Sunday, 17 July 2016

A reconnaissance with resonance

A midweek free day, a precious gift at any time of year, saw me heading to Hoy to recce sites for a dragonfly walk. Now, you're probably thinking "Isn't any walk during the Summer a dragonfly walk?" and technically you're correct, dear knowledgeable and perceptive reader. However, this walk is for the Orkney Field Club, so I was keen to alleviate a few worries prior to the big day. Nothing too drastic, you understand, just whether the pools were still there (it was very wet last year) and, if so, did they have any odonate presence yet?

Although the weather forecast was for sun in late afternoon, that didn't coincide with either my or the ferry's schedule, so I arrived at Lyness, on Hoy, under cloudy skies which were threatening rain, and set off into a strong southwesterly breeze.

The plan was to climb up to the south-facing slopes of Wee Fea, where a few pools had sufficient promise to be able to deliver the necessary "Wow!" factor. The track from the village wound gently upwards at first, passing a garden bordered with a wonderful Dog Rose hedge. Well, I assume that's what it was, though it did have white flowers rather than the usual pink. The scent was heavenly, and cheered me up despite the gloom overhead. Better a white Dog than a Black one, eh?

As the climb steepened, my attention was grabbed by bird calls coming from a conifer plantation on my left. A family of Siskins were flitting through the pine tops, under the watchful gaze of a low-flying Great Skua (during the couse of the walk, there was a constant stream of Bonxies flying from east to west. OK, it might've been the same one doing laps of Wee Fea, but I don't think so).

Turning to contour around to the southern flank of the hill, the path levelled out. As I passed the ruined concrete starkness of a military communications building, dating from the World Wars, I headed directly into the cold breeze and the first few ominous drops of rain. Let's just say that conditions for spotting odes were... sub-optimal. I pondered that perhaps my best chance of seeing a damselfly would be in the beak of a Meadow Pipit, busy feeding a young family.

When I finally reached the pools, they were still there! OK, they were definitely shallower than last year, but were still of a size and depth to provide suitable habitat for dragons. A preliminary scan across the water surface and bordering vegetation revealed absolutely nothing on the wing, which bearing in mind the conditions wasn't such a surprise. I slowly wandered along the southern edge of the water bodies, hoping for some sign, any sign, that there were odes present.

Narda, not a thing, just one very drowned butterfly, possibly a Blue.

Redoubling my efforts, I retraced my steps, focussing harder on those few places where the emergent vegetation gave some shelter from the weather.

Then, as if a neon sign had suddenly been switched on, there was a bright blue damselfly, right in front of me, clinging to a reed stem. How had I missed that?

Over the next ten minutes, as I stood rooted to the spot, I spotted several more individuals of Common Blue Damselfly, all on the leeward side of the vegetation, hanging on as best they could. Mind you, a few were sufficiently unconcerned to be engaging in a bit of hanky-panky.

Now that I had my eye in, I also managed to identify singletons of Large Red, Blue-tailed and Emerald Damslelfies, which is as many damsel species as you could hope for in this neck of the woods. So to speak. Much heartened that, with some decent weather, any walk in the next few weeks would stand a good chance of odontalogical success, I pottered off back down the hill, worries and cares dropping off me as lightly as dandelion seeds in the wind.

Opposite the afore-mentioned plantation, across some rough pasture, there is another pond. Larger, deeper and much more sheltered, at least from a south-westerly, it is a reasonable water body from which to expect some dragonly return.

For a few fleeting moments, the sun put in an appearance, the sudden warmth enlivening all nature in its beam. There were more Emerald and Blue-tailed Damselflies sheltering in the grass away from the water's edge, whilst a single, recently-emerged Black Darter dragonfly fluttered to higher ground to mature and reduce the threat of predation.

Hurrying back to Lyness, I just had time to pop into the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Naval Museum to check a pond situated between the Pumphouse and the Romney Hut. This usually holds Large Reds and Blue-tails, so I was thrilled to also discover an Emerald Damselfly, a species that is quickly establishing itself across Hoy since its arrival in the north west of the island in 2010.

Boarding the ferry, I made my way below deck. Sitting in the passenger lounge, I wrote up notes for this blog, recorded my sightings and checked through a multitude of my photos for anything in focus. Reaching mainland an hour later, as predicted, the sun was out and it was hot. Gah! Not to worry, there be dragons on Hoy!

Bog Asphodel

Common Blue Butterfly


Spadger said...

A successful day all in all after drag(on)ing yourself around the isle!

Imperfect and Tense said...