26th August 2019

Common Darter Dragonfly- as its name indicates, this is the most common Dragonfly in the UK and can be found around almost any sort of body of water, even stagnant pools. Darter’s are a group of Dragonflies which do just that- they hover and then dart forwards to catch their prey mid-flight, before returning to a favourite perch to consume it. If you notice these Dragonflies, look out for their perches, often atop a plant or fence-post, but they can even be on wooden board-walks, heating up in the sun. Darters aren’t as restless flyers as Hawkers. The Common Darter female and juveniles are yellowish-brown bodied but the males are red-bodied. They can be distinguished from the less common Ruddy Darter by the former being smaller and having black legs. The only other thing you might confuse them with in flight is the Large Red Damselfly which has a longer, narrower body and, like all Damselflies, rests with its wings folded, while the Darter typically rests with its wings held forward.

Male Common Darter

Male Common Darter

Female Common Darter

Male Common Darter

Conditions: Too hot and sunny for words! Temperature: Max 27 Min 13C.

Advertisements

2nd August 2019

Mating Damselflies are always fascinating to watch. On the Chesterfield canal we watched Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies in their tandem flying mode, as well as in the ‘wheel formation’ when they are actually mating. The male Damselflies, typically more brightly coloured than the females, use their claspers, at the end of the abdomen, to clasp a special ‘shield’ on the females thorax, and the connection is strong enough for them to fly in this formation, as well as to land, rest and mate. Some species mate quickly and separate, while others remain linked for several hours to deter another Male from mating with the female. In fact, some males dig out the sperm of a previous Male In order to replace it with their own. You can watch this tandem flight and wheel along many slow-flowing streams and canals or pools. Conditions: A more normal summer day, with sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.

Common Blue Damselflies in tandem flight

Blue-tailed Damselflies in mating wheel

Blue-tailed Damselflies in tandem at rest

23rd July 2019

The Banded Demoiselle is a large damselfly with a beautiful, flitting flight with which the male attempts to attract a female. It occurs on slow-flowing rivers, canals (as this one was, on the Chesterfield Canal) and pools, unlike the similar Beautiful Demoiselle which frequents faster flowing water. Highly territorial, if you watch it from the bank you should be able to work out its territory, as well as where it rests and takes off from, as I did to

Male Banded Demoiselle

Male Banded Demoiselle

Male Banded Demoiselle

Male Banded Demoiselle

Male Banded Demoiselle

photograph this one last week. Very sensitive to pollution, they are therefore good indicators of clean water. They are an absolute delight to watch, as the sun glints off their metallic green/turquoise bodies and the fingerprint wing-patch on the male, which gives them their name. The females have uniform coloured, greenish wings. Conditions: Very hot with sunny periods. Temperature: Max 30 Min 18 C.

18th July 2019

Male Brown Hawker dragonfly

Male Brown Hawker dragonfly

Male Brown Hawker dragonfly

Male Brown Hawker dragonfly

Male Brown Hawker dragonfly, drying its face with its front legs

Male Brown Hawker dragonfly, dried out and ready to fly off

The Brown Hawker is a large dragonfly with beautiful bronze-coloured wings, that frequents pools and slow-flowing water, hence the number we saw along the Chesterfield Canal this week. Try as I might, I could not get a photo of this fast-flying insect that hawks along its territory and sometimes into wooded glades, until I saw this one drowning. Every time it struggled to move itself onto some weed, it floundered and went back into the water until it was near enough for me to extend my monopod and slowly move it towards the bank, where it gradually dried out, using its front legs to clean all round its head and  with the sun drying its filigree wings before recovering enough to fly away. This was a male, as can be seen from the blue patches on its thorax. Conditions: Warm sun and cloud. temperature: Max 22 Min 12 C.

 

 

17th January 2019

Shoveller Duck: it is a fairly quiet time for garden wildlife (though Waxwings are being spotted around Sheffield, so that is exciting) so I am doing an occasional series on duck identification, as it can be tricky for some, beyond the ubiquitous and well-known Mallard. The Shoveller (one l or two seems fine) is another easy one to identify. It is quite a large duck and, even though the female is much less colourful than the male, is distinctive in both sexes because of its eponymous and unique bill. The large, flattened bill is called ‘spatulate’ and it has a comb-like edge which enables it to sieve out food, so you will see it swimming around surface feeding. Being omnivorous (weeds, seeds, small animals, molluscs and plankton) also probably helps it survive and for years the population was increasing but lately it has been decreasing again, hence it being placed

Shoveller- female

Shoveller- male and female

Shoveller- male in eclispe plumage

Shoveller- male

on the amber list. Our numbers, a few hundred breeding pairs in summer, are swelled to around 16,000 birds in winter so this is the best time to see it. Conditions: A bright, cold day following a very heavy frost. Temperature: Max 4 Min -1C.

29th December 2018

I was walking along Spratt’s Hollow (East Sussex) just now, thinking about Butcher’s Broom and a few paces further on, there it was, in the hedgerow!

Butcher”s Broom

Butcher’s Broom

Strange but then Butcher’s Broom is itself a strange plant – it has no true leaves, but flattened stems called ‘cladodes’, evolved to function like leaves, along its tough, ridged stems, which give it the appearance of being evergreen. We seem to have fallen out of the tradition of cutting Butcher’s Broom stems and bringing them indoors at this time of year, when the beautiful red berries show bright against the dark ‘leaves’. We favour Holly instead. As you can see from the photos, the flowers  and then berries grow from the centre of these ‘leaves’ and as you may guess from the name, they were traditionally cut and tied in bunches, when their stiffness made them a good brush for sweeping off butcher’s blocks. Related to the Asparagus, these low shrubs with their sharp flattened stems are easier to spot in winter. Conditions: Grey, mild days. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.

13th December 2018

All birds need to wash to keep their feathers in good condition and Mute Swans are a dramatic and accessible (being on many lakes in local parks) way to observe just how vigorous and thorough this process needs to be. A family of five Mute Swans were washing recently (alongside some synchronised swimming Mallards, as you will see) and the photo’s show how they separate their feathers so that water gets to every part. Surprisingly little research has been done into this process but when birds are deprived of water, they have been shown to be much clumsier in flight. Regular washing is essential to condition the feathers and helps reduce damage from mites, lice and bacteria. This is why it is worth having even a little bird bath in your garden if you don’t have open water nearby. Conditions: Alternating grey and bright days. Temperature: Max 5 Min 0C.

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

Mute Swan, bathing

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

Mute Swan, bathing

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing