What, Even More Dragonflies?

As I mentioned last week everything is bursting into life.  So as not to rush around like a ‘headless chicken’ I tried to plan places to visit and species to see.  Had to make the most of the heatwave as today it’s broken with heavy showers and thunder due.  I have seen and photographed lots of interesting things in the last ten days but I thought I would treat you all to more odonata including a couple of first time sightings!

Standing guard over the garden pond. Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa). His manner with the visiting ladies leaves a lot to be desired!

My old buddy John came up from Hertfordshire for a couple of days.  We visited Strumpshaw Fen primarily for Swallowtail butterflies.  The butterflies were notable by their absence but the dragons put on a great display.

Love the orange colouration of newly emerged Scarce Chasers (Libellula fulva). The males turn blue with a powdery substance called pruinescence whilst the females are brown
Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) are gorgeous and always worth a photo
Another blue dragonfly on a stick? This is a male Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) which usually only rest on the ground!  Seen at Hickling Broad
Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) usually rests on floating water weeds like lilies. There were hundreds on the Suffolk Stour

So what about these two lifers?  I always like to have a target to aim for.  If you fail to see what you travel a long way for this can leave an empty feeling.  A successful trip and it’s big smiles for days.  Damselflies are not the most ‘in your face’ creatures.  Unlike their big, brash, colourful cousins the dragonflies, damsels keep low in the vegetation and go about their business in a slow, quiet way.  Make no mistake these tiny insects are vicious predators in their own right.  A day out to the Suffolk/Essex border produced the first and also a look at ‘Constable Country’.

White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) (female) Flatford Suffolk. A very distinctive species, the males are pale blue

The next target was going to be much more tricky.  The species can be found only at one site in East Anglia, it is usually found in the south, south/west of the Country.  I happened to meet an old friend who knew the exact spot for this tiny damselfly.  The place is kept somewhat secret to protect this delicate species.  I knew roughly the area but armed with a map, x marks the spot, I found them.  Without my friends help I would still be searching now!  Let me introduce…..

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumillio) At just over one inch (27mm) long proof that good things come in small packages!

I still have one more rare species to see locally however it should soon be time for the summer butterflies so who knows what I will post next!

Observing Dragons

This last week has seen an explosion of activity on the odonata front.  Not surprising really, after the awful spring we are now in full-on summer mode.  Early morning and it’s emergence time at the pond.  As the heat builds the damselflies are returning in numbers to mate and lay eggs.  So much to see I’m struggling to decide where to venture to next.

“Oi! Get that thing out of my face!” Looks like Mr Grumpy got out of the wrong side of the pond this morning. Newly emerged Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
A trip to Hickling Broad produced this pleasing shot of a female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
Also at Hickling this rather pretty damselfly. Female Blue-tailed (Ischnura elegans) colour form rufescens
Spotted this immature female Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) last week at the Cut-off Channel. Quite common but not a species I see that often
The Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) is difficult to photograph as it’s always on the move in sunny weather. This lady caught a rather large lunch so had to settle to eat it nicely. Most dragons eat their prey in flight
Circle of life. The Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) are returning to my pond to mate and lay eggs

With most very rare species I find myself hitting the road and travelling for hours to see them.  Not so with one dragonfly.  In the County of Norfolk the Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) can only be found in two adjacent ponds and as luck would have it they are just ten minutes away.  I won’t name the ponds due to the fragile nature of this species hanging on and limited access though most keen dragonfly enthusiasts know of them.  Yesterday (7th) I managed to obtain my first half decent images.  The males constantly patrol the pond margins and if they settle it’s high up on a leaf in the overhanging canopy.  The lighting is not ideal as you are looking into the sun.  No matter, I came home with a big grin on my face (just don’t ask how many shots I took to get six reasonable ones!).

Downy Emerald (male) Norfolk

If you haven’t done so already why not check out this page https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/british-damsel-dragonflies/

The Butterflies of the Cut-off Channel

The Cut-off Channel is a man-made waterway in the west of the Counties of Norfolk & Suffolk and runs for 28 miles (45 km).  Construction was finished in 1964 and it has a dual purpose.  In winter it collects the flood water from three rivers and transfers it, via a pump at Denver, out to sea in the River Great Ouse.  Summer and the flow is reversed and water is supplied to fill a reservoir in the County of Essex.

The spoil from the digging formed steep banks which are now lush with flora and support a wide variety of fauna.  After Foulden Common a small stretch at Stoke Ferry is the only other site in Norfolk to find the tiny Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae).  The Skippers normally appear in April but due to our very poor spring I was wondering if any would be out now in June.  Yesterday (2nd) with temperatures hitting 26c I took the 90 minute drive to find out.

A surprisingly fresh Grizzled Skipper. Very difficult to spot, the usual sighting is a tiny grey blur zig-zagging low and fast to the ground
Not so fresh but at least this Skipper had the decency to sit up off the ground for a few seconds

In the sweltering conditions I counted five Skippers which I was well pleased with.  There were many more butterflies to keep me amused and a few dragon and damselflies.  The air was filled with birdsong and apart from a couple of joggers and dog walkers I had the place to myself.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) behaving itself and not attacking anyone!
Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) not much bigger than the Grizzles. This was attacking everyone!
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). Lovely and fresh the colour is deep and vivid

The ‘Birth’ of a Dragonfly

Two posts in one week?  What have you lucky people done to deserve this.  As you know I have been avidly ‘pond watching’ of late as the dragon and damselflies have been emerging, in the case of the Large Red Damselflies in good numbers.  One of my aims was to capture the moment a dragonfly left it’s watery home of the last two years and ‘transformed’ into a winged beauty.  Well this morning I got my wish…..

The larvae climbs an Iris leaf
After getting a good grip the thorax splits and the emergence begins
Next the head appears
Then the body
Almost there. At this point it took a rest and started pumping up the body to full size
With a deft forward flip and it’s out
Next task get them wings inflated
Ta-dah! A newly minted Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa). The new wings will have the fluids pumped into them after which they will then open to the typical cross position.

This whole process from start to finish took two hours and was fascinating to watch.  I then had to go out.  When I returned a couple of hours later the dragon had flown.  Earlier this week I witnessed a damselfly emerging, in contrast to the dragon it took only fifteen minutes!

Have a great weekend!

Bring me Sunshine

April was cold and very dry with a record number of frosts.  May has been cold and very wet/windy.  Only one day this month has the temperature got in the high teens centigrade compared to twenty last year.  Not the spring I was hoping for when I took early retirement.  But nature is resilient, It has to be to survive.  Given a good day butterflies will appear and eggs will be laid, maybe not as many but just enough to ensure a future generation.

Sunday Stroll

We took a walk with Rose and Mick and chanced the forecast.  Our route, to the west of town, was quite familiar during this pandemic.  Ominous black clouds to the west, cracks of thunder, yet it rolled on by and not a drop fell.  It was a lovely morning.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) on daisies. I really enjoy getting down to ground level and being amongst nature
Say “hello” to an Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa)
A female Orange-tip carefully lays an egg under the flower head of Garlic Mustard. Only one egg will be laid per plant as the caterpillars are cannibalistic
Another Andrena Bee. This is a male and several species look similar

Searching for Skippers

Every year in early May I try and get across the County to Breckland.  It is here, at only two sites, that Norfolk’s rarest and smallest butterfly can be found.  As I approached Foulden Common it was obvious there had been a good helping of the wet stuff.  However the sky was clearing, sun appearing and after an hour long drive I was going to make the most of it.  This year I didn’t have my extra pair of eyes, Mrs H was at work, so I had to carefully scan the ground alone.  As it warmed up the butterflies emerged from wherever they had sheltered for the night.  Brimstones, Orange-tips, Small Coppers, Peacocks and Speckled Wood.  Then, suddenly, what I was searching for.  A tiny dark butterfly flew up to chase a smaller, greyer variety, a Dingy Skipper seeing off a Grizzled Skipper, my target.  In all I saw four Grizzles, not many but at least they are still surviving.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) at Foulden Common. With wings open barely an inch across, like a miniature chessboard
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) form punctata, on a Cow Slip at Foulden

Pond Update

It’s all systems go at the garden pond.  Every time I turn my back it seems another dragonfly has emerged!  I’ve still yet to see the actual breaking free of the exuvia but there’s plenty of time.  The total now is 3 Broad-bodied Chasers, 1 Four-spotted Chaser and 5 Large Red Damselflies.  The rains have left the pond brimful and all the new arrivals have had to bide their time to take flight.

After sitting out strong winds and an overnight downpour this Four-spotted Chaser has a chance to spread it’s wings and dry out

For the weekend and beyond the forecast is for proper spring weather, bring me sunshine!

More Pond Life

I try and post once a week(ish) and usually have a topic in mind.  Now, if I get to go out unexpectedly and get some images I’m really pleased with a curved ball is tossed in my direction.  What to do?  As you lovely people have had an overdose of butterfly shots just lately I will stick to the original plan, especially as things have happened in the last few days.  Intrigued?  Carry on reading.

Those of you who have been with me for a while will know when we moved home late last year we ‘inherited’ a garden pond, no fish this is just for wildlife.  It needed a bit of sorting out and I added a lot of plants.  Now the work is starting to bear fruit.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

As well as the butterflies, during the warm months (🤣🤣😂) I am fascinated by dragonflies.  Our spring here in Norfolk, as well as most of the UK, just hasn’t got going.  The dragons and damsels (odonata) are at least three weeks late.  For spring butterflies to suffer poor weather will mean next year the numbers will crash.  The dragons can delay emergence under water until things are better, sometimes up to a year.  However late last week we had a visit from the first Large Red Damselfly.

Helophilus pendulus also known as the Footballer Hoverfly due to it’s stripey thorax supposedly resembling a soccer shirt, yeah ok
Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). Lovely to see one of my plant introductions in flower and such a beautiful flower it is

The exciting events started this week with the first Large Red Damselfly emerging.  I noticed the very pale damsel hanging from an old Iris stem.  At this stage they are known as teneral, it takes a day or so to attain full colour.

Morning reflection

Monday morning it was cool and grey.  I went for my daily look at the pond and to say “Hi” to the newts (yes, I’m loosing it).  There hanging from an Iris a freshly emerged Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)!  I was ecstatic.  Rushed indoors to get the camera and Mrs H so I could record the event.

The dragonfly was in an awkward spot to photograph. An hour earlier and I would have witnessed the actual emergence.  The little white threads coming from the exuvia are the breathing tubes
The sun came through early afternoon. This allowed the dragon to open her wings into the normal position and inflate them. An hour later she had taken her first flight. The female can be told by the shape of the anal appendages, these are the two tiny points on the tip of the abdomen. Female Broad-bodied Chasers will become a bright gold colour whilst males will produce a substance called pruinescence which turns them blue

Green Meanies and other Wiveton Beauties

A nice morning so re-visited Wiveton Downs for a couple of hours butterfly hunting.  The Downs is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and is an esker, in layman’s terms a glacial crevasse which was filled in and forms a winding ridge.  Situated a mile or so inland from the Nth Norfolk coast.  The top of the ridge is mostly Gorse and on the north side the lower slopes are clothed in Bluebells and well sheltered.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). How innocent does this tiny butterfly look?

My target was seeing the Green Hairstreak.  Spurred on by Mike’s post yesterday https://alittlebitoutoffocus.com/2021/05/10/green-hairstreak-butterfly-val-dherens-switzerland/  I was hoping the locals would be out and about, I was not disappointed.  I have posted about this species before and have mentioned their rather nasty temper (yes B in Illinois, hard to believe but true).  These butterflies are the size of a thumbnail but that doesn’t stop them from beating the living daylights out of each other and attacking any thing else that flies past!

Seconds out, round two!
Spot the Ninja

All the butterflies were condensed into one area near a flowering Hawthorn and a bank of Bluebells.  There was more than Hairstreaks though, in all I saw ten different species.

The first of an influx? Reports of Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) have come in from southern Britain. I spotted this one. Worn and faded but considering the migration journey it has just had that can be forgiven
A new season Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) risks the wrath of the Hairstreaks for a sip of Hawthorn nectar
Migrant or local? A slightly worn Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) enjoys a Bluebell

Flights of Fancy

I have not done one of Lisa’s challenges for a few weeks.  When the sun’s been shining and the temperatures managed to get above the dizzy heights of +12c (not often!) I have been engrossed in chasing butterflies.  And now Mrs H has kicked my butt into getting some more decorating done which is taking longer to do than anticipated and filling the whole house with dust!

Anyway Here is my offering, with a twist  https://oureyesopen.blog/2021/04/30/bird-weekly-photo-challenge-birds-in-flight/

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

To A Skylark

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
 
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
 
Percy Bysshe Shelley
 
 
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

 

The Owl

When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,
And the whirring sail goes round,
And the whirring sail goes round;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

The Curlew

The curlew’s trademark, long down curved bill

Delves deep in mud, belly to fill

Heath and moorland breeding ground

Mating calls eerie sound

And then chicks arrive

Oh how they thrive

Birds anew

Curlew

View

Simon Rogerson

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple – dawn – drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, Gerard Manley Hopkins
 
 

Orange & Blue

Last week had a look at Wiveton Downs up by the north coast.  A bit chilly with the breeze off the sea but ok in sheltered spots.  Slightly early for some of the new season butterflies, in fact I only saw three species though one was a first for the year.  This April sets a 60 year record for the most frosts!  It’s also been very dry a trend set to continue into May.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) getting stuck into a bluebell

Sometimes it’s easier to approach lunch upside down

The new one for the year, Speckled Wood (Pararge aegaria). These are quite feisty and territorial. Males will spiral away kicking lumps out of each other but always return to the same leaf or twig ready for the next fight

More Spring Butterflies

Took a drive over to Foxley Wood this morning.  My first visit for a couple of years and the furthest I’ve been this year thanks to lockdown.  It was a cool start but unbroken sun and this was enough to stir a few butterflies into action.  Cold weather forecast for later this week so it’s still stop/start.

Several Brimstones were patrolling the woodland rides and were civil enough to stop and nectar on dandelions allowing me the chance to photograph them.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamani)

Large White (Pieris brassicae)

A couple of Orange Tips passed through, not stopping, but a larger white butterfly caught my eye.  It was a female Large White and had probably only emerged from it’s chrysalis this morning.

Peacocks (Aglais io) aplenty

Comma (Polygonia c-album) one of the hibernators to emerge

Back home and Mrs H was quite excited to show me something in the garden.  There was a newly emerged female Holly Blue on the patio.  We put her in a flower container to keep her out of the way.  Sad to say after a few hours the wings were still not fully inflated.  Such is nature but I’m sure there will be many more.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus). Newly emerged but failed to inflate it’s wings