Sunday, 20 August 2017

Migrant Hawker Flight Challenge

Yesterday was spent at Nethergong where I entertained Paul and Sue Ritchie who had travelled up from Southampton to see the Willow Emerald Damselflies. Despite the weather not quite turning out as planned, we had some good sunny spells early on where I was able to find c40 Willow Emerald Damselflies and Paul was able to put his camera to good use to hopefully capture a few nice photos. In the afternoon the cloud built up and it even rained for a while which saw us finish early and retire to the local pub for a chat before they made the long journey back home. In my past few outings at Nethergong, I have noticed that Migrant Hawker numbers seem to be well down this year and in past years where I have seen c20/30 flying together, this year I have only been seeing no more than 5/6 flying around. Have they had a bad year or simply dispersed more to other areas? With the weather forecast looking quite good this morning with sun and light winds, I decided on another visit to Nethergong where the task was to see if I could capture a few photos of a male Migrant Hawker in flight. These are generally the easiest hawkers to capture in flight as they can often hover in the same place for some while which allows the photographer time to lock on to them and fire off some shots. Having said that, its still a challenge to capture some pleasing shots and every hawker acts differently. I spent some time walking up the side of a ditch where there were a few male Migrant Hawkers on territory and after watching them for a while noting their movements, I decided on an individual and settled in to an area where I hoped I could get some photos. I don't normally use the Sigma 150mm macro lens at all for flight shots but on this occasion, the Migrant Hawker was quite inquisitive and came in quite close a few times and hovered in front of me. I made the most of the situation and rattled off a few shots and was pleased with the quality of the photos. I continued to take a number of photos for a while until I changed the lens to the Canon f4 300mm where I again settled in and took a number of images. I think these are probably my best set yet of a male Migrant Hawker in flight and I will definitely return next week weather and time permitting to see if I can improve and learn more from the shots taken this morning. An excellent and very worthwhile challenge indeed. 

Migrant Hawker (male) in flight

Monday, 14 August 2017

Unfinished Business!

With the Willow Emerald Damselfly season now well under way and good numbers to be seen in and around Nethergong, I decided today on purpose to make an early afternoon visit to see if I could find any Willow Emerald Damselflies mating and ovipositing into stinging nettles as I did last year. As far as I am still aware, I am probably the only person in the UK to have witnessed and photographed these damselflies egg laying into stinging nettles. I was also really keen to see if I could improve on finding and photographing a mating pair which during the past few years, has somewhat eluded me for most of the time. After arriving at 1.30pm in warm, sunny conditions, I took a walk around the east end of the site and managed to see a good number resting up in the reeds in the sun and then took a look along the stream where I had seen most emerge a few weeks earlier. I immediately started to see pairs in tandem flying across the stream and landing in the nettles. A look through the binoculars then revealed other pairs which could be seen ovipositing into the stinging nettle stems. On a few stems were quite a few pairs at a time and apart from the odd pair which stayed and continued to lay, most pairs moved on after briefly laying to find another site to egg lay. This exact behaviour was also witnessed last year as well. It was time to try to get a few photos but with most of the stinging nettles on the far side of the stream and only a handful on my near side, it was going to be a challenge. After walking up and down the stream for a while where I flushed a few pairs in tandem on my side but they soon flew off, I decided on a sit and wait tactic to see if that would work. I picked a decent sized group of nettles on my side and got myself comfortable and waited. I continued to watch pairs in tandem flying past to the nettles opposite until after what seemed an age, a pair finally landed on one of the nettle stems. There were two photos I was after, one being an ovipositing pair laying into the nettle stems and a mating pair in the 'wheel' position. Sitting already still in position, I didn't have to move much and I expected them to start egg laying but was more excited that they started to mate allowing me to start firing off a few photos. The problem I now had was that the male was slightly further around the stem than the female which made the photos out of focus. I hoped that they would move round parallel to me to allow me to grab that most wanted shot. I had a nice background colour of the weed in the stream but as I sat there, two Swans swam past and parted the weed to allow some blue to show through. Not long after and the pair moved into a good position which finally allowed me to fire off a few most wanted shots and by far my best attempt yet at a mating pair.

Willow Emerald Damselflies (mating pair)

Whilst all of this was happening, another pair landed on some nettles further away and immediately started to egg lay. I didn't want to move and so took a few record shots showing them ovipositing into the nettle stems. I wonder whether other colonies oviposit in stinging nettle stems or it is unique to this group as it obviously works for them?

Willow Emerald Damselflies ovipositing into stinging nettle stems

I will hopefully make contact with the farmer soon to ask that they don't cut the nettles close to the water which they happily left last year. With a few photos taken and more to the point, all manner of insects now crawling over me, I spent the last half an hour making a rough count along the stream. I ended up seeing at least 50 Willow Emerald Damselfly with at least 15 pairs seen in tandem but just the one mating pair. I also managed to see 2 Brown Hawker, a few Banded Demoiselle and Blue tailed Damselfly, 1 Southern Hawker but only a couple of Migrant Hawker. There numbers seem to be much lower than normal around here. With my 'wanted' mating pair shot in the bag, I left happily for home but I will continue to return to see whether I can improve on an ovipositing shot in the next week or so.

Willow Emerald Damselflies in tandem

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Getting My Willow Fix

Having not been out much in the last week, I was keen to get out this morning to do some birding and have a look to see how the Willow Emerald Damselflies were fairing. I arrived at Nethergong at 9am where on arrival, it was a little cloudy and breezy but unlike the forecast which always seems to be wrong, there were some nice sunny spells in the next hour or so. I made my way to the east end of the site and managed to find c40 Willow Emerald Damselfly. I watched a number arriving from high up in the trees where they then found exposed branches and set about warming up in the sun. There were a number of males and females resting close by to each other but I never saw any pairs in tandem at all and suspect like last year, this happens late morning and into the early afternoon. I will have to make a few visits in the afternoon where I hope, I can see pairs in tandem and ovipositing into the stinging nettles again like I witnessed last year. Its also still a target of mine to obtain a decent mating pair shot, something that seems to have eluded me in the past few years. Hopefully I can get out a few times in the week and fingers crossed, that these times coincide with some nice sunny weather. 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (male) 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female) 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (male) 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female) 

I Don't Think He Knows I'm Here!

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Dewy Golden Hour

Whilst camping at Nethergong last week, I was able to get up at 5am on a few mornings and take the short walk to the stream where a lot of the damselflies can be found. It was made even better on both mornings by a windless chilly start which meant the grasses were soaked by dew and the spectacular sight of hundreds of spiders webs as far as the eye could see. I was hoping to find a few dewy damselflies and at this time of the day, it is often made easier to locate them by listening to the wings beating in the undergrowth as they start to shake the dew off. You don't have a lot of time to capture these shots as you can imagine as they start to get active quite quickly as the sun rises but with patience, you can often find a few perched up with nice backgrounds from which to take a few photos. After a brief search, I had found a few Emerald Damselfly low down in the grasses but it took a while to locate a Willow Emerald Damselfly which was thankfully perched up quite nicely. With the sun producing some lovely low lighting during the first hour of the day, I was then able to take a number of images with some partial dew still on the wings and body.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female)

Like any other wildlife photographer, I am always looking to improve on the shots I take and there is normally something learnt during the session about settings, fieldcraft etc. I do however, make time to sit back and study the species I photograph as there is still much to be learnt.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female)

I returned back to Nethergong this morning at the later time of 11am where I hoped in the sunshine, the Willow Emerald Damselflies would be more active. I walked the stretch of the stream and didn't see a single individual but did see a few Emerald Damselfly and Blue tailed Damselflies. I then looked on the eastern edge of the site where over c100 metres, I saw c50 Willow Emerald Damselfly resting out in the sun on the end of sticks and branches. I spent a while taking a few photos and was also aware of 2 Southern Hawkers patrolling the pathway but when they did perch, they were often high up. I did get some nice views though through the binoculars and I hope to get the chance to photograph a male of this species this year. I also saw c10 Migrant Hawker flying around as I walked back to the entrance. No sign of any Willow Emerald Damselfly mating pairs yet but I will endevour to return to hopefully capture this on camera and improve upon my single attempt last year. 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female)