A Break from Paper Hanging

With Odo weather being as scarce as rocking horse shit this year, I’ve been using the depressingly bad start to the new dragonfly season constructively by redecorating the lounge. However, something went wrong with the UK weather pattern: whereas any usual UK bank holiday would be plagued by rain, perhaps because our current pattern is to be cold and wet, on this particular bank holiday Sunday, the rain ceased and the sun was forecast to put in a guest appearance. I wasn’t about to spend such a precious day indoors hanging wallpaper.  Fortunately, my paste bucket ran dry with two short but complicated walls still left to cover. 😀

There’s a country park at a pair of villages a little north of me that I would like to investigate. Since the two villages are called Harrold and Odell, the country park is imaginatively named the Harrold-Odell Country Park. It apparently has a lake, a “wildlife sanctuary” with wetland, and a stretch of the Great Ouse river flowing beside it. Oh, and it has a website, which is how I know this. Unfortunately, I spotted that it also is advertised as being “a great place to walk dogs” and as having “things to keep the kids amused”. There be dragons – probably best avoided on an uncharacteristically sunny bank holiday weekend when every day on the lead up has been crap. Fearing for my sanity amongst barking hounds and screaming rugrats, I left it in the “to be visited” category and opted for a few small local nature-friendly places with no family attractions whatsoever. It was a bit like looking for a campsite, really.

J01_2588 BBC femaleI kicked off with Flitton Moor where a small herd of cows had poached the edge of a pond into a mud bath. I was ill-equipped, not thinking wellies would have been necessary. Nothing was moving at first but, from the safety of the short boardwalk, I did eventually spot a distant damselfly rise and fly up and away on what I imagine was its maiden flight. Then a tell-tale flash of larger wings glinted in the grass just a little closer. My trainers braved the less muddy clods of mud and I eventually found a very teneral female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa). My first true dragonfly of the new UK season. There was no way to get rid of all the obstructing grass but at least I got some sort of photographic evidence before she, too, disappeared in the same direction as had the damselfly.

J01_2602 Colourful combinationThe pond now appeared to be completely still so I tried the small stream, which looked deserted at first but where I was pleased eventually to find 6 Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) and 6 Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella), two of whom were in tandem. Way to go! Here, I found a colourful combination of males of the two species sitting close together. Mostly they were disturbing each other, though.

Next to Duck End NR where our (Bedfordshire’s) first Large Red Damselflies are often recorded (1st May this year). I’ve only been there at the start of the season so seen only Large Reds there; I was hoping to add a species or two. I lost count of the Large Reds but it was well over 30; I figured it to be around 36 so the population is very healthy. I did see 6 Azure Damselflies, too, but nothing else.

J01_2625 Downy EmeraldFinally, with the clock passing 3:00 PM, I returned to my real home patch of Sandhouse Lane NR. Oddly, I’d forgotten its star attraction but I was reminded of it in no uncertain terms when, just a few yards in from the entrance, a fresh Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) landed in the trees beside me. It was too high to get a very good shot – not enough DoF – but here’s a recognizable one for the record. We’re lucky to have this outpost of Downy Ems and it’s great to see them. Regrettably, the suspected breeding pond is in a private fishing ground complete with security guard so the little darlings aren’t the easiest to observe – they have to fly out and over a fence/hedge or two. I spotted and/or disturbed four others but they present photo opportunities – not after I disturbed them, anyway. Other culprits here were 15 Large Red Damselflies, 6 Azure Damselflies (all looking quite teneral with pale thoraxes), a lonely very pale/teneral Common Blue and a Broad-bodied Chaser which promptly disappeared before I could get near it. The latter was new to me for Sandhouse.

IMG_9438 Large Red 40D macroI’ve been trying my macro lens mounted on my old 10Mp Canon EOS 40D body, still a very good camera, whilst using my 300mm lens on the 18Mp Canon EOS 7D, my theory being that macro shots rarely require cropping and the 10Mp resolution is perfectly fine. If only my camera rucksack would take both bodies mounted at the same time.  Here’s a Large Red taken on the 40D/Sigma 150 macro combination.

All in all, a very good break from paper-hanging.

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