer inspection it turned out to be an immature male. Although it was around for several hours, it never approached the pond and never settled anywhere photogenic. It didn't help either that I was busy painting the garden fence for much of the time and reluctant to get paint on the camera.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (immature male) - garden
Later that day, Lindsay and I had been watching a Grey Squirrel that had found a source of peanuts in their shells somewhere in the neighbourhood and was transporting them one-by-one to a stash somewhere else, with the fence at the bottom of our garden being on its route. It was moving at high speed and I thought that I'd missed with every shot, but found I'd actually captured it with one sequence with results that I'm quite pleased with. Here's my favourite.
 
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - garden

That brings me to the end of this update. A few days later we were off to the Isles of Scilly for a family holiday. However, there were some birding highlights and these will feature in posts to come - when I have managed to sort out the just over three thousand frames I shot off (less than usual for this length of stay).

Until then, take good care of yourself, and Nature.


 

Friday, 24 September 2021

September Dragon Hunting - 2021

I didn't get out dragon hunting in September as much as I would have liked to. This was partly because of weather conditions, but also due to domestic events in terms of outdoor maintenance (house and garden) plus the installation of air-source heat pumps to our home putting pressure on my time. However, I did manage four excursions during that time.

This blog post will cover those four dragon hunting excursions, plus some of the incidentals spotted during those visits.

Thursday, 2nd September          Saltersford Valley Country Park

It was relatively warm and sunny, but a bit breezy on this day, so I headed off to nearby Saltersford Valley CP for a mid-afternoon visit. 

The Common Darters (including mating pairs) were resting on 'the ground' rather than on twigs, presumably because of the stiff breeze.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Saltersford CP
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Saltersford CP
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male+female in cop) - Saltersford CP
A couple of male Migrant Hawkers were seen, but these were mainly confining themselves to flying along a very narrow trail between the reeds, and not settling. This made my attempts at photographing them doomed to failure. I include the following two poor shots of one of them so that you can get a feel for the problem in tracking them.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP
In one more sheltered area, I found male Ruddy Darters that were more helpful by perching a little off the ground.


Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Saltersford Vally CP
There was little in the way of incidentals to the visit. However, this is a quite reliable place for Speckled Wood butterfly. This shot of one shows its curled up 'tongue'.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP
I believe this rather attractive flower to be of Pennyroyal Water Mint- one of the mint family - my thanks to Conehead54 for pointing me at this correction to my original ID.
 
Water Mint (Mentha pulegium aquatica) - Saltersford Valley CP
I was on site for just over an hour, and it had been a pleasant experience, even if not over-productive dragon-wise and photography-wise.

Sunday, 5th September          Heather Lake

My previous visit to Heather Lake, on 15th June, had been disappointing as the woodland on the approach had been drastically thinned out, and most of the marginal vegetation had been removed. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I approached the lake on this afternoon with the weather just being 'sunny periods'.

As I headed through the woodland en-route to the lake I could hear the mewing of Buzzards in the distance and, on emerging into a clearing, I noted three well-spaced and distant Buzzards calling to each other. One eventually came a little closer as the others disappeared.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Heather Lake

On reaching the lake, a quick scan from the northern corner revealed just two distant Migrant Hawkers. One of these landed in the rushes opposite me. However, this next shot, taken with the lens at 500mm and then significantly cropped, will show that it was rather distant!

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Heather Lake

I set off on a clockwise circumnavigation of the lake, and during the next ten minutes saw little. I resorted to photographing a butterfly - yes, another Speckled Wood!

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) (male) -Heather Lake
As I was taking this shot, I noticed a Common Darter land, giving me my first proper dragon shot opportunity of the session.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Heather Lake
Dragon sightings dried up again and so I started photographing (common) birds.
 
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Heather Lake
Coot (Fulica atra) - Heather Lake
I also took some shots of a rather ferocious-looking fly.
 

fly (Tachina fera) - Heather Lake
I was now more than halfway round the lake and a little disappointed with how few dragons I was seeing, and not a single damselfly. I then found an immature female Common Blue Damselfly!

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (immature female) - Heather Lake
I soon came upon this next dragonfly which had me fooled for a while. It was holding its wings forward like a Ruddy Darter, and was coloured very much like a male Ruddy Darter. It also seemed to show some waisting on the abdomen. However, on closer examination, I see that it has pale stripes to the legs, no extension down the sides of the the black line on top of the frons, and pale side patches on the thorax, defining it as a male Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Heather Lake
I'd completed the circuit, and was nearly halfway round an anticlockwise return when I found a Migrant Hawker that seemed a little curious about my presence, although it never got very close. I spent a while trying for some flight shots before it disappeared, but did not do as well as I'd hoped for.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Heather Lake
Near the southern end of the lake were two Little Grebe. I find these to be rather cute, with their powder-puff rear ends!

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) - Heather Lake
I was more than three quarters of the way back to my start point on the lake when things took a turn for the better. A male Migrant Hawker was showing an element of predictability in its flight pattern and seemed to be looking for a place to settle. This enabled me to get a couple of reasonable flight shots, although my shutter speed was still set as for the grebe shots and not fast enough to freeze the wing motion.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Heather Lake
It then did what it had been wanting to do, and landed somewhere just out of my line of vision. I went over to try and get some shots of it perched, and was just raising my camera when something caught my eye behind it - a pair of Migrant Hawkers mating. I immediately switched my attention to them although they were not in an ideal position. I'm showing a close-up in the second image below as it shows the mating connections. Males have two sex organs - the primary being at the tail-end of the abdomen and the secondary being at the front end of the abdomen. The male collects sperm from the primary sex organ and transfers it to the secondary. In the mating wheel, the female is 'plugged in' to the male's secondary organ while the male holds her in position behind her head with claspers at the tail-end of his abdomen. She, meanwhile, is holding onto his abdomen with her legs.


Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male+female in cop) - Heather Lake
Before I left the site, I had one more pleasing encounter with another Common Darter.
 
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Heather Lake
I'd been on site for just under two hours, and a slow start had turned up trumps in the end - even if nothing rare had been seen.
 
Tuesday, 7th September          Eyebrook Reservoir and Laxton
 
With a week of unfavourable weather being forecast for a while from later in the week, I took the opportunity to head for Eyebrook Reservoir with one particular objective in mind, and that was to try and connect with the Willow Emerald Damselflies that had first been seen in Vice County 55 (Leicestershire & Rutland) in 2019 and which I managed to connect with and photograph a few days later, and then again in 2020. 

Eyebrook Reservoir, although in the same county as my home, is not an insignificant distance from my home and the scenic route takes me about two hours. I set off mid-morning, taking a picnic lunch.

On arrival, I was disappointed to find that access to the place where I'd had really good views of the Willow Emeralds last year was so overgrown with nettles and brambles that I was not going to be able to reach it without considerable, and lasting, discomfort to myself - my trousers ('pants' to my transatlantic friends) are thin enough that nettle stings penetrate them as I have found to my detriment before! I was, therefore, confined to observing from the bridge over the Eye Brook.
 
At first, I could see no sign of any damselflies of any species and only a few dragonflies (Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Brown Hawker, and Common Darter) that were zooming around in the distance. The day was quite warm for the time of year but, as with so many days this year, there was a stiff breeze.

After about twenty minutes, I spotted a Willow Emerald arrive and land on a distant willow twig. I had just raised my camera to take a shot when a Common Darter arrived to settle on the twig near the Willow Emerald, causing the emerald to fly off!

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) + Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Eyebrook
It was another twenty minutes until the next bit of action, when a male Willow Emerald landed on a leaf that was much nearer to me. It was difficult to get a shot as it was blowing about in the breeze, but I did manage to get one just about usable shot before a particularly strong gust blew it off the leaf.
 
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook
It was only a couple of minutes, however, before it returned. To add to the strong breeze, the photographic difficulty was added to by the subject constantly blowing into, and out of, deep shade!  I did, nevertheless, manage a few more usable shots of this remarkable damselfly.
 


Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook
I stayed for another couple of hours, but little happened other than distand views of Banded Demoiselle, as shown below.
 
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Eyebrook
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) - Eyebrook
Before departing, I took a shot from the bridge of a Moorhen in the Eye Brook.
 
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Eyebrook
While I was out that way, I thought I'd visit Laxton to see if the Red Kites were still frequenting the village. It seems that the gentleman in the village that fed them has probably ceased to do so as, although two were seen in the distance, and one approached the village on a couple of occasions in the hour or so that I was there, they were extremely sparse compared to previous visits.




Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - Laxton
The journey home was a pleasant one, and at one point I stopped to open the gate on a gated road and spotted a Little Owl in a good position a little further up the road. I should have taken a safety shot there and then as, when I got into my car, drove through the gate, and closed it again, being very careful not to look at the owl (they are expert at knowing when they have been spotted), I found that it had taken the opportunity to depart unobserved - this is quite typical of Little Owls.
 
Thus ended a day which was quite long-winded (I was out for eight hours) but with objectives achieved.
 
Saturday, 18th September          Saltersford Valley Country Park
 
It seemed like forever since I'd last been out, so I took a quick trip down the road to Saltersford Valley CP once more. I was a little concerned that there might be too many people about on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon  but, in the event, I didn't see another soul in the hour and a half that I was on site!

As is usual, when I have got my head screwed on straight, on arrival at a favourable location I took a shot of  'something', just to check the camera settings. I decided to keep the 'check shot', shown below, because it amuses me. It depicts the back end of an average-to large sized fly (I think it was probably a Noon Fly), but also includes a couple of extremely minute insects, the ID of which I have no idea about!

Saltersford Valley camera settings chck shot!
Sadly, as I finished checking my settings, a female dragonfly in ovipositing mode dropped onto the deck in front of me and then dashed off into the reeds which, in places were taller than head height. I didn't even have time to take in the ID of this individual but suspect that it was a Southern Hawker.

Has anyone else noticed that, in these parts anyway, the vegetation seems, this year, to have grown twice as high as usual, in both gardens and countryside? I'm not talking about trees and bushes, but those plants that grow from the ground up each year, either as regenerating perennials or from seed. Couple this with the lack of maintenance in public places due to lack of workforce or funding, and places are getting more and more difficult to access, or see through or over.
 
Dragonflies seen were the usual mix, for this time of year in this region, of Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. No damselflies were seen at all! The dragonflies, however, were settling regularly.
 
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP
There is one 'incidental' that I offer an image of. Although extremely common, a Mute Swan is one of the most majestic birds in UK. It was good to see this one close to the shore I was by, and its partner and healthy young family on the far side of the lake.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Saltersford Valley CP
 
That brings me to the end of my September dragon hunting efforts. Commitments over the next week mean that I am unlikely to be dragon hunting again before the end of the moth.

My next blog post will almost certainly be featuring my garden observations for September and will, I believe, contain a good mix of subjects.

In the meantime, take good care of yourself and Nature.