Pole Dancers

On reflection I should possibly have chosen a better title for this post.  I can imagine all sorts of ‘interesting’ people being directed here by search engines!  Hey-ho let’s run with it anyway, might get some interested in nature.

I have managed to get out and do a bit of dragonfly watching this past week or so.  It was a slow start but is picking up nicely.  Mike over in the States ( https://michaelqpowell.com/?wref=bif ) has been posting images for some weeks now, so we are playing catch-up.  Started by checking out Hickling Broad and on Sunday we went to Upton Fen.  At Upton I had to use my zoom lens to get the images and was pleasantly surprised at the detail.  A great lens for drag racing but after a lot of pretty poor butterfly images I was reluctant to use it.  You can see the link in the images and the reason behind the dodgy heading.

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Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) at Hickling. These are the smallest and earliest of the Hawkers to emerge and are forever on the move. If a bit of cloud covers the sun they will settle as happened here. The name ‘Hairy’ is because of the fine hairs on the thorax which you can see in this image
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Also at Hickling this male Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum). It was bending it’s abdomen in almost a complete circle
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The Norfolk Hawker (Anaciaeschna isoceles). This is a scarce species in the UK and as the name suggests are mostly confined to my home County, though they are spreading their range. This one was at Upton and is another dragonfly that rarely settles
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Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) The most numerous of the early dragons at some sites they can form ‘swarms’. This backlit one at Upton is beautifully marked with the colour on the outer spots (pterostigma) ‘bleeding’ into the wing, this is form praenubila.

2018 Dragonfly Highlights

Usually tricky to photograph so always a pleasure when I manage to capture some images of dragons and damsels.  This is a group of insects I love to see.  I’m not however that great on i.d so was well pleased when Mrs H bought me a top notch field guide.  Now I can get out to try and track down some new species.  Here are my favourites from last year.

Female Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum). This caused big i.d problems, luckily resolved by experts on a facebook group. It was great to be able to use the macro lens on these insects
Four Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata). A common species that does like to pose nicely
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) at Hickling Broad, not a species that stays still for long
A nice find on holiday. Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) in Cumbria
An even nicer find Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) in Cumbria
Back in Norfolk and a Black Tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). Usually this species sits on the ground so nice to get this shot
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The glistening wings show this is newly emerged. Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) in Sheringham Park
Brunch time! A Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) snacking on a fly
“Smile! He’s back in action” Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) appears to be happy to pose when I got my camera back

Emerald & Darter

A lovely sunny morning after a very cool night, the dew lays heavy on the grass. In the middle of a weeks holiday, time to get out and about.  Still armed with the old Nikon I headed over to Hickling Broad.  Where the sun was filtering through many Dragonflies were warming up.  Darters, Ruddy and Common, the bright red coloured males preferring to sit on the path whilst the grey looking females perched higher up.  Southern and Migrant Hawkers, much larger and more colourful, patrolled the trees never stopping.  And to my delight Willow Emerald Damselflies in range of the macro, not hanging from a leaf high in a tree!

Willow Emerald posing beautifully
Brunch time! A Willow Emerald snacking on a fly

The Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) is a very recent colonist of the UK from the Continent.  It is slowly spreading west.  They have an interesting way of breeding, the female will lay her eggs in the bark of willow or alder which overhangs water, when the eggs hatch the larvae drop into the water to then continue their growth.

Common Darter in lofty position
And lower down

Although the female Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) appear grey, seen up close they are very nicely marked.  They are also willing to pose for the camera unlike most of the large dragons.

Am away for a few days, will catch up with everyone next week.  Have a good weekend.

Cumbrian Discoveries pt2

With day one a great success for day two we headed across the River Kent estuary to Arnside Knott.  On the very southern edge of Cumbria the Knott is a 500ft high limestone hill with commanding views.  I had been given recommendations on two areas to search for High Brown Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus on the lower slopes, so we headed there first.  No Frits in the first spot and no Argus in the Primrose Field, which was very parched, plenty of commoner species though.  Time to head to the summit.

July 2018, a Grayling on Arnside Knott nectaring on wild marjoram

Despite the day being lovely and sunny a mist hung in the distance obscuring the views of the mountains to the north.  Last year this place was covered in flowers, now it was brown.  Patches of flowers were growing in the sheltered spots and one large marjoram was proving very popular with insects.  The Grayling (Hipparchia semele) in the above photograph is rarely seen nectaring, they usually sit, camouflaged, on stony paths.

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Nice to see you, a Northern Brown Argus

Whilst crouched down in the vegetation photographing the Grayling a very small butterfly zipped by, it was the Northern Brown Argus! (Aricia artaxerxes).  Amazing, when you are not looking for something it turns up.  This butterfly differs from it’s southern relative (featured a few posts back) by having indistinct spotting on the underwing, they also only have one brood per year.  I must have caught them at the end of their flight period as they were quite faded, in all we saw six.

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The colours might be faded but this Argus still looks sprightly!
A common butterfly but the colours of this fresh Small Tortoiseshell make for a lovely image

Didn’t get to see any High Brown Fritillaries but there were a few commoner Dark Greens, all females looking to lay eggs.  Also saw  a very early Scotch Argus, possibly the first of the year, but it would not settle, can’t win them all.

On day three would you believe it rained!  The first for many weeks.  So we acted like tourists and drove up to see the famouse lakes of Windermere and Coniston.  Beautiful scenery and if I was any good at landscape photography a paradise, but I’m not, so you will have to use your imaginations, ha ha.  In the afternoon the skies cleared and we visited Tina’s friends who live nearby.

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My final discovery, a Beautiful Demoiselle

We went for a walk in the parklands of the Holker Estate taking their three sheep dogs along.  When the youngest ran off toward a ditch I followed and made another discovery, my very first sighting of a Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopeteryx virgo).  What a fitting end to a short but welcome holiday.

For more images of Butterflies in Cumbria on my HOME page click on this link.  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/butterflies-in-cumbria/

Cumbrian Discoveries pt1

At last a weeks holiday!  A return visit to Southern Cumbria.  This year we are picking up our daughter Victoria (the Norfolk Lemming) from Manchester Uni a few weeks later, so I hope to see and photograph some new species.  Beautiful weather and on day one we went to Latterbarrow nature reserve.  This is a narrow site on a hill near Witherslack, the vegetation was parched dry due to the very hot summer with few flowers.

High Brown Fritillary at Latterbarrow

Tina spotted a Fritillary whilst I was searching for Northern Brown Argus.  To our great delight it was a High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) one of the UK’s rarest and most threatened species.  Once widespread in woodlands across Britain it can now only be found on a few limestone hills around the Morecambe Bay,  and at a couple of sites on Exmoor.  The population has crashed by over 90% since 1970!

New species number two, a Black Darter

Absolutely elated.  I noticed a small dragonfly, eventually it settled on a swaying grass head and I reeled off a few shots.  It was a Black Darter (Sympetrum danae).  I have never seen one before.  In Norfolk they only occur at two sites in the west of the County.

Then a really pretty moth, a Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata)

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Slightly worn but still beautiful, the High Brown Fritillary

Day one a great success!  I have updated the portfolio on my HOME page https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/butterflies-in-cumbria/



Something Local

“Ha yew orl gittin on tha tgether?” Translated from the Norfolk dialect “Everyone ok?”  It seems just lately I’ve been spending an awful lot of time travelling on the potholed, crumbling, congested joke of a road network we have in this country.  But to see new, exciting and rare species that is the price you have to pay.  It’s stressful but you can unwind when you reach your destination.

There is always something to see if you stay local however.  Get out in the garden or just a couple of miles down the road.  Within a few minutes I can visit the Broads, heathland, woods or coast.  Plenty of subjects to point my camera at!  Here is a selection from the last few weeks.

Could have picked a more comfortable resting spot! Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) at Hickling Broad, not a species that stays still for long
Aliens have landed! Really pleased to find this at Hickling. It is an exuvia, a discarded shell of a Four Spotted Chaser dragonfly. This species spends at least two years underwater as a larva before emerging to hatch. The adults only live for a few months.
Aliens really have landed! This remarkable looking creature is a Soldier Beetle, just look at those fantastic feet!

Of course my blog wouldn’t be complete without a butterfly (or two).  On a heath just 2 miles from home is a small colony of Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus) one of only four colonies in the whole county ( also click on HOME & tab ‘Buxton Heath Blues’)  I had been unable to find these before but struck lucky last Thursday when I discovered a freshly emerged male flying weakly among the heather and gorse.

This stunning male Silver Studded blue is so fresh the wings still have a wet, oily sheen
Sparkling! The underwing of the Silver Studded Blue. The name derives from the small metallic marks in the outer row of black spots
A species I’ve not managed to get a good image of before the Small Heath poses beautifully, not hidden in the grass as usual!

As I write this post I am looking forward to the emergence of the magnificent Purple Emperor, another trip to Northamptonshire!  Then the Summer Nationals at Santa Pod (ditto)  Finally a few days in Cumbria mid-July, but there is always something local.

Here be Dragons

Well to be a bit more precise Damselflies, those tiny waif like insects that resemble floating strands of coloured silk.  It is amazing to think that the earliest Damselfly fossil dates back 250 million years, in that time the structure has changed very little, these and their larger cousins the Dragonflies are the great survivors.

Female Variable Damselfly

On the 9th I took an early morning stroll at Hickling Broad.  It seems, as like the butterflies, the dragons are late in appearing also.  There were very few damsels besides the footpath and only a handful of Hairy Dragonflies over the reedbed.  Few were willing to pose, the exception being the one above.  This I thought was an Azure but has been correctly identified by the experts on a facebook group, so confusing, but a clue is in the name I guess.

“You lookin’ at me?” A tiny Blue Tailed Damselfly
The Large Red