Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.
Alder Beetles- if like me, you are seeing Alder leaves full of holes and wondering what’s eating them it is the (unimaginatively but accurately named) Alder Beetle. This tiny, shiny metallic blue beetle which was in plentiful evidence at Potteric Carr nature reserve near Doncaster last week, was thought to be extinct in the UK for sixty years but has recolonised northwards after being recorded in Hampshire in 2004. The Alder Beetle, about 6-7mm long, is most active from April to July but there were many in evidence in the South Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at the end of August. The caterpillars are also black and feed on Alder too, and the adults overwinter in leaf-litter before emerging to lay their eggs next spring. It sometimes affects Beech as well as Alder but the trees seem to survive the infestations. Conditions: Cool, still, grey.
Temperature: Max 12 Min 10C.
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.
Conditions: Too hot and sunny for words! Temperature: Max 27 Min 13C.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.