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. 

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Vagrant Memories

Having rushed down after work in the week to see the female Vagrant Emperor at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, I was hoping that it would make it till the weekend so I could make another visit and see it in daylight. With news yesterday that it was still surviving, I planned to go down early this morning before the forecast heavy rain arrived (which it didn't). I only had a small window before I had to be back home to drop my daughter out so was on site about 7:30am as the light was picking up and made my way to the Elms. As I was last here in the dark, it took me a while to get my bearings right but shortly afterwards, I was on the right path and started to look in the area. It was last seen on a tree near to where I had seen it but at first, I couldn't find it. I had a good look around the other trees nearby but in the end, started to think that it may have either been predated or fallen. The next few minutes were spend looking around the base of two trees where after what seemed an age, I eventually found the female Vagrant Emperor laying in the leaf litter. There was unfortunately very little movement apart from the odd leg and wing pulse but I decided anyway, to try to hang her back up on the tree. She stayed there very briefly where I took a few photos with the flash before once again, falling to the ground.

Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) - female
I repeated this a few times with the same result and now realised the inevitable that probably due to the weather and lack of food, her time was nearly up. She had given me some very fond memories and rather than leave her in the leaf litter where I doubt others may not have seen her, I took her back to the observatory for them to display. I understand visitors were still turning up this morning to see the Vagrant Emperor and although not what anyone would have wanted, at least they would have the chance to look at and study this still very rare dragonfly in Kent. I went back out late morning for a dipping session at Nethergong and with the sun not coming through which was not forecast, It was actually quite pleasant. I managed to find c30 Broad bodied Chaser nymphs and 4 Emperor Dragonfly nymphs but even better was 2 male Common Darter found basking in the sunshine. I think this is my latest date for this species. Just when I thought the season was over, it turned up this extra surprise. If there's some sunshine tomorrow, I might have another look to see whether they are still around. Just to think, a month tomorrow is Christmas Eve and they are still flying.

Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) - female

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Late Season Surprises

It's been another successful year spent studying and photographing the many species I have encountered in and out of the county but if I'm honest, there has been a massive desire to see a particular species which seems to have been present in certain parts of the country this year, but very rarely in Kent. This species is the Vagrant Emperor, a species which I have never seen before but have wanted to for quite a few years now. Two days ago whilst going through my Twitter feed and messages, I come across some photos of a Vagrant Emperor which brought a smile to my face. I then noticed that it had been seen in not just my county of Kent but quite nearby at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. This got my attention straight away but with work during the week, I really thought my chances of connecting were about zero percent. A few messages were sent out last night where I tried to arrange a visit during the evening but unfortunately, this was not meant to be. I went to work this morning in the hope that the Emperor would still be around but with some lovely sunny weather, I felt for sure that it would take to the wing and fly off. To my surprise then, I received a message from Andrew Lipczynski alerting me that it was still present and in the same area. This got my hopes up and a few more messages later, I had arranged to drive down after work where I hoped I could meet the warden Stefan at Sandwich Bay to hopefully see this new dragonfly. The end of the day couldn't come quick enough but at 3:50pm, I was picked up from work and was soon on my way down to Sandwich. I arrived as it was getting dark around 4:30pm where thankfully, Stefan was waiting in the car park, what a relief! We made our way to the area concerned which I would never had found on my own and then in the torchlight, there it was, my first ever VAGRANT EMPEROR, a female. I was straight away struck at the size of it and thought it would have been a little bigger but after having a good study at close range, I attempted a few shots. Thankfully, Stefan was at hand to shine some light on her allowing me to focus with the macro lens and take a number of photos.

Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) - female
What confused the both of us was where had this female possibly come from? She was in pristine condition with not a single tear in the wings. Surely if she had come from abroad, she would have been more battered? Perhaps she had locally emerged. We will never know but its nice to think anyway that in a local pool in east Kent, a Vagrant Emperor has emerged. After a few more photos and a good study of her, we made our way back to the car park in darkness. What a surprise to the end of the season. I really didn't think it would end like this but what an early present. My thanks must go to Andrew for this number of messages keeping me up to speed with news and of course, the warden Stefan for meeting me and giving up his time to show me this absolute cracker of a dragonfly.

Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) - female

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Final Countdown

With the temperatures now dropping quite significantly in the past week and added frequent rain, it was quite surprising that last weekend, the weather gods aligned and there was an afternoon of lovely sunshine, light winds but the temperature around 8 degrees celsius. Whilst I half expected to see the odd Common Darter, I was hoping to locate a late Willow Emerald Damselfly. My latest for this species being the 12th November. I spent a lovely 3 hours walking a number of times round the site at Nethergong. I must have stood and scrutinised every hotspot for a Willow Emerald Damselfly but I simply couldn't find one. Common Darters were quite numerous with 28 seen which gave me the perfect opportunity to get the camera out and take probably my last photos of the year. After what seemed like hours, I finally made one last circuit and checked the trees again overhanging the water and there he was, a single male Willow Emerald Damselfly making the most of the sunshine. I simply put the camera and rucksack down and just watched. It's been another superb year for me studying this species at this site and I wanted to make the most of this moment. It's going to feel like a long time until I see them next year. It made my day seeing the Willow Emerald Damselfly and on the way out, I managed a few more photos of the Common Darters as they posed in the sunshine. Weather permitting, which doesn't look too good for the weekend, I may have another look just in case a Common Darter is lurking out there. Otherwise, a few winter dipping sessions with the net and hopefully a few tank sessions photographing the nymphs I encounter.


Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - male