Photo Blog

I love observing nature and the changing seasons during my Norfolk countryside dog walks accompanied by my ever-faithful canine companion Starrydog. I especially enjoy taking photos of Norfolk butterflies, wildflowers and other flora and fauna that I happen across while exploring local nature reserves. Visit my Norfolk nature photo blog to keep up to date with my photographic adventures and enjoy my butterfly photos.

And Then There Were Nine...

Watching Nar Cottage's nature pond transform from a muddy hole in our clay earth into a lush, thriving, diverse insectopolis has been one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences of our five-year wildlife gardening project. Each year we've seen a new species of dragon or damselfly colonise our pond. This year a further arrival brought the grand total to some nine species, five dragonflies and four damselflies. Here they all are, in order of appearance and colonisation. This is the story of a humble pond's evolution into a local wildlife mecca.

Nar Cottage Pond and bog garden as it was in May 2014, newly planted with lots of bare earth

Nar Cottage wildlife pond as it is today, rich in aquatic and marginal vegetation and surrounded by a native wildflower meadow (June 2017)

First on the scene was a large male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly, Libellula depressa, arriving the very first week of June 2014, our pond's first spring, closely followed by a female.  A beautifully marked dragonfly of early summer with a penchant for shallow sunny ponds, the males are a dusky shade of powder-blue and the females a rich mustard yellow.

My first ever sighting of a Broad-bodied Chaser, Libella depressa, in my very own back garden, thanks to my new wildlife pond in June 2014

A golden yellow female Broad-bodied Chaser dragonly perched on red campion flowers

The dusky blue of the male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly, Libellula depressa

Broad-bodied Chasers return in 2018 after missing a year. Highly territorial, this one saw off a passing Southern hawker dragonfly.

Next to move in on the 1st of July was my very first damselfly species, the vivid Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella. Blue damselflies can be quite hard to identify but I discovered the Azure's distinguishing feature is that it has two short black stripes on the side of its thorax, whereas the Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum only has one. They took to our pond enthusiastically and set about ovipositing eggs for future generations!

Azure Damselflies ovipositing in tandem. Adult male Azure Damselflies are vivid turquoise. Most females have wide black bars on their abdomen with a lime green colour, about 10% are blue in colouration.

Immature Azure Damselflies are pale lilac (the females predominantly black as in their adult form) and have brown eyes.

Our third arrival was the dramatic and impressive Emperor Dragonfly, another species I'd never encountered before. Carrying an equally imperial latin name  Anax imperator is one of the UK's biggest dragonflies and undoubtedly the most regal. According to Lewington, the Emperor's "vigour, aggression and agility in flight are unequalled in Britain".

The Emperor has a reputation for being a bit of a pioneer species and is known for colonising younger ponds so it made sense to see it early on in our pond's existence. The larva have a fearsome reputation for their creative hunting methods and can occasionally mature in a single year although they usually take two. The surrounding meadow and in subsequent years also pond foliage rapidly filled in to envelop the pond so I never did see an Emporer again.

A female Emperor dragonfly, Anax imperator, ovipositing on the base of reeds

The vivid green and blue of the Emporer dragonfly

 

August brought another two species, one dragonfly, one damsel and the total to 5 dragonflies in our first season. Next up was the Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum, first spotted basking on the bare earth next to the pond. A month later I was even more excited to see a mating couple zooming around our pond, hopefully ensuring future generations to come.

My first sighting of a Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum, August 2014

A pair of mating Common Darter dragonflies mid-flight over my sparsely vegetated new pond, September 2014

A Common Darter dragonfly perched on Knapweed in my wildflower meadow, July 2016

My second August arrival proved to be the Common Blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum, which has a flight period from May through to September. Blue damsels can be tricky to distinguish from each other, but the single short stripe on the thorax and all blue tail segments help to separate the Common Blue from similar species, its also a stronger flier.

Common Blue damselfly perched on Brooklime, August 2014

Common Blue damselfly, drab form, immature, July 2016

My next new species didnt show up until nearly a year later in late July 2015 but, a bit like busses, suddenly two came at once. The Blue-tailed damselfly, Ishnura elegans and another life first for me, the Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly, Libellula quadrimaculata both showed up the same day. Blue-tailed damselflies are variable in colour and also change colour as they mature so can vary a lot in apperance, in particular there are so-called rufescens (pinkish) violacea (violet) and infuscans (green) female forms.

The vivid female violacea form of the Blue-tailed damselfly

Blue-tailed damselfly on Yarrow flowerhead, July 2015

Female Blue-tailed damselfly, form rufescens, July 2016

With its fast, agile flight and distinctive wing markings, the Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly, Libellula quadrimaculata, was a  exciting addition to my wildlife pond's dragonfly tally. Much like the Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, the males are highly territorial and persistently patrol their patch and return to the same perches to challenge rivals and the two males often held sparring matches over my pond. 

Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly, Libella quadrimaculata, July 2016

Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly showing its distinctive markings, 2018

2017 only saw one new arrival, bringing our total to 8 different species. Our pond was now 4 years old and becoming pretty mature as a micro-habitat. The Ruddy Darter dragonfly, Sympetrum sanguineum, was our new addition. In the past this dragonfly was a major source of identification confusion for me due to its similarities with the Common Darter and it was satisfying to finally get a good view of the jet black legs that distinguish it most readily.

Last but by no means least in my line up is my recent 2018 sighting of the Large Red damselflyPyrrhosoma nymphula. It made its debut on the Nar Cottage wildlife pond stage on 28th May. Frequently one of the earliest damselflies to be seen, I'd often spotted it in late May on visits to Stoke Ferry and Hoe Rough . With its distinctive colour it was most definitely a newbie in our garden.

Ruddy Darter, Sympetrum sanguineum, on a pondside perch

My latest damselfly species sighting the Large Red damselfly, Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Its wonderful to still be seing new species colonise this micro-habitat we created even after 5 years and though my pond's evolution is perhaps slowing and stabilising now I continue to hope for more sightings. Who knows, someday this line up may yet turn into a top-ten list!

 

 

Two Blues and No Greens

After a second fruitless jaunt hoping to photograph some rather shy Green Hairstreaks, which seem to be having a good season this year, my sunny late May Sunday ended up being an impromptu tale of two Blues in my own back garden instead.

Male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly basking

As I was resting on my patio I spotted our first blue Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly posing ostentatiously by the side of our (now very low) wildlife pond, barely a day after our first Four-spotted chaser appeared. Both were trying to hold territory and I was entertained by some impressive aerial battles.

A subsequent gentle lap of our garden yielded a female Holly Blue Butterfly busily ovipositing on the native shrubs in our wildlife hedgerow that borders our garden and now in its 5th year is nice and dense. Our wildlife garden just keeps on giving year after year. 

A female Holly Blue butterfly busily ovipositon amongst native hedging

In Search of Autumn...

Our mellow autumnal weather seems to be both treating and playing tricks on us this year.

Mingled gold and green birch leaves

As mid October arrived I started to search for turning leaves and classic signs of Autumn, but in vain. With such mild temperatures, the trees have determinedly held on to their cloaks of green as long as possible to maximise their intake of food.

A Stroll in Blickling Estate at the start of half term week yielded some fallen leaves but the canopy was disappointingly still richly decked in a gown of glorious green, with only the occasional tree starting to offer up a hint of gold at the very top of their crowns.

At last on a visit to Wells-Next-The-Sea at the end of the week, the mood had started to shift and begun to evoke a more autumnal tone. A gorgeously mild day, I watched several Red Admirals dancing brightly in the deceptively warm golden rays of the afternoon sun, but at last, I finally saw my first fully golden-gowned birch tree!

Meanwhile, further along the pathway, a suitably russet-hued Common Darter dragonfly cast a long shadow as it perched on a fallen pine introducing rich red umber tones to the Autumnal palette. 

Phew! - our tardy Lady Autumn really has finally arrived with her gown of gold, just in time for the clocks to go back.

A red Common Darter dragonfly enjoying late October sunshine on a fallen pine tree

A still green canopy at Blickling Estate

A birch tree dressed in full golden regalia

A Spotty New Arrival

The Nar Cottage wildlife garden is starting to become quite mature now, so we were really excited today to spot a new species to the Garden...and a first sighting for me to boot!

Our first ever four-spotted chaser dragonfly (Libellula Quadrimaculata) was perched up by our our wildlife pond, looking glamourous as he posed.

We were even more delighted when he suddenly started zooming round and hooked up with a mate who then started ovipositing, so hopefully in a few years time we may see some more!

Here there be Dragons

Its been a big week for Nar Cottage's wildlife garden as we discovered that our first "home grown" dragonfly had completed its three year lifecycle. This photo is of an emperor dragonfly nymph "exuvia", the exoskeletal shell left behind after the nymph transforms into a dragonfly and emerges as a winged adult. The Emperor's emergence happens overnight so sadly we didn't see it happening.

Emperor dragonfly Exuvia

Emperors are know as early pioneers of new ponds and were one of the very first visitors to our brand new, bare-earthed pond back in 2013. Three years on and our pond looks very different, teeming with aquatic life and surrounded by lush native plants and wildflowers creeping to cover much of its surface.

The Emperor dragonflies never returned after that first season, but we continued to see lots of Broad-bodied Chasers, Southern Hawkers as well as damselflies about.  Emperors will predate upon other chaser dragonflies, so I hope our population of those survives its emergence!

Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly

In between the summer storms we've been having I made a quick dash over the the Norfolk Broads in my first attempt to see a swallowtail butterfly. I had no joy but did see my first broad-bodied chaser dragonfly which was busy egg laying in a pool. [singlepic id=232 w=700 h=0 float=center]

Southern Hawker

Male Southern Hawker Hovering

Its late summer and already the weather is feeling very autumnal. I recently visited one of my favourite secluded dragonfly haunts and found the southern hawkers and common darters still zooming about and dancing over the water.

Hawker dragonflies are a fearless and highly competitive dragonfly species. They spend most of their time in flight hunting out smaller insects as prey.

[singlepic id=22 w=600 h=400 float=right] They are also highly competitive. It's beautiful to watch them do acrobatic battles with other dragonflies above the water, quite often there are conflicts between several dragonflies at once, reminiscent of a battle of Britain dogfight.

Like most predators. hawker dragonflies are very curious by nature and quite often one would come right up to hover in front of me for a few seconds before "buzzing" me and zooming off again. This shot was quite a challenge - it was taken handheld using manual focusing on my 180mm macro lens.

 
Photo Of The Month August 2011 - Hovering Southern Hawker Dragonfly Taken: Sole Common Pond, West Berkshire