Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Dragonflies Are Go

This year I will be filming Emperor Dragonflies emerging from the Tyntesfield kitchen garden in collaboration with the National Trust and the British Dragonfly Society. I/we will be on site at the pond every day from Saturday 28th May until Saturday June 4th, documenting the spectacular event that is dragonfly hatching and sharing knowledge and enthusiasm of these extraordinary animals with visitors.

Today I went to test a camera and check on what was happening at the pond. I had the great privilege of finding the first of the season had already emerged (leaving only a larval case or exuvia behind). The second proceeded to hatch in front of me and in a very obliging position for my camera. The pictures below are a sequence of this one individual dragonfly. Spanning four hours, the last was taken seconds before it flew away. Hopefully these are the first of many that will take to the air over the next two weeks.

*If you click on a picture you get them all in a larger gallery format (without the captions).

Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) just out of the water and starting to moult

First the flight muscles break through and then the head begins to pull away

The head is now fully clear of the underwater shell

The top half of the body peels back, revealing the legs

Taking an upside down fresh air breather

Still resting

The legs get pulled back in towards the body ready to swing upright. Wings still to be inflated.

After swinging up, the abdomen is released and the wings pumped up

Fluid is drained from the expanded wings and they harden

The wings open, flight muscles vibrate and the adult Emperor Dragonfly is ready for take off

Monday, 23 May 2016

Hornet and Egg

I love hornets, when I see one I am filled with mild terror, even though they are far less aggressive than wasps (which I am also fond of). I've been wanting to find a nest so I could take some pictures, but in the end the nest found me, right above my head as I ventured into my garden shed.

I took a few hasty pictures whilst the queen was out gathering building materials. In one of the cells there is an egg, the first hornet egg I have seen. Interesting to me that she builds the nest around her developing brood.

The queen abandoned this nest shortly after, possibly due to my disturbance (regrettable, but I do need to get in and out of the shed). There is another, or perhaps the same hornet hanging about nearby (a few inches away), but she doesn't seem to be particularly active in building a new nest. The old starter nest in the picture has been partially  deconstructed, presumably to recycle the materials.

A Hornet

A Hornet egg in a nest in my shed

Monday, 16 May 2016


I took a swift walk down to the Land Yeo, the stream that runs through the valley below Tyntesfield. I was hoping to see some damselflies and was rewarded immediately on entering the woods that line the stream by finding aptly named Beautiful Demoiselles. I only had ten minutes, but that was enough to grab a few shots of both a emerald/blue male and golden female.

Beautiful Demoiselle (female)

Beautiful Demoiselle (female)

Beautiful Demoiselle (male)

Beautiful Demoiselle (male)

Back on the estate and in my back garden, this year's frog tadpoles now have tiny back legs appearing and are transforming from the black blobs they were a couple of weeks ago. I have had more than a few conversations about the ethics of taking spawn / tadpoles and putting them in a tank, I took just 12 from a water butt in which they were unlikely to survive. I still have 12 and they are growing well. I've also been able to enthuse small children and adults as to the wonders of pond life, so my conscience is clear.

Frog tadpole with rear legs appearing

Ground Beetle (Poecilus cupreus (or possibly P. versicolor?))

Nettle tip (with sheltering beetle)

Friday, 13 May 2016

Damselflies emerge and avoid puns

Delighted to see my first damselflies of the year today (May 13th) emerging from the kitchen garden pond. I won't say anything about being unlucky or in distress, but the individual pictured below didn't make the best of starts. It's been quite a blustery day, so I assume the wings got damaged by a collision before they had time to dry. Happily, I also saw one fly away successfully and another drying off on a more sheltered bit of leaf.

A newly emerged damselfly with damaged wings

Monday, 18 April 2016


18th April and spring brings with it a new determination to better record the wild life here at Tyntesfield; all being well there'll be an improvement in frequency, quantity and hopefully quality.

I spent much of the winter waiting for queen bumblebees to emerge after reading Dave Goulson's excellent book 'A Sting In The Tale'. I've been delighted to see them bumbling about, but have so far failed to take a decent picture. Happily, Bluebells are less mobile and now resplendent in Truckle Wood and elsewhere on the estate.

Bluebells in Truckle Wood, Tyntesfield

Wood Anemones in Truckle Wood, Tyntesfield

Blackthorn blossom (blossom before leaves)

Hawthorn leaves (leaves before blossom)

At the start of April I noticed a shrub outside my house swarming with insects enjoying the early food supply from its flowers. These are just a few of the animals observed (the 'just about in-focus' ones). There were many more that evaded my available technology and skills, but I intend to persist and improve.

A Mason Bee I believe - hairier and smaller than a Honey Bee

Honey Bee with loaded pollen sacs

Nectar supping fly (unidentified)

Robber Fly?

Roe deer startled by man taking pictures in a bush

A Bee Fly. About as cuddly as flies get, apart from the spiky proboscis

2015 Kitchen Garden time-lapse

In February 2015 I installed a solar powered time-lapse camera in the kitchen garden at Tyntesfield. Programmed to take 4 pictures a day, it ran until the end of September when the battery ran out of sun and steam.

The first thing I have done is taken out the images obscured by rain or condensation fog. In fact, that's all I've done so far... there are various processing measures I can take to improve the results, but as it involves a fair amount of manual labour I have opted to post the interim 'rough' version, not least so the gardeners and volunteers at Tyntesfield are able to see it.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Late June

Long before now, with July turning into August, May was busy turning into June. This was the time of dragonflies emerging. Climbing clear of their watery nurseries, breaking out from their larval cases and taking to an adult life on the wing.

I was staking out the kitchen garden pond whenever I could. By my reckoning about 60 Emperor dragonflies emerged over a 10 day period, either side of a peak on June 1st. The process from leaving the water to flying off takes around two to three hours, but varies greatly between individuals. My own observation leads me to believe that the the bigger the nymph, the quicker the process. Also the failure rate (individuals that failed to break free of their larval cases) seemed to increase towards the end of the period of emergence.

After a few years watching, I have failed to detect an obvious correlation with either weather conditions or time of day providing triggers for the process. It does though seem that they are encouraged by my failure to get out of bed of a morning, or by my needing to be elsewhere at any given time of day. Thanks to the Tyntesfield gardeners for tolerating my pond loitering.

The first picture below is a female Broad-bodied Chaser, taken by Tyntesfield gardener Joel Bunting. Then my own Emperor shots from the pond, a late emerging damselfly and a random green bug to finish.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) female (photo by Joel Bunting)

Newly emerged Emperor dragonfly (on its own larval case)
Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator)
Common Blue Damselfly female

Green Nettle Weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus)

Monday, 25 May 2015

Spring Forth

After some time away, I've been enjoying playing with a macro lens once again on the estate. Also in late April I managed to get some video of 3 tiny badger cubs who were up and out before sunset (between 7 and 8pm). 

The woodpecker below is from Wraxall Piece, a small woodland not on the estate, but very close. I stood at the bottom of an old dead beech tree listening to the incessant calling of an unseen chick. The adults then both visited the very high up hole with food every 2 minutes or so. 

I'm hoping now to have some time to film Emperor Dragonflies emerging in the kitchen garden pond over the next coupe of weeks, results to appear here if I'm successful

Dandelion head

Dandelion seeds

Herb Robert




Great Spotted Woodpecker

Absolutely no idea... bug on apple tree

Unidentified bug on apple tree

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Here Be Dragons

Lots of Dragonflies flying around my garden this week, too fast to photograph unless they're taking a rest. The one below obligingly stopped for a while on the washing line. I was astonished by the detail and colour, serving only to increase my fascination with these creatures. I think this is a Common Darter, but I'm not absolutely sure, the abdomen was red but I neglected to take a picture of the whole thing.

Also unidentified is the bug further down found on garden safari. It's not in my Collins field guide so, until proved otherwise, I shall claim it as a new discovery to science...

Common Darter (?) Dragonfly on clothes peg
Common Darter (?) Dragonfly

Common Darter (?) Dragonfly
Bug awaiting identification (EDIT: Shield Bug nymph)
Bug awaiting identification (EDIT: Shield Bug nymph)