Friday, 27 December 2019

My Top Odonata Photos of 2019

Having posted some photo highlights in my previous posts, I thought I would try to do choose my top 3 photos that I have taken this year. Having taken many shots this year, it's has been quite hard to pick some as you can imagine but after much deliberating, I have finally managed to choose three photos which I personally find rewarding either through the shot itself, or maybe the experience I had in achieving the photo. I hope you enjoy the following photos.

No 3 - Migrant Hawker Emerging

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - male emerging
It had been one of my challenges this year to photograph a Migrant Hawker emerging and having visited Nethergong a number of times, I finally managed to achieve this during an evening session. However, it was during and early morning visit just before I was about to lead a wildlife walk around the site that I chanced upon a Migrant Hawker emerging. The sun had just cleared the trees and was now shining on the pond and not being one to miss an opportunity, I was able to part some reeds and get a clear view of the Hawker emerging. I settled in for what time I had before I had to leave and started to take a number of shots. Most of my photos of Hawkers emerging are often taken during the hours of darkness so it was indeed a real treat to be able to watch one emerging in the sunshine. Being at a campsite and laying down on my belly, it wasn't long until I started to attract the attention of campers who slowly made there way over to see if I was alright. After explaining to them what I was doing, they were just as interested as I was in this sight unravelling in the reeds and soon, others came over to take a look. With some photos now obtained, I had to leave and meet some clients at the entrance and take them on a wildlife tour of the site. I couldn't help but mention to the adults and children that I had just been photographing a Migrant Hawker emerging and they were thankfully interested in seeing this. A few minutes later and I was showing them there first dragonfly emerging and thankfully, they didn't mind me taking a few more photos. After a nice tour of the site, we returned to the pond where the children soon found the Migrant Hawker now pumping up its wings. I took a few more shots as you can imagine before everyone went there own way. No only am I pleased with the shot but also the experience that everyone had that morning in seeing the Migrant Hawker emerging.

No 2 - Norfolk Hawker

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) - male
One of my most anticipated dragonflies to see every year is the nationally rare Norfolk Hawker and I am very lucky here in east Kent that we have a good sized colony in the Stour Valley. I have spent a good few years and many visits and hours watching, studying and photographing this lovely dragonfly and each year, I am often treated to some lovely opportunities to spend time in their company. On a warm June day this year, I was at Grove Ferry trying for a few photos in the ditches and had some success with them when I noticed a Norfolk Hawker was occasionally landing on some nearer reeds. I slowly moved into a better position and with the sun now behind me and a nice contrast to the reeds and background, I sat and waited. It wasn't too long until the Hawker flew in and landed on one of the more distant reeds and after a few seconds, was off again patrolling. I knew this was a good chance in achieving some good photos and so decided to sit it out and wait. After a few more visits from the Hawker, he finally landed on the nearer reed and gave me the perfect opportunity to capture the subtle detail and colouring of this superb dragonfly. To get him out in the open away from the clutter of background reeds was a bonus and to date, these are right up there with my favourite perched shots of this species. No doubt next year, I will be trying again but to get a shot like this really put a smile on my face.

No 1 - Southern Migrant Hawker in Flight

Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male in flight
Like last years number one shot of this species in flight, this year is no different it seems with the male Southern Migrant Hawker in flight making it as my favourite shot of the year. I was treated this year to good numbers of this species again at Oare Marshes in north Kent and certainly made the most of the visits I made there. In some really hot conditions, I was able to photograph them perched, mating and even saw a few pairs ovipositing but it was the challenge of capturing them in flight that kept on drawing back to this location. As anyone will know having seen photos of this species, they have to be one of the most striking species we have here in the UK and with growing numbers year on year, the future is looking good for them. To see those sky blue eyes looking at you through the binoculars is a sight to behold but capturing that on camera is not always that easy. To capture any dragonfly in flight requires some luck and skill but if you get to know the species or an individual, the rewards are there to be had. I spent many hours walking up and down ditches observing them and looking for the right individual that would give me the opportunity, but as well as this, there were many other factors needed to get 'that' shot. The sun needed to be out to give me the light and therefore the speed required to freeze the dragonfly in flight, the sun also needed to be behind me. I needed to have a clear view of the subject so when they paused to hover, I could quickly manual focus on it. I also needed to get quite close so that I stood a better chance of a fuller framed shot as well as a pleasing background colour to show the subject off well. As you can see, it's not just a case of clicking, there are some methods to the madness of capturing a dragonfly in flight. Having picked out a good conditioned male that was ticking all of the above boxes, I was then able to spend quite a while capturing many in flight photos. I can assure you that there were many photos of empty frames, bits of the dragonfly out of the frame, unfocussed, not perpendicular to the lens etc. However... in between all of these ropey shots, there were a few gems which when I saw them on the back of the camera, looked pretty good. This shot when I saw it felt a bit special. I like the angle of the body, all four wings can be seen, the background compliments the subject well and it's in focus (I think). A pleasing session and just reward I think for all the hours put in and all the shots that never quite work out. I hope like me that you also approve of this shot and that if there is one person I can aspire to go out there to photograph dragonflies, either perched or in flight, or just to appreciate them, then my job is done. 
This will be my last post I suspect this year and I would like to again thank all those that have visited throughout the year to either look in at the photos or make a comment. They are all very much appreciated. I wish you all a wildlife enriched 2020. Happy New Year!

Sunday, 15 December 2019

2019 Odonata Highlights (August - November)

August started well with plenty of Southern Migrant Hawkers at Oare Marshes and I made sure I made a number of visits to see them. In some glorious weather at times, I spent quite a while trying for yet more flight shots of this stunning species and my perseverance was rewarded with a few pleasing images.

Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
It was also nice to photograph them perched and a few mating and ovipositing pairs were also seen which looks good for the future for this species.

Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
More time spent at Nethergong in the early evenings looking for emerging Migrant Hawkers was worthwhile with a few seen and one was photographed emerging on a bulrush. For this one, I had to lose the shoes and socks and take a dip but the rewards speak for themselves I hope.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - male emerging
Plenty more time was spent with the Migrant Hawkers as they matured up over the coming months and there were a number of photographic opportunities which were never turned down.
  Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - male
 Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - immature male
As ever in Autumn, the Willow Emerald Damselfly is still flying strongly and this year at Nethergong was their strongest season with a peak count of nearly 400 on one day. I spent many a session down at the stream, often just watching them flying up and down in tandem before flying up into the trees to oviposit. With so  many photos of this species taken it's quite hard to pick a few 'best' shots but I have included a few which provided nice memories.
 Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) - male
Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) - pair in tandem
This year, parts of the UK have seen probably the best season yet of the rare Vagrant Emperor and having not seen one, I was quite tempted a few times to leave the county and try to connect with one. With the season all but over, little did I know that I was in for one last treat. I was checking some messages on Twitter when I come across some Vagrant Emperor photos which were very nice. I then noticed that they were in Kent and even better, at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory which is not too far from where I live. This I must admit got me quite excited but would it hang around, surely not. I tried to arrange to see it that evening without success but had arranged to meet up with the warden should it still be there the next day. Good news! The next morning saw it still present and that evening in the dark, I met up with the warden and he kindly took me to the site where I saw my first ever Vagrant Emperor, a female. I took a number of photos and spent some time studying this cracker before leaving a very happy man. I was hoping that I could make another visit that weekend to maybe get some better photos and see it in daylight so on the Saturday, I arrived quite early and searched the area at first light. I initially couldn't find her but constant searching in the end rewarded me with the unfortunate sight of her laying on the floor at the base of the tree. I put her back on the tree a few times where after a few photos, she would fall down each time. With just a faint pulse in the end on the wings, it was a sad sight to see the end of such a wonderful dragonfly. Although not the desired outcome, It must I think be one of the undoubted highlights of the year for me. To see something 'new' is always exciting and this was no different and a fantastic way to end the season.
Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) - female
It's been another excellent season both in studying and photographing the species I have encountered and I'm already looking forward to next year when I plan some new challenges to fulfil. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the visitors that have looked in on my blog throughout the year and taken the time to comment on my photos. They are very much appreciated.

Monday, 9 December 2019

2019 Odonata Highlights (June - July)

June and July are always months which I look forward to every year. There are a good range of species on the wing by now and often the warmer weather makes for some lovely sessions and photographic opportunities. This year was no different with a few of my favourite species on the wing including Norfolk Hawker and Willow Emerald Damselfly. I find myself most weekends searching out these species and spending my time studying and photographing them. Despite having hundreds upon hundreds of shots of these two species, it's often a real highlight of the year being in the presence of these species and getting lost in the moment. Throughout my sessions, I was able to take a few pleasing images of both species.

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) - male 

 Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) - teneral female

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis) - male
The last couple of years have seen the Southern Migrant Hawker expanding its range and becoming more common on the north Kent coast and it was again nice this year to spend a number of sessions at Oare Marshes observing and photographing this most stunning dragonfly. On a few visits, the temperature was over 30 degrees celsius and even the dragonflies spend their time in the shade.
Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
A number of hours were also spent trying to capture this species in flight with a varying degree of success.
Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
Another challenge of mine this year was to capture and photograph the emergence of a Migrant Hawker and with a few nymphs encountered at Nethergong, I spent quite a bit of time looking early morning and late evenings. My persistence was to be rewarded when early one morning, I found a few emerging from the pond and even better, one was within reaching distance for me and the camera. The light was good and along with some other campers who wondered what I was up to, I was able to capture a few pleasing photos of this dragonfly emerging within the reeds.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - newly emerged male
I'm lucky to live near a colony of the Scarce Chaser and when the males have matured up, I love to spend some time trying to capture some shots as they make their rapid flights out over the river to chase other species before often returning back to the same perch. With a bit of patience and lots of photos with various backgrounds, I was able to eventually capture some photos which worked well.
Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) male
My next post which I shall post during the next week will look at August through to November and just when I thought the season was over, there was to be one final amazing experience which made my year!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

2019 Odonata Highlights (April - May)

It's been another busy and long season with many highlights throughout the year. Once again, I have taken many photos during my sessions both in and out of the county and with this in mind, I have chosen a number of photos which have been highlights this year for me. Some are favourite photos of mine this year where as some have been chosen because of the experience I may have had that day with a particular species. I have chosen to showcase my highlights in three instalments starting with April - May. The winter months always seem to pass by quite slowly and like other enthusiasts, April is eagerly anticipated and with that the first Large Red Damselflies and soon after, the Hairy Dragonfly. During this time, I was able to spend some time photographing both species and ended up with a few pleasing images.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - male
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - emerging
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) - teneral male
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) - newly emerged female
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) - teneral male
The last few years have seen me in early May make visits out of the county to Thursley Common in Surrey where my target has been to see and photograph Downy Emeralds emerging. This year was no different and I spent an excellent morning finding a few emerging which I was able to photograph and also a few tenerals which showed off their beautiful fresh colours in the early morning sunshine.

 Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - teneral male

 Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - emerging
I like to set myself a few challenges throughout the year and this year, two of them were to photograph both Red eyed Damselfly and Black tailed Skimmer emerging and to collect the exuviae from both species for my growing collection. Thankfully with a lot of patience and visits to Nethergong and Grove Ferry, both experiences were enjoyed to the maximum.
Black tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) - emerging 

Red eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) - teneral female
May also heralds the beginning of the Scarce Chaser season and every year, I spend some time at Westbere Lakes photographing the superbly coloured 'carrots' in the reeds.
Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)
I could have included some many other photos from these months which certainly produced some excellent memories but I feel a good taste of photos have been represented. My next instalment will see the months of June and July being showcased which I shall post during the next week.