June in Blighty! I woke early this morning to weather in Oxford that could only be described as dismal. My plan for the day had been to visit east Kent to observe the rare Heath Fritillary butterfly and more odonata at sites close to Canterbury. I stuck to that since the alternative appeared to be a day at home watching rain fall.
Overnight an excellent picture was posted on Oxon Dragonflies (see here) of a Variable Damselfly, after none other than Richard Lewington had defied the Oxon murk and drizzle to turn up several of that scarce species by the Thames in Abingdon. So recalling from a Kent blog that this potential lifer also occurs at my intended destination, I was prompted to read up on the diagnostics and fix them in my mind.
In a two-hour reconnoitre at Blean Woods, the nationally important Heath Fritillary sites, it was plain I was unlikely to see any of these butterflies in the overcast though dry conditions. So I relocated to Westbere Marshes (TR197610) where the site specialities include Norfolk Hawker and Scarce Chaser dragonflies. I had found and photographed both species here on my previous visit a year ago. Today I saw only a season’s first Black-tailed Skimmer in my first two hours on site. But when nothing else is flying damselflies are still active, and so I began to take an interest in those that congregated in more sheltered places.
They included various forms of Blue-tailed Damselfy and my first Common Blue Damselfy of the year, both male and female. Eventually one blue damsel exhibited the broken stripes (like exclamation marks) on the thorax and wine glass pattern near the top of the abdomen of my early morning researches. This was indeed my first ever Variable Damselfy, a generally darker looking insect than the similar Azure Damselfy, and self found sightings are always the best. No need to go after them in Abingdon now, though I still probably will.
At 3:30pm blue sky at last began to approach from the south and east. Was there to be a business end to the day? After 50 more minutes searching a Norfolk Hawker obliged with various poses (below). These are seriously beautiful dragons, the subtle brown tones of their bodies perfectly offsetting their languid pale green eyes. The species has in recent years established colonies here and at more nearby locations in Kent. Other dragonflies seen today were one each of Hairy and Brown Hawker, but not Scarce Chaser vermillion or otherwise in the areas where I looked. I suspect it is as yet early season at this site.
On my arrival back in Oxfordshire the dark grey stuff was still hanging over the area west of the Chilterns escarpment. The wetness of the ground at home evidenced what my wildlife garden had gained but I had missed during this day out