Sunday, 28 July 2013

Odonata Tensica 2

This year the British Dragonfly Society is 30 years old. As the 2013 National Dragonfly Week, 20-28 July, comes to a close, I thought I'd better post a vaguely odonatary blog. Here's a link to the Beeb website, with some spiffing photographs showing you what is out there to be seen and marvelled at. I'd normally link you to the British Dragonfly Society's webpage, but it appears to be down at the moment. Calamitously bad timing? Or Time's revenge for making Dragonfly Week nine days long instead of seven? We may never know.

For most of this week, the pond at Tense Towers has been the sole preserve of a couple of Blue-tailed Damselflies. However, all that changed today. Unfortunately, Our Lass and I were out on another mission (ok, it was a tea shop, guilty as charged), so we missed the best bit.

I'll take up the story at lunchtime, as we sat in the shade of a Hawthorn tree, scoffing cheese on toast and gazing at the many insects buzzing around the garden.

Our Lass thought she saw something other than the resident Blue-tails and wandered over to the pond to have a look. She had drawn a blank, just as a slight shower began, and after returning our chairs back indoors, I joined her by the pond.

My movement put up a dragonfly, which disappeared over the garden fence and out of sight. In the second or so we had to ID it, my best guess was Common Darter, possibly teneral i.e. just emerged and taking its first flight. That'd be the kind of 'just emerged' that meant it had come from our pond.

Our Lass and I looked at each other. We both looked at the pond. Then we looked a whole load closer at the pond.

In amongst the stems of some Purple Loosestrife, we discovered seven empty larval cases of Common Darters. Seven! And because there had been a thunderstorm the previous evening, it was highly likely that these had all emerged this morning, as any from yesterday would have been washed off the stems by the rain.

OK, if we've missed all this emergence, I thought, are there any left in the garden? Slowly turning around to face a Honeysuckle bush, we were greeted with a single Common Darter, sat sunning itself at about our eye level.

We then found another one on the lawn, that had emerged but whose wings were crumpled and useless, so it was unable to fly.

An angel with broken wings
After recording these events for the blog, I retrieved my chair, put it in the shade at the end of the pond and sat listening to the radio. I hadn't been there long when a large shape glided over the fence and proceeded to fly around the vegetation beside the pond.

A big dragonfly. A lady looking to lay her eggs. A Southern Hawker.

Carefree foot shown for scale
Rather than take my eyes off her, I phoned Our Lass, who had gone back indoors. She duly arrived and we watched Mrs SH ovipositing on a variety of substrates around the edge of the pond. Some dragonflies do not lay their eggs directly into water, but place them above or near the water body, so that they either hatch and fall into the water or the water level rises in the Winter and engulfs them.

This female Southern Hawker was using the edges of paving slabs, moss and a Hart's Tongue Fern leaf for her oviposition sites. Dead wood is another favourite, but we haven't any of that by the pond (yeah, yeah, save for me!).

If I was to recommend that you do one thing for Nature, it would be to dig a wildlife pond in your garden. You will be amazed at the diversity of life that turns up. I only tell you about the dragons!

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