Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever seen female (on the left) and male Migrant hawkers together. These two were hanging on a fence at Goldcliff lagoons, near Newport. What a treat!
Today’s lunchtime snack for this Southern hawker dragonfly had a sting in the tail: it was a wasp. The dragonfly, though, started its meal from the other end, first devouring the head, then removing the wings, before steadily munching its way down the body.
This was obviously not good news for the wasp but it was good news for me, as this was the first Southern hawker that’s stayed still long enough this year for me to grab some photos.
The Migrant hawker’s name is somewhat misleading – it does still like to migrate away from where it was hatched and was once only seen in Britain when it migrated here from Europe. But, since the 1940s, ever increasing numbers have come here and this species does now breed in Britain, where its range continues to expand northwards.
I’ve seen a few of these dragonflies this year but today was the first time one has settled long enough for me to get a few photos. That was probably because, despite our high daytime temperatures, it is now quite a bit cooler at night, and, as I was out relatively early this morning, I found this little one still basking in the sun trying to warm up.
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’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.
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.
The Aeshnidae are one of the five families of dragonflies to be found in Britain, and the family is made up of twelve Emperors and Hawkers. In the past week I have been privileged to see three members of the family during my local walks.
The Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (above left) is relatively common in Wales. In Aderyn, the national biodiversity recording database, there are 3312 records of Southern Hawker sightings and these are spread across 225 of the 275 10-kilometre grid squares that divide up Wales.
If the recorded numbers are anything to go by, the Migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) (above right) is half as common as the Southern, with 1662 records in 143 grid squares, and its coverage across Wales is more spasmodic. This was only my second sighting of this slightly smaller Hawker but then I have only been living in Wales two years so my personal statistics aren’t really relevant.
This last creature is the most recorded of the Aeshnidae, with 4098 records in 221 of Wales’s grid squares, but, rather than reflecting how common it is, that may be because it’s one of the easiest dragonflies to identify because it’s the biggest. This is the Emperor (Anax imperator). I often get buzzed by these stunning creatures hawking over fields of wildflowers when I’m out walking – and they sound like a small helicopter approaching! – but I rarely get lucky enough to see them perched so I was particularly chuffed to get this photo.