Thursday, 18 May 2017

Common Clubtail

Having dipped the Common Clubtail Dragonfly on the Arun yet again, Dave and I decided on a trip up to Goring-on-Thames to look for them. They would still not be easy to find, but at least we knew there had been recent sightings there.

The hot spot was the railway bridge over the Thames about a mile east of Goring. We parked up in Goring just after nine and walked the river bank to our destination, searching likely vegetation and objects along the bank for any sign of our target. Our estimates of success had not been high when we arrived, probably around 20%. By the time we got to the railway bridge they were down to just two or three percent. The weather was much cooler than we had expected, there were no insects flying anywhere and certainly no signs of Clubtails.

Hopes were raised when we met a fellow odonatist who knew a bit more about the local Clubtail population than we did. He pointed out Exuvia close to the bridge that we had missed and told us where to look for emerging specimens.

Common Clubtail Exuvia

Re-energised we searched again. We found more exuvia but with the time just coming up to one o'clock there was still no sign of an emerging larva. We had thought that emergence would only be in the morning and were just about to give up and head for home when Dave found a specimen that had climbed the wall that we were searching and was out on the grass.

Emerging Common Clubtail Larvae.

The location was not ideal for obtaining a photographic record but we did not want to move the larvae or do anything that could compromise its final emergence as a Dragonfly. The following pictures record that emergence over a period of just over an hour.

12.50    Drying out

13.02    Thorax pumping up, laval cuticle begins to split

We would have been a bit disappointed if a Four-spotted Chaser had popped out at this point. We also had an interesting discussion over the point it actually becomes a Clubtail Dragonfly and gives us the life tick. Geek or what?

13.04    Head emerges 

13.05    Thorax and first segments out

13.06    Legs coming out

13.08    Legs out 

13.09   No action for a few minutes as the legs harden

13.16    Using hardened legs to withdraw the rest of the body

13.17 Body out but wings still compressed

13.17    Body fluid being pumped through the wing veins to expand the wings

13.23    Wing expansion continues

13.29    Wings fully expanded, body fluids now pumped to expand the abdomen

13.36  Nearing completion

13.40    Drying wings, seems to be disposing of excess body fluids

12.41    Nearly ready to fly

12.53     Just before short first flight

12.58     A few feet from emergence point, still drying wings and preparing for longer flight

And then it was gone. I like to think that we watched over it and safeguarded it during this vulnerable period. Birds were probably not too much of a threat but there were dogs about and it could have been at risk from humans like us searching the river bank.

Just to prove it wasn't a fluke here is a second one we found just before leaving. This was in a bit more precarious position gripping the stone wall overhanging the river.

A bit of a slow start but in the end a great day and two very satisfied photographers. Just one problem, we still don't have that Sussex tick! No, two problems, this is only a teneral, where do we find a mature adult?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Scarce Chaser

Tuesday was a bit of a mixed day. Good in that for the first time this year we saw Dragonfly and Damselfly in decent numbers. Bad in that we did not find our target, the Club-tailed Dragonfly.

We spent most of the morning on a detailed search of just over a mile of the Arun river bank from New Bridge near Billingshurst up as far as the old mill. It was interesting, we found Hairy Dragonflies, various Damselflies, exuvia hanging from vegetation, and a variety of insects that I am still trying to identify. What we didn't find was any sign of the Clubtails. I have a bad feeling about this. Last year I spent at least five days searching various stretches of the river without even a sniff of a clubtail. Do they still survive on the Arun?

What did we find? A freshly emerged Scarce Chaser in lovely condition and fortunately for us reluctant to fly.

Large Red Damselflies - my first of the year.

Azure Damselflies

Male and Female Banded Demoiselle

Common Blue Butterfly - another first for the year

And finally a Mayfly, or what I have always known as a Mayfly, freshly emerged and hanging out to dry.

Reading up on them I see that Mayfly is the common name for the group of insects  Ephemera vulgata with fifty one species known in the UK. Facinating to read that these were one of the first winged insects. Fossils have been found dating back over 300 million years, well before the dinosaurs. Hmmm... - a little bit more research and this could be the start of another list!

But back to the Clubtail. I cannot face another year of dipping this Dragonfly so the next good day and it will be a trip up to Goring-on-Thames and a search around the railway bridge. Look out for the next Blog.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Duke of Burgundy

Good conditions for butterflying this morning. About 13°C with broken clouds and sunny spells. A good chance of finding butterflies before they became too active and an opportunity to improve on my year list.

First Stop was Rewell Wood for the Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. I always find the Pearl-bordered here but it sometimes takes some searching. Fortunately I was on a working party in the wood about 18 months ago cutting scallops for the butterflies to move into and it seemed like a good place to start.

There was nothing moving when I got there but then the sun came out and they began to appear. I think about twenty five sightings with a max of five butterflies in the air at any one time. It looks like another good year for the Pearl-bordered.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary

The pearls are on the underside of the wing but with these butterflies just warming up none would oblige with a closed wing shot. The problem is that once they warm up they become very active. They move quickly, they do not put down much, and they have a habit of just disappearing in front of your eyes. So I decided to cut my losses and move on.

Next stop was Kithurst Hill to look for the Duke of Burgundy. No rush here, the Dukes are late risers and it's not worth looking much before eleven o'clock. Fortunately I found a Green Hairstreak to keep me busy, my first of the year,

Green Hairstreak

and there were a few Dingy Skippers flying in the meadow.

Dingy Skipper

The Dukes are easy butterflies to photograph. They do not fly very fast or very far and they usually return to the same small territory where they are happy to sit whilst you take your pictures. But don't be fooled, anything flies into their territory, particularly another Duke and they are off in hot pursuit.

Duke of Burgandy

The Dukes are the only members of the Metalmark family to be found in Europe. They were in serious decline but the last couple of years has seen them expanding their territory in southern England. Butterfly Conservation and its teams of volunteers are restoring habitat along the downs and the butterflies seem to be taking advantage of the opportunity.

Only one Blue seen today, a Holy Blue passing through the meadow. Traditionally I see the Dukes and Pearl-bordered on the same day in early May and I usually manage to find a Small Blue at the same time. No such luck this year.

Holly Blue

Friday, 5 May 2017


A quick turnaround at home and we were off again for a couple of days photographing Hawfinches in the Forest of Dean. Last year we had thirty two of them on the ground just a few feet in front of the hide. I was surprised by the numbers but I thought this was going to be the norm. Sadly that wasn't the case. This year the flocks seem to have broken up a couple of weeks earlier and the Hawfinches had already dispersed to nesting territories.

We did see some Hawfinches, probably eight on the first day, three close and five distant, but none on the second day, with just one heard in the trees above us. Compared with last year picture opportunities were a bit limited. You can only see this as a missed opportunity. Last year we managed to get some great pictures and were also able to pass on a lot of valuable ringing data to our local contact. It would have been good to get a similar result.

Still, before we move onto the Hawfinches a couple of shots of Reed Warblers. Checking my records I didn't record seeing one last year so this was an early target. We had stopped off at Slimbridge on the way to the Forest of Dean. There was not much to see, very distant views of Common Cranes plus two or three of these chasing each other through the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Thursday, on location with the hides up, the first Hawfinch appeared just before six . I took a couple of shots but the light levels were just too low. By seven they had improved a bit and I was up to 1/160 sec at ISO 1600 and f5.6. Far from perfect but at least I could get a picture provided that the birds came close and stood still.

 At nine we had a third bird close enough to photograph. The light had not improved but this one did stay around for a while and gave some good picture opportunities.

We stayed in the hides for another three hours but there were no more birds on the ground and only a few calling in the trees. Six hours for three birds is a meagre return but it was at least better than the Friday where at a second site we had one bird calling in the trees and none visible on the ground.

I enjoyed the trip, the results were a bit disappointing but we live off the success of last year. The pain of sitting for six hours on that little stool in the hide is disappearing and we are already planning a return trip for next year.

To finish - Perhaps it makes him look a little less attractive to a predator?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Mallorca - the rest

Raptors were in short supply during the week we were in Mallorca. An Eleonora's Falcon would have been nice but I think we were a couple of weeks too early. Best Raptor of the trip was this Black Vulture photographed above the Cuber reservoir.

Black Vulture

Booted Eagles were a common sight at various places we visited and we also managed to pick up lots of Kestrels and Marsh Harriers.

Booted Eagle

Marsh Harrier


The Boquer valley was a bit of a disappointment. It is a lovely walk and well worth doing but other than one distant Rock Thrush, a few Sardinian Warblers, and a couple of Booted Eagles we did not see much. Fortunately I had taken some reasonable pictures of a Rock Thrush at Beachy Head only a couple of weeks before (see here)

It was worth spending some time at the start of the walk in the area between the car park and Finca Boquer (Boquer Farm). The farm is private property but you are allowed to walk through it and it gives some wonderful views out across the adjacent fields and wooded areas.

Cirl Bunting in the fields below the Finca

Pied Flycatcher at the Finca

Woodchat Shrike in the fields below the finca

We saw three different Woodchat Shrikes but the only ones close enough to photograph insisted on giving me long views of their backs.

Sardinian Warbler at various sites

Serin at the Pine avenue

Yellow Wagtail (Iberiea) Albufereta

Spotted Flycatcher 

The local race of Spotted Flycatcher, balearica, is noticeably paler and less streaked than the ones we see in the UK.

Wheatear - Cuber Reservoir 

Yellow-legged Gull - Puerto Pollenca

The problem with birding in a place like Mallorca is that you want to visit every location and see every bird. It was our first time there and that is what we tried to do. I think that if I were to go back I would be a bit more selective. Identify just a few target birds and spend the time getting some really good pictures.