Saturday, 30 July 2011

The third Emperor

Following the extremely rare Vagrant Emperor dragonflies that turned up at the farm in late April, and with the "bog-standard" Emperor a common resident species, we completed a 2011 hat-trick this week when a male Lesser Emperor was found. Although it's a rare migrant to Britain, recorded for the first time as recently as 1996, this is our second record following one in 2004. Lesser Emperors occur throughout southern Europe.

After I'd waited for about 15 minutes today, it duly appeared over the northern-most of our two specially-designed dragonfly ponds. It gave great views down to 10 feet as it cruised up and down, doing its best to evade aerial attacks by the Emperors. It failed to land whilst I was there but it was more obliging for Dougy and he got this rather good photo:

Later, he found two or three Migrant Hawkers along the boardwalk:

Thanks to Dougy for those photos. I had to make do with shots of a pair of Common Darters mating in flight, one of the scarce Red-veined Darters (at least two present today) and a female Emperor laying eggs in the pond:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Farming for finches and warblers....and why it's not possible to please everybody!

Here are a few photos of our 12 acres of arable fields, where we have the best show of wild and cultivated seed-bearing plants that we've had for several years. These will become a gigantic bird-table over next winter. Meanwhile, they are full of bees and other insects, and there are always a few Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats foraging in them at this time of year.

There have been plenty of entries recently in the visitors' feedback book in the reserve's information centre. On the whole, it seems that we're getting things right and most people comment favourably on such things as the tranquillity, landscape, bird-song, flowers and butterflies. Of course, opinions vary on some things, as the following extracts prove!

"What a shame you do not allow dogs"

"Dog-free - what a joy!"

"No dogs - bliss!"

".....dismayed to see a no dogs sign"

"Some of us think no dogs is bliss"

"Well done on an excellent trail"

"I tried to follow the trail guide....after walking up and down the fields fruitlessly for an hour I came back"

"It was easy to find our way round and it wasn't suitable for dogs"

"....well sign-posted walk around"

"Thank goodness no dogs"

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Strange critters

Here are a couple of the strange creatures that inhabit our ponds. The first is a Water Stick Insect, shown with the remains of the beetle it was eating before it was rudely interrupted. They apparently "lurk in dense vegetation, motionless and mantis-like, waiting to seize their prey." (Collins Field Guide to Freshwater Life).

Below is the closely-related Water Scorpion. Both of them have breathing tubes extending from their tails. The front legs are used like a powerful pair of pincers.

Many thanks to David Wheeler for the photos.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A busy weekend

On Saturday, ERCCIS (Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) held a Surveying for Dragonflies Workshop on the reserve. The emphasis was on identifying dragonflies by their exuviae. When a nymph is fully grown it crawls out of the pond up the stem of a plant. It then sheds its skin and the adult dragonfly emerges. The skin that the nymph left behind is called the exuvia and each one has its own characteristics.

The group collected all the exuviae they could find and identified 268 Emperors (150 females, 118 males), 45 Common Darters, 14 Four-spotted Chasers (8 females, 6 males), 6 Black-tailed Skimmers (5 females, 1 male) and 14 Emerald Damselflies! Many thanks to Steve Jones for these figures.

The following day Dougy Wright and Steve led a very enjoyable three hour walk, concentrating mostly on wildlife in and around the ponds. Seventeen people attended and despite the lack of sunshine, we did really well - thanks guys. The highlight for me were the Water Stick-insects.

Thanks to Dougy for this species list:

Butterflies: Clouded Yellow, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Small White, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Grayling, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Holly Blue

Moths: Silver Y, Straw Dot, Pyrausta despicata

Odonata: Emperor, Golden-ringed, Broad-bodied Chaser, Four-spotted Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common Darter, Common Blue Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Emerald Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, Beautiful Demoiselle

Other Insects: Water Stick-insect, Water Scorpion, Great Green Bush-cricket, Long-winged Conehead, Meadow Grasshopper

Reptiles: Slow Worm, Common Lizard, Adder skin

Amphibians: Common Toad, Common Frog

Mammals: Fox, Common Shrew, Wood-mouse

I forgot to take my camera, but you'll find some quality photos on Steve Rogers' blog: