Common Darter

common darter

I realised that I stood a chance of photographing this male common darter, Sympetrum striolatum, because, as its name suggests, its hunting technique was to keep darting out from the corner of the herb bed then returning to sit in the same spot, soaking up the sun on the stonework.

Thinking that it would be too restless for me to get close to it, I went for my 40-150 mm zoom lens but, when it went on to settle by the pond, I could have got close enough to use the macro. The zoom couldn’t focus any closer than a couple of feet.

darterThe female common darter yellow, which gradually fades to dark olive.

When I cleared duckweed from the pond in the early summer, I came across perhaps a dozen dragonfly larvae which were about the right size to become darter dragonflies, each of which I coaxed back into the pond.

The highlight on its compound eye is hexagonal, as are the individual lenses that make it up.

It has yellow stripes running along the length of its black legs.

A Lot of Duckweed

I haven’t turned on the hose pipe during this long dry spell but this weekend the pond had got so low that I felt I had to. The surface was entirely covered with duckweed, so I put on my arm-length waterproof gloves and pulled it out around the edges, then used a pond net to scoop up the remaining clumps in the middle.

A A Milne’s poem Bad Sir Brian Botany came to mind. The bit where Sir Brian gets his comeuppance from the villagers:

“Sir Brian went a journey, and he found a lot of duckweed . . . “

I left the piles of duckweed at the water’s edge to give the pond life a chance to find its way back and gave a helping hand to a few ramshorn snails, dragonfly larvae and black water beetles that I spotted struggling.

I didn’t see any frogs or newts but I was skimming the surface layers and they were probably lying low. Continue reading “A Lot of Duckweed”

Grey Heron

7.35 a.m.: The Grey Heron is back this morning. Attracting an apex predator is a good sign that there’s plenty of life in the pond but I can’t help worrying about the effects of repeated visits on our frog and newt populations. Perhaps I should cover one end of the pond as a refuge for them. A miniature water-lily would provide some cover.

The heron leaves the pond, preens briefly then flies up to the shed roof. It cranes its neck to choose its next course for breakfast: our neighbours’ carp.

I don’t think that this will go down well, Sean was so proud that his carp had produced a single baby this year, so I open the window and it flies off.

Reed Bunting

7.55 a.m.: A male reed bunting perches on a dried up purple loosestrife stem then flies down to the edge of the pond and stays there for a minute, not apparently finding anything to feed on.

If it’s checking out our small pond, it isn’t impressed, as it flies up into the crab apple, joining the regular tits and finches for another minute or two before flying off towards the lower end of the wood, perhaps to drop in on Coxley Beck. It takes no interest in the bird feeders.

We can’t see an accompanying female.

Reed buntings are regulars in the marshy fields by the river half a mile away but it’s a rarity for us to spot one in the garden. In fact, I don’t remember recording one before; if so it must have been over twenty-five years ago.

Buzzards at Breakfast-time

8.00 a.m.: A sparrowhawk flies over the rooftops followed by a loose flock of smaller birds, which appear to be mobbing it. The sparrowhawk swoops down on one of them, but misses out on its breakfast.

On the sunflower heart feeders, a pair of bullfinches are joined by a siskin.

8.45 a.m.: A buzzard circles over farmland beyond the houses. Buzzards are such regulars now but because I first got familiar with them in the Lake District and on Speyside, at a time when they were far less common than they are today, they still conjure up a feeling of wild places for me. It’s great to be able to sit on the sofa with a mug of tea after breakfast and see one soaring in the distance.

First Frogspawn

We had a single clump of frogspawn in the pond yesterday; today there are thirteen.

Damselflies and Tadpoles

pond3.35 p.m., 71°F, 23°C, gentle breeze: Docks, brambles, dog daisies and grasses overhang the pond which is carpeted with duckweed. damselfliesA pair of blue damselflies are clasped together, hovering lightly over the pond and touching down to lay eggs just below the surface on the pondweed.

tadpolesIt’s been a good year for tadpoles. Some are now at the half way stage with limbs sprouting but still retaining a long tail.

A small white moth flutters around in a curlicue flightpath around the edge of the pond, a spectral presence. On still summer evenings there are often two or three hovering around.

white mothred tailed beeA small red-tailed bumble bee is systematically working its way around the geranium flowers.

Field Notes

My usual drawing kit: water-brush, Lamy Vista fountain pen filled with brown Noodlers ink and Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours.
My usual drawing kit: water-brush, Lamy Vista fountain pen filled with brown Noodlers ink and a Winsor & Newton bijou box filled with Professional Watercolours.

Thank you Jane for the question (see comments for this post) about how I go about sketching. What I was trying to do here was sketch whatever came along during a short session watching the pond but I didn’t want to end up with just sketches so I started writing my field notes straight away, breaking off to draw damselflies, moths and tadpoles as I spotted them.

I didn’t get around to drawing red-tailed bee so I’ve popped in a sketch from a post I wrote six years ago: Summer Evening Sketches


kingcups3.15 p.m., 50ºF, 10ºF, 85% cloud, 30.1 inches, 1022 mb: My first job this morning at 6 a.m. was to flip open the studio skylight window and emphatically bang it shut again to shoo off a pair of mallards who were tucking into the tadpoles in our back garden pond. Yes, I know that all of those thousands of tadpoles can’t possibly survive but I somehow feel responsible for them. As I draw these kingcups, I can see them constantly coming to the surface, so the ducks haven’t made much of an impression on their numbers.

The Dance of the Smooth Newt


smooth newt dance

The tadpoles have gathered in the last remaining patch of sunlight in the corner of the pond, the same corner that the frogs gathered in when they spawned.

A male smooth newt stirs up sediment. He’s enticing a female who has been hidden away amongst the pondweed. He starts wafting his tail towards her then upends as if he’s breakdancing. The pair disappear amongst the vegetation.


tadpoles3.30 p.m., overcast: A few days ago the tadpoles were all in one frothy mass in the corner of the pond. They’re now exploring amongst the pebbles and pondweed but still concentrated in the corner.

newtTwo smooth newts come up for air in the few minutes that I’m writing.

A Corner of the Pond

frogspawnspawnwinds2.30 p.m., 47ºF, 9ºC: It’s been an April showers day with bright sun alternating with wild lashings of rain. There’s a cool breeze from the south-east but the low cumulus clouds are moving in almost the opposite direction: heading east with a westerly wind behind them.

taddiesOne sixth of the pond in the sunniest northern corner is filled with algae-covered frogspawn which has sunk to a few inches below the surface. The black tadpoles which are each just over a centimetre long have now emerged from the spawn and gathered in three main groups, feeding on the abundant algae.

Smooth Newts

newtsNearby amongst the pondweed, two banner-tailed male smooth newts are closely following a round-tailed female.

newtNear the edge of the pond a newt briefly emerges from the depths to pop a mouthful of air.

Ramshorn Snail & Wolf Spider

ramshorn snailramshorn snailA ramshorn pond snail makes slow progress over the butyl rubber pond liner.

A wolf spider runs across the water surface at the edge of the pond then basks in the sun on the black liner.wolf spider