DivingBeetle
Pond dipping at the weekend with my daughter, we found a lot of beetles, some large, some small. It turns out there are a lot of species of dving beetle, so I can't be very sure what this fairly large one is, but my best guess is Dytiscus semisulcatus or similar.

It's at the surface here, filling up the air bubble under its elytra (wing cases) so that it can dive again. It's about 18mm long and swims powerfully with the rear legs that you can see are swept forwards in the photo above. Interestingly I've only ever found one or two small beetles in this same spot before, so I was pleased to come across so many this time, and I hope it's indicative of improving habitat.


NewtInTank
I've seen what I thought were smooth newts in my garden a few times – usually finding them in hollows beneath slabs when lifting them. In that situation they've always looked exactly like small, brown lizards and I even thought that's what they were when I encountered them the very first time. Actually I'm now reconsidering whether they were even smooth newts, but maybe palmate newts instead.

Either way, above is a newt in a tank having been pond dipped (not by me) at a local nature reserve. I'm thinking it's probably a palmate newt – perhaps a female – but if there are any experts out there who can set me straight once and for all I'd really appreciate it. Then I'll go an update my old posts to try to stop spreading disinformation!

SouthernHawkerDragonfly
A southern hawker is not a chap from Dorset that turns up on your doorstep to sell you cleaning products. It is a common dragonfly, and I found this one dead on my lawn. I imagine next door's cat shot it down. Sad to see it dead, but wonderful to able to examine it up close.

AzureDamselflyFemale
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.

DuckyStyle
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.

ToadsMating
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.

ScaupFemale
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.

ScaupFemaleArty

MallardsInWeeds
I went for a pleasant meander around the RSPB's Rye Meads nature reserve today and though it was dull (as in grey and dreary weather) and there weren't many birds to be seen, I did get this photo of a pair of Mallards, which I rather like.

AutumnVer

A couple of pleasant and typically autumnal scenes for you, in case the darkening days are starting to get you down. Both of these are in UKNB's home town of St Albans, so if you're local you might recognise the first one at least.

AutumnMereMarginals