Oviposit: verb; a zoological term, relating especially to insects, which means to lay an egg or eggs. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word first came in to use in the early 19th century and is a combination of ‘ovi’ for egg and ‘posit’, from the Latin verb ponere, meaning to place.
Today, at Lavernock Nature Reserve, I was eating my lunch while sitting on the bench near the dragonfly pond, when this female Emperor dragonfly came along and began ovipositing, carefully manoeuvring her body to place several eggs beneath each lily pad before moving on to the next. All the while, her mate was patrolling overhead to ensure no one interfered with this important process.
I’ve been holding off sharing images of this beautiful creature, hoping that I might spot a male and so be able to share both sexes. But as that hasn’t yet happened …
This, I am reliably informed by dragonfly experts, is an older female Red-veined darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii) – the fact that she’s older can be determined by the reddish colouring along the top of her torso. Though the photo above was taken on 8 July and the photo below on 20 July, I think these may well be the same female, as the location was almost exactly the same, and I’ve seen no others in that general area. You can read more about her, and see images of the stunning red males, on the British Dragonflies website.
It’s often quite difficult to catch up with Emperor dragonflies as they seem to be in constant motion, patrolling their patch or hawking for food across flower-filled fields and meadows. But I spotted this one carrying a large load, relatively speaking, and, though dragonflies will often feed as they fly, this beautiful beast decided to pause and enjoy its brunch quite near to me.
You can’t really tell from my photo but it was munching on a Meadow brown. As I watched, first one wing, then another was plucked off and discarded, before the main course was consumed. Not exactly what I’d fancy for my brunch, and I did feel a little sorry for the butterfly, but this is the reality of wild life.
I was just saying to someone the other day that I haven’t been seeing many dragonflies this year and what happens? The very next time I go walking at Cosmeston, I see several.
These two Black-tailed skimmers were the most obliging, as they tend to station themselves along the pathways through the wildflower fields, rising up as you get near them and then re-settling a little further along the path. If you watch where they land and you’re slow and quiet as you approach, you can get quite near them.
I may have got rather wet during my walk around the east and west paddocks at Cosmeston this morning but it was worth it, as I wandered through an abundance of gorgeous orchids and other colourful wildflowers, spied numerous small insects munching on leaves, was charmed by the fluttering butterflies and meandering moths, and entertained by the myriad fledglings flitting through trees and bushes, harassing their parents for food.
I was wondering which of these delights might be today’s blog subject, when I spotted a bright yellow ‘something’ flying across the field in front of me. I quickly followed and, luckily, it settled on the ground so I was able to get photos. It was a Clouded yellow, a butterfly I’ve only seen half a dozen times before, a migrant to Britain which may well have been blown in by yesterday’s wild weather. Blog sorted: ‘On the wings of the storm II’, I thought, and continued my walk.
Then, just as I was nearing the top of the east paddock and about to head homewards, I made another chance discovery, a cracking dragonfly, a Black-tailed skimmer, another creature that I don’t see all that often. So, being spoilt for choice today, I thought I would share that with you as well.
I’ve spotted a few dragonflies already this year – a Broad-bodied chaser at Lavernock last Monday and a couple in other places that have zoomed past so quickly I’ve not been able to follow or find them – but today the Four-spotted chasers were out in force at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
I counted four scooting around the Dragonfly Pond but, as it’s fenced off (rightly so, as I’m sure irresponsible dog owners would otherwise allow their pets to swim in the pond, as they do at other nature reserves), I couldn’t get close enough for reasonable photos. I was actually pleased to get the flight shot above, as they’re never easy.
Then, after I’d moved away from the pond and was searching instead for butterflies, this beauty flew past and landed in a nearby tree, and I managed to grab a few quick photos before it raced off again. It’s such a treat to have the dragonflies out and active again!
I’ve not seen a huge number of dragonflies this summer, possibly because of the heatwave, which has seen water levels shrink to record lows and the pond at Lavernock Nature Reserve dry up altogether. Luckily, not all dragonflies spend their adult lives in close proximity to water so I have enjoyed some close encounters along field edges and pathways. Here are a few of those recent dragons.
These two are both Migrant hawkers; one was near the pond at Lavernock before it dried up completely, the other was just hanging around on vegetation beside the south Wales coastal path, a good choice as there are always an abundance of flying insects along the path’s hedgerows.
This Emperor was hawking low over the tall wildflowers and grasses in one of the paddocks at Cosmeston. I had to wait quite a while for it to settle, then creep up very slowly and silently to get this photo, but it was worth the wait.
Last year at this time Cosmeston Lakes Country Park seemed to be swarming with Common darters – they sat like mini sculptures on every gate and fencepost, and there were so many sitting warming themselves on every piece of stone along the pathways that you had to be careful not to step on them. This year I’ve seen very few so it was a delight first to see this male (the red) and female in one paddock and then to spot the mating pair in another field. Let’s hope they return in numbers next year.
Those Common darters weren’t the only mating dragonflies I almost disturbed at Cosmeston this week, as my stomping carelessly along the path homeward caused these two Black-tailed skimmers to fly up and away. Luckily, they didn’t fly far and I was able to get my camera out and take a few photos before leaving them to carry on their sterling efforts.
This is Wales. We have dragons!
More specifically, this was Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on day 10 of #30DaysWild, where I managed to find three different species of dragonfly.
I’ve only had a couple of visits to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park this month because my volunteer work on the Mary Gillham Archive Project has been taking up a bit more time as we try to get as much as possible done before the project effectively finishes at Christmas – though, having said that, I did spend four hours at Cosmeston last Friday trying to replicate, for the project website, photos Mary had taken in the early days of the park. These are a couple of those: Mary’s photo of the west lake in September 1987 on the left, and my photo from the same spot thirty years later on the right.
But I digress … apart from the berry-eating visitors, the Redwings and the Mistle thrushes, and finally managing to grab a couple of half-decent photographs of a Green woodpecker, I haven’t found anything particularly noteworthy bird-wise at Cosmeston during November. I have, however, been impressed by the numbers of insects still around, despite the fact that it has been noticeably colder, with daytime highs in the low teens and several overnight frosts.
On 5 November, the ‘fireworks’ at Cosmeston were these lovely little Common darters. In an area shaded from the cool westerly wind but warmed by the bright sun, each had claimed itself a fencepost to bask on. And, nearby, a lone bumblebee looked like it wanted to snuggle for warmth into this seed-head ‘duvet’ of Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba).
On 24 November, though my focus was on finding the exact spots where Mary had taken her photos, I did still have one eye on the wildlife and noticed quite a lot of flies about. Like the dragonflies of two weeks earlier, these two flies and one hoverfly were favouring sheltered spots on wood to make the most of the sunshine.