Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Scarce Chasers at Westbere

I called into Westbere Lakes after work yesterday (Tuesday) where I spent 2 hours having a stroll up to the river and then west along the river towards Fordwich for a while. Although sunny and quite warm, there was a brisk wind but as ever, plenty of sheltered areas where found which held quite a bit for me to look at and photograph. Walking up to the river revealed 2 male Hairy Dragonflies which patrolled over the path just above ground level but they never perched and hundreds of Variable and Azure Damselflies with a few Red eyed Damselflies noted. I will have to have a few sessions just photographing damselflies as my main attention was trying to find Scarce Chasers and obtaining a few usable images of them. I can remember years where the Scarce Chaser was everywhere down here and although not at their peak yet, I only managed to find 5 Scarce Chaser. I would have thought that there would have been quite a few more but I suppose I only checked a few areas and it was quite late in the day. Another visit required to see if their numbers are growing I believe soon. I did find a few though and as ever, they can often show well, returning to the same perches to check their territory and watch out for prey. I ended up with some pleasing images of this striking species. Another species not out in any numbers yet is the Banded Demoiselle. Only a few were seen along the river but I hope in a week or so, they should be out in their hundreds. Weather permitting, hopefully a visit on Saturday to my good friend Warren Baker of 'Pittswood Birds' fame to catch up with a few species I do not get in this part of east Kent, namely Beautiful Demoiselle and White legged Damselfly and maybe a bonus Downy Emerald if we are lucky. Fingers crossed for that weather then and a bit of luck hopefully.

Scarce Chaser (female) 

Scarce Chaser (immature male)

Monday, 23 May 2016

Some Dragonfly Exuviae Science!

Back in March whilst I was photographing a Hairy Dragonfly nymph, I observed something that I have never seen before, click HERE to view the post. The nymph was on top of some weed and rather than sticking its head out, it seemed that on the top of the thorax were 2 valves / gills that were out of the water. Having not much experience with how they change their breathing over from water to air, I set about trying to find out some information from books and the internet. I was surprised after a few days looking that I could not find anything which referred to the observations I had made. I assumed that they stuck their heads out of the water and started the process like this but I started to feel that the nymph was definitely in the process of changing the breathing over. Over the next few days I continued to watch this and the nymph on purpose would stick the back of its thorax clear of the water leaving the 2 valves / gills free from the water. I had a number of replies from many in the know who also agreed that the photos were very interesting and the answers ranged from 'it may have something to do with the changing of the breathing process' through to 'it being unlikely'. Adrian Parr suggested that after it had emerged, that I take a look at the exuviae to see if it helped out with any of the questions I had formed. Yesterday (Sunday) I took the opportunity to dissect the nymph to see whether I could find any evidence supporting my theory that these 2 opening / gills / valves were indeed used to change from water to air breathing. What I found was very interesting indeed and as the photos show, I feel very much supports the idea that these raised openings were used to change the breathing over. The openings / valves when checked closely through an Opticron 10x hand lens clearly linked up with the white threads which help respiration inside the nymph. Had I found something that not many other enthusiasts knew or was it that it just hadn't been written about at an academic level? Either way, as part of rearing and photographing the nymphs, I was just pleased on a personal level to have learnt something new. It would be great if this research I have made indeed brings a new light to others on how dragonflies change their breathing over but many questions still need to be answered. Are these openings / valves always present on the nymphs or do they only appear on the final moult before emergence? Can they open and close them at will when they are above and below water? Hopefully, others will be able to help out and if the photos I have taken help out in any way, then I will be really pleased to have assisted in this largely unknown area from what I have read on how dragonflies change their breathing over from water to air.

Hairy Dragonfly Nymph 

Hairy Dragonfly Nymph Exuviae showing Valve / Gill openings

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Damsel in Distress!

More often than not, my photos are often of dragonflies and damselflies that have successfully emerged but with every emergence, the risk can be quite high that they may not make it to the adult stage for a variety of reasons. During my travels and watching a number of species emerge, the amount of factors that need to go in the damselflies favor are quite incredible. They must first make sure they find a good sheltered support but with every bit of wind, they could be blown back into the water where they may drown. They may not be enough room to fully emerge and wings and bodies may not be fully formed. When emerging, they may become stuck in the exuviae which probably will result in certain death, plenty of predators will be waiting for an easy meal as when fresh, they are unable to fly off. Plenty of spiders and birds will happily catch and pick off these newly emerged and soft individuals and even when emerged, individuals can fall into the water and drown. I think I have made the point in that every dragonfly and damselfly you see has gone through and hopefully successfully overcome these problems and will continue the cycle on for the next generation. Today whilst at the pond, I come across an emerging Azure Damselfly which had got caught in its own exuviae. Part of the head had not been released which caused quite a struggle for the damselfly.

Emerging Azure Damselfly

It continued to emerge as normal but all the time, struggling to free itself. I didn't know whether to intervene but looking how fragile it was, I thought I would probably do more damage than good. After a while, it had fully emerged and when its wings and abdomen had pumped up, it continued to try to free itself and with obviously more strength, it pulled off the part of the exuviae that it was attached too but it still remained over the head and eye.

Emerging Azure Damselfly showing 'stuck head'

I come inside for a while but popped out later to see if it was around. It had gone. Had it successfully flown off or had the local House Sparrows found it? Either way, unfortunately, I suspect that this individual might not make it or you never know, will it? It was quite hard photographing this event, knowing and showing how raw nature can be at times but it does make you think what these individual have to go through to make it to being an adult. I suspect for most of us, we never take a moment to think about this when a dragonfly or damselfly flies past us.

Emerging Azure Damselfly showing 'stuck head'

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Demoiselles and Chasers at Westbere

As mentioned in yesterdays post, I saw my first Banded Demoiselle's and Scarce Chasers of the year at Westbere Lakes whilst walking along the river. There can not be many more exciting sights in the odonata world than seeing large numbers of Banded Demoiselle flying up and down the river, their banded wings catching the sunlight as they chase each other before perching up on often quite exposed reeds, before continuing the chase soon after. Not the numbers yet at Westbere but I hope in a few weeks time, I will indeed be seeing hundreds of these stunners flying. I only encountered three yesterday and often, this species can be very wary but with the sun in and out, it gave me a chance to attempt a few photos as one male perched up on a reed. Using some in camera flash, I was able to fire off a few pleasing shots, hopefully the first of my many encounters with this species.

Banded Demoiselle (male)

I also come across 4 Scarce Chaser but photo opportunities were a little more tricky as they rested just the wrong side of the dykes for me. I was able to lean over and despite not the best light, attempt my first shots of this species this year. The colours are superb on these immatures and in the right conditions with subtle backgrounds, can make for a striking photo. 

Scarce Chaser (immature male)

Hopefully back out soon for more attempts and if I am lucky, maybe a few Variable Damselfly photos will come my way along with any other dragonfly or damselfly that lands within camera range!