Friday, 27 March 2020

The Season Begins

With all the family at home self isolating, we have found ourselves this past week in the garden most days but thankfully, the weather has been kind enough to all to get their much needed fresh air. This has most definitely allowed us to appreciate the garden and with plenty of time on our hands, we decided to make some changes and make it more wildlife friendly. I have enjoyed watching the Bees and am slowly learning to identify them and a few butterflies including 2 Peacock and 1 Comma have been around daily to lift the spirits. With the dragonfly and damselfly season almost here, I have been spending time at the pond watching the various wildlife go about their life. I have seen a few Large Red Damselfly nymphs in the past week in the shallows and this prompted me to plant up a few pots up with emergent stems in the hope I could photograph an emergence. With news of the first Large Red Damselfly emerging a few days ago in Hampshire, I hoped it wouldn't be long until I had my first. It seems with milder winters nowadays is in time having an effect on some species emerging and some are emerging earlier year on year. With a sunny day again today, I wandered out to the pond this morning for a check and was surprised to see a Large Red Damselfly had just emerged on one of my potted up stems. I rushed indoors to get the camera and then settled down at the pond to capture my first shots of the year. The pond is situated in a sunny sheltered area of the garden and despite a northerly wind, I was quite sheltered here but to be sure, set up a quick wind break to protect me and also to make photographs a bit easier. Although I had missed the main emergence, I was able to rattle off a number of photos as she pumped up her wings. It felt so satisfying again to be watching this miracle in front of my eyes and again, a real privilege. The winter which seemed to have been an age was all forgotten as I watched in awe at my first sighting of the year. With most of us spending more time than ever at home and in the garden of late, I am thankful that in my pond I have a few other species which hopefully I can get to photograph when they emerge. It may be a while till we are all allowed out again so in the mean time, this will hopefully be some kind of compensation.

Newly emerged Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - female

Peacock Butterfly


Sunday, 23 February 2020

Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) Exuviae

It's been a couple of months since my last post but I have still been keeping myself quite busy. Firstly, it was a great privilege to be offered the role of taking over as the new County Dragonfly Recorder (CDR) for East and West Kent. This has seen me most evenings verifying over 3000 records, some going back to 1998! Its been very interesting getting to know various recorders names and locations of where Kent's dragonflies and damselflies can be found. Even better to see areas where I didn't necessary know a species could be seen. I have already been in contact with a few people about survey work during the year and hopefully, the role will enable me to venture to areas where I wouldn't normally find myself. As always, the camera will be with me and I shall make sure that I continue to capture the species I encounter. With the weather being nothing short of awful of late, I have only made it out on a few occasions with the net to see what nymphs can be found. Nethergong has seen me netting Emperor, Broad bodied Chaser, Hairy Dragonfly and plenty of Azure and Blue tailed Damselfly nymphs and a trip to Westbere saw a few Red eyed Damselfly nymphs being netted. Fingers crossed that the weather will eventually get better soon and that I can get out a few more times with the net. Back to this weekend where it was not surprising that once again the weather was not good so I decided that I would photograph a few Common Hawker exuviae indoors which were sent to me from a fellow odonata enthusiast, Jon Mee from Wales. This is a species that does not occur in Kent, the nearest colony being to the West at Thursley Common in Surrey. Jon kindly sent me a handful in the post which survived their trip from Wales and it was nice to be able to add this species to my collection. Having had a good look through the 10X hand lens at the features of this species, I then spent a pleasant hour in the warmth photographing the exuviae from a few different angles. these will also be added to my website in due coarse. If the weather warms up and with March on the horizon, we will soon be into the last few weeks until the first Large Red Damselflies emerge. It wont be long!
 Side view
 Showing head and side of throax
 Side view
 Showing quite broad and rectangular Labial Mask
 Showing lateral spines on S7 -S9
 Showing the tip shape to the Epiproct
 Top view
 Showing the eye and head shape
Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) exuviae - side view

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.