Common darters have been out and about in my locale for the past week, though they are still few and far between, and flighty. This little darling is the first I’ve managed to sneak up on for some reasonable photos.
I think I can safely predict that there will be more Common darters at Casehill Woods next year after catching this pair procreating in today’s warm sunshine. The male had found himself the perfect perch on this Ash sapling and, as always with dragonflies, the female looks like she’s hanging on for dear life.
Despite the appalling weather – frequent heavy rain and occasional strong winds – we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of weeks, I have managed still to find a few hardy insects, persisting by cunningly finding sheltered places to avoid the worst of the inclement conditions.
These bees seem to have the right idea. On the left is a Buff-tailed bumblebee, which I watched emerging from inside the cosy, fluffy duvet of an Old man’s beard seedhead and, on the right, a Common carder that seems to have the same idea and be looking for a place to snuggle down.
Also looking cosy, these Common earwigs were huddling in the cups of umbellifer seedheads.
Common darters have still been active in the more sheltered spots during the occasional sunny periods, these at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
The last of this year’s brood of Ivy bees were still feeding their grubs. They had made use of a rabbit scrape to excavate the underground burrows where their eggs are laid, grubs hatch and pupate and will remain until emerging as adult bees next autumn.
From Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss’s Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife Day by Day:
‘Common and widespread though it may be, this small, neat dragonfly is always worth a second look. The males are brick red and the females yellow, so I use the aide-memoire “rhubarb and custard” to remember this.’
Which dragonfly is being described? I’m sure many of you worked out it was the Common darter, which is flying now in my local parks and reserves, though in quite small numbers so far.
Last summer was so hot and dry that many of the local ponds dried up completely, which may be why I’m not seeing as many damselflies and dragonflies as I have in previous years – perhaps their larvae didn’t survive that dry period. Here are a few I have seen in recent weeks …
Blue-tailed damselfly: though the females come in several colour forms, both they and the males, like this one, have the blue spot on their lower abdomen, which is how they got their name.
Common blue damselflies, here an immature female, a male and, below, a pair in classic mating pose.
And the dragons: a glowing female Broad-bodied chaser
I’ve seen my first two Common darters in recent days, which is late, as they can appear as early as May.
A female Emperor laying her eggs (ovipositing) under the vegetation of a local pond. Let’s hope that pond retains enough water this year for her offspring to survive the winter months.
Common darters are the dragonflies I see most often at this time of year, and what gorgeous odonata they are! I think these are male and female – the problem is that immature males look a lot like females and my photos haven’t captured well the tell-tale bulge that the males have. I was more interested in their winning ‘smiles’.
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.
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.
Have you ever noticed that some small beasties like to sit on fences?
I guess fences are often a good spot to sunbathe, and to keep a look out, and they probably resemble logs and branches to the mini-beasts.
Common darter dragonflies are keen fence-sitters – they don’t even mind barbed-wire fences. And I was particularly delighted to find the Black darter dragonfly (below) sitting on a fence at Cosmeston the other day – my first sighting of this species.
Flies and hoverflies also enjoy a spot of fence-sitting and can often be found taking care of their ablutions in such places. So, the next time you decide to sit on the fence, make sure some other creature hasn’t beaten you to it!
There were some cracking dragonflies scooting around the pond at Lavernock Nature Reserve yesterday.
Both the male and the female Common darters posed very obligingly for me.
The male Emperor kept busy patrolling the pond and indulging in occasional rapid trysts with a female. Judging by his tattered wings, he’s notched up quite a few trysts in recent days / weeks. He only stopped once, and then very briefly, so this photo doesn’t really do him justice.
The female Emperor was then kept busy laying eggs at various spots all around the pond edges. A woman’s work is never done!
The star of the show was this gorgeous male Broad-bodied chaser. Apparently, this is very late in the season for them, and he was looking pristine, so perhaps he had only recently hatched. Whatever his story, he was a stunning sight.