Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Brown Hawker Nymph

In my search so far in the past two years for dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, I have only once managed to come across a Brown Hawker nymph. Just like the adults that are one of the hardest dragonflies to photograph in my opinion due to them being very wary, it seems that the nymphs are just as hard to locate. I have spent many hours trying to locate this species again in areas where I have seen them before but always seem to find more Emperor Dragonfly nymphs when searching. It was by accident really that I managed to catch the individual I did but as at first, I wasn't sure what it was but had my suspicions. Having returned home with the nymph for some photography in my indoor tanks, I looked through a few books and photos on the internet and soon confirmed that it was a Brown Hawker nymph, the dark banding on the legs and the pale stripes on the thorax extending on to the head confirming this for me. I spent a number of evenings photographing the nymph indoors and spent many hours watching it in the tank hunting small prey. Of all the hawker nymphs I have photographed at home so far which is not that many, the Brown Hawker nymph seems to have the most attitude. If I tried to tease it into a position to be photographed, it would swing round its abdomen quite ferociously and smack anything in its way. No doubt this is a way of protecting itself in case of danger but quite effective. It was interesting watching the nymph hunting. By day I saw lots of prey pass by quite close and most of the time, the nymph didn't seem interested but at night, it was a completely different story. For most part, it would stalk its prey very slowly until within reach where in the blink of an eye, the jaws would shoot out and attempt to catch the prey. Its strike rate was not the greatest with a lot of prey hit but not captured but when it did connect, there was no getting away as it fed. I continued to monitor and learn through observations before returning it back to the water. A year or so later and I still await finding another one to photograph and hopefully watch emerge but I will continue the search and you never know, I might get lucky. Thankfully, I took many photos of the nymph and although I published a few last year, there are many photos I have not yet published. This has to be one of my favorite nymphs, the cryptic colours and secret lifestyle of this superb hunter all add to the excitement of watching my first Brown Hawker of the year later this year.

Brown Hawker Nymph

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Banded Demoiselle Nymph

I decided on Saturday morning to make a visit to Nethergong to see if I could find any dragonfly or damselfly nymphs but in particular, I was after one species that I had only encountered once last year, the Banded Demoiselle nymph. Netherong is bordered by a small slow flowing stream and last year I saw a number of Banded Demoiselles flying up and down so I know this species occurs here. The stream was thankfully quite low and clear so I could see where the build up of weeds were where I hoped my quarry would be hiding. I had a few initial dips with the net which proved fruitless and so opted for a method I had seen a someone do last year on a river survey where they disturbed the weed and mud and then placed the net downstream to catch whatever had been dislodged. On my second attempt at this, I looked in the net and was pleased to see a small Banded Demoiselle nymph, the stick insect profile being east to recognise. A few more dips in likely areas produced one more nymph, this time a nice sized one of about 30mm long. I returned home where I had the tank already in position and after adding weed from the stream, I spent an hour taking a number of photos of these generally unseen nymphs. Settings used were manual mode and manual focus, ISO 400, speed set to 250, f8 -f11.

Banded Demoiselle Nymph

 Like the adults, the legs are long and they have a horn like antennae which is diagnostic to this species. Like a lot of the nymphs I photograph, its always nice to take some time to just sit back and watch them in the tank and learn some of the identification features I read about in the books. With a number of photos obtained, it was back in the car and down to the stream where I released them back where I had found them a few hours earlier.

Banded Demoiselle Nymph Caudal Lamellae  

Banded Demoiselle Nymph

Hopefully in a few months time, they will emerge as the stunning Banded Demoiselle and I will spend some time watching and photographing them at the stream. On a more negative note, I often visit a site near Reculver which has been put up for sale at the price of £425,000. This includes quite a bit of land and some wetland where I do my watching and photography. I can only hope that whoever buys it keeps the wetland and fingers crossed, allows me permission to still visit this site which has an excellent variety of odonata species on site, some of which are locally and nationally scarce and rare. I shall keep you posted as and when I have anymore information.

Banded Demoiselle Nymph

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

My Indoor Tank Photography Set Up

As mentioned in a few previous posts, I have received a few emails asking what kind of set up I use to photograph the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs indoors. With the season slowly getting closer, I decided a couple of years a go that I would pass the winter months away and try to photograph some of the nymphs of the dragonflies and damselflies that live local to me in east Kent. I looked at a few sites on the internet and set about trying to get a small tank which would host the nymphs. It was important not to get something to big and that I was photographing through glass as this would get a far better image than through plastic. I thankfully found the ideal tank which also hosted a small LED light on top which could also be used to photograph at night, little did I know, a real bonus. The glass lid that come with the tank was used to partition the tank so that the subject could be moved near to the front of the glass and that I didn't have the problem of having to keep moving the nymph around. The nearer the subject to the front of the glass, the better quality of image can be obtained as you tend to lose the quality the further back you photograph through the glass and water.

A few stones are added which I sometimes add a bit of pond weed into and positioned against the glass and sometimes a few soaked leaves to add more natural colours. Its then a case of adding the nymph and teasing it into position which depending on the species, can be easy to hard. One major point that needs to be considered is the glass needs to be cleaned and checked regularly otherwise any marks on the glass will be picked up and can ruin the shots.

I tend to change the water every few days and let it settle for a couple of days before introducing and nymphs so that the chlorine content can diminish and with the combination of this and the clean glass, this gives good opportunities to get the shots I desire. As can be seen in the shots, I use a Canon 7d SLR and most shots are taken on the tripod to prevent and hand shake. If its really sunny in the conservatory when i'm out there photographing, I may try and use AV mode, f8, ISO 400 and hope I can get a good speed when shooting but more often than not, I use manaul mode, ISO 400, f8-f16, speed set to 250 and in camera flash.

It may be me but I feel that I have slightly better results when photographing at night in the dark conservatory. Using the LED tank light in combination with the in camera flash produced some lovely lighting and so far, the results have been quite pleasing. 

So thats roughly it. I'm sure there are improvements to be made and hopefully I can work these out as I continue to photograph these amazing insects that spend most of their lives underwater out of view from most of us. There are still many species I am to find and photograph in the tank and the challenges will keep me going until the season arrives in early April when the first Large Red Damselflies emerge. In the mean time, if you decide to have a go yourself at photographing nymphs in an indoor tank, I hope some of this information will be of help. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Large Red Damselfly Nymph (Part 2)

After photographing some Large Red Damselfly nymphs at home in my indoor tank with dark leaves as a background, I thought I would try again with some more natural green colours in the form of some pond weed to see if I could get anymore detail and colour in the shots. After preparing the tank earlier in the day and leaving the water to settle, I had a session out in the darkness in the conservatory where the tank was lit up by the LED light that the tank has fitted on the top. I have found in the past that my shots sometimes seem better and more detailed but that may just be wishful thinking on my part. It certainly seems to produce some more intense lighting any way in the tank. Prior to some photography, I watched as they made their way through the weed and blended in brilliantly when they wanted too. I decided on this occasion to introduce another piece of glass to the tank which I put about a quarter of the way along the tank. This made it much easier from a point of view that the subject was confined to the front of the tank and shots would hopefully be a little more easier. I shall post some shots of my set up in the next few days as I have received a few emails about how I achieve the photos and what set up I use. Back to the action and with the glass in place it was definitely easier to take more shots and with some pond weed tight up against the front of the tank, it wasn't long until I had a nymph in place and was clicking away from various angles. I ended up with some pleasing images and I feel that in this light, I have achieved the nice colour and contrast that I wanted to get with the green background and hopefully, some nicely detailed images. These individuals are fully grown now and the wings pretty much formed I expect and it won't be long now until they soon get that urge to want to emerge, its only about 8 / 9 weeks away! I shall return the nymphs back to their original pond and maybe nearer the time, see if I can collect a few to photograph as they emerge. In the mean time, I will continue to see if I can find and collect some more dragonfly and damselfly species that I haven't found yet. I would like to find some local Southern Hawker nymphs but my search so far proves fruitless. Maybe someone reading this living local in east Kent has some in their pond, you never know!!

Large Red Damselfly Nymph Caudal Lamellae

Large Red Damselfly Nymph