Monday, 22 May 2017

Norfolk Hawker Exuviae

Readers of this blog will know that during the flight season of the Norfolk Hawker at Westbere, I have spent the past 3 years trying to find and collect an exuviae of this species for my collection. I get just as excited finding these as I do photographing the adults. I have put in many hours of searching through reeds to no avail but yesterday at Westbere Lakes, my luck was to change when my attention was caught as a Hairy Dragonfly flew up the ditch. As I lost it to view, I pulled back some reeds and was amazed to see a hawker exuviae clinging to the reeds about 20cm above the water line. I had a good look through the binoculars and could clearly see it was no Hairy Dragonfly or Emperor Dragonfly and at this point, my thought started to turn that this could be a Norfolk Hawker exuviae. There are not many other species it could be so before trying to remove it, I took a few photos of it in position and then set about trying to remove it carefully.

Norfolk Hawker Exuviae (male)

As I studied it in the hand I knew one of the clinching features was the length of the cerci which are approximately two thirds the length of the paraprocts. A look through the hand lens seemed to suggest that this definitely had this feature and so quite abruptly, the session ended and I made my way home with my possible gold medal.

Cerci at least two thirds of the Paraprocts

On returning home, I spent a while looking at the features required including the shorter, broader mask compared to some other hawkers.

Norfolk Hawker Exuviae Mask

The size of the exuviae seemed to fit well with what the literature said but I could not see the shape of the epiproct, another key feature to look for. I was now pretty convinced that my 3 years of searching for a Norfolk Hawker exuviae had ended but to make sure, I sent a few photos to the British Dragonfly Society who kindly passed them on to Steve Cham, an expert in this field. They soon contacted me back to let me know that Steve did indeed think this was a Norfolk Hawker exuviae. I can tell you that I was more than pleased with my find and in my opinion, it was like winning a gold medal. Its now been put carefully in my collection where on a few occasions, I have had to look at it to actually realise that I have at last found one. Hopefully this species will have a good season at Westbere and I will be able to obtain a few nice images and who knows, perhaps another exuviae will come my way when I continue my search for them. 

Norfolk Hawker Exuviae (male) side view

Norfolk Hawker Exuviae (male) underside

Norfolk Hawker Exuviae (male) side view

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Walk at Westbere May Have Turned Up Gold!

Having been up a few times Friday night in the hope that a Banded Demoiselle nymph would emerge, which it didn't, I decided to make a visit to Westbere Lakes to see what dragonflies and damselflies could be found. The forecast for the morning looked quite good so I drove over at 7.30am and spent just over 3 hours walking around. For the first hour or so, I had to do all the searching as it was still quite early in the day for most of the dragonflies to be flying but a walk through the long grasses produced good number of Variable and Blue tailed Damselflies.

Variable Damselfly (male) 

I took a walk along the river where on a few occasions, I stopped to look for exuviae at the waters edge but despite a good search, I failed to find any this time. By 9am, the sun was warming up quite nicely and damselflies could be seen quite easily which included quite a few Azures and a few Red eyed Damselfly which provided a few photo opportunities.

'teneral' Red eyed Damselfly (male)

As I checked some long grasses, I could see 2 Banded Demoiselle, a male and female sitting close to each other. The male was occasionally flashing his wings to her and provided me with a nice insight into their courtship behaviour. I don't think you can get enough of this species, the colours on them at close range are simple superb as can be seen hopefully in the photos.

Banded Demoiselle (male)

Banded Demoiselle (female)

A single Hairy Dragonfly was flushed from the path never to be seen again and 4 Scarce Chaser were noted at various points but normally just out of reach for a decent shot with the camera. This species continues to diminish at Westbere with numbers being low the past few years but hopefully they will have a good season and do well. With a few species seen and some shots of the day obtained, I made my way back to the car. Last night (Saturday), I again spent a few hours hoping a Banded Demoiselle nymph would emerge but no luck but surely my luck will change soon as i'm not too sure if my lack of sleep can take much more. I just hope I am awake and in position when this happens. Today I made a brief visit to Westbere where the target was to look for dragonfly and damselfly exuviae. The camera was left at home as not to distract me from the job and I spent an hour searching the dykes before the river. I had not been looking long when a Hairy Dragonfly flew by up the dyke which got my attention and as I looked down through the reeds, I was amazed to see a Hawker exuviae on the reeds about 1 metre away. I could clearly see this was no Hairy Dragonfly or Emperor Dragonfly exuviae and my pulse started to quicken with thoughts that it could be a Norfolk Hawker exuviae. I have spent 3 years trying to find one of these and along with photographing a Banded Demoiselle emerging, this was a target for the year. I took a few photos of it in position before carefully removing it which was not that easy leaning out over the dyke. My session ended abruptly there believe it or not and I returned home to check my possible gold prize. I studied it through the 10X hand lens and it seemed to fit the criteria needed (I will go into more of this next time if I am correct) but to make sure, I have shared a few photos on Twitter and await confirmation. I will hopefully provide an update during the week on this along with any Demoiselle emerging happenings.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Demoiselle Diaries

Anyone following this blog or my tweets of late will know that I have been trying to rear through to emergence, a few Banded Demoiselle nymphs. This project started when I realised that I couldn't find any photos on the internet of this species actually emerging so after doing quite a bit of reading of books and internet sites on this species, I got myself sorted out with the necessary equipment to give me a chance to achieve this rare sight. Like most species, when you start to study them, you learn more and this has proven to be the case on this challenge. Firstly, I wasn't too sure what they eat, but having watched one nymph during the evening catch and rip apart the case of the caddis larvae, I soon realised why the others were not moving after a few days. They had been eaten. They are also opportunists like most predators and have been seen on a couple of occasions, catch and eat their own kind. I was able to grab a few photos to show this a few nights ago.

Banded Demoiselle Nymph eaten its own species 

During the day they tend to disappear into the weed but as darkness falls, they move to the surface where during the past week, a few very developed nymphs have started to take in air.

Banded Demoiselle Nymph

I spent a few nights getting up every couple of hours hoping that I would be able to photograph the emergence but a few days has turned into a week now. Not to wake the family up, I have even slept on the sofa a few times and gone outside to check throughout the night. I was really hoping this would only take a few days but its now getting obsessive but I am determined to capture some or all of the emergence, that is, if I can continue to wake up as I am getting ore tired by the day. Last night, I spent a while outside and really thought one was going to try to emerge. It started to climb up the reed but soon decided that the time was not right. I managed to snap a few photos of this.

Banded Demoiselle Nymph thinking about emerging!

I will hopefully be able to bring some photos whenever they emerge and conclude this challenge which I think is my toughest test so far. I did manage to get out for a while today where I visited Westbere Lakes and had a good range of species which I shall post in due coarse. However, here is a taster from today's session of a male and female Banded Demoiselle showing nicely together.

Male and female Banded Demoiselle

Sunday, 14 May 2017

'Newly Emerged' Banded Demoiselle

I have made it one of my challenges in the past few years to try and photograph the emergence of the Banded Demoiselle but despite spending many hours searching likely looking places early in the morning, I have so far not had any success with this. Add to this that a search on the internet failed to produce any photos of the Demoiselle 'actually' emerging shows you what a rare sight this is and very rarely photographed to my knowledge. I also really wanted to find a Banded Demoiselle exuviae which I could add to my growing collection. Having photographed a few nymphs in my tanks over the past few years and then always releasing them back to where I found them, I decided that this year I would have a go at rearing them in an outdoor tank created to represent a stream. I spent quite a while studying the local streams where they occur and finally after weeks of collecting, I finally had my set up complete. I introduced a few well grown nymphs in April and have spent many hours watching them eating their seemingly favorite prey item, cased Caddis, which they manage to bite through the twig/grass housing to get their reward. I have also witnessed one large nymph prey on another of its own species. The past few nights have seen them come to the surface where they have started to breathe air and this has been a generally good indicator that emergence could be within the next few days. I had no prior knowledge whether they emerged during darkness, early morning or throughout the day but when I arose early Saturday morning at 4.30am and went outside to check, I could see that one had already emerged and was colouring up next to its exuviae. I would take a guess that it hadn't emerged to long ago but although a little disappointed to miss the emergence, I was more than happy to take a number of  photos of the male next to the exuviae. 

'Teneral' Banded Demoiselle (male) with Exuviae

Banded Demoiselle (male) with Exuviae

I don't think there are any photos of this either when I searched the internet. I was up every two hours Sunday morning from midnight checking outside to see whether any were emerging but nothing materialised. I will try again tonight if I can wake up every now and then and who knows, maybe I will get lucky and capture this rare sight that not many enthusiasts have ever seen. A quick visit mid morning to Westbere in windy and occasional sunny spells produced 3 Hairy Dragonfly, 2 Scarce Chaser, 1 Common Blue Damselfly, 2 Banded Demoiselle, a few Azure Damselfly and hundreds of Variable and Blue tailed Damselflies. 

Banded Demoiselle (male) with Exuviae 

Banded Demoiselle Exuviae