Sunday 19 July 2009

Peatbogs and other habitats

Saturday saw another odo survey in leafy Dorset, but before I relate that tale, I must make mention of a trip to The Stables theatre during the week.

Our in-house historian recently attended a folk festival in Leicester and returned to MK in a state of high excitement, brought about by a Scottish band from the Isle of Skye. As would befit a recent graduate, a little research goes a long way, and it was spotted that The Peatbog Faeries were playing locally in Wavendon. Celtic fusion is the term that is used to describe their musical style, but it doesn't do justice to an eclectic mix of bagpipes, fiddles, guitars, keyboards, drums, trumpet and saxophone. Bizarre but jolly good fun. Anyway, following a thoroughly enjoyable evening of skirling, atmospheric live music, one of their CDs was my companion on the drive to Dorset.

I arrived at the site in glorious sunshine, but by the time that Keith and Iain, my companions for the day, had arrived, we were looking at wall to wall cloud and a gusty breeze. In a spirit of self-sacrifice for the greater good, I had left my camera behind, to satisfy the Law of Physics that states that photographic opportunities are more likely when the number of cameras present is less than the number of participants. As it turned out, I had my hands full with pencil and Weather Writer, so it was probably a good, if frustrating, decision.

From previous experience, we knew that dragons would be few and far between in the conditions, and that until the sun put in an appearance, damsels would be hard work too. Fortunately, there's much more nature to hand, so we were never going to be bored. To prove this, after seeing a family of Stonechats, Iain spotted a Nightjar. We had an early success with an ovipositing Emperor (Empress?) and a few Common Darters, but then we found several Raft Spiders with eggs. The morning continued with an abundance of Small Reds and Common Blues, with a handful of Azures, Blue-tails, Emeralds and Large Reds thrown in. Just before lunch, we came across a scrubby clearing that did reveal several Keeled Skimmers, Common and Ruddy Darters. Iain was busy watching two Emperors hunting, whilst Keith and I logged the numbers of damsels. Suddenly, a shout from Iain, alerted us to some action. One of the Emperors had taken a Darter, bitten its head off and dropped the remainder of the body. Iain retrieved this and as he passed it to me, it continued to crawl up my hand. Whoa!

After lunch, where we were fortunate to see a Downy Emerald, the afternoon got off to a fantastic start with two male Black Darters. I then had my second attack of arachnophobia, when Iain helpfully pointed out a female Wasp Spider. As a northern lad, I wasn't familiar with this particular species, which appears to be colonising the UK from mainland Europe. To be fair, it was a stunningly-marked creature, with its eponymous yellow and black body. The web, too, is a wonder. Presumably to cope with the grasshoppers of the Continent, it is reinforced down the vertical diameter, which gives it an air of dynamism, as if it is rotating. My field guide calls this feature a stabilimentum.

A brief shower gave us the opportunity to spot a roosting Emperor and a Black Darter, but further dark skies and rain convinced us to call it a day. As we left the site, we put up a large flock of Mistle Thrushes, about thirty of them, which seemed a bit early for that sort of behaviour.

Thirteen species of odos for the day wasn't too bad considering the weather. The only species not seen was a poorly Sally, who was hovering between being a red-eyed damsel and a white-faced darter. Get Well Soon, pet.

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