Saturday, 20 June 2015

Saturday 20th.June 2015

A much anticipated outing came to fruition last Thursday , when fellow enthusiast Keith and myself headed across Kent with four species on our target list . Norfolk Hawker , Scarce Chaser , Variable Damselfly and Hairy Dragonfly . The journey went extremely well , in fact getting into the Canterbury area before the sun had lifted the temperature to an Odonata level . So we stopped off in the village of Blean to look for the rare Heath Fritillary butterfly on a site that I had never visited before , Church Wood . There was still a chill in the air as we entered the wood , but the sun was just starting to reach one corner of a coppiced clearing , and it was here where we started our search . It
wasn't long before the first butterfly was found , enjoying the warming rays of the morning sun , as
we were . Other specimens were still waiting for that warmth as the still sat on their overnight roost , knowing that their time would come soon . With the sun came the urge to breed and the females
became the object of attention of the amorous. males , but the 'abdomen pointing skywards' was the
only response that was seen . In a very short time , the sun flooded more of the coppiced area and the
butterflies became more and more active , some stopping to breakfast on the nectar of Common Spotted Orchid . Whilst looking around , I also found a , for once , a non moving Speckled Yellow
moth , but as soon as this one shot was taken , it became very mobile indeed . WE left the Heath Fritillaries to do their thing , got back to the car , and made the short journey to Westbere Lakes . As hoped for , on arrival the temperature had risen and a light wind gave us great hopes to find out target species . Reaching the ditch that runs down to the river , we started searching , but found things very quiet apart from a couple of blue Skimmer / Chaser dragonflies that didn't hang around to be identified any further . Even damselflies were almost non-existent . I must admit , my mind went back to my only other visit to the site on a cool , cloudy and windy day , when just one fly-by sighting of Norfolk Hawker was achieved . Reaching the river , we turned right and followed it upstream . A few Banded Demoiselle were found , and we started inspecting every blue damselfly , most of which were Azure or Common . Eventually , a male Variable Damselfly was found , which
really raised our hopes . This species is well named as the markings can indeed be very variable , but the incomplete antihumeral stripes , the wine glass symbol on segment 2 and the two small black spots on the last light blue segment on the abdomen , were enough to confirm one down , three to go .
I had wandered further along the river and was photographing one of what turned out to several Red Admirals seen on site , when the sound of wings passed very close overhead and I got a glimpse of a brown , Hawker sized dragonfly drop down behind a tree onto vegetation on the other side of a ditch .I called to Keith what I had seen and soon the two of us were searching . Keith then spotted the
dragonfly , perched on a Nettle stem . We then prayed that it didn't fly off before we could get the
male Norfolk Hawker into our viewfinders . Fortunately it didn't , and we were able to get our shots , albeit at distance , two down , two to go . I got what I wanted and moved on again , passing an angler with a wheelbarrow loaded with tackle . Keith stayed put , and shortly afterward had the NH , or another one , land on the side of the path , so close that he couldn't even focus on it , when the angler came back with his wheelbarrow , passing Keith and spooking the NH . I then came across an area totally dominated by Blue-tailed Damselflies , I don't think I have ever seen so many in one place . Slowly moving further upstream , a likely looking spot on the river produced our first male Scarce
Chaser , three down , one to go . The 'high fives' were coming fast and furious now . Several more males and a distant female SC were found before we turned around and retraced our stepd downstream . The next excitement came when we reached a spot whre two trees had been felled and were laying between the path and the ditch , when I spotted a flash of orange , fluttering amongst
some leaves . This turned out to be our first female Scarce Chaser . She too stayed in the area , just changing position a couple of times and allowing us to get close . Most of the anglers swims were gated , but some were approached just by paths cut though the vegetation , and these we investigated on our return to the main ditch . Along these paths we found several immature / female Black-tailed Skimmers , which drove Keith mad as he tried to sneak up on them , camera ready , only for them to fly a few metres further down the path before he got his shot . He persisted though , and was successful . Whilst Keith was so occupied , I photographed a couple of plants , one that I saw here
last visit , Common Valerian / Valeriana officinalis , related to the Red Valerian / Centranthus ruber , that is found all over at the moment . The other was a species that I haven't seen for over 25 years ,
yet here it was in abundance , Skullcap / Scutellaria galericulata , a member of the square stalked Labiate family . I was as pleased to see this as I was to see our target species . Whilst on the edge of the lake , Keith found a pair of SC in tandem , but unfortunately they didn't stay for a shot . Reaching the end of the main ditch again , carried on downstream as the path narrowed . A second Painted
Lady was found , along with a couple more Small Tortoiseshell , bringing their total up to 10 recorded . Still found SC and VD but nothing different . We returned to the main ditch again and
found at least two more NH and whilst watching one , I heard and spotted a dragonfly crashing
through the reeds . A short wait and a female Hairy Dragonfly proceeded to oviposit directly in front of me , whilst the male patrolled above her , interspersed with attacks from a male Emperor Dragonfly which appeared in the ditch . Four down . A few more SC and a couple of BTS were seen
and a photo opportunity with one of the , I must say , vocally quite restrained , Marsh Frogs on the site . As we made our way back to the car , Keith spotted a dragonfly land on a pile of cut branches in front of us . Slowly making our way forward , Keith spotted a male Hairy Dragonfly , and managed to fire off a couple of shots before it departed , and before I managed to locate him . We decided to stop at Grove Ferry on the way home and also to have our lunch , it now being almost 4 pm . Sustained , we headed down the track towards the viewing ramp under a sky bereft of any birds . From the ramp , a few distant wildfowl on the scrape , but again , not a single Hobby or Tern , and Hirondine were only represented by 3 Swallow that Keith picked up at distance . A Cuckoo did fly by and landed in a copse to the right of the scrape . We had a look from the dipping platform of the educational hide and heard a couple of Bearded Tit 'pings' , but were surprised to find yet two more
Norfolk Hawkers scrapping over the water and in between fights , perching . And finally , my strangest shot of the day was when trying to photograph a pair of BTD in the ring , a second male
flew in and clasped the paired male for a split second , before flying off . And has anyone got an idea what this is ? It was standing in water , about a metre or so above the surface , found to the left of the
main ditch , just off the main path . It's made of straw with a wire support around it and open at both ends .
All in all , a brilliant day out , in reasonable weather and in good company .


Marc Heath said...

Superb session Greenie. I'm glad you got all your targets and some nice shots as well. I too, have wondered what the straw thing is.

Warren Baker said...

It's a great place to visit Greenie, well done on finding all you wanted to ! I saw that straw 'tube' and have no clue what its for either!

Derek Faulkner said...


The straw tube is is a wildfowl nesting tube widely used in the wildfowling community in order that ducks can hatch their eggs without fear of predation from foxes etc.
The Kent Wildfowlers at their Motney Hill reserve near the Medway Towns have begun using them over the last couple of years with some success. This year I believe that four have been successful in protecting eggs to the hatching stage.