Saturday, 29 August 2009

Common and Ruddy Darters

I was looking through the dragonfly pictures I took when I last visited Bank's Pond. You will recall that I spent quite a lot of my time there looking for Blue-tailed damselflies but I also took pictures of the Common and Ruddy Darters that were about. The first is of a male Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) ...

The following two pictures show female Common Darters, the first perching amongst Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) at the margin of the larger of the two ponds, the second perched in Hawthorn on the bridleway leading to the site ...

This final picture shows a male Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) ...

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Butterflies and Buddleia (2)

Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock feature in the second piece recording the butterflies in my garden last Saturday. If you would like to share details of a favourite butterfly habitat in Northumberland, and what might be seen there, I would very much like to hear from you.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Peacock (Inachis io)

Both together on one flower

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Butterflies and Buddleia (1)

It was warm and sunny in Redesdale on Saturday. I had intended to go out for the day to look for butterflies but they were visiting me in such large numbers that I couldn't resist the temptation and ventured no further than the garden.

Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and both Large and Small White butterflies were all in attendance and feeding on the buddleia bushes. The Red Admirals were not as frequent but I was delighted to photograph them for the first time.

Painted Ladies and Red Admiral feature here, with the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell in the next of this two-part piece.

Both together on one flower

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral underside

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady underside

Friday, 21 August 2009

Short-tailed Vole

One of the seed feeders at the observation hide at Wallington Hall hangs beside a twiggy pyramid erected by the wardens to provide cover for the visiting birds. When I visited the hide last weekend, a tiny creature popped its head out of a hole in the earth under this structure and looked around. The ground surrounding the hole was covered in wasted sunflower seeds, some of which had germinated. The creature, a short-tailed vole, emerged from the hole and fed briefly from the seeds before returning underground down an adjacent hole.

Short-tailed Vole (Microtis argretis)

Because of the poor available light, it was quite hard to process a record picture from the deeply shadowed original. I hope the following will serve to confirm identification.

Short-tailed Vole (Microtis argretis)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Red Squirrels

A population of red squirrels is clinging on in the woodland surrounding Wallington Hall, a National Trust property in mid-Northumberland. If you are lucky, you can see them almost anywhere in the woodland but the best views are from the observation hide in the West Woods. Here they come to glean the sunflower seeds and peanuts dropped by birds visiting the feeders.

Today, there are only three seed feeders at the observation hide; the bird table and all the other feeders, including some very large peanut feeders fastened to the trees, have been removed. Recent thinking suggests that if feeders are used by both red and grey squirrels they can be responsible for spreading the squirrel-pox virus which is fatal to the reds.

The two red squirrels I watched on Sunday were finding easy pickings amongst the wasted bird food under one of the feeders. My friend Harold took this beautiful picture of one of the reds sitting amongst the grass to the side of the feeders, and I would like to thank him for sharing it here ...

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Red squirrels survive in woodlands throughout Northumberland. You can read more about their protection here.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Blue-tailed Damselfly

I parked on the piece of rough road-side land near the entrance to Bank's Pond and reached for my dragon and damselfly field guide. Thumbing through its pages, I found the section describing the Blue-tailed damselfly, one of my targets for the day, and read it again to refresh my memory. "So that's clear: Smaller than an Emerald, glossy black abdomen with a bright blue section eight, top of thorax striped blue and black". My mind was focused ... or so I thought.

Helpfully, ST had left a message following my first visit to the Pond: "I have only found the Blue-tails around the larger pond, on the road-side edge", he had written, so that was where I headed first. After a short time, I came across one, was very excited, took lots of pictures, moved on, found another and took more pictures. Later, while having my picnic lunch back at the car, I opened the field guide to check the points against my pictures. I had taken many very nice pictures. Unfortunately, the Blue-tailed damselfly in every one of them was an Emerald!

How could I have been so confused? Who can tell? I was reminded of an incident many years ago when a very loud lady in a small bird-watching party shouted big white seagull coming towards us and everyone looked away from the rare-ish winter visitor we had been watching to see a Mute Swan flying westwards. I hoped things couldn't be that bad.

Despite this set-back, I started the afternoon in a positive frame of mind. Returning to the Pond, I followed my morning route and was soon rewarded with a male Blue-tail; an actual Blue-tail this time (I checked all the points). It was almost hidden amongst the pond-side vegetation and in tandem with a mature infuscans female. Stepping daintily upwards through the undergrowth, the two eventually perched on a rush and as I watched, they joined in a copulation wheel. The picture records the scene ... and this new tick on my D&D list.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

Friday, 14 August 2009

Butterflies at Bank's Pond

Banks pond has been a source of great pleasure, providing exceptional views of dragon and damselflies. Yesterday I found and photographed the Blue-tailed damsel fly I had been looking for and was more successful in my efforts to photograph the Common and Ruddy Darter dragonflies (more of both in forthcoming pieces).

I also kept an open-eye for butterflies and was not disappointed. Unfortunately, a fresh-looking Peacock escaped the camera but I did find a pair of Large White feeding on Common Knapweed. I think this is the male ...

Large White (Pieris brassicae)

And I photographed a Painted Lady for the first time ...

Painted Lady (Venessa cardui)

These Wall butterflies were a real bonus and a lifetime tick. The male (upper) was typically hyper-active, patrolling his territory, settling frequently if briefly on sunnier parts of the path we shared, before eventually coming upon his mate, if mate she was, in the path-side grass. He then head-butted her half a dozen times before pausing just long enough for them to have their picture taken.

Phil Gates has a fascinating piece on his Cabinet of Curiosities blog about Wall butterfly behaviour including the head-butting I observed.

Wall butterflies (Lasiommata megera)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Common Darter Dragonfly

There were large numbers of Common and Ruddy Darter dragonflies at Bank's Pond during my visit last week. Many were flying in tandem and dipping repeatedly allowing the female to oviposit. Except for short periods perched on the ground or on vegetation, they were hardly ever still and spent most of their time darting off here and there no matter how carefully I approached. This behaviour might explain why they came to be called darters but it made them very difficult to photograph! My tactic, I think, during my next visit will be to sit still and let them come to me.

Obligingly, the pair below were joined in their copulation wheel for some minutes ...

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

While I was photographing a male Emerald damselfly I noticed a dragonfly larvae on an adjacent rush. It was perfectly still and it was only when I viewed an enlarged image on my camera screen that I realised it was an empty shell, its back split at the point where the adult had emerged. As identification is notoriously difficult, it is probably best not to speculate on which dragonfly larvae this is; none-the-less it was interesting to observe. If the picture points a reader in any particular direction regarding identification I would be pleased to hear from you.

(Thanks to ST for his suggestion that the exuvia is that of a Common Darter. My field guide suggested this also but I felt unable to comfirm.)

Monday, 10 August 2009

Bank's Pond

I had read about Bank's Pond on The Darter and visited the site last week. Bank's Pond is actually two ponds, one large and one small, set in rough pasture land near to Dinnington, a village on the northern fringe of Newcastle upon Tyne. The ponds appear man-made as opposed to being formed by colliery subsidence which is common in South East Northumberland.

I had read that Emerald, Common Blue and Blue-tailed damselflies and Emperor, Common Darter and Ruddy Darter dragonflies were present. I did not find Blue-tailed damselflies but Emerald damselflies and the two darters were present in very large numbers. There were lesser numbers of the Common Blues present and I saw only two individual male Emperors and a pair flying in tandem.

My recent quest to photograph a male Emerald damselfly was completed almost upon my arrival. The mature male in this first picture is perching with its wings half open, which is common for lestids ...

Emerald Damselfy (Lestes sponsa)

While the mature male in this picture is shown from the side ...

Here a pair are in tandem prior to mating ...

And then a copulation wheel ...

My visit to Bank's Pond involved a lengthy drive, but I made a day of it and the effort was more than rewarded. I hope to make another visit in the very near future.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Emerald Damselfly

A visit to Sidwood at the weekend failed to produce a male Emerald damselfly, which I would particularly like to see again, but another female was present. It was in the same location as the previous female, amongst the dense vegetation beside a small stream flowing from the former ornamental lake of the old Sidwood estate.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)

It is only when you come to process the picture that the real beauty of this tiny creature is revealed.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Small Skipper

The countryside surrounding the Tarset Burn, if measured by memorable wildlife experiences, is now a firm favourite on my list of local places to visit. Last week's badger sighting must top the list but every visit has its own highlights with many first-timers for me or my camera.

A short walk at Sidwood on Thursday afternoon provided a glimpse of a tiny copper-coloured butterfly. Further views followed until, as my awareness of their jizz grew, they appeared be be all around me and I knew I was looking at Small Skippers.

Northumberland is largely coloured-in on their distribution map, although I understand that this northern expansion of their range has only taken place in recent years. Being small and flittish, they were quite a challenge to photograph but their settling on Common Knapweeds to feed made the job a little easier.

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)

The typical Skipper posture with forewings swept back and hindwings held flat. Here, the proboscis is extended into the flower head.

I think this is a male, showing a more conspicuous sex band on the forewing, and the first two pictures above are of a female.

Other sightings included Painted Lady, Green-veined White, Ringlet and Meadow Brown butterflies.