Monday, 5 December 2016

Best of 2016 (Part 1)

Its that time of the year where I start to look through the hundreds of photos taken and published during the many sessions I have had around Kent and out of the county. This has probably been the most successful year I have had with the camera and through hours of studying, patience and a bit of luck, I managed to take a good number of pleasing shots. Every photo taken has its own story to me. Some just a bit of good timing through to planned shots which took quite a while to set up and get. I have looked through a lot of them and have chosen 16 photos which still give me a lot of pleasure to view. I will post 8 shots at a time and will then ask viewers of this blog to vote for their favorite shot I have taken this year. Thanks for looking and I hope you get as much pleasure as I did taking them. 

Banded Demoiselle (male) at Sunrise 

'Emerging Broad bodied Chaser 

'Dewy' Banded Demoiselle (male) 

Emerald Damselfly at Sunrise 

'Newly Emerged' Four spotted Chaser 

'Newly Emerged' Hairy Dragonfly (male) 

Norfolk Hawker ( male) 

Scarce Chaser (male)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Season Moves Under the Water

With the flying season all but over this year unless we have a mild sunny spell soon, many dragonfly enthusiasts will pack away the cameras for the winter and go into hibernation until next April when the season starts again. I decided a few years ago that I couldn't do this and as most of the dragonfly and damselflies life is in the nymph stage, I decided to spend some time over the winter visiting ponds and lakes in the local area where the plan was to catch some nymphs of various species and learn how to identify them. Armed with the basics of a net and white tray, I was soon catching quite a few species and soon started to learn the features of some of the species, although some of the damselfly nymphs still remain very tricky to tell apart. I soon got the dipping bug and decided to take this further and purchased 'A Field Guide to the Larvae and Exuviae of British Dragonflies' by Steve Cham. This has to be one of the best books on the market and is full of excellent photos and id tips on how to tell apart the different species of larvae and exuviae. This book can still be bought from the British Dragonfly Society shop for £10. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone trying to improve their skills in this area and it has proved most valuable in improving my depth of knowledge.

A Field Guide to the Larvae and Exuviae of British Dragonflies

With the long nights of winter setting in, I decided to take this a stage further and after viewing a few sites on the internet, I purchased a couple of small glass tanks where the aim was to study and photograph the nymphs through the glass acting in a natural manner. I also at this point made a small pond in my garden whereby I could keep some nymphs prior to photography and watch them hopefully emerge in the spring time. With a bit of experimenting with camera settings and the set up, I started to get a number of pleasing images and looking back through the photos, highlighted areas where I could improve the shots.

Emperor Dragonfly Nymph

I suppose the best bit about this is that I could do all the photography at home in the warmth of the conservatory with a cup of tea whilst still improving my knowledge of the nymphs. Sometimes in a shallow tray or pot, it is hard to see all the features on the nymph but I slowly started to see many features when they were studied under the water and acted more naturally. I have learnt so much throughout the winter months about the nymphs and my advise would be that the season is never over. Purchase a net and tray and visit your local water and learn about the different species that are there. You may have seen the adults but have you seen the nymphs and learnt about them? There is a lot to learn about this secret side of the dragonflies and damselflies that we often don't see or take for granted so make some time to venture out during the winter months. Hopefully, I will be out and about too looking for species to photograph, some new but many photos of species to improve upon from last years attempts. I will try and post in due coarse throughout the winter the set up in detail that I use, settings, background, lenses and any tips I can pass on to anyone else that wishes to pursue and try this excellent project. So remember, the season is far from over. Its just under the water waiting to be discovered.

Brown Hawker Nymph

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Still on the Wing!

With some sunshine forecast for late morning and temperatures about 10 degrees celsius, I thought I would have a drive over to Nethergong in the hope that a few sheltered areas may be warm enough to tempt a few dragonflies out on the wing. I arrived late morning in the sunshine and after getting ready, headed for a few likely areas.

Nethergong Sunny Sheltered Path

As I walked through all the fallen leaves and marveled at the autumnal colours, I saw the first of 9 Common Darter seen today when one appeared from the path in front of me and after a brief fly around, soon returned to his preferred leaf to bask in the sunshine. I didn't pack the macro lens today so used the trusty Canon 300mm lens and took a number of shots.

Common Darter (male)

I carried on to the eastern end of the site where I knew most of the area would be in sun and searching here produced 8 Common Darter which kept me entertained for a while as I watched and photographed them among the leaves and autumn colours.

Common Darter (male)

Most were in good condition and it was nice to see a mating pair hiding in amongst the leaves which provided some more action for the camera.

Common Darters (mating pair)

It was indeed quite warm here and it was nice to still see 1 Migrant Hawker on the wing and best of all, 1 Willow Emerald Damselfly was seen flying up from the ditch where it perched high up in a tree. I suspect this might be the last dragonflies and damselflies I see this year unless next weekend delivers some nice sunshine, but its been a superb season both for studying and photographing and I'm already looking forward to next years season already. With winter knocking on the door, I expect I will turn to finding and photographing the nymphs of a few species I encounter on my travels. That will hopefully keep me busy and interested through the colder months. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

The Search for Willow Emerald Damselfly Eggs

Unlike most damselfly species that lay their eggs beneath the surface of the water, the Willow Emerald Damselfly is quite unique in this country in that it lays its eggs in the thinner branches of a number of trees, Willow being a particular favorite as it often overhangs the water. The eggs which are laid in pairs either side of the insertion mark overwinter in the branch and begin to hatch from early April where they drop into the water and grow at an alarming rate. They also have an amazing mechanism in that if they fall on to dry land, they can spring on the surface until hopefully they reach the water. Having photographed most aspects of the Willow Emerald Damselfly this year, there was one part that I had not found and photographed, this being the egg stage. A look through the internet for any similar shots of Willow Emerald Damselfly eggs proved negative and I suspect that there have not been many, if any taken at all of this stage. With this in mind, I decided to visit Nethergong in east Kent to see if I could find a likely branch that I could use to discover the eggs. With a good population here, I soon found a number of willow trees and with the leaves now dying off, the characteristic scarring left by the female Willow Emerald Damselfly creating a ladder style effect was soon found on a number of thin branches.

Willow Emerald Damselfly 'Gall' Marks

It was pleasing whilst searching to find a good number of branches that had been used for egg laying, some being old ones but a lot I suspect were newer ones on the young branches. I carefully removed one branch of about 20cm in length and decided to bring it home to see if I could remove the bark to reveal the eggs inside. As I had never done this before, I was really quite unsure how to go about this but after coming up with a plan, I set to work. I decided to score a line with the scissors just under where the eggs had been inserted and carefully started to peel back the top layer of bark. With the aid of my Opticron 10x field lens, I was able to see some of the eggs still present and after studying them and finding a few more, I set about trying to capture this rare opportunity on camera.

Willow Emerald Damselfly Eggs Beneath the Bark

The eggs were barely visible to the eye and after positioning the branch so it was supported, I spent some time with the macro lens capturing a number of photos of the eggs. It was certainly another learning curve and an education to study and photograph this and amazing to think that they will spend the winter in the branches, hatch and grow next spring and emerge to be a stunning damselfly in the space of a few months. I will spend a number of sessions looking and monitoring throughout the winter the amount of egg laying I can find on the branches and with some found already in new areas this year, I hope next year is another successful one for this stunning damselfly. 

Willow Emerald Damselfly Egg Beneath the Bark

Willow Emerald Damselfly Paired Egg Chambers