Wednesday 24 June 2020

Cleared for take-off

Due to a combination of lockdown restrictions and poor weather, I hadn't seen much in the way of Odonata activity so far this flight season. That all changed on Midsummer's Day, perhaps rather appropriately, when Our Lass and I visited Russadale in the parish of Stenness, to explore the pools in an old quarry.

It is a gentle climb up the dale, with a burn occasionally visible in the valley bottom, heather on the higher ground and all manner of low growing shrubs and trees between path and burn.

Birdsong was much in evidence: Stonechat, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Willow Warbler, Redpoll, Dunnock, Cuckoo, Raven and Sedge Warbler all calling.

Up at the quarry, the water level in the pools was quite low, a result of a dry Spring, but bees, butterflies, moths and loads of small flies were on the wing.

Our Lass and I got to work, scouring the vegetation in and around the pools for any signs of damselflies. Initially, this was quite a tough assignment, as with a bit of cloud cover, the insects were not at all keen to be airborne, favouring being hunkered down on plant stems. Here's an incredibly blurry photo, at maximum zoom of my little camera, showing four adult Blue-tailed Damselflies and an old larval skin (three damselflies and the skin on one stem, with a fourth damselfly off to the left by the skin).

Using our binoculars, we were able to find many larval skins (exuvia), showing that plenty of damselflies had emerged recently. Most of the exuvia were positioned head down, which is a diagnostic feature of Blue-tailed Damselflies. Virtually all of the exuvia were on this species of grass, at this height above the water.

As well as several dozen Blue-tails, there were also ten or so Large Red Damselflies. When the sun put in an appearance, all these insects livened up considerably, the Large Red males being particularly annoying to the Blue-tails as they searched for females to mate with.

A male Large Red Damselfly

An immature male Blue-tailed Damselfly

A female Blue-tailed Damselfly

Large Reds in tandem, a prelude to mating

Here, the Large Red is devouring a small fly it has caught

Large Reds ovipositing in tandem
Redpolls were flying overhead, but not close enough for a decent photo. Here's a bonny male, with his red cap and pink-flushed chest.

In the drier parts of the quarry, there were plenty of wild flowers blooming. This is possibly Heath Speedwell, but I have no idea of the identity of the spider.

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