Saturday, 17 February 2018

Branching Out

With the forecast again today for lovely sunshine and temperatures reaching the dizzy heights of 10 degrees celsius, I decided to have a wander around at Nethergong to look for and photograph the gall marks laid into branches overhanging the water by the Willow Emerald Damselfly. With the leaves off the trees making it easier to look, I was able to find many branches showing the tell tale markings left where the female had laid the eggs into the branches. Most were laid on the younger thinner branches on the outside of the trees which I assume are softer for the female's ovipositor to penetrate. I ended up finding gall marks on Alder, Willow, Dogrose and Stinging Nettle and all being well, it looks like it will be another good season for this damselfly. As I write in mid February, it wont be long now until the eggs hatch in March whereby, the young will hopefully fall into the water to start their lives as a nymph. They do have a back up plan though in that should they not fall into the water for any reason, the young prolarvae have a jumping mechanism which will hopefully enable them to reach the water. Nature never ceases to amaze. The nymphs unlike some other species will then grow rapidly and emerge as adults a few months later in July /August. Having photographed most of the life of the Willow Emerald Damselfly except the actual young prolarvae hatching and emerging into the water, I decided to bring home a piece of a willow branch and a stinging nettle stem with eggs in them where I have positioned them over a water tray in the hope of photographing some of this action. Its a long shot but you never know, I will just be happy to see some of the prolarvae and try to photograph them before returning them back to the stream at Nethergong where I found them. On another note, I have finally got round to making up a dragonfly and damselfly flight times chart which can be accessed by clicking on the 'Flight Times' tab at the top of the page. I hope others may find it of some use as I no doubt will.

 Willow Emerald Damselfly Ovipositing Sites

Willow Emerald Damselfly 'Gall' Marks

Monday, 12 February 2018

Large Red Damselfly Nymph (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

After visiting Westbere Lakes at the weekend for a bit of dipping, I called into a friends house to have a look in their pond for some Large Red Damselfly nymphs. In the past few years, I have found a good number in the pond but on this occasion, I only found 2 Large Red Damselfly nymphs along with a few Azure Damselfly nymphs and 2 small Broad bodied Chaser nymphs. I am hoping that because of the cold conditions and the fact that the pond has been freezing over, that more may have been lurking in the depths. I shall hopefully return in a few weeks to have another look when the water and weather finally start to warm up a little. With the start of the season only about 7 weeks away and the first to emerge being the Large Red Damselfly, I decided to bring one of the Large Red Damselfly nymphs back home where I spent an afternoon taking a number of photos in my indoor photography tank. They tend to be quite easy to identify by their blotchy caudal lamellae which often forms an 'X' shape and I have also witnessed them seemingly communicating by swaying their caudal lamellae from side to side to each other. Hopefully the weeks will pass quickly, the weather will warm up and we will be set to once again, welcome in a new season full of anticipation.

Large Red Damselfly Nymph (female)

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Godmersham Hawfinches

This year has seen an unprecedented arrival of the Hawfinch to the UK and only having seen a handful in my birding life, I thought I had better try to see some before most make their way back to the continent. News broke a few weeks ago of a small flock at Godmersham Church so during the past week, I have made a couple of visits to see this stunning finch. On my first trip, it wasn't long until I saw 4 birds sitting on top of a few distant trees and they made a few fly byes showing of their characteristic shape and call. I did obtain some nice views of them perched in Yew trees but due to the number also on sight enjoying this spectacle, they were always very wary and only provided a few photo opportunities. With the weather looking good this morning again with light winds, I decided on another visit and arrived on site at 7.45am. As I drove up the lane there was only one other birder there so I hoped my chances would be better of getting a few photographs. It wasn't long until I heard a few calling and like Waxwings, they dropped into a nearby Yew tree together and started to feed. I was on the wrong side of the tree for the light but not wanting to spook them, I go into the best position and slowly they moved to the outer branches where I was able to get lovely views through the binoculars and thankfully, a few shots of this attractive species. A while later, a car coming up the lane spooked them and they were off again but during the next 2 hours, I had a few more views of them as the numbers of birders once again started to grow. Other birds seen in the area included 2 Common Buzzards, 2 Grey Wagtail, 4 Mistle Thrush, 2 Nuthatch, 1 Treecreeper, 2 Coal Tit and quite a few Goldcrest in the churchyard. A few come within range of the camera providing a few more photo attempts but with the cold starting to get through, I decided to call it a day and leave for home. A superb birding spectacle and privilege to see these normally very scarce Kent birds and at last, I had a few useable photos of them to keep. With a week off work now, I may even return again if the weather allows it.

Hawfinch (male)

Friday, 9 February 2018

The Emperor's Mask

I decided after photographing the labial mask of the Migrant Hawker last weekend that I should attempt to photograph the mask of Britian's biggest dragonfly, the Emperor Dragonfly. A look through past photos showed that I had not spent much time trying to photograph this so after work this week, I spent an hour at Grove Ferry trying to net a good sized specimen. Thankfully after a short while, I managed to net a near fully grown male nymph of 45mm in length which I decided to bring home for a photography session during the evening in one of my indoor tanks. Everything about the Emperor Dragonfly nymph oozes power, speed, strength and attitude and unlike some other nymphs, this nymph was going to be a challenge to perform in the tank. I had put some weed in the front of the glass tank to attract the nymph and hoped it would provide me with a few angles from which to photograph from but it seemed an age until I started to get a few photos. I had to do a little teasing to get some of the angles required but eventually and with a lot of patience, I was able to snap away and obtain a few shots showing the labial mask off well. I also introduced a small Stickleback in the tank to see whether I could see the Emperor Dragonfly nymph hunting but despite them being together on a few occasions which produced a few amusing photo opportunities, there was no attempt at all to hunt. Having seen a few Emperor Dragonfly nymphs hunting over the past few seasons, their speed of strike is pretty amazing and their success rate seems high from personal observations. They certainly are a force to avoid if you are a small insect under the water and they definitely don't lose any of that attitude when they emerge as adults. With a week off work now, I'm hoping for a few sessions out during the weekend and week ahead if the weather allows for some dipping and hopefully some more nymph photography indoors to keep the interest going.

Emperor Dragonfly Nymph Mask (45mm)
Emperor Dragonfly Nymph (45mm) eyeing up Stickleback