Thursday, 25 June 2015

Grass Snake In The Garden And Eclosing Hawker Dragonflies From Our Pond

I've got a rare morning at home today and am working indoors with the back door propped open with a watering can. I keep getting distracted by Interesting Things walking/ flying/ crawling/ slithering past the door (and by the Emma Bridgewater sale, but we won't mention that :o) ).

The funniest of these distractions was The Squirrel, who never comes within chasing distance of the house for fear of the voracious and committed members of the Squirrel Watching Club. For some unaccountable reason best known to him or herself, he/ she decided Today was The Day and sauntered in a leisurely devil-may-care sort of fashion across the patio, past the door and within inches of two sleeping terriers.

I haven't the heart to tell them.

Yesterday, having a perambulate around the garden with Pop (which is never ideal for wildlife spotting but usually unavoidable, as she is my constant companion and second shadow) I rather absent-mindedly checked the refugia at the top of the garden (it's the side of an old plastic compost bin) for slow worms who are never there, and came face to face instead with this rather lovely person...


I don't know who was more surprised. He (possibly she) is bigger than I realised at the time. I did wonder whether it could be my little bootlace from the tail end of last summer grown all big, but I don't think snakes are particularly site-faithful and anyway, that's a heck of a lot of growing in a few short weeks which can't be possible, so it must be another one.




Luckily, The Pop was off watching voles round the other side of the pond otherwise it could have been tricksy. As it was, I carefully replaced the refugia, crept away and then pelted like a mad woman down the garden and back into the house for the camera, Poppy racing after me with no idea why.

Luckily for me, the snake was still there when I went back and so I got the photos. I know they're not everyone's cup of tea (my mother most of all!) but they are endangered and they are harmless and so scared of people that I'm always thrilled to see them in the garden. 

We sort-of engineered the top half of the garden for them with the pond for swimming, compost heap for egg laying, a huge pile of logs and stones for hibernating and the refugia for shelter all within feet of each other. It seems to be working as this is the third year I've recorded grass snakes in the garden (ever since the pond was made in fact).




This morning, again wandering about with Pop, we discovered two Southern Hawker (I think) Dragonflies eclosing out of the pond. 11am seems to be a good time to see this happening and we were lucky to find them with the dragons still clinging on to the empty exuvia in the final stage of wing hardening. Both took their maiden flights as I watched and one sat on me for a while between flights.




When dragons are ready to emerge from the nymph state, the nymphs gather at the water's edge for a few days/ hours before, then climb up out of the pond and find a suitable bit of vegetation to attach to. They will crawl up to a few metres away from the water.

They climb out of the exuvia and hang from it for three hours or so while the wings fill with liquid and become viable, then they crawl away from the exuvia and begin to vibrate their wings to get them working properly before taking off. 

This dragon's maiden flight was straight and true and strong, but I have known them wobble and take off/ land several times until they get the hang of it...


In the next pic you can see the empty nymph case (exuvia) left holding on to the grass stem while the adult insect climbs up onto some grasses..
 
 
I am fairly sure of the ID because of the tail markings, although I don't profess to be remotely expert on dragons so if I'm wrong feel free to shout. I think this one is a male.


The second is the same species but I think female, because of the shape of the pincers on the tail...








And here are the empty nymph cases. I've been finding them up by the pond for a couple of weeks now and had narrowed it down to Hawker, so I was really chuffed to find the insect in mid-eclose (dragon for hatching) so I could narrow it down to species. 



So we have two dragonfly species in the pond now. Southern Hawkers and Broad Bodied Chasers :o)

I also found this digger wasp with a grub. After biting it several times she flew off with it. They dig a tunnel 30cm down, drag prey into the chamber and leave it for the offspring, They then lay the egg, seal the chamber, and when the egg hatches the baby wasp has a ready meal to hand. Fascinating creatures. 




Small volcanoes have erupted all over the lawn during the night so I am wondering if it's actually these digger wasps and not mining bees as I had first assumed. Folks seek treatment for lawns to eradicate these little insects, but they do no harm and will aerate the soil for you. Once the kids have hatched they leave and the holes fill in. They don't bite or sting, so if you have them in your lawn please think twice before putting toxins down to kill them- it'll pass straight into the ecosystem and the bodies of birds, shrews, owls, hawks etc.


We have a resident Meadow Brown (a boy- the girls are more gingery) who has set up home in the new wildflower area, which I am thrilled about. These are grass flutters and that section of the garden is perfect for them. All we need now is a Mrs Meadow Brown...


The first set of Woundwort Shieldbug children have hatched. They are tiny wee at the moment, but just starting to be discernible with the naked eye. They don't go far from their eggs for the first few days and I love the way they all stick together on their nursery leaf :o)
I can count 13 eggs but only 11 children :o(


Moth-wise, we had a couple of nice ones last night. This Buff Ermine (many more of them this year than last)
 

And this beautiful shiny Burnished Brass...


I'll leave you with Cornflowers (my favourites) which are starting to come out in the wildflower garden (from last year's seed I think which is Pleasing) and Feverfew which was grown from seed last year), and some pics of Miss Pops enjoying the sun.






Ooh, and before I forget, the mystery flower on yesterday's post is a type of toadflax called Linaria reticulata or Spurred Snapdragon (Flamenco). I'm indebted to ispot for the ID.

Hope you are all well and enjoying this lovely weather (in the UK at least).



CT :o)


 

34 comments:

  1. We have no dragons aloft yet, only just got the banded demoiselles out. I always go by southern hawkers being more yellowy green than the other "blue" hawkers

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    1. Thanks for the tip, Si. I'll try and remember it!

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  2. Sale you say... What a beautifully clipped doggie, very nicely done. How wonderful that you have a grass snake, honestly, the wildlife flocks to you, I'm so impressed. We had one once, and I've put a bit of wood and a couple of upturned (broken) terracotta pots down the wild edge of the garden (that's what I call the bit I don't cut back). I don't like to poke around in there too much though. Fantastic photos as ever. CJ xx

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    1. I've treated myself to a Rose & Bee teacup (don't tell anyone). And a plate. And a bowl. And three vases.... Oops :o)

      Your wild area sounds perfect for snakes. I've not seen adders here but that's not to say they aren't around so I am always a little wary just in case when checking the refugia, so you're right to be cautious.

      Poppy says 'why, thank you' for the kind comment about her most recent 'do. She quite likes it, especially as this time it has coincided with the hot weather, rather than cold like last time (terrible mother).

      I'm wondering whether you've gone to bed yet following your 6am run this morning, which has put me to shame as I haven't been for two days! xx

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  3. Fantastic photos CT. Miss Pops looks gorgeous.

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    1. I'll tell her Ian, she will be chuffed that you think so :o)

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  4. Too hot here in the daylight to go out, but the chiggers eat me up when I do. Our weather is so changed here, I'm not sure the animal kingdom know what to do. Love the last bug in the picture best.

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    1. I'm not sure I would survive in really hot weather. I like it for a day or too but I'm too attached to buzzing about to be indoors for long :o)

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  5. You lucky bugger CT, first the wonderful Grass snake and then to get the Dragonfly alight upon you hand...green with envy here m'dear. And if that was not enough yesterday I had a Hummingbird moth visit Compromise garden but when I rushed to get me camera the little bugger decided snack time upon the Perennial Wallflower was over and off he bloody well hummed....still wonderful to watch and if I had ran for the camera instead of being enchanted for a good 5 minutes......hey ho

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    1. I'm sure you'll have dragons before you know it, and maybe snakes too. FAB that you had a hummingbird hawk- have you recorded it with Butterfly Conservation's Migrant Watch? Google the website and you should find it. They're interested in tracking HBHMs and Painted Ladies. They are smashing creatures- I saw my first for 2015 a couple of weeks ago but he wasn't still enough for a photo. I usually get them late summer feeding on the star jasmine. So pleased he visited your garden- just shows how much you've achieved with it already, eh? x

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    2. I guess it does CT, started on the fish pond today....sunburnt with aching back n knees....hey ho again.
      Thanks for the tip and I've recorded on the site.

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  6. Another amazing post CT. Your photographs make my day. I had two dragonflies darting around the pond together this morning but haven't seen one hatch out this year yet. I don't think I would like a grass snake in my pond. Cornflowers, poppies and feverfew are the flowering plants so far in my wildflower patch. The weather has been glorious hasn't it,
    great for bees and butterflies. I think I had a buff ermine moth in my kitchen the other day, I even photographed him sleeping so I will compare my photo to yours. Thanks for all your wonderful updates.

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    1. Will be interested to hear whether it was a Buff Ermine, they are well distributed and fairly common so it could well have been.

      Yes, lovely weather here too- four flutters in the garden today, which is a relief as there haven't been all that many so far.

      I have same flowers in my wild patch at the mo, also night scented stock, corn marigolds and ox eye daisies and what I think is night-flowering catch fly. The stock smells divine.

      So glad you enjoyed the post and the piccies. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for your nightjars on Monday- do let me know how you get on :o)

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  7. Those photographs are exceptional. First the grass snake, then those absolutely exquisite dragonflies (their wings are so precise). Glad you found out what the flower was.
    Your two dogs are Borders I presume, like Tess? Nice to see that they also appear to have black backs as she does. They are a lovely breed aren't they? She is my shadow too.

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    1. Thank you Weaver- so glad you liked the pics.

      The doggies are a Westie (Ted) and JR (Pop), although Pop is long coated and people are forever telling me she doesn't look like a JR! She was much darker as a pup and her face seems to be going blond now, although you're right she does have black splodges. I would love a border too- such game little dogs.

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  8. Goodness, there's a lot going on at your place. From my memories of living in the UK, seeing snakes in the garden is a rare thing, how lucky! I would't be saying the same here in Australia mind you!

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    1. It is rare so I'm always on tenterhooks every spring as to whether I'll see another one. I agree about Aussie snakes- I would be a little less enthusiastic about having one in the garden there! :o)

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  9. Hey CT,
    Lovely as always. And I agree with CJ; your garden is a magnet for wildlife. I saw an adder the other day over the towans. Only the second I've ever seen. Beautiful things.
    Leanne xx

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    1. Now I haven't seen an adder since I was in Dartmoor last spring. We don't seem to get them here and to be honest I think I prefer it that way- would worry about the dogs and children. Am very content to stick with the grass snakes! Although adders are beautiful things in their own right. Forgot to say last time- the Snow White thing makes me grin every time I think about it. I shall have to take to wearing big blue dresses and swishing about the garden singing..... :o) XX

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  10. Great to see the grass snake and dragonfly photos :) Cornflowers and Feverfew coming into flower here too :)

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    1. I was very relieved to see the snake- I always worry with the dogs who are not averse to catching them.

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  11. Oooooh I think I said snapdragonny !! I think you could open a zoo! I have a question. Is there an insect you cannot stand or do you have a positive to say about them all? X

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    1. You did! Top marks that woman!

      There is nothing I can not stand, but I am slightly worried about spiders. I try very hard not to be, but they do make me shivery. I still have positives to say about them though as they're an important part of the food chain and keep fly numbers in check :o) xx

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  12. Wow. Are both snakes, grass snakes? The lighter brown one is so much bigger than I would have expected. They are beautiful creatures but I'm not sure that I would like them in such close proximity. Isn't it strange how different creatures inspire such different reactions? Now, Poppy would be welcome in the my garden at any time!

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    1. They are both grass snakes, one is the baby from last summer who was no bigger than a bootlace then, the other is an adult, I reckon probably 2-3 years old. The yellow collar is the give away- it's diagnostic of grass snakes.

      It did take me a while to get used to them being here, but honestly they are so timid and harmless, I worry much more about the dogs killing them than them being in the garden. I'd feel sad if a summer went by without seeing one.

      Poppy is my gardening chum, we explore all round the garden together every day. Although she's in the dog house today for knocking over one of M's sunflowers! xx

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  13. Great stuff as always CT, the nature of your garden is truly outstanding! I love snakes and that is a beautiful Grass Snake indeed, whilst it was interesting to see your series of shots of the Southern Hawker emerging.

    Hope all is well and have a great weekend :-)

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    1. Hi David. We've worked hard over the last three years or so to get the garden as wildlife friendly as possible, and it is really paying dividends now. I'm very pleased with the biodiversity it supports. I'm sure your new cottage garden will be producing masses of interesting things too :o)

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  14. I love reading your posts. You have a way with words and when one loves what they do, they express themselves with that love. I can feel that when I read your posts. I love that you made this area in your back yard for the snakes. I have a very lush area that has a stone fence around it - the stones are only three feet high, but more often than not I spot a green grass snake sunning itself every now and then. I did a small in ground pool, that I empty in winter and I have a pile of rocks on the corner, well sheltered with bits of mud and water. We have some beautiful dragon flys here- not quite out in numbers yet, but when they come I am most grateful for they feast on blackflys and mosquito's. When we go fishing, they are quite plentiful and often land on the boat or one of us. I have never taken a photo, and just enjoy them landing so I can get a good look at them. Ted n Pop look great with their new haircuts. Have a wonderful day.

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    1. Your snake area sounds just perfect and how nice that you see them there. I remember you talking about the dragons last summer and them landing on you in the boat. I've just been watching an Emperor Dragonfly patrolling a woodland ride this morning- fantastic!

      Thanks for your kinds words, Lil :o)

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  15. You ask about the disappearance of hay meadows - I have just spoken to the farmer about it. Up here, where our fields are very small, it is possible to get payment for leaving fields for hay meadows - they may not be cut until well into July. The problem is that on the whole up here we are dairy farmers (we went out of dairy because we were retiring age and also we had foot and mouth here on the farm) and our fields are very small. They are needed to produce food for cattle in Summer and silage for the same cattle in Winter. It is also traditionally a sheep area. We always have sheep grazing and they do eat off wild flowers - we have lost most of our cowslips and our orchids. The farmer says that Nationwide arable has increased tremendously so that there are many acres of corn and rape growing. I think the answer is to leave margins round the fields - this is what Natural England endorse - but our fields are too small to do this.

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    1. Thanks, it's always really useful to talk to farmers about conservation and listen to their ideas of how farming and wildlife can work better together. The agri-environment schemes you mention have worked, but the Govt is changing them and we worry that uptake will reduce as there are more hoops to jump through as a result.

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  16. I just came back to see your blog and found my comment missing.
    It was about snakes too.
    Blogger must not like me.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I've checked the spam and it's not in there- the gremlins have eaten it :o) Thank you anyway Parsnip. Hope you're feeling better x

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  17. Lovely post! Great to see the grass snake in all its adult glory. I'm very envious that you got to see the Hawker eclosing, and handle it! I would have been squealing with excitement! :-) xx

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x