Sunday, 12 November 2017

Know Your Wings!

It looks likely that unless we have some warmer weather next weekend, I may have seen my last dragonflies and damselflies of 2017. It has been a very successful season personally and no doubt in due coarse, I will spend some time reviewing the season with some of my favourite images. One of the many fascinating aspects of the dragonfly and damselfly is the structure of the wings and I have used this quite often to effect in some early morning dewy photos but just like many I suspect, why do they look as they do? I decided to read through some of my books and look at a few internet sites to see whether I could provide myself with some of these answers. The often overlooked pterostigma (the thickened or coloured cell in the outer wing) has an important role in the flight of the dragonfly. It is actually slightly thicker than the rest of the wing and provides stability during gliding. It can also help provide identification to species with different colours and shapes. Another question I needed answers for was 'why are the cells different sizes and shapes in the wing?' If ever you have looked at a dragonfly wing up close, you will notice that the cells are different in size and shape. Some have three sides, others can have four, five or six sides. The number and shape of cells in a particular area are designed to handle force very differently when in flight, gliding and turning. I don't think I will ever look at a dragonfly or damselfly wing again now without appreciating just what a work or art and design they are. Whilst on the theme of wings and seeing most species can be identified through their shape of wing, pterostigma shape and colour, costa colour etc, I thought I would set a challenge to see how many visitors to this blog can identify. I have got to be honest and say, there are a few that I don't think I would get myself. For some photos, I have included a very small part of the thorax to maybe help with some identification. I will post the answers in my next post in a week or so but you are more than welcome to post your answers on this blog or to my twitter feed (Kent Dragonflies). 

Number 1 

Number 2 

Number 3  

Number 4 

Number 5 

Number 6 

Number 7 

Number 8 

Number 9 

Number 10 

Number 11 

Number 12

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Changing Face of the Willow Emerald Damselfly

Having studied and photographed the Willow Emerald Damselfly in Kent since 2011, I had obviously realised like other dragonflies and damselflies, that they go through a period of maturing where they can change colour dramatically. For some species like the female Common Darter, they can over mature where they change colour from yellow to dark brown with age but for a lot of species, they simply mature up and stay the same colour throughout their flight season. As if the Willow Emerald Damselfly is not already unique enough, their long flight season which starts in early July and can go through to mid November can see them change colour a number of times, maybe more than any other species? Although I have taken many hundreds of photos of this species, its only been in the past few years that I have realised that this species appears to change colour four times through the season. From  subtle shades of green at emergence through to bright greens and yellows and as the season progresses, shades of gold and blue appear that compliment their surroundings well. These changing colours through the season make them an ideal target for the photographer and as you will probably be aware, they are one of my favourite species to study and photograph. Much is still to be learnt about this damselfly and hopefully, as they continue to expand their range, others will be able to see and appreciate this most stunning damselfly. Their season may nearly be over but with that, I hope that many observers will spend some time during the winter looking for the gall marks in the trees where they have laid their eggs. There are bound to be new areas where these tell tale signs can be seen which will continue the success story of this species. 

Willow Emerald Damselfly - Newly Emerged (Early July)

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Late July / August)

Willow Emerald Damselfly (August / September)

Willow Emerald Damselfly (October / November)

Friday, 27 October 2017

They're Still Going Strong!

With the week off work due to half term and some nice sunny days, I have made a few visits to Nethergong to check on the dragonflies and damselflies. I suspect we are probably into the last few weeks of activity and with the temperatures starting to drop off, it won't be long until the season draws to a close. Having said that, I have been lucky this week to visit in sunny conditions and have spent a good few hours walking around Nethergong. On Wednesday, I made an afternoon visit in some warm sunshine where I managed to find 21 Willow Emerald Damselfly, c15 Common Darter and 1 Migrant Hawker. Seventeen of the Willow Emerald Damselfly were seen around two Alder Trees which overhang the stream and sixteen of these were males with one pair seen egg laying. As can be seen from the photo, I have to watch from the other side of the stream and I suspect there were maybe more along the stream but I enjoyed just watching them flying around the tree, chasing each other from time to time before returning back to their favoured perches.

Two Alder Trees (Where most sightings are currently coming from)

A scan of the branched revealed lots of gall marks and fingers crossed for next year. The remaining 4 Willow Emerald Damselflies were on the stream on the eastern boundary perched up waiting for passing females. With the family and some friends going to London today, I spent four hours at Nethergong again from midday where despite a cold north wind and temperatures only reaching about fourteen degrees celsius, I managed to locate 15 Willow Emerald Damselfly, 8 males and 2 females were seen around the two Alder Trees with 4 males noted along the eastern stream and 1 female seen in a sunny glade in the wood. With most out of range for the camera, I did at least find a couple to photograph and these may well prove to be my last photos of the year of this species unless we have some mild sunny weather in the next few weeks.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (male)

My last Willow Emerald Damselfly last year was on the late date of 13th November so there is a possibility that I may get to see the odd one if I visit early into November. Also seen in the sun today were c20 Common Darter including a few pairs in tandem ovipositing and 2 Migrant Hawker enjoying the warmth of a few sheltered areas. I might try to visit over the weekend if possible, if not, I will have to hope next weekend is a sunny mild one for my November visit. In the mean time, I had better get the nets, trays and tanks ready for the nymph season which I will continue through the winter to keep the interest going. 

Willow Emerald Damselfly (male) 

Common Darter (male)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The 'Willows' That Just Keep Giving

Since the second week of July, I have been very lucky to have made many visits to Nethergong to experience the Willow Emerald Damselflies. Its been excellent and an education to watch them emerge, mature, mate and oviposit and many of these encounters have been documented on camera. With many species now over their flight period, I have continued to enjoy the Willow Emerald Damselfly season and last weekend during a warm weather spell which saw temperatures reach the low twenties, I spent a few hours at Nethergong counting, watching and photographing this species. Most of the action were centered around a couple of Alder Trees overhanging the water where a number of pairs were seen in tandem and egg laying on the branches. A good search through the binoculars at the branches revealed excellent numbers of gall marks (the raised marks on the tree where egg laying has taken place) and i'm hopeful of another good season next year. I continued to wander and soon found a few individuals enjoying the sunshine and perching out well which enabled me to take a number of photos of them in the lovely light. No matter how many photos I have taken of this species, I am always looking for improvements as the changing light can affect the photos considerably. The weather forecast doesn't look that good for the weekend but I am hopeful that I can make another visit soon to enjoy the last part of their flight season as well as seeing the odd Common Darter and maybe a Migrant Hawker. 

 Willow Emerald Damselfly (male)