A Matter of Life & Death

A very dramatic title but it sums up a lot of observations I have had this week.

As I mentioned in my last post we planned to take our first trip out since ‘lockdown’.  Saturday was much sunnier than forecast so we packed a picnic and headed south-west to the furthest part of the County from where we live.  The area is called Breckland.  The Brecks is a Special Protection Area (SPA) the landscape is one of gorse covered sandy heaths.  Rows of Scots Pine act as windbreaks and there are several areas of non-native conifer plantations including Thetford Forest, England’s largest lowland forest.  The site we visited was Foulden Common, home to two rare (for Norfolk) butterflies.

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Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) gives me a nice photo opportunity

The two species are both members of the Skipper family the Grizzled and the Dingy.  They are small (1 inch or 25mm wingspan) and fly low and fast to the ground.  So with my faithful spotter Mrs H it was eyes down as we quartered the more sheltered areas.  We found 1 Grizzled and 4 Dingies before heavy cloud cover came over and with the breeze put a halt to activity.

So on to Sunday and typically the sun stayed out all day, that’s what we call ‘Sods Law’.  However I paid a short visit to a pond a few miles away hoping to see a rare dragonfly.  No luck on that but it was lovely to just sit and watch the comings and goings.  Hundreds of damselflies were emerging all around.  Their first weak flights taking them up into the overhanging trees.

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A twig in the pond was a popular place to emerge. This newly emerged damselfly is transparent in the backlighting but look closely and you can see the shells or exuvia from which they have broken out. In all there were six on this stick

Most of the life of a damsel or dragonfly is spent under water.  Here the nymphs will live for up to two years, in some species even longer.  They are fierce predators.  When their time comes they climb from the water and split from the shell or exuvia.  Once free they must let the wings dry and harden before attempting flight.  Life in adult form is short, maybe just a few weeks as they seek mates to reproduce, sometimes it is even shorter.  As is the way of nature there is always someone on the lookout for an easy meal.  On Sunday it was a pair of Reed Buntings.  Obviously they had a nest of hungry chicks to feed so were making the most of this harvest.

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Male Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) with a beak full of damselflies

Tuesday and time for a walk by Hickling Broad in lovely weather.  Dragonflies were emerging in numbers.  Like the damsels their first flight is weak and fluttery.  Most of those I saw were the Four-spotted Chasers  There were a few Broad-bodied Chasers and several mature Hairy Hawkers.

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With wings soft and shiny a Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) has recently emerged

Like the damselflies on Sunday even the larger dragons can be in danger at this stage of adulthood remember this https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/kiss-of-death/.  Today it was not a bigger odonata but something much smaller but no less deadly.

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Bad choice of perch. The Four-spotted chaser gets entangled in a web and the maker moves in for lunch. If it’s wings were fully hardened the Chaser would probably have broken free. I could have intervened and freed the dragon but the spider needs to live too

And if all that is making you a bit sad well here is something to cheer you up an Orange-tip, oh yeah you’ve seen these before haven’t you.

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And smile!!

 

38 thoughts on “A Matter of Life & Death

  1. An absolutely stunning image of the spider that catches the dragonfly in its web! But that’s not the only amazing image you show here, they are all stunning, so detailed with a fantastic sharpness and lovely colors. Wow!!!

    Are you out early in the mornings to capture these dragonflies? I’m not a morning person but it may be worth getting out earlier than usual, when the weather permits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very kind comment Anita. These images were taken mid-morning but if you go early you may be lucky to find dragonflies still roosting. They are a bit drowsy then ’till they warm up but are still capable of flying away if spooked.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Brian. I went out this morning, 20 minutes drive and me and my dog ​​started walking at 6am when the sun had just started to rise. We walked for two hours, it was lovely but did I see any dragonflies? Haha .. no, but I searched where I have seen them before in the afternoons. No luck this time, not even a single butterfly crossed my eyes.
        But I will make more attempts, it is nice to wake up early as the day gets much longer 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I tend to ignore those ‘dingy’ looking brown things, but I’ll have to take more notice in future. A friend of mine sent me a photo of a Four-spotted chaser that he’d seen on his golf course near York (Strensall) last week. The world is certainly alive with flying things at the moment! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very happy to hear you made it out and about for awhile! Thank you for sharing your discoveries.
    Terrific photograph of the skipper!

    Your image of the newly emerged damsel is a scene we’re now experiencing in abundance. The Chaser in the web is fascinating! And I remain jealous of your Orange-tip, especially now that I know I can’t see one in our area. 😦

    Here’s to more frequent outings for us all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hopefully we should get out more Wally but unfortunately not to the far of places we were looking forward to. Still, there are exciting species starting to emerge which will keep us amused in our home County.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To quote a famous blogger from out Norfolk way: “Always interesting to see what is living right under your nose, sometimes you don’t have to travel far.”

        Next year – new adventures!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So nice!
    A few days ago I red an article about bees and the situation they are facing nowadays, with the extintion of many species.
    And it’s scary to think about that and the importance they have for the planet… and a shame that they are so beautiful and facing these risks.

    Great shot

    Liked by 1 person

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