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.
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’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 had never been to RSPB Dungeness until my visit with my friend Jill two weeks ago but, if you can get past the fact that there’s a nuclear power station buzzing away just down the road, then you should be able to appreciate what a wonderful place it is. (British people seem to take nuclear power stations for granted but, as a nuclear-free New Zealander, I still find them quite scary places and really rather menacing!)
This is a unique landscape of low rolling shingle banks, interspersed with patchy areas of low scrub and large shallow pools – it’s water bird heaven!
Our first highlight was seeing the Common terns that breed at Dungeness. Terns are such agile flyers and to see their young fledglings was a real treat.
Eqyptian geese have also bred here, and we saw a pair with two well-grown goslings.
I had my best-ever views of a Snipe that decided to come out and poke around the muddy edges of one of the pools. These are normally such secretive birds so it was a real pleasure to watch this bird foraging.
And the Snipe was joined by not one but two Wood sandpipers.
Each of the six hides on the two-mile-long main trail offers different views, different birds, and, after motoring down to a cafe near the lighthouse (and that power station), we also stopped off on our return to check out the two shorter trails and hides on the opposite side of the road. Here we had good, though distant views of a Greenshank and a Bar-tailed godwit. Cracking!
As well as the birds, the wildflowers added lots of pretty colour to our wander, and we were entertained as we walked by large numbers of beautiful butterflies and debonaire dragonflies, though it wasn’t quite so pleasant watching an Emperor dragon biting the wings off a Gatekeeper.
Here’s my bird list for the day (not including a lot of smaller birds that were flitting about the bushes while I was marvelling at the butterflies): Teal, Lesser black-backed gull, Tufted duck, Mallard, Herring gull, Common tern (with young), Cormorant, Sandwich tern, Common sandpiper, Wood sandpiper (2), Snipe, Egyptian goose (and goslings), Ringed plover, Pochard, Little grebe, Great crested grebe, Lapwing,Coot, Dunlin, Goldeneye, Reed warbler, Redshank, Woodpigeon, Oystercatcher, Grey heron, Great white egret (2), Greylag goose, Mute swan, Black-headed gull, Shelduck, Shoveler, Carrion crow, Swallow, House martin, Greenshank, Bar-tailed godwit, Pied wagtail, Gadwall and Magpie.
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, Blue-tailed damselfly, Broad-bodied Chaser, Common blue butterfly, Emperor dragonfly, Large Red damselfly, Large skipper, Lavernock Nature Reserve, Six-spot burnet, Small copper, Speckled wood
Day 12 of my #30DaysWild was spent wandering around the nature reserve at Lavernock. Though it’s not yet the riot of colour it will be in another month or so, many wildflowers are already blooming, including the Common spotted and Pyramidal orchids, and plenty of critters were feasting on nectar and pollen.
Today’s highlights included my first Six-spot burnet moth of the year, which was dazzling in the bright sunlight, and my second Small copper butterfly, a rather tatty looking specimen but still lovely to see. The Large skippers, Common blues and Speckled woods were abundant, and I also saw whites, a Brimstone and several Meadow brown butterflies.
The pond was alive with dragon- and damselfly action, with both a female Emperor and a female Broad-bodied chaser ovipositing. There were three male Broad-bodied chasers constantly squabbling over territory and a Four-spotted chaser trying to avoid them all. Damselflies included Large reds, Common blues, Azures and Blue-tailed. ’Twas a very lively place today!
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.
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, Bee orchid, Blackcap, Brimstone butterfly, Common blue butterfly, Common spotted orchid, Emperor dragonfly, Grangemoor Park, Holly blue butterfly, Large skipper, long-tailed tit, Meadow Brown, Pyramidal orchid, Southern marsh orchid
Day 9 of #30DaysWild saw me at Grangemoor Park, a place that used to be Cardiff’s rubbish dump: when it closed in 1994, it contained an estimated four million cubic metres of garbage, both commercial and household. Now, it’s not only a public park but also a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation), and is home to a wonderfully diverse range of flora and fauna. My photos show just some of what I discovered there today …
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.