Saturday, 27 August 2016

Reculver Rare Rush

I had only just go in last night with the family when I recieved a text from Matt Hindle alerting me that he had just found a Mega bird at Reculver, a Baird's Sandpiper. This is the first time this species has ever been seen at Reculver so within a few minutes of panic, I was in the car and driving down to Coldharbour. Thankfully it was only a few minutes drive and on arrival, I met up with Julian and Alex Perry and we walked on down to Coldharbour lagoon. It didn't take long due to our fast walking and with a few seconds of arrival, we were put on to the Baird's Sandpiper. I have only ever seen one of these in Kent and it was quite distant so it was nice to be able to sit on the seawall and take in the features of this rare bird. It was a little distant for the SLR camera but I took a few shots to record the occasion.

Baird's Sandpiper

If the Baird's wasn't enough, there was an excellent back up of waders present here including 1 Black tailed Godwit, a scarce bird at Reculver, 1 Little Stint, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 5 Dunlin and 1 Redshank. An excellent visit and the Baird's Sandpiper takes my Reculver list to 243 species. I think its also giving me the birding bug back again so I think a few more visits will happen at Reculver in the next few weeks and months. 

Black tailed Godwit

Friday, 26 August 2016

A UK First?

With the weather still very hot the past few days in east Kent, I have had a few visits to Nethergong at various parts of the day to monitor the Willow Emerald Damselflies. When they first emerged, they could be found roosting in the grasses next to the stream but as they have matured, my early morning walks through the grass have hardly revealed any Willow Emerald Damselflies. A few walks around midday in the heat of the day have seen mostly all the females perched up in the trees with a few quite in the shade at times where as the males have often been found on the edge of the reeds waiting presumably for a females to pass. Its not been until after 1pm that I have really seen many in tandem and as the afternoon has progressed, many pairs can be seen returning to the stream where they tend to rest up in the reeds before they then fly to the stinging nettle patches to oviposit. I first noticed this last week and having never witnessed this before, tried to get a few shots but unfortunately, they were on the other side of the stream but with the help of the f4 300mm lens and a 1.4 converter, I was able to grab a few 'record' shots to show this in action.

Willow Emerald Damselfly ovipositing into Stinging Nettle Stems (a UK first?)

I researched later that day and found no evidence of them ovipositing on stinging nettle stems, a few other alternatives were found but no mention anywhere of nettle stems. I decided to contact the British Dragonfly Society who put me on to Adrain Parr, a great authority on dragonflies and damselflies in the UK who emailed me back. Part of his email response is mentioned below:

"A very interesting observation!  I've certainly not heard of Willow Emeralds ovipositing into nettles in the UK, and a quick search didn't reveal anything elsewhere, either.  I've attached a short note about egg-laying sites used in Germany (unfortunately in German!), and nothing even remotely similar is mentioned".

So it looks likely that I have indeed found a British first with Willow Emerald Damselflies ovipositing into stinging nettle stems. I have continued to monitor them and have seen them continuing to do this along the stream. Many other questions now rise from this observation which I will try to answer through continuing to monitor but after all the hours put in with this species, I feel a tad proud that I have probably added something new to the knowledge of the Willow Emerald Damselfly. 

I spent a few hours at Nethergong this morning where I only found c15 Willow Emerald Damselfly but did find a few c400 yards away from where I have been seeing them. I assume like last year that they have dispersed to other parts of the campsite where there are more streams. There were a few other dragonflies seen including 3 Southern Hawker, 1 Brown Hawker and a pair of what I suspect many have been Small Red eyed Damselfly. Unfortunately they moved to quick and was lost to view. This would be a new species for Nethergong so another excuse to return soon to have a look. Hopefully, weather permitting, a visit over the weekend if I can get out at all.  

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Exciting Willow Emerald Damselfly Observations

With another day of warm sunshine and a few hours available to go out from 11am, I decided on another look at the Willow Emerald Damselflies at Nethergong to see if I could find and photograph a mating pair. One of the first things I saw as I arrived in the area was a pair of Willow Emerald Damselflies in tandem but with a brisk north east wind blowing in, they were soon blown into the reeds. I saw whereabouts they kind of went and slowly started to scan the area. After a brief search, I could see them and they were indeed mating. I got the camera ready and slowly started to push the camera through the reeds until I kind of had a clear view. I managed to rattle off a few shots before they were again blown off and flew deeper into cover.

Willow Emerald Damselflies (mating pair)

It was nice to at least get a photo of a mating pair but this challenge is nowhere near finished as I hope I can find a few more to photograph in better light. As I walked along the path checking, it was quite clear today that a lot of the Willow Emerald Damselflies resting up in the trees were mostly females and those near the waters edge along the stream were males. I decided after a drink and something to eat to take my time and walk along the stream edge which proved to be a good decision as in the next hour or so, I saw many pairs in tandem flying out from the bank. A few pairs rested up on the near bank and I was able to get into a few positions and take a few photos but frustratingly, most pairs flew over to the other side of the stream where they were hanging up in the stinging nettles.

Willow Emerald Damselflies (tandem pair)

It was here that I chanced upon something new when I saw a few pairs land on the stinging nettle stems and the females began to oviposit into the nettle stems. They did not stay for too long until the males lifted therm off and they landed again on another stem where they repeated their actions. I wondered if this has ever been documented before and after reading a few books and looking on the internet, I can find no evidence suggesting that this has been seen before so maybe this is a first. I did wonder where they were going to lay their eggs as there are not many willows along the stream so perhaps this answers the question. They were really too far for any photos but as I had never seen this before, I decided to take a few record shots to share with everyone. Normally these photos would never make it past the editing process but on this occasion, I think its worthy of publishing.

Willow Emerald Damselflies (female ovipositing into Stinging nettle stems)

I continued to watch this happening and moved further along the stream where I saw these actions being repeated. With the sun now starting to get to me and excited by my observations, I decided to call it a day and returned back to the car for a well earned drink. Weather permitting, maybe a few visits over the weekend if I can get out.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A 'Willow' Education Day

With some warm sunshine forecast for today, I arrived at a sunny but breezy Nethergong at 9.30am where I spent a few hours walking around the site birding and looking for dragonflies. As I made my way around, I noted c20 Migrant Hawker, 3 Emperor Dragonfly, 3 Brown Hawker, 1 Ruddy Darter, c10 Common Darter, a few Emerald Damselfly and a good count of c60 Willow Emerald Damselfly. I continued my search for a mating pair to photograph and I found one pair in the reeds which soon moved deeper into cover and out of reach of the camera. A few pairs were seen leaving the trees in tandem and flying out to the reeds but again, I could not find them but its at least encouraging that I may have found a good area where I can pursue my desired shots. I decided today to try and get an open winged shot of a Willow Emerald Damselfly with a clear background, not always an easy task as they have the habit of landing either out of reach, the wrong angle or leaves and dark shadows to photograph against. I spent some time in an area where there were a few resting up and one flew down and rested quite low allowing me to fire off a few shots with not a bad background colour at all which contrasted quite nicely with the subject.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female)

The area I spend most of the time in with the damselflies does not get a lot of campers walking by but this morning, a large family walked by and seeing my photographing 'twigs', wanted to know what I was doing. I was happy to give them a brief education on the nationally rare Willow Emerald Damselfly, its life cycle explained and within a few minutes, they were all busily looking for them in the trees and photographing them with their mobile phone cameras. They seemed really excited to have seen this rare damselfly and thanked me for my time in showing and talking to them. A nice session with a few photos obtained and nice to educate others about the dragonflies and damselflies that are about. I have a few days camping coming up soon with the family at Nethergong and hopefully, I can make a few early morning visits and continue my challenge in trying to find and photograph a mating pair of Willow Emerald Damselflies. 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female)