Beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) : simply stunning!
Our first odonata of the year are out and flying in the local landscape. I somehow missed seeing any Large red damselflies last year – I’m not sure how that happened – but I saw six in one day at the end of last week so I’ve well and truly made up for last year’s omission. I’m seeing reports of Large reds being spotted all around Britain, so I hope you’ve also managed to have your first odonata fix of the season.
Last week I met a friend for a walk at Parc Penallta, one of the many colliery spoil sites that have become public parks and that are hot spots for biodiversity. And, as we explored, I was surprised and delighted to find this Emerald damselfly (Lestes sponsa), one I don’t see in my local area. As well as its distinctive colour, this damselfly can be identified by the way it holds its wings at a 45-degree angle to its body when perched.
My first damselflies (still no dragonflies) of 2021 have been a long time coming but, finally, yesterday, at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, before a thunderstorm drenched both the insects and me, I saw a small number of both Azure and Common blue damselflies in some of the more sheltered places around the fields … and it was magical!
The damselfly and the devil – not a combination I’d have thought of but this, from Paul Evans, Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain’s secret wilderness (Rider, London, 2015) is fascinating:
In her novel Precious Bane, Mary Webb … used a Shropshire name for damselfly, ether’s nild: the ether or adder’s nild or needle because of its shape and stitching flight. Country lore had it that damselflies hovered over an adder coiled in the heath or bog as lookouts for their venomous master or mistress … Elsewhere called the Devil’s darning-needle, naughty children, scolding women and swearing men were warned that the damselfly would come and sew their eyes and mouths shut if they did not mend their ways.
The damselflies in my images are both Blue-tailed damselflies (Ischnura elegans). The females come in five different colour variations – this, with the reddish thorax, is called rufescens.
Our warm Easter weekend weather has certainly brought out the critters. Today I spotted my first damselfly of 2019, this lovely Large Red (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). Woot!
I chose Forest Farm Nature Reserve for my wander on day 28 of #30DaysWild, to take advantage of the large shady trees, and I’m very glad I did because it was another scorcher. As well as the thrill of seeing my very first White-letter hairstreak butterfly (along with many other butterfly species), I was particularly delighted by the Beautiful demoiselle damselflies (Calopteryx virgo). Their iridescent colours sparkled in the dappled sunlight as they flitted back and forth along the old Glamorgan Canal. Fairies!
The only problem with going on a birding trip is that, in order to get photos of the birdies, I usually have my long lens on my camera, which means it’s then not easy to get photos of all the lovely smaller creatures I see as I’m walking around. And both RSPB Ham Wall Nature Reserve and, just across the road, Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve have a profusion of delightful, and sometimes rare smaller creatures to be seen.
In particular, we saw a wealth of damsel- and dragonflies, including several of the Four-spotted chasers and Black-tailed skimmers shown below and, we think, the unusual Variable damselfly (though this can be tricky to identify). Spiders were particularly abundant on the path-side scrub, as were Dock beetles, judging from all the holey leaves we saw.
We rescued several large hairy caterpillars which were determinedly marching across the paths but risked annihilation from feet and bicycle tyres, as well as one large and very friendly Caddisfly (above). Butterflies weren’t as plentiful as I expected, though we did see good numbers of very fresh Small tortoiseshells, presumably newly hatched.
The most unexpected sighting, and a highlight for me, was a Roe deer on the canal-side bank in Shapwick Heath. Only its head and its very large ears could be seen, as it munched happily on a large green mouthful of vegetation while keeping a close eye on our admiring group of photographers.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece on the birds of Ham Wall, you really need a week to explore these superb reserves thoroughly and then you might be lucky enough to see their resident water voles and otters. I have to go back!
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post on Common Blue damselflies, it’s often difficult to distinguish between them and the Azure damselflies so here now is the lovely little Azure (Coenagrion puella).
The key identifying features for the Azure are: the presence of a Coenagrion spur (a short black line below the other markings) on the thorax, and thin antehumeral stripes (the blue stripes on the top of the body are narrower than the black stripes beneath them). The males also have a U-shaped mark at the top of their ‘tail’ but this is not so easy to see in the females (which are usually green or pale blue) as they often have darker markings on their ‘tail’. Once again, if this is confusing, check out the British Dragonfly Society webpage for more help.
Though the Azure isn’t keen on the colder parts of northern Scotland, both the Azure and the Common Blue can be seen throughout most of Britain, fluttering around small ponds, streams and lakes. I also see them amongst the long grass at my local cemetery where I presume their water source is the rain that accumulates in the urns that decorate many of the older graves, though I can’t be sure of that.