A celebration of the Hairy Hawker – May 2017

One of my top dragonfly priorities in the last two seasons has been to acquire better pictures of Hairy Hawker, and also to observe females of that species for the first time. But two years ago (2015) neither aim was realised and last year there were not suitable spring weather conditions to keep them out in the open.

Since my return from abroad on 13th May there has been a lot of wet weather that has been great for my wildlife garden at home, and for writing up my experiences in northern Greece but not for getting out and seeing insects. The first sunny weather window was on the morning of 18th and so I headed for RSPB Otmoor, probably the best place locally to engage with Hairy Hawker. Fortunately the prime HH spots on this former enthusiasts’ reserve, now populist playground are away from the visitor trail.

I parked in the village of Noke and walked into the reserve’s western end, to be greeted immediately by an enquiry of: “Have you seen much out that way?” Gritting my teeth I strode on, crossing paths with a first male HH as the morning warmed. After stopping to chat with other Oxon birding colleagues I walked on towards the “cross roads” at the reserve’s heart. A medium-sized dragonfly went up from one edge of the track and flew around a little before settling in a bush on the other side. This was indeed my first ever female Hairy Hawker (pictured below) and what a cracker she is!

hairy hawker.1701 fem otmoor

Hairy Hawker (female)

To me there is nothing more fascinating, complex and subtle in the natural world than dragonflies, and this was one of the most attractive I have ever seen. Behold the rust, ochre and chocolate brown patterning; the deep yellow veining in the wings and those languid, pale blue eyes. This insect had possibly just emerged because she remained faithful to the same sunny spot for a long time and was still there when I set off back to Noke. As I went a mating pair flew by then disappeared into cover to continue with what must be done.

Unfortunately it is seldom possible to deflect accosters along Otmoor’s bridleway by saying I am looking for dragonflies, without those people talking about Hobbies (ie the summer Falcon). It irritates me when seasoned birders and other persons carrying optics alike dismiss the beautiful and charismatic creatures that dragonflies are as “Hobby food”. I’m sorry chaps and chapesses but you’re missing out. In my view such beauty should not be regarded so trivially.

I have borrowed the above images from two other Oxon birders © rights of the owners reserved. This dragonfly is so called because of a noticeably downy thorax. It is shorter than other hawkers with a stout abdomen, creating the impression of being a more compact insect. Males typically make low and inquisitive patrols in and out of the gaps in vegetation. HH has an earlier flight season than the British Aeshna hawkers, Southern, Migrant and Moorland; all of which peak in late summer

The last two days (21st and 22nd) have been gloriously sunny, perfect dragonfly weather. Yesterday I had work commitments but much of today was spent odo hunting, mostly for Common Clubtail without success. In the late afternoon I returned to Otmoor to attempt to photograph male Hairy Hawker. A very pleasant 90 minutes ensued, this time at the eastern end of the reserve away from the over-trafficked visitor trail.

At least seven individuals were encountered, including another female but these were not inclined to settle in the bright sunlight. And so they patrolled up and down hawking for midges, now here now there; while a similar number of Four-spotted Chaser were warming up for their own new season of hustling and mugging. As I progressed a courting pair of Turtle Dove were chasing around overhead, the male’s tree top purring filling the air. A Cuckoo called constantly and out in the field on one side of Otmoor’s bridleway a lingering Peregrine surveyed the scene stoically from a post-top perch. This was the acme of springtime.

hairy hawker.1703 otmoor

Hairy Hawker (male)

Eventually I was rewarded when on catching sight of another male Hairy Hawker it settled fairly high up to one side of the track. This (above) is actually not a bad result considering the distance at which it was captured. But I yearn for uncluttered images, though in truth that is not how Hairy Hawker are usually seen. My best past portrait in that regard is still of an imperfect specimen with most of one wing missing.

As of two seasons ago I had observed every regularly occurring English dragonfly. So my current interest lies with improving on past pictures where necessary, gaining more experience of certain species and recording females of others. Hairy Hawker has provided a satisfying start to the new season. How much time I will devote to the more difficult and frustrating Emeralds, Common Clubtail and Moorland Hawker I cannot say. But thank heaven for dragonflies that as spring turns to summer have a special capacity to impact upon the quality of life.


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