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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.


  1. Some stunning shots as ever. Coming to the close of dragonfly season so good to see some of the late season species.

    From the photo the Mentha looks like M. aquatica- Water Mint from what I can see. It doesn't strike me as M. pulegium which is quite a scarce plant.

    1. Your continued support is much-appreciated, Conehead54. Thank you for your observations on the Mentha, which I am more than happy to accept, and have edited the post accordingly.

      Stay safe - - - - Richard

  2. Hi Richard
    The Dragonflies are favourite my stunning. watch out Marc, ha ha ha. Beautiful Red Kite in flight, fabulous.

    1. Thank you, Bob. I think that Marc is quite safe for the foreseeable future. Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. Hello Richard, :=) Your four outings proved to be most fruitful, with many different species seen. I'm pleased for you that the damselflies eventually appeared,and I particularly loved the delicate green male Willow Emerald. You took uncommonly sharp images of all your finds. The conjoined Migrant Hawker is an exceptional closeup image, and the in flight captures of both dragonflies and Red Kites are wonderful-

    Thank you for your most enjoyable post, and for your visit. I didn't take very good photos showing the tail of the blue eyed dragonfly you mentioned, but perhaps I can find some showing more detail of the tail, and it will be easier to ID, but having said this I'm sure you must be right.

    1. Thank you, Sonjia. I get a great deal of pleasure from photographing dragonflies and damselflies, and it helps that it is a fine weather activity!

      Please let me know if you manage to get more details on that blue-eyed dragonfly.

      Take good care and stay safe - - - - Richard

  4. My word, Richard, the mating rituals of these Migrant Hawkers makes the Kama Sutra seem like pretty mild stuff! And you chronicled it all for us! This is a superb series of dragonfly images, the detail and clarity is quite wonderful. The flight shots of the Red Kite are equally impressive. You seem to have been having good news of Little Owls of late, so it is encouraging to read of another sighting. Best wishes to you and Lindsay. David

    1. I never cease to be amazed when I find mating dragonflies of those species that favour doing it in flight, David. It reminds me of tales of old of the 'mile high club'

      I have only had three sightings of Little Owl at two different sites, so not that good news. However, I have not been putting in the effort this summer, so I shouldn't be too surprised.

      Take good care - - - - Richard

  5. Hello Richard
    what should you write, the recordings are again beautiful and great to look at, the dragonflies so close first-class details ...
    the lens question has not yet been clarified .. ;-)
    Greetings Frank

    1. Every one of the shots in this post were taken with the Sigma 50-500, Frank. It is a great lens in my opinion. I cannot understand why they ceased to manufacture it.

      Stay safe - - - - Richard

  6. Another delicious post!

    So much to see and you offered not only a diverse selection but, as usual, outstanding photographs of your findings!

    The in-flight images of the dragons have motivated me to try again to come close to your superb results. I will, of course, be using by most effective tool: luck.

    We have been out and about quite a bit lately and are enjoying some early fall migratory birds. The past few days have been lower in humidity (for us) which makes for a more pleasant experience.

    Gini and I are well and hope you and Lindsay have a wonderful week!

    1. Luck, and the 'scattergun' approach to photography play a large part in my efforts, Wally. It's a matter of 'fire off many shots and, hopefully, one will be usable'!

      I'm very happy to know that the birding interest is picking up and the weather is getting more comfortable for you. We're having a very enjoyable week with our daughter and granddaughter with us - better weather would make it perfect.

      My very best wishes to you and Gini - - - - Richard

  7. More variety and illustrations to keep everyone interested Richard I appreciated your image of the Tachina fera very much.

    Kind Regards, Pete.

    1. Thank you, Pete, I was rather pleased with those shots of Tachina fera, even if it is a common species.

      Keep on keeping safe. Best wishes - Richard

  8. Hello Richard, some stunning photos of the insects, Dragonflies and other creatures. Most wonderful but as much as I like them I even like more birds and wow the Red Kites are for me number one. Such great birds.
    Hope all is well with you and your wife.
    Warm regards,

    1. Sorry for the late reply, Roos. There has been a total failure of the internet locally for two days. I now have a lot of catching up to do.

      Thank you for your kind comments. I suspect that my next blog post will be a bit more 'birdy' and then there will probably be some very 'birdy' ones.

      All is well with us, thank you, and I hope that your health is improving day by day.

      My best wishes - stay safe - - - Richard

  9. Sorry Richard I am struggling to keep up at present, hopefully I will have more time next month. Lovely photos but the Red Kite is my favourite. I hope that all is well in your part of the world.
    Very best wishes to you both. Diane

    1. Hi Diane. I think that I'd rather have your slow internet rather that the complete lack of internet that we've had locally for two days until late this afternoon - hence this late reply!

      The Red Kite is an extremely handsome bird, and the most graceful of flies in my opinion.

      We're doing fine here, thank you, in spite of wet and windy weather, and hope that you are not too overwhelmed by processing all that produce.

      Take great care and stay safe - - - Richard

  10. Hi Richard,
    you were very busy in and around the house and therefore little blogging. I haven't blogged for a while either.
    Your dragonflies and damsels (On your excursions) have become beautiful pictures.
    Nice colors and nice mating wheels. The insects and flowers in between are also welcome.
    I am also impressed by the pictures of the Red Kite!!! Great to see. You also managed to photograph the buzzard flying beautifully.
    I enjoyed your photos.

    Be careful.
    Regards, Helma

    1. Thank you, Helma. I'm delighted that you enjoyed my photos, as you are a person with a great artistic and photographic talent yourself.

      Best wishes - - - Richard


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