Sunday, 2 July 2017

Northern dragonflies

Sadly, a disappointing trip to the north this last weekend to kick off my (rather long) summer vacation this year. I had been hoping to clean up on clubtails whilst on my travels, with an otherwise readily attainable 'minimum' target of ten species in mind. I would fall a long way short of this number, though, for reasons largely unknown. It wasn't a total disaster by any means, with my first port of call in Keeling (Qi Du) Thursday getting me off the mark with some wonderfully photogenic Peishishi Tigers Gomphidia kruegeri. This is one of two 'tigers' to occur along the stream at Qi Du, with the other (Keel-tailed Tiger Gomphidia confluens) perhaps the more desirable as the former can also be found easily elsewhere. Unfortunately, though, Keel-tailed Tigers were nowhere to be found on this visit, the first in a depressingly long list of unpleasant surprises!

The only other 'item' of note along this stretch of river was a single male Common Blue Jewel Heliocypha perforata. Although common nationally, this is not a species I'm in the habit of seeing as they are completely absent from Tainan. They are always a nice treat to look at, though, and this one was sufficiently confiding to allow me to come away with decent shots of it.

Further along the river at Qi Du is a spot with up to five species of clubtail. However, I couldn't quite remember the way down to the river and failed to find the exact spot to get into the water. A quick look-see in the only brook nearby that seemed accessible did produce a Long-lined Clubtail Asiagomphus septimus, but sadly not the Hainan Clubtail Asiagomphus hainanensis I had been looking for. I was at least able to find a big female Golden Chaser Lyriothemis flava along this stream, perhaps the most striking of the Libellulidae to occur in Taiwan.

There was a very big shock to follow later on in the afternoon as I headed up to Wan Li in search of White-tipped Skimmer Orthetrum albistylum, only to find the area they favour (favoured?) there to be dry grassy fields rather than wet terraces as it had been in the past (so obviously no dragonflies whatsoever). My descent to Jin Shan added Blue Forest Damsel Coeliccia cyanomelas to my trip list, but my first day out felt to have been characterised more by dipping than by success.

Things were to get worse Friday as I went for my customary obligatory dip on White-tipped Longleg Anisogomphus koxingai at Qing Ren Lake. This is now the third time I have failed to find this species there, though it would transpire later that I have not been going to the best spot for it (the result of having been given poor directions in the past). A female Blue Forest Damsel was all I came away with from the morning, before heading off towards Ilan once more disappointed.

Friday afternoon proved to be even worse than the morning, with cloud and then rain at Yuan Shan and Xuang Lian Pi effectively removing any hope of finding dragonflies. I waited in the mountains until dark, and would record my only thing of ornithological interest up there (an amazing flock of several hundred Silver-backed Needletails Hirundapus cochinchinensis), but would of course dip on Tawny Fish Owl Bubo flavipes (and snakes, and frogs, and any other night stuff I might have chosen to point a camera at), and my patience was completely worn out when the rain began to fall in earnest right on dusk (after having waited for two hours for dusk to come around).

Saturday offered some respite from the dipping, with a much-appreciated lifer in the form of a Two-horned Clubtail Asiagomphus pacificus, my biggest target from this trip. It would not offer respite from frustration, though, as I first picked it up about two metres away but startled it up into the canopy from whence it would not descend. In fact, it spotted a female flying over high up, went after and caught it, then flew away into the far distance never to return. So, photographs of a sort of my lifer, but not the nice long series of shots I was wanting to showcase in this post!

As well as Two-horned Clubtail, this stream also plays host to Three-horned Clubtail Asiagomphus perlaetus, a second national rarity and a species I had seen only once before. However, this refused to show, introducing yet more frustration into the morning! There was at least a nice consolation in a dark stand of bamboo upstream in the form of a female Ryukyu Dusk Hawker Gynacantha ryukyuensis, another dragonfly that you have to travel north for.

As no more clubtails had shown up by late morning, I gave up on Hu Quan Bridge and headed back up to Xuang Lian Pi before it once more found itself in shade. I had a nice couple of hours there, adding two easy 'near-clubtails' to the list in the shape of Common Ictinogomphus rapax and Golden Flangetails Sinictinogomophus clavatus. As both of these are common nationally, I tend to overlook them, though they are in fact pretty striking-looking insects.

The main draw at Xuang Lian Pi is the tiny Emerld Dwarf Nannophyopsis clara, one which has a tendency to disappear the minute the sun goes behind cloud. These are straightforward here, and I had no problems finding quite a few of them. There were also no shortage of Lesser Sapphire Flutterers Rhyothemis triangularis to play with, yet another northern one!

There was plenty more to go at around Xuang Lian Pi, with both Greater Pruinose Skimmers Orthetrum melania and Forest Chasers Lyriothemis elegantissima common in wooded areas at its periphery. Just like the Golden Chaser, Forest Chaser really is quite a splendid creature!

Buoyed by a bit of success, as it looked less cloudy over towards Xang Xi, I headed up the Da Xi industry road to pick up my Large Dragonhunter Sieboldius deflexus for the trip. Astonishingly, I couldn't find any on the stretch of river they prefer, nor any other clubatils for that matter, and I could only draw the conclusion that the heavy rains of two weeks previous (that had effectively brought out all of the dragonflies in Tainan) had finished off the clubtails in the north, so few and far between were they this time round (including even the common ones). With plenty of light left in the day, I pressed on to Gong Liao, but arrived there just in time for rain which would draw the day to a close, leaving only the long drive back into Ilan to go at with nothing at all to show for the big detour. Early Sunday morning obviously was spent back at Hu Quan Bridge in the hope that the Two-horned Clubtail would return. It didn't, but remarkably two Three-horned Clubtails elected to show up instead, conveniently at range and before I had my camera on the right kind of settings to deal with them properly. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, one of these was a female (very hard to find even here), meaning that once it got spotted by the male, it too would be caught and the pair would fly off into the distance to Heaven knows where!

So, although I did get two megas on my camera in the end, the images I managed of both of these were exceptionally poor. The supporting cast was certainly reasonable, if expected, and I am more than pleased with some of my photos. However, everything this time round was much more thinly spread and difficult than I am accustomed to on trips north, with few bonus finds, so all in all I'm a bit disappointed with the trip as a whole. There'll be nothing for it but to go after all these clubtails again next year, and hopefully they'll prove to be a bit easier once I've successfully exited 2017 and moved clear of this decidedly uncharacteristic dip in form that seems to have come along with it. Above photos taken at various locations, Keelung and Ilan counties 29/6/17-2/7/17.

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