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!
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’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.
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.
This is my very first Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) – isn’t she a beauty?
Before the 1940s, these dragonflies visited Britain but didn’t breed here – hence the name ‘Migrant’ – but they have since become established and are gradually increasing their range northwards. They’re described as small to medium size dragonflies but, at around 63mm long, I think they’re quite big, and this one was certainly quite prominent as she hawked for food along a hedgerow, the nearest standing water probably 500 metres away as the dragon flies. Migrant hawkers have a later flying season than many other dragon- and damselflies, usually ranging from August to October, so there’s plenty of time yet to spot one flying along a hedgerow or woodland edge near you. And I’ll be keeping an eye out for the male of the species.