Every year around this time Doug & I like to make the pilgrimage to the wonderful Vale of Avalon for the bounty of Spring species, especially the Hairy Dragonfly and Variable Damselflies, the latter of which is absent from South Hampshire. The Hairy is present, albeit very local and in small numbers. We were barely through the gate when we observed enough activity to keep us amused with both of the above, Azure, Large Red, Red-eyed and Blue-tailed along with Four-spotted and – most welcome – an emergence of fresh Scarce Chasers.
Among the many delights of the Somerset Levels is the chance to engage with the Red-eyed at close quarters, instead of their preferred perch out on inaccessible lily pads.
I wanted to engage more with the Variable this time, taking time to observe their behavior with the intention of picking them out among the Azure from a distance. Once you get your eye in the bulkier appearance and more determined flight are good indicators when you can’t get a close view of their subtle differences in markings. One of the great delights with unfamiliar species is coming across an immature colour form which is as beautiful as it is unexpected.
With the gentle rise in air temperature we had our first sightings of Hairy rising from their shelter in the bank to feed along the tree-line. An obliging female gave us our first opportunity.
Down in the microclimate of the grassy banks it’s very much dog-eat-dog. The damselflies were right to be cautious, although the danger didn’t lie with us.
Watching the damsels was both entertaining and informative. The Red-eyed certainly appeared to be the bulldog of the bunch; stocky, fast and powerful. At the other end of the spectrum was the diminutive Blue-tailed appearing to casually drift with the breeze, although they too had a purpose. Another benefit of keeping your eye close allows you to come across delights you might’ve missed.
-We did have a smattering of Four-spotted and the odd Broad-bodied, but the day really belonged to the Scarce Chaser with numbers increasing during the afternoon.
A walk along the Sweet Track brings you to a permissive path crossing a glorious spring meadow where several female Hairy were resting down low in the grass while the reeded margins provided the perfect backdrop for incoming males.
An enjoyable, educational and productive day can satisfy the cravings for a good few days and if the sun had made an appearance outside my window this week I probably ignored it. I need more days like these!