2014 Dragonfly Highlights (retrospective)

With the end of British summer (or daylight saving) time, it is time to summarise my 2014 Odonata year. This began in Portugal where I spent most of May, adding eight dragonflies and two new damselflies to my life lists. These are all featured in my dragonfly gallery. After returning to blighty the main interest locally was Hairy Dragonfly (or Hairy Hawker) on Otmoor. This species is increasing in numbers at that site where I observed it several times in late May and early June, improving on the previous season’s photographs. Downy Emerald was also reported from Otmoor at this time but I couldn’t PI that species myself.

Hairy (Dragonfly) Hawker (male)

Hairy (Dragonfly) Hawker (male)

I did find Downy Emerald on two June visits to Decoy Heath, near Aldermaston in Berkshire. At this post-landfill regeneration site there are three large pools that the species favours. One of these is surrounded by dense cover, but another afforded a pleasing result (below). I also observed Golden-ringed Dragonfly (or Common Goldenring) at this site for a second season running, but did not find Brilliant Emerald that is said to favour the inaccessible location.

Downy Emerald

Downy Emerald

Going into this season I required three regular species (ie those not classified as vagrant or scarce migrant) for my English dragonfly list. One of those was White-faced Darter (or Small Whiteface), the nearest location for which is Whixall Moss NNR in Shropshire. I first visited here on 10 June, staying overnight in the somewhat idiosyncratic Welsh border town of Wem. The following morning I quickly found and photographed a male specimen before incoming cloud deemed further observation unlikely. Returning on 29 June in just as iffy weather conditions, I watched male and female White-faced Darter in another part of the reserve in company with several other observers. On that day I also witnessed newly-emergent Black Darter in various areas of this raised peat bog.

The highlight of my dragonfly year, possibly even my British wildlife year, came on 22 June when I did a round trip to Essex and Kent to record Scarce (or Blue) Chaser and Norfolk (or Green-eyed) Hawker. First stop was Maldon in Essex from where Scarce Chaser have a stronghold along the River Chelmer as far upstream as Chelmsford. Walking from near Maldon golf club towards the town centre, I quickly started to see the species. Eventually I captured some good images of a pristine mature male (no females cared to oblige), and so moved on to Kent and my second stop.

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser

Green-eyed Hawker, to use the more sensible name has established a small colony at Westbere Marshes, just outside Canterbury. There were a few other dragonfly twitchers on site and the insects were again relatively easy to locate. These are seriously beautiful dragons, the subtle brown tones of their bodies offsetting perfectly their languid pale green eyes. I was very pleased with my photographs here, and that was all three required dragons seen.

Green-eyed (Norfolk) Hawker

Green-eyed (Norfolk) Hawker

I went just once to Hampshire’s New Forest this season on 20 July, re-visiting Ashley Hole one of my favourite sites. The appeal to me lies in being around 2.5 miles from the nearest road, off-piste in the middle of nowhere and an Odonata mecca where I can immerse myself in observing an array of species completely undisturbed. My top target here was Common Hawker, to use the silly BDS name. The standard international name of Moorland Hawker is much more apt since it denotes the habitat in which this not especially common species (at least in southern England) is encountered.

Ashley Hole is a former munitions testing area hoIding several bomb crater pools that the insects favour. I had photographed egg-laying females here in 2013 so the objective this time was to capture a perched male. In the event I watched two male Common Hawker patrolling the same route over and over again without ever settling. I have since read this is exactly what they do, only perching high in trees so photographing one is highly unlikely. I did get very nice shots of Black Darter here in a plentiful location for that species. Small Red Damselfy is another notable resident.

Before learning the above-cited lesson concerning Common Hawker, I made another attempt at satisfactory observation at Westhay Moor NNR, Somerset. I didn’t see any there on 3 August but did encounter Small Red-eyed Damselfy, a new species for me this season. My best ever image of Ruddy Darter was also secured here.

Locally my objective was getting better pictures than in previous seasons of some common species. I spent many an enjoyable afternoon in July and August to that end, either at Radley Lakes to the south or Otmoor to the north of Oxford. Brown Hawker are always tricky, since they invariably see the observer coming before relocating to the far side of the cover in which they were perched, but I did gain some passable results. Late summer Migrant Hawker also provided pleasing photo-opportunities on Otmoor.

Willow Emerald was this season’s second damselfy lifer at Maldon on 31 August (see earlier post). At the time of writing some late-season dragons, notably Common Darter are still active. In my view there is nothing more fascinating in nature than these complex and charismatic insects that encapsulate the very essence of summer.

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