Regular correspondent Bob emailed a picture of a Damselfy he was having trouble identifying. The difficulty with Damselflies is that usually the male, female and immature examples are very different and are sometimes available in multiple colour forms beyond that. But also some species are remarkably similar and hard to pick apart.
However after a bit of a hunt I'm pretty sure it is either a female Azure damselfly or female Common blue damselfly (though the pictures on that last link don't show it, due to aforementioned variations).
Apparently the female Azure damselfly "can be distinguished from females of the Common blue damselfly by the absence of a spine below the 8th abdominal segment". Unfortunately the photo doesn't lend itself to making that judgement and I'm not entirely sure what to look for anyway, being unfamiliar with such spines. It can get pretty technical and into the really fine detail apparently! Are there any insect experts out there who can help?
Update: Thanks to S Barton who posted a comment with this great BBC page which has a couple of very clearly described and illustrated tips to tell Azure from Common blue. And with its help, our picture above is clearly an Azure.
This picture also affords a good look at the 'speculum' - the blue flash on the wing bounded by black and white - of the male in this case.
Spring is very much in the air. In fact summer is making a strong bid to knock spring off its perch already! Spring means animals getting more than a little randy, and this pair of Common toads are doing what comes naturally. Actually they're not in the act itself, but are engaging in a special hold where the male hitches a ride on the female for a few days, known as 'amplexus'.
These particular toads were seen in CenterParcs, Sherwood forest (more from there over the following days) where they were frankly abundant, with plenty of their fellow toads to be seen squashed on the road. The perfect page on toads, where I learnt about amplexus and many more interesting things is to be found at herpetofauna.co.uk.
And for my parting shot, is this "doing it froggy style"?
The Guardian reports on the ridiculously expensive (and arguably ridiculous) cull of Ruddy ducks in Britain. These ducks, an introduced American species are accused of interbreeding with Spanish ducks and hence threatening their racial purity. So the British ducks must apparently be hunted to extinction at a cost of £5m so far.
Personally I find these attempts to halt nature in its tracks to be bizarre. Sometimes species colonise new areas and wipe others out (or interbreed creating new ones) - fact of life. Are we just undoing the original mistake of introducing the alien species, or was that introduction just part of nature too? After all we humans are just another species having our own particular impact on the world. I'd better stop before it all gets too meta.
A new duck for me! Reviewing my photos from the RSPB Rye Meads reserve it took me a while to figure out what type of duck was captured in this long distance shot. I initially thought it was a Ruddy duck, but the head just isn't even nearly right and it doesn't have a cocked tail. I finally figured out that it's a female Scaup and hence fairly rare. Certainly it was new to me so I'm glad I went back and looked carefully.
Here's an artier shot of the same bird with the evocative tall reeds of Rye Meads behind it.
A few things I've noticed of late:
Excuse the title, but I'm confused. This picture bears many major similarities to a Ruddy duck, but it also displays some jarring not-quite-rightnesses: the beak shape doesn't seem entirely correct, the head not chunky enough and the body plumage doesn't match. But there surely aren't many ducks with a blue bill and black and white head? Perhaps it's a non-UK exotic, since I saw it at Pensthorpe, which might mean all bets are off! Is it a cross-breed, e.g. a Ruddy Mallard? Is that even possible? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).
I figure that the one at the back is a Merganser of some sort.
Answer: no - it's not a Ruddy duck. It is in fact a Puna Teal, native to South America. Thanks to Blackbird for enlightening us all in the comments!