Saturday 30 April 2011

Disappointment, joy and a bit of a conundrum

As days go, Friday 29th April 2011 had it all. The highs and lows of whether we spotted passing loveliness amongst the throng, the waiting and hoping to catch a glimpse of distant celebrity and the thrill of being there to hear the background music, rightly fitting for a grand occasion. All in all, a mixture of emotions stirred by the sights and sounds of being in wonderful surroundings.

And I'm not talking about the formalities of state occurring in central London.

Nope, the Tense Towers team left the trappings of monarchy, pomp and pageantry behind, preferring to head off to the Norfolk/Suffolk border for a bit of quality natural history.

First port of call was the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Weeting Heath reserve, to try and see a Stone Curlew. Whilst there were Mistle Thrushes, Pied Wagtails, Lapwings and Wheatears galore, the object of our desires was nowhere to be seen, so after a goodly wait, we opted to return later in the day for another attempt.

Just down the road from Weeting, and a hop over the county border into Suffolk, is the RSPB's Lakenheath Fen reserve. Here, we were hoping to spot another summer visitor, the Golden OrioleAfter a picnic lunch (and our only sop to the Royal Wedding, a toast to the bride and groom), we ventured out into the fen to see what was about. No orioles, that's what!

However, there was plenty to see. Almost immediately upon leaving the Visitor Centre, Our Lass and the Admiral spotted a Four-spotted Chaser coursing over a pond. I missed it, though I did manage a Hairy Dragonfly.

Despite a stiff north-easterly breeze, the damsels and dragons were struggling bravely on. In a sheltered spot out of the wind, there were several species of Odonata and I took this pic of an Azure Damselfly. At least, that's what I thought it was.

It's a... ?
Continuing on our way, we were startled to see and then, shortly afterwards, hear a Bittern. Hobbies, Marsh Harriers, a Buzzard and even an escaped Harris Hawk quartered the skies. As befits a fen, several Cuckoos were calling, and one had the good grace to make an appearance at the top of a tree in front of us.

The attentions of this bird are most unwelcome to many of the warblers attempting to nest in the reeds below. So it was no surprise that they were alarm calling at its very presence. However, plenty of male warblers were also singing to defend their territories and proclaim themselves worthy husbands. Some were even visible, like this Whitethroat.

In the early evening, we returned to Weeting and were rewarded with a very distant view of two Stone Curlews. So distant, in fact, that Very Wrong Len gave up in the attempt to capture the moment for posterity.

Once back home and reviewing the day's photographs, I was not so sure of my damselfly identification. It is immature, as the thorax and head have not yet taken on any colour. It is female, as the marking on the second segment of the abdomen does not match any males of the Coenagrion genera. It is also the blue form of female, rather than the more customary green or black. But is it an Azure? The thorax detail, thin antehumeral stripes on top and two incomplete stripes down the side, could be either Azure or Variable Damselfly. The second segment of the abdomen isn't exactly either of these species, but then again the Variable is... er... variable? Recourse to the recently updated BDS website sadly failed to come up with a satisfactory answer. My ID book says that to reliably distinguish between the two species, check the shape of the pronotum. That's her neck, at the top of the prothorax. My photo is not good enough to use this method, so by this time I was giving up hope. Then I noticed a small note in the guide. Variable has a bar between the post ocular spots (the as yet uncoloured bits behind the eyes), Azure does not. A-ah! She's an immature, blue form, female Variable Damselfly, Coenagrion pulchellum, unless someone can convince me otherwise!


holdingmoments said...

What a grand day out Graeme. So much more preferable to watching the rubbish on telly.
I'll take your word on it about the damsel ID.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Strangely, all the wildlife sites were busy. Are all amateur natural historians Republican?

Ref the damsel, it reminded me that I should never presume an ID. It was productive to go back to the books and re-learn what I should've known already! The warm April weather has really kicked off their season. I'm way ahead of last year on numbers and species seen.