Desmids are fascinating organisms to be looked at under a microscope if you have them. Just get a bit of water from a chosen source, (pond etc.) and put a drop on a slide and place a cover slip on top. 100x is best to search for them in a sample, but 400x is the best for examining them closely.
A good few pages on what desmids are an a picture gallery can be found at http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/
For some reasen the full URL of a page doesn't show up in the website address bar; you can find a desmid page by clicking 'Pond Life ID Kit' in the bar on the right hand side of the page, clicking 'Algae' and then 'Desmids'.
The best habitats I found are nutrient poor; bogs and small clogged-up ponds (my pond is full of them!) are best. The highest concentration of desmids and other organisms like rotifers are found on water plants like submerged mosses, so squeeze and handful of soggy plants above a bucket and you're ready to go!
Unfortunately the only way I've found to identify desmids is to go through the list of species on the NBN Gateway once you have a genus. It's time consuming but ever so worth it when you find a perfect match!
A few of my photos can be found here along with my general microscope set-up: http://www.ispotnature.org/projects/my-microscopy
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