Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Garden Pond - Dragonfly Drama

It's funny how involved with events, even tiny ones in nature that we can become. I see this quite frequently with Kate (WildlifeKate to her crowds of fans) when she experiences the highs and lows of parts of the lives of animals she encourages on to her land. Perhaps because I'm darting around between different subjects, I rarely see the whole story of something, so don't become attached; maybe I'm missing out?

A couple of years ago I decided to make more of an effort with attracting wildlife to my garden and dug out a pond. I have avoided the urge to bring in species to it, like from another pond for example, leaving nature to do its thing. And it amazed me how quickly it arrived, with newts populating it in only a few weeks.

Back in 2012 I noticed a large dragonfly (southern hawker I believe) buzzing around the garden, and was very pleased to see it drop down to the pond, and start laying eggs around the edges of it. I even had chance to grab some shots as it did so.

Since then I have seen the nymphs frequently, sometimes even catching them when I'm trying to remove the slime from the water. I still haven't worked out how to judge those parcels of barley properly. Fascinating creatures, how they stalk around the depths of the pool, shooting forwards to grab things and consume them. And so large too - even the newts keep a distance from these wee beasties.

So if they were laid as eggs in August 2012 and the articles I have read claim they emerge after 2-3 years, surely I might see them this year? This is what I hoped, and when possible, I have been checking the pond each morning. Annoyingly, last week I discovered a discarded exuvia, floating on the surface. I had missed one emerge! Hopefully more were still to come...

On Saturday morning, at 6am I was awoken by the rumbles of thunder of the much forecast storms, and the rest of the morning was restricted to being indoors as the torrential downpours continued, and when it did brighten up, I chose to head to Upton Warren for the afternoon. And in doing so reminded myself that RAF Cosford's airshow was on the next day... However, just as I was about to leave on Sunday morning, something nagged at me - check the pond.

It's not a big pond so it didn't take long to spot them. One dragonfly had already broken free and was perched, wings open drying off, and another nearby was midway through the process of emerging from the exuvia. A dash back inside to rig up the 7D and 100mm macro, and I was soon crouched beside the pair, trying to get shots through the moving reeds.

The one drying off must have had a very early start, as by the time I started to observe, it was already perched up away from its discarded exuvia, wings open at 90 degrees, and starting to vibrate them too.

The other was halfway out, using gravity to help it ease out.

Crouching for any length of time soon becomes painful, so I popped indoors to grab a bin liner, to sit on. In the time it took me to get that and return, the emerging dragonfly had pulled itself out, and was now gripped on to the exuvia, with various vessels still attached, presumably transferring fluids.

The wings appeared somewhat like a deflated balloon, hanging from its back.

With each passing moment though, they got longer.

And longer...

And longer, until they actually resembled proper wings, although these were opaque still.

The other dragonfly was now out in the open, frequently vibrating or even fluttering its wings. I took a few shots of it, guessing it'd be off shortly.

I was right, and it took off on its maiden flight, off over my apple tree and into next-door's garden. Great to see it head off into the great wide open.

That left the other, which was hanging from the exuvia, drying its wings.

A lengthy process, and unfortunately this is where the story takes rather a downward turn. I had been getting annoyed by the breeze moving the reeds around in front of my lens, but what I didn't see (until I reviewed these pics) was that the dragonfly, when in exuvia form, hadn't made a very good job of affixing itself to the reed.

With one slightly stronger gust of wind, the exuvia broke free of the reed and it, with its newly emerged dragonfly tumbled down to the pond below, getting snagged just above the water, on some other reeds. Wriggling free, the dragonfly broke off the exuvia, and then climbed up the reed itself, but had twisted and folded its wings in the process.

When I took some more pics, after it had settled to a new hanging position, I could see droplets of green fluid on its body and wings, possibly from when it broke off the vessels, but also perhaps from damage to the wings themselves? I was worried that this could be the end of it - if the wings were damaged, it couldn't then fly. Surely evolution of this species has had to cater for windy days before?

Unfortunately for me, work (yes, on a Sunday!) then got in the way, and I had to leave the drama, to hopefully unfold (literally) by itself. Returning later that evening, I found the dragonfly still in the same place, with clearer wings and hence giving me some hope that it might survive.

It had gone by the morning, so I live in hope that it flew away, like the other one, but it could have of course been predated by one of the many new additions to the bird community in my garden. Since the weekend, two more dragonflies have emerged, and I think I'll need to be up earlier to see any more!

I tend to travel the length and breadth of the UK to see some fabulous wildlife spectacles, but it just shows, you can see some fascinating stuff, that captures your imagination and emotions, just in the confines of a small garden pond.

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