‘May’ The Good Times Roll

Thursday 10th May

A Flickr friend of mine posted possibly the best Hairy photograph I’ve yet seen the previous day, so I knew it was time. I’d already planned a visit for this week and, as long as the weather held out, I’m going.

If you’ve never been to the Somerset Levels, you’re missing out! My favourite days are days filled with too many dragonflies to cope with, and today – as most days at Shapwick – was one of those days.

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) - female
Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) – female

Weather was better than expected. Sure, a stiff breeze keeping you on your toes, but the diversity. First in the gate were Variable, Blue-tailed, Large Red, Azure and my first Hairy; a female flushed from the grass to land on the bramble.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) - female
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) – female

Another one shortly after, and enough opportunities in the river bank to keep you sane despite the grass strimmers ruining the natural soundtrack as the work party were shaving the margins, along with a few unfortunate victims.

With the incessant buzz still in my ears I attempted to seek a quieter environment. I’ve always been a fan of the ‘Sweet Track’; something very mindful about following in the footsteps of our ancestors, however managed it may be to recreate the experience.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) - male
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) – male

It’s magical – as you walk through the west-country equivalent of rain forest you are among nature at it’s finest. A brook-lined path festooned with all manner of insects to a soundtrack of birds and buzzing.

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) - male
Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) – male

Every sunny clearing, no matter how small, revealed a Hairy or five, a few nervous Four-spotted and enough damsels to grab you macro and indulge.

I wanted to walk around again, and did. I hadn’t grabbed a photo for what seemed like ages, but I didn’t really care; such was the peace and ‘nature’ of this place.

Back on the river bank I noticed a fresh Scare Chaser in the grasses.

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) - immature male
Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) – immature male

Three in total, although a few of those Four-spotted I spotted earlier at a distance might have been candidates.

Chuffed and hungry, I grabbed a snack and drink and had another go, but it was quieting down here so maybe have a look at Westhay?

Glad I went. Excellent Hairy activity with a good swarm of both sexes feeding along the treeline on damsels and any other unfortunate insect stupid enough to get in their path.

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) - female
Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) – female

The insect equivalent of a shark attack|? You have to wonder. I’ve witnessed the community behaviour of Brown Hawkers enough and believe there is some team activity present.

Think about it – in these moments with Hairy (and Migrant) have you seen aggression within species when feeding? I haven’t – only when procreating.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) - female
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) – female

So a thoroughly enjoyable day, and one I look forward to every Spring.


A Moment To Cherish

Wednesday 9th May

There is no doubt it’s been a cracking month with barely a week offering up more variety than you can wish for. On Wednesday I had planned to go to Troublefield, but the weather looked better last minute at Bramshill.

Besides – I needed to photograph a Downy.

The new parking measures in place mean a longer walk in to my favourite spots, so it was time to find a few more. Heading east I searched out the direct path to the wooded pond – which has thankfully been cleared of scrub along the north bank.

It wasn’t long before I found my prize – three of them feeding within a small sunny clearing. One of them landed perfectly upon a low branch and I wasn’t ready. By the time I’d checked the settings he flew off.

No return or sign of the other two despite waiting 15 minutes so I carried on to the pond in search of more. Another two up & away before I decided to carry on to recce the other pond – one I’ve preciously failed to locate until last week.

Already up to my neck in gorse and mud I found another three along a wooded ride and another on my way back through. Waited again, and after a while decided if it was meant to happen it’ll happen when it needs to.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - male
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – male

I took a stroll to the center ponds and grabbed a couple of Blue-tailed before carrying on down the narrow track seeing another half-dozen Downy, not one relaxing

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - female (violacea)
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – female (violacea)

On to the usual spots and everything appeared as it should – Four-spotted more numerous than the weekend and a smattering of Common Blue, Large Red and Red-eyed, but still a little subdued.

At my favourite pond the sight of rising teneral Four-spotted and even one male patrolling the pond announced Summer and over in the far corner I spotted what I thought was another perched on the reeds, until I took a closer look.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - teneral male
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – teneral male

Not one, but two Downy – one still emerging and way out of reach and one just released from the exuvia, crawling up the sedge, wings still folded and getting ready to enter our world.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - teneral male
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – teneral male

I couldn’t have wished for a better encounter. I wanted a Downy and, although I had to wait, I was rewarded with a better than expected opportunity.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - teneral male
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – teneral male

Only downer (sic) was the location; low down in the sedge in the shadows with sun-spots seeking through when the sun shined and the only possible composition meant kneeling in water, which sort-of negates the wellie protection!

Afterwards the cloud rolled in making it even more of a challenge, but this was my moment to cherish as I watched him open his wings, vibrate and warm up and finally take his maiden flight.

This is what it’s all about. Perfect!

I had a plan to walk back up to the wooded pond but frankly I had my moment, my opportunity, my prize.


Spring Takes Flight

Thursday 3rd May

A promising forecast and a week of waiting took me back to Bramshill to find less Large Red than last time but I did have a few larger species sightings; a Downy, a Hairy and at least three Four-spotted Chasers.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

So frustrating not to get a better shot, but a record I could guarantee despite being annoyingly elusive.

After that the sun went in and didn’t come out again, so I took a walk and scouted a few new locations to explore further in a month or so.

Saturday 5th May

Sue & I prefer to seek out the quieter places on Bank Holiday Weekends, away from the screaming hordes and traffic jams. We opted for Bentley Wood.

Plenty of Large Red and a teneral Downy rising from the margins to drift high into the treeline. Our favourite pond turned out to be very disappointing though.

We decided to have a bash at Durley Mill as Paul Winter had found some Beautiful Demoiselle elsewhere the day before, so fingers crossed.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) – female

They’re here. Not many, just a half-dozen and another species to add to the count.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) – female

Sunday 6th May

Bramshill proved much more productive with a fantastic eight species on the wing! A Downy on the way in followed by a male Broad-bodied Chaser, both too nervous to stick around. A Hairy Hawker shot across the path at speed and after the usual collection of Large Red we finally found a Common Blue.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) - immature male
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) – immature male

At the pond a very fresh and delightfully-fragile Four-spotted Chaser rose from the reeds to land just above head height in the shadows.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) - immature female
Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) – immature female

After the ponds Sue took some time out while I dug into the scrub and found an immature male Red-eyed damselfly. Perching low down involved some contortion as trailing gorse prevented me lying down. Worth it in the end though.

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) - immature male
Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) – immature male

We took a slow stroll back along hawker alley and explored the rough ground bordering the ‘face pond’ where we found another Common Blue and our last new species for the day, a Blue-tailed, which flew out of reach. No matter, there will be hundreds of them to enjoy soon.

A thoroughly enjoyable and productive outing renewed my faith and we returned home justifiably satisfied. It would be a hard act to follow.

Monday 7th May

We needed to recharge but found time for brief trip to Swanwick Lakes where we managed to reach double figures with an Azure. Unfortunately the only shot I managed didn’t come up to standard and we failed to find any more.

A walk to the dog pond provided one Broad-bodied Chaser and there was a Red-eyed on Tom’s Pond. Back at the centre pond I managed a shot of a Blue-tailed.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - immature female (rufenscens)
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – immature female (rufenscens)

So a busy and fabulous weekend with some welcome diversity.
Now that’s more like it !