Saturday, 19 January 2019

Dipping at Nethergong

On a frosty cold morning, I spent a couple of hours at the stream and pond at Nethergong where the plan was to see if I could find any Banded Demoiselle nymphs in the stream and Broad bodied Chaser nymphs at the pond. On arrival at 08:45am, the last of the frost was just hanging on as the weak sun shone for a change which was nice. I spent the first hour at the stream where I walked c300yards along the stretch, dipping the net every now and then at likely locations and was rewarded with c30 Banded Demoiselle nymphs of varying sizes which was encouraging so early in the year.

Nethergong Stream

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) Nymphs
With the fingers not showing any signs of warming up, I thought I might as well carry on and so then drove over to the large pond which has a variety of dragonfly and damselfly nymphs in it but on arrival, most of the pond was frozen over. There was only a small area which had just melted where I spent a short while dipping the net in the silt which proved quite successful as I managed to find c15 Broad bodied Chaser nymphs.

Broad bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) Nymphs
Despite the cold temperatures, it was nice to spend a few hours out in the sunshine finding a few species in their natural habitats. With the season a few months away yet, I suspect there will be quite a few more dipping sessions at various locations and hopefully a couple of indoor photography sessions with any of the nymphs I may collect. It's certainly warmer indoors at this time of year!

Saturday, 12 January 2019

First Dip of the Year

I spent a few hours this morning at Grove Ferry where the plan was to have a dipping session with the net to see what species I could find. As well as dipping in a few areas I have been before, I also wanted to venture to other ditches and dykes to see what they held and help build up a picture of what species are occurring and where. I always get quite excited when netting as you never quite know what you are going to get. Sometimes its nothing and then, all of a sudden, you can catch a few species. One of my targets this year is to try and find and photograph a Small Red Eyed Damselfly nymph and also to collect an exuviae of this species for my collection. My first stop this morning was an area where last year, hundreds of this species could be seen flying and so I spent a while in this area dipping.
Grove Ferry Ditch
I managed to find a dozen or so damselfly nymphs but despite checking them with the Opticron 10X hand lens, I wasn't convinced that any of them were the species I was looking for. Looking at photos of this nymph, they can be tricky to identify but I expect I am really early in the year to be finding them of a good size. I will keep monitoring the site and with a bit of luck and perseverance, maybe I will find my target in the coming months. Moving on to a few new areas where I have not netted before, It was interesting in the next hour to net 2 Emperor Dragonfly nymphs, 1 pretty much fully grown, 3 Hairy Dragonfly nymphs and 4 Norfolk Hawker nymphs.
Grove Ferry Ditch
Emperor, Hairy Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs
I quickly used the hand lens to check the length of the cerci to confirm the identification before returning them back to the water. I also managed to catch what I believed to be a couple of small Migrant Hawker nymphs. Most literature suggests they do not hatch until the spring and then grow rapidly to emerge a few months later. They certainly seemed to have shorter cerci when checked but I didn't check the shape of the mask which would have confirmed to me whether they were either Migrant Hawker or Norfolk Hawker. That gives me another excuse to make another visit soon to see whether I can answer todays unanswered question. A pleasant couple of hours indeed spent seeing how the local species are fairing throughout the winter months.  
A Few Hours Work

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

My Top 5 Odonata Photos of 2018

Having already posted a few odonata photo highlights of 2018, I thought I would try to go one better and try to identify my top 5 photos taken throughout the dragonfly season. This year has been harder than ever with a number of photos which I was pleased to take. I could have easily chosen ten or fifteen photos so to pin it down to five has been near on impossible. The photos I have ended up choosing are personal favourites of mine and may not be everyone's choice necessary. To me, each photo may represent many hours waiting patiently for a shot, a chance encounter, a shot I have had in mind for some time or simply a shot which looked nice through the viewfinder. I hope you enjoy the following photos.
 No.5 -  Banded Demoiselle Emerging

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) - female emerging
I have tried for the past few years to capture this rarely seen sight of a Banded Demoiselle emerging and it's been a most challenging experience to say the least. After many hours last year, I finally managed to photograph the emergence and was overjoyed at seeing and photographing the sequence as the Demoiselle emerged. Knowing how hard it is to see this species emerge, I decided this year again to see whether I could capture an emergence. I had made a small stream in the garden using a long glass tank. I had collected stream water, weeds, reeds and insect life to re-create the natural habitat and introduced a small pump to add movement to the water as this species will not probably survive in still water. I spent many hours during the night getting up and checking to see if any were emerging and it was not going to be easy. After what seemed an age, I was checking one night outside during a mild still night, when I could see a nymph trying to climb up a reed I had positioned. They are all legs and a bit clumsy when climbing but finally after some time, It had climbed to the top of the reed and became still. The weight of the nymph started to bend the reed over which actually worked in my favour but after a while still, I started to see the emergence start. To be sitting out in the darkness on a still night with everyone else asleep and unaware of this miracle happening near to them made this experience even more pleasurable. Thankfully the emergence went well and I was able to photograph the emergence throughout the stages. I like this picture not just because of the subject and how it was captured but also the stillness and darkness of the photo. I just find it very rewarding given the hours to finally achieve this near perfect emergence.
No. 4 - Newly Emerged Downy Emerald

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - male showing those Rainbow Colours
My experience with both the Downy and Brilliant Emerald are pretty limited and although both species occur in Kent, I have only had a few sessions where I have seen them both well and obtained a few photos of each species. I had seen a number of photos on the internet of newly emerged Downy Emerald's showing some superb rainbow colours on their head and thorax and decided this year that it was going to be on my challenge list, so in May, I made an early morning visit to Thursley Common in Surrey to find my quarry. I was soon checking and area where a number of exuviae were found and a couple of Downy Emerald were noted at rest. As the sun broke through, I then found a male which had not long emerged and was still wet with dew covering it and more importantly, the rainbow colours were very much evident and superb to see at close range. I spent a while capturing this lovely view which do indeed show the superb rainbow colours well and give this Downy Emerald, an almost magical feeling. As the Downy Emerald continued to dry out ready to fly off, the rainbow colours started to become somewhat faded. Just like a rainbow, you've got to be in the right place at the right time to see this stunning sight. The photo not only shows the colours off well but provides a lovely memory of a great session where I was able to see a first for me.
No. 3 Male Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - male on Grape Hyacinth
With the long winter months making all enthusiasts wait until the following April for the first Large Red Damselflies to emerge, I always eagerly anticipate seeing the first ones emerging from the garden pond. This year and with a few in the garden resting up, I spent some time watching, studying and photographing them as the camera had been very quiet for the winter months. On one occasion whilst at the pond, I noticed a male Large Red Damselfly fly and land on some Grape Hyacinths and begin walking around on them. I was soon on my belly and knowing the contrast of purple flowers against the red of the damselfly, I was hoping for a few photos opportunities. I was able to take a few which were not to bad but I stayed around on the chance I would have 'that' chance and I grateful I did. The damselfly at one point walked to the top of the Grape Hyacinth and beautifully curved its abdomen around the flower providing a quite lovely and brief photo opportunity. It all worked out well with the purple of the flowers showing nicely in the background providing me with a real favourite of mine, and one that when I see it, makes me very happy indeed and provides a nice memory of that warm day in the garden.
No. 2 - Norfolk Hawker Emerging

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) Emerging
If there was going to be a challenge this year that was going to be hard to achieve, it was going to be capturing the emergence of the nationally rare Norfolk Hawker in Kent. Looking through the internet failed to find any photos of a Norfolk Hawker emerging in this country and there were literally only a couple of photos I could find showing Norfolk Hawkers with their exuviae at all. I am lucky to have an excellent site near me where the Norfolk Hawkers have continued to expand their range and numbers over the past few years and this provided me with a chance to capture this rarely seen sight. Having gained permission to access the site after dark, I aimed to make a number of visits to a few dykes which I was pretty sure held the nymphs of this species to monitor for signs of them emerging. This involved many hours over two weeks where most nights were spent walking the dykes between 9pm to around midnight with a torch looking for signs of the nymphs. The plan was to hopefully seem them just below the surface where hopefully a few days later, they would try to emerge. My wife thought I was mad but unbelievably, knew how much I wanted to see this species emerge and after a few days looking at the site, I found a few nymphs to look at. Some were obviously Emperor Dragonfly nymphs but I did find a few that when I shined the torch near them, I could make out what looked like green eyes. I returned the next few nights and having marked the site where I had seen the nymphs, I was pleased that they were still in the same area clinging to the same reed. I was quietly confident that if I returned most nights when the weather was suitable, I may well get my chance. After nearly two weeks of monitoring and turning up every night with the tripod and camera equipment and spending many hours quite scared by the noises of the night, I arrived at one area where a scan revealed the nymph well out of the water in the darkness. It was at this moment that I thought that my challenge could actually become a reality and started to set up the equipment away from the water. A few more checks and I started to see the nymph thrashing it abdomen, a sure sign that it is preparing to emerge. I settled in near the bank and was able to get quite near and a short while later, I could see the back of the thorax starting to split. IT WAS HAPPENING! I then spent the next few hours with everything crossed that I would capture the whole emergence of this species. It was around midnight and with the emergence being successful, that I decided to leave for home a very happy man. All the effort put in during the night time visits had actually paid off and I had a very rare set of shots of this dragonfly emerging. Whilst I could post many photos on this emergence, I think this photo captures the emergence well. It's certainly a major highlight in 2018 and a very rewarding moment.
No. 1 - Southern Migrant Hawker in Flight

Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male in flight
And so I reach what is personally my favourite photo taken of the year. 2018 will quite rightly be remembered for the numbers of Southern Migrant Hawkers seen mostly in Southern England and I was lucky to not only see my first in Kent, but spend a few sessions at Oare Marshes in north Kent where a good number were to be seen. I managed to take a number of photos of this stunning dragonfly perched but it was trying to capture this dragonfly in flight that really spurred me on to achieve one of my best photos. As you can imagine, many factors are needed to achieve that flight shot from a showy individual, good lighting, nice background contrast to the photos, quick manual focus and plenty of photo opportunities. I had found a nice area where I found a good conditioned male Southern Migrant Hawker patrolling up and down a small channel which I could get a good unobstructed view of and set about trying to establish its flight pattern. I mentally noted where it often paused to hover, the flight and height as it flew past, the background colour that I would get in the photos and positioned myself so I could try and get the subject perpendicular to the camera. It was then a case of firing off shot after shot trying to capture the image I had in my head. As can be imagined, I had plenty of nearly shots, blurred shots and bits of body shots but luckily in there... was the one that when I saw it on the camera, I was quite pleased with. Having now processed the shot, I think it has to be one of my best yet, and of a stunningly coloured dragonfly. It ticks all the boxes for me anyway. Fingers crossed that next year, I can again reacquaint myself with this species.
So, there you have it. It's been an unbelievable year with many firsts and new photo experiences to savour. If 2019 is anything like this year, then I can't wait for the season to begin!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

2018 Odonata Highlights (October - November)

The latter part of the season is normally spent watching and photographing the few species that are still on the wing, namely Common Darter, Migrant Hawker and the Willow Emerald Damselfly. This year was no different as most of my time was spent at Nethergong when the weather was productive watching these species. The Migrant Hawkers put on a good show with a few sessions spent quietly stalking them and a few nice photographic rewards for my efforts.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - male 

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - mating pair
The most numerous dragonfly around was the Common Darter with many pairs seen at the stream in tandem and ovipositing which always provides a nice spectacle. It was nice to get a few shots away from the clutter of the ground with one perching up nicely.
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - male
Having had a good season, the Willow Emerald Damselflies continued to show well which allowed me to enjoy the last few sessions with them before time was called on their season. Late on in the season, I did see a few pairs ovipositing into the catkins of Alder trees. I have never seen this before and an email to a few people in the know confirmed my thoughts that this has possibly not been recorded before in the UK.
Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) pair ovipositing into Alder Catkins
Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) - male
By late November and most species season over, I decided this year to make a few comparisons of exuviae where the species are quite similar in appearance. I spent a good few hours photographing Downy and Brilliant Emerald and Migrant and Southern Migrant Hawker exuviae to show the main key differences about the species, which will hopefully be of use to myself and others when identifying these species.
Brilliant Emerald and Downy Emerald Exuviae Comparison Plate

Migrant Hawker and Southern Migrant Hawker Exuviae Comparison Plate
Its been an amazing year with many highlights which include photographing Norfolk Hawker emerging, male Hairy Dragonfly emerging, Downy and Brilliant Emerald emerging and also collecting their exuviae, seeing my first Kent Southern Migrant Hawkers and collecting their exuviae in Essex, Brown Hawker emerging, Banded Demoiselle emerging, seeing my first male Common Clubtails and photographing my first male Common Hawkers in Cornwall. Here's hoping that 2019 is just as good with many photographic and studying opportunities. My next post will possibly look at my top 5 photos taken during the year if I can actually decide on any. A brief look through the highlights and I think I have an awkward task in front of me.