Saturday, 29 July 2017

Damp day afternoon

Day 3 of National Dragonfly Week was interesting for many of the wrong reasons. Let's face it, picking a week in the middle of July and expecting wall-to-wall sunshine for the entire nine days (I know, it's dragon maths) is always going to be a problem in Orkney. Heck, if we have the same weather two days in a row, folk start freaking out. Maybe I just have a very low threshold for cabin fever?

The evening before our proposed visit to Shapinsay, our host, Paul the local nature reserve warden, had to drop out due to illness, as did one of the attendees. Fortunately, another Shapinsay resident, Karen, offered to be our guide for the afternoon (and Paul the warden furnished us with his itinerary and other useful info). Then I looked at the weather forecast.

Oof! It didn't look good. With 4 attendees still hoping to see some dragons or damsels, I pondered the possibilities of finding a few needle-sized insects in an island-sized haystack, in the rain. The situation, as I saw it, was the necessity to balance reasonable expectation with the likelihood of success. Then I got all gung-ho and decided that if we didn't go ahead, we definitely wouldn't see any odes, whereas if we trudged out into the wind and rain we stood a good chance of not seeing any odes.

Early the next morning, I put back the start of the event by a few hours, to allow the worst of the rain to pass through. Everyone was ok with this, but even so, once on Shapinsay, it was still raining. Using a community space, I gave a short talk about the life cycle of dragonflies and how to identify the eight species breeding on Orkney which, happily, lasted until the dry weather arrived.

We looked around the southern part of the RSPB reserve at Mill Dam, but this was probably not sheltered enough, or so large that our quarry was good and hidden. I decided that narrowing our search parameters would be a spiffing idea, and we targeted smaller sheltered water bodies which, on Shapinsay, meant disused but flooded quarries. Here the odds were more in our favour, the vegetation at the 'shallow' end helping to concentrate efforts and the quarry walls offering some respite from the gusty conditions. At our first quarry site, a Large Red Damselfly was soon found, along with several exuviae. Some of the exuviae were upside down, suggesting inverted emergence, which is a trait of Blue-tailed Damselflies. The next quarry site offered up a single Blue-tail, and the third quarry, a further two, with the attendees now finding their own damsels unaided. Result!

This acquired skill, 'getting your eye in' to find damselflies, was one of the main aims of the tour around the islands, allowing folk to have the confidence to go out and spot odes by looking in likely habitat. If they then passed on that data in the form of records, well, that would be a bonus.

Megan finding our quarry in a quarry
OK, four damselflies wasn't a great haul, but the weather was rubbish for dragon hunting. I was buoyed up by the thought that if it was possible to find insects in these conditions, then on a warm, sunny day, it would be a comparative breeze, so to speak.

All photos, bar the last one, courtesy of Alan Nelson.


Anonymous said...

That is heartening that you still observed four in spite of the vagaries of the weather. Day three of N.D.Week we had a Brown Hawker on our buddlia, he was steadfast and quite happy to be photographed. I don't know how common they are or if they are one of the Orkney Eight? Regaards, Mark.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Like many dragonflies, Brown Hawkers visit gardens which provide warm places to shelter, have plentiful insects and, maybe, a pond. Any day with a big dragon in it is special :o) We don't have many of the big dragons in Orkney, Common Hawker and Golden-ringed Dragonfly being our resident ones. We occasionally see migrating ones; Lesser Emperor or Vagrant Emperor.