Saturday, 16 January 2021

Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum) Exuviae Studies

With a bit of time on my hands at the moment as we are on a rota at work currently, I thought it would give me the chance to spend a few days examining the Dainty Damselfly exuviae I collected last year at Sandwich Bay. A look through the books I have provided very little information as did the internet surprisingly and even then, a few sites of interest I did find were in languages I didn't understand. There were also few photos showing how to identify them which to someone like me, made the task quite difficult as I hope at some point later this year all being well, to hopefully gain permission to visit the site again to survey for nymphs and adults. With this seemingly lack of information out there about our rarest damselfly, this provided me with an opportunity to spend a few days in the warmth of the conservatory slowly investigating the various parts of the exuviae which make up the Dainty Damselfly. A shout out on Twitter for any help resulted in Dave Smallshire and Thomas Buchner providing me with some much needed help which I soon put into practice as I studied a number of exuviae to see the key features needed. As I got my eye in, the features became easier to see and comparing these to other 'blue' damselflies exuviae with which they look very similar, I was starting to have a better understanding at identifying the Dainty. With my knowledge at a satisfactory level now and feeling more confident, I started to take apart one of the exuviae to study it in closer detail. A few minutes soaking in some water and vinegar enabled me to prize apart the caudal lamellae and remove them whilst looking through the hand lens. This was followed by then carefully removing the mask which I can tell you, was very fiddly indeed. With the parts removed, this gave me the chance to study them better and see the proper shape of the caudal lamellae and mask. Each part was photographed individually and although I use a trusty Sigma 150mm macro lens, I really could have done with a 100mm macro lens for this work to achieve some closer and sharper images. Having said that, I ended up with some useful photos hopefully showing off some of the key identification features to identify the Dainty Damselfly exuviae which I know will definitely me and hopefully help others should they suspect they have found this species elsewhere in Kent. With some more time available next week, I may well chose a few more species exuviae and try this approach with them to show off their id features. 

Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum) exuviae studies

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) Exuviae

I am very fortunate that the nationally rare Southern Emerald Damselfly can be seen in Kent at a couple of sites but in quite low numbers at present. Trying to find their exuviae then as you can imagine is hard to say the least but luckily last year, I acquired 2 Southern Emerald Damselfly exuviae for my collection from former Kent Dragonfly recorder, Gill Brook. With quiet times here now for a few months, I finally got round to photographing them a few days ago in the warmth of the conservatory. They are very similar in size and shape to the other Emeralds but there are a few identification features which I have tried to capture with the camera. The racket shaped mask is similar in shape to the Emerald (sponsa) and Scarce Emerald (dryas) whereas the Willow Emerald Damselfly has a more Aeshnid shaped mask. The caudal lamellae  have two distinct dark bands, with the distal end forming a point. A point that is also shared by the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. The Emerald Damselfly on the other hand has three distinct dark bands and the Willow Emerald Damselfly, 2 dark bands with sometimes a paler third band. Whilst the males in the field can be quite hard to identify from the Scarce Emerald Damselfly, the use of a microscope reveals the Southern Emerald Damselfly has longer finer hairs on segments seven to nine compared to the shorter hairs of the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. The females thankfully are a little easier with the ovipositor reaching just beyond the tenth segment whereas the Scarce Emerald ovipositor reaches well beyond segment ten. As I have found out through observations, at first it's quite hard to learn all these features but with constant revision, reading and looking back over specimens, The information does slowly go in. It's certainly keeping me quite busy in these times where we can not really leave the house and hopefully all this practice will pay off in the spring and summer when hopefully, I can find a few exuviae of different species for myself. 

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) exuviae showing typical Emerald shape, racket shaped mask and pointed banded caudal lamellae

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) exuviae showing caudal lamellae with two dark bands and pointed tip

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) female exuviae showing the ovipositor 
reaching just past the tenth segment

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) exuviae the long thin racket shaped mask

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) exuviae showing the long thin racket shaped mask

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus) exuviae - male (left) female (right)

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) Exuviae

Having collected dragonfly and damselfly exuviae for the past 5 years or so, I have wanted to get my hands on what has to be the most impressive set of teeth on an exuviae, the Golden ringed Dragonfly. Although this species is present in small numbers in West Kent, the chances of me finding an exuviae of this species are quite low although I must say, I haven't personally looked for them. Luckily for me, during a conversation last May with Gill Brook (former Kent Dragonfly Recorder), we got onto the talking about exuviae and I mentioned that I needed Golden Ringed Dragonfly for my collection. The next time we met a few weeks later, Gill brought along a number of different species exuviae that I needed including 2 Golden ringed Dragonfly exuviae. They were just as impressive as I imagined and to actually study those jaws at close range was pretty good. This species is a sit and wait predator, laying in the mud and debris on the bottom of streams with just its eyes above the mud. Any passing prey getting close enough will probably not know much about the sudden attack which is about to happen. I can only imagine that when in those inter meshing teeth, escape is near impossible. This species also has I believe the longest time as a nymph where it can emerge any time from 2 -5 years depending on water temperature and location. Now that winter has arrived and no odonata are to be seen, I intend to pass some time either net dipping and photographing some nymphs and also photographing the new exuviae that I received last year. With this in mind, I spent and afternoon last weekend taking a number of photos of the Golden ringed Dragonfly exuviae from a number of angles to show off some of the identification features. Although the shape is quite diagnostic with bits of debris also sticking to the exuviae, the key feature unique to this species is those impressive teeth, which are quite unlike any other species. I would love to find one of these for myself at some point but i'm just very pleased now to have these in my collection. Hopefully over the next few weeks, I will get around to photographing a few more species which I shall share in due coarse. 

Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - female exuviae

Saturday, 26 December 2020

My Top Odonata Photos of 2020

Having posted some of my photo highlights in the past few weeks, I thought I would perform my annual duty of trying to pick my top 3 odonata photos taken throughout the year. I have generally found this quite easy in the past few years but this year seems to have been somewhat different and more difficult to achieve. I kind of already knew what was going to be my favourite photo when I took it earlier during the year but picking my second and third choice has not been easy. I could have picked a number of photos to fill this space but have finally... I think made up my mind. I hope you enjoy the photos.

No 3 - Ovipositing Dainty Damselflies with flyby Tandem Pair 

Dainty Damselflies (Coenagrion scitulum) - ovipositing

I was very fortunate during the year to see the very rare Dainty Damselflies at Sandwich Bay in east Kent in good numbers and on my first visit with the warden to survey them, was just happy to see this new species for me. After appreciating them and noting the features to identify them, I set about trying to get a few images with the camera. Most were out over the water and rarely, did they ever come that close so to get any photos, I was going to have to use the f4 Canon 300mm lens. I could see a few ovipositing out over the water and sat down at the waters edge and started taking a few photos. I must be honest and say at this point, I was just happy to have finally snapped a few images of this rare damselfly but sometimes to get a desirable photo, you require an element of luck. Whilst firing off a few photos, a few Dainty Damselfly pairs were flying by and as luck would have it, I managed to get a pair flying behind which made for an interesting shot. Whilst not totally in focus, I still really enjoy this photo as it shows off some of the identification features quite well and captures a nice moment in time as they go about their business.

No 2 - Emperor Dragonfly Emerging

Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) - emerging

Anyone following my blog during the past few years would have noticed I put in a lot of time trying to capture dragonflies and damselflies emerging. For me, this is such a special moment to capture as the water based nymph finally make the transition into a dragonfly, a simple miracle of nature. Whilst a number of species emerge during daylight hours, a number of the larger species often emerge at night when it is safer to do so and then fly up into the trees to mature before daylight arrives. There is something magical about trying to capture this night time emergence that not that many of us ever see as often, we are in bed ourselves. I had put a couple of Emperor Dragonfly nymphs into my pond a few weeks before they were due to emerge and had planned to check the pond most suitable nights with the view of photographing this event in the dark. Having checked during the early evenings a few times, the night come when I finally checked and saw the nymph around 21:30pm climbing up a reed stem. I let the nymph settle down before moving in with the camera and tripod. I was able to lay down at the pond and over the next couple of hours, photograph each stage as the Emperor emerged. I was really pleased with how the set worked out and feel that they show the night time emergence well. I could have chosen many photos from this set but opted for this one in the end which still shows the abdomen clearly visible still through the exuviae moments before finally becoming a dragonfly. A real special moment to study and photograph this event. 

No 1 - Dainty Damselflies Mating

Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum) - mating pair

On my second visit to Sandwich Bay to survey the Dainty Damselfly colony which saw 180 individuals flying which was some spectacle, there were a number of pairs in the long grasses mating on arrival at the pool. From this point, I could already see the photo in my mind I was going to try to achieve. It had to be the mating wheel with an uncluttered background showing this rare damselfly hopefully securing the future of the next generation of this species. I tried to creep up on a few mating pairs which soon flew off before I could try for some photos and realised my task was going to be harder than I first thought. I kept on persevering and ended up with a few nice photos but most had busy and noisy backgrounds which caused the eye to wander a little too much. I kept on looking for the right pair and eventually could see a pair on the edge of some grasses. Not wanting to muck this one up, I must have crawled on my belly quite a few metres before I was in range with the camera. I initially had my f4 300mm lens on to secure a few shots before changing to the trusty Sigma 150mm macro lens. I was able to edge in bit by bit until I had the angle I wanted with a clear background and started firing away. It was still not easy as I tried my best to get the subject perpendicular to the lens which at times was tricky but eventually, I managed a number of photos where most of them are in focus. Looking on the back of my camera, I knew I had my shots and was really pleased when I rushed home to process them. A truly magical experience and one I will never forget. I'm just hoping that I and others will be able to see them again next year. 

This will probably be my last post this year but I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that have visited during the year and have taking the time to comment on my photos. The very kind words of encouragement have been greatly appreciated. Thank you. I would like to wish you at this point a safe, healthy and wildlife enriched 2021.