Today (Saturday 20th October) Sue & I took another trip to the pond on a reasonably pleasant afternoon. Naturally the forecast promised more than reality, but at least there was no wind!
As we got out of the car we were greeted by several Common Darters flying across the large puddle opposite. Most were in tandem and ovipositing in the shallows. I presume this puddle was favourable as an egg-laying site as it would’ve warmed up quicker than any deeper or larger bodies of water.
All this odonata activity along with a couple of Red Admirals flying by looked to be a good omen – at least it wouldn’t be a wasted day.
There was more ‘puddle’ activity further on. Although this puddle is shown as a small pond on maps, surprising considering most years it is usually dry.
At the main pond all hopes of a hawker were dashed, and only a few Common Darters showed themselves. Quite a few in cop, regardless of their age.
At the western ‘puddle’ I fished out a rather damp female Common Darter and allowed her to warm on my hand before popping her in a gorse bush to dry off.
After an hour Paul Winters arrived with news that Migrants were still in attendance at Badminston. albeit in low numbers. I thought I saw one Black Darter rise and fall on the island, although I couldn’t locate it with bins to be sure. Definitely no Emeralds, or indeed any other damsels.
The sun failed to burn through the weak cloud, a remnant of the morning mist, and by 3.00pm even the Common Darters had given up.
As if by reward on our way out a Southern Hawker appeared from nowhere to do a few circuits of the (whole) pond. Maybe hungry or looking for a female he was a welcome sight to end the day.
Unfortunately he didn’t stay around for a more pleasing shot, but at least he gave comfort to our late season addiction.
The pond deserved a further visit so Sue & I popped over on Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours. Our visit was delayed by the closure of the approach road, blocked by an ambulance and police car – presumably an accident involving a cyclist considering how many were on the roads.
On arrival at the pond we were approached by a couple of hikers who had gotten themselves lost. They were using a 30 year old guide book but didn’t have an OS map to back it up with! After putting them on he right track we introduced ourselves to another enthusiast, Simon Layton, who was here hoping for a glimpse of the recent Common Hawkers.
For the first time in a month neither male nor female showed, but to have them around for so long was a blessing. Instead we had a fair selection of Common Darters, including a mating pair.
No damsels were seen today, but there were a few Black Darters holding on in the surrounding gorse and over on the island.
After a few minutes we had our first sighting of a Southern Hawker, quite possibly the same individual as last week judging by the markings.
He patrolled the small section by the single gorse bush for a while, seemingly happy for some company, and then shot off across the island to grab some lunch returning to the bush to feed.
He even gave me a little variation in his pose.
He stayed put after feeding, the temperature cooling substantially when the clouds obscured the sun, rising only when another male appeared for a brief battle, returning to patrol his patch for a short while before perching again.
The arrival of a bunch of loud dog walkers drove him off, one of many disturbances by joe public – making us realise why we usually choose a Saturday when they’re usually out shopping. We even had a National Trust walking party come through!
I found the Southern perched in the relative peace of another gorse bush undaunted by my presence and grabbed another few photo opportunities until yet another party of dog walkers drove him off for good.
By 3.00pm the encroaching cloud had lowered the temperature sufficiently to cease all further activity and we called it a day, albeit a rather satisfying mid-October day.
My season last year finished abruptly before October could grab a hold, a realisation that all decent pond activity had ceased and Odo’s were becoming lucky discoveries or hard sought individuals pretty much decided things. This year I made a mental note to quit when it was time to quit but not too soon just in case.
Lousy weather and other unforseen circumstances prevented me from going out again until Saturday, Sue & I taking advantage of a sunny day to visit the pond a week on, as good a barometer as any to give a glimpse of things.
We must’ve had a lot of rain during the week as the ground was saturated. Satellite pools were replenished to provide the Common Darters with other ovipositing options, but our main focus was the main pond where we bumped into Phil Lord, a nice surprise being the first time we’ve crossed paths this season.
Phil was busy watching a hawker battle offshore towards the island, presumably a couple of Southerns but too far away to confirm for sure.
More Common Darters, single and in tandem, danced across the water and the occasional Black Darter popped up from the sanctuary of the island. A few Emerald Damsels frugally decorated the island margins with the odd one venturing further.
It must’ve been half-an-hour since we’d seen a hawker, a wait rewarded with the first appearance of the male Common, taking his usual path up & down the back channel. His visit was brief; enough for a couple of circuits before encountering the Southern, both flying off in battle with only the Southern returning to his patch.
The Southern’s patch was a small circuit around the small gorse bush on the eastern edge, and the lack of photo opportunities so far drew me over for some in-flight practice.
We were soon joined by Paul Winters, fresh from a visit to Badminston where he found another late Red-veined Darter. The Odo’s were in danger of being outnumbered by enthusiasts, but they held their own with almost continual patrolling by a couple of Southerns and sporadic appearances of the four other species present today.
Another highlight came with a visit by the female Common Hawker. She chose to oviposit at the base of the gorse bush, a place she’d used before. I’m presuming, like the male, this is the same resident individual who’s been present for a month now?
The male is certainly showing signs of wear & tear through many battles with the Southerns, enough to hear him arrive before you saw him.
Reluctant to leave the pond in case I missed a visit, I felt the large area of gorse deserved a look. No sooner had I started I saw a male Southern Hawker rise up and settle not to far away. While I was busy stalking this fellow a Black Darter stole my attention.
Having given him his photo opportunity I continued around the bush in search of the Southern and found him stark against some brown gorse. A very fresh-looking individual.
You can be as skillful as your level of experience will allow when approaching your subject and I knew I was doing everything right until my foot kicked the base of the bush and put pay to getting a better angle!
So it was back to the bush to play with the patrolling Southerns – there were at least 2 individuals choosing the same territory to patrol and choosing the bush as a perch to feed. This one caught, perched and ate his prey 4 times in 15 minutes.
By now the Common Darters had ceased flying and just when you thought that was it for the day in would come the male Common Hawker, seemingly from nowhere, to do that quick circuit of his before picking a fight with a Southern.
The female Common Hawker also returned, frustratingly keeping her distance and covering a wide area looking for a peaceful spot, but the combination of other hawkers getting in the way and quite possibly our presence meant she was always one step ahead, finally dropping into the marshy shallows just out of sight on the edge of the island.
The male also appeared and after another clash dropped down into the same hollow as the female, but neither made contact. The excitement of knowing they were both perched low barely 3 metres away kept us occupied, hoping for a better glimpse.
We did get another glimpse of the female as she rose and flew west towards the trees while we had to walk back north to the cars. Still just enough time for another Southern in-flighter though…
Witnessing this pair of Common Hawkers this past month and hearing or reading differing and mostly vague reports of longevity has got me thinking. I’m sure the technology must exist to tag individuals with tracking microchips? They do it with birds, why not insects?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how long an individual or indeed a particular species live? How large an area does one individual cover? Does a male or female have a favourite body of water or do they have several?
To have a record of their travels from emergence is certainly an area which I’d be very interested in getting involved with.
Recently I’ve noticed a little despair brought on by the recent storms, probably a nod to ‘here we go again’ after what has been a dreadful summer weather-wise. Would it put an end to the season – or at least to worthy days spent in the field? It certainly prevented me from venturing out most days last week, but I remained positive knowing that the sun would shine again before the onset of frost.
And so it was on a fine Thursday I headed down to the pond. The heavy rainfall has refilled the pond levels nicely, although the downside is the wet backside which can only come with sitting on saturated ground.
The cast list today was more or less decided within half-an-hour. At least 4 Southern Hawkers, 3 or 4 Migrant Hawkers and a brief appearance from a Common Hawker – all males and at one point all in attendance at the same time, which made for some pretty spectacular 3-way dogfights.
The most approachable Southern frustratingly chose a path at odds with the sun.
I persevered and managed to catch him on the turn around
The Common Hawker wasn’t playing ball today, choosing a path that was at once swift and unpredictable. Just when I thought I had him in my sights, in would come the Southern to whisk him off into battle.
Black and Common Darters were still present in reasonable numbers, with the latter represented by several pairs in tandem as well as singles. I did wonder about the damsels, but needn’t have worried as I saw both Common Blue and Emerald still in attendance.
I returned to the pond with Sue on a pleasant Saturday, although not quite as pleasant as the forecast would have you believe! At least our arrival at just after 11.30am was just in time to catch the Southern Hawkers warming up.
In the meantime Common Darters were flying solo and in tandem while Black Darters were warming up on the island. Among the thicket and gradually rising over the pond were another couple of Southerns and a couple of Migrants. At 12.00pm sharp the male Common Hawker appeared for the first time., weaving a path in and out of the island grasses possibly searching for signs of the female?
At 1.20pm we saw the female Common Hawker arrive at the southern channel, only to be grabbed by the male. My excitement at a possible paired opportunity was thwarted by the Southern breaking them apart before they had a chance to complete the wheel.
I never thought I’d ever be annoyed by a Southern Hawker!
After dropping out of sight among the island grasses, she waited until the coast was clear before rising and flying off northwards. She reappeared at 2.00pm for an ovipositing opportunity.
Today was the first time Sue had seen the female, and for the second and last time today we had a chance to observe her before that pesky Southern came in and drove her away again.
There were still reasonable numbers of Black Darters rising up from the island at the hawker’s passing, and later on a few Emeralds showed themselves, the only damsels we saw today.
By 2.30pm the sun proved more elusive, and we waited for another break in the cloud before the day cooled and all life, except the dominant Southern Hawker, diminished.