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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dragons, Damsels, and the Lady-in-Waiting - on 1st July, 2014

Wanting to check out my local patch for Little Owls, and being sunny weather, off I went. I knew that I was likely to have problems, due to the deployment of cattle - and if that makes me sound like a wuss, at this time of year the herds are a combination of cows with good-sized calves and a bull. These have a habit of stampeding towards you en-mass when they spot you and, although there is no malice in their action, accidents can happen!

To cut a long story short, I totally (well, almost - see later) failed in finding owls, but did find some excuses to use the Tamron 28-300.

In one of the fields there used to be a permanently wet bit of land, a bit like a muddy puddle with a fence round it. About three years ago, the farmer had a directive that he was not allowed to let his cattle drink from the nearby brook any more in order to safeguard the population of crayfish. Now I'm all for conservation, but this seemed a bit crazy to me as the crayfish and cattle had lived side by side for decades, if not longer. Nevertheless, the farmer had to make alternative provision for his cattle to drink, involving laying in a 600 metre long pipeline, excavating the puddle to be a bit deeper, and putting in additional fencing. This has resulted in an area approximately 15x10m, divided into three roughly 5x10 metre sections, the outside two of which are closed off by fencing and are full of wetland vegetation and the odd small tree. The centre section is open for access by the cattle and has muddy edges, and water which is full of plants and wildlife.

Before the modifications I used to notice the odd dragonfly and damselfly round this area, but it's only in the last 12 months that I've started paying closer attention. On 22nd June I was photographing Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), and a male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) there.

On this day I arrived to find Azure Damselfly, including several in the mating 'wheel'.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - my local patch
Azure Damselfly (mating) - my local patch
Wearing a shade of blue that was noticeably different were a couple of male Blue-tailed Damselfly. I've included the second image to show the wing pattern.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male) - my local patch
Representing the dragons was a solitary male Broad-bodied Chaser, with a tatty left forewing.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (male) - my local patch
Suddenly a second male appeared on the scene followed, shortly after, by a female. One of the males was seen off by the other, which then mated with the female. Between bouts of mating, the female was oviposting. I'd never seen female Chasers oviposting before, and was surprised to find them doing it on the wing in what seemed to be a haphazard fashion. They just seemed to drop the eggs into the weedy water. The second image, below, shows the female oviposting. Sorry about the quality of the images - I find that fast-moving Chasers are difficult to capture!

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (female) - my local patch
So, what about that "Lady-in-Waiting"? Well, also at this drinking pond were many Seven-spot Ladybirds. It was only comparatively recently in my life that I realised that the strange creature depicted below (from my visit that day), and that I'd seen so many times before, was the larva of a ladybird - a 'lady' in waiting!

Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempuntata) (larva) - my local patch
My photographic efforts at the drinking pond were abruptly terminated by the appearance of a herd of cattle that spotted me immediately and came thundering my way. I soon realised that they would reach me before I reached the stile that would allow me to cross to safety. There was nothing for it but to call their bluff and run towards them shouting and waving my arms. Fortunately it stopped them dead in their tracks about 10 metres from me, and I beat a hasty retreat. 

Somewhat warm and out of breath I crossed the safe barley field and found a Little Owl at my LO Site No.02 at the far side. It's always good to have an excuse for a post with an owl in it!

Little Owl (Athena noctua) - my Site No.02
I'm not a 'list keeper' but over the past 12 months at the drinking pond I know I've seen at least representatives of the following Odonata.

- Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) - a vagrant from the nearby brook
- Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
- Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
- Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
- Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
- Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
- Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
- Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) 

Nothing rare about any of these, but not a bad number for a very small pond and only very occasional vists. I wish that access to this pond was easier as I feel that there could be one or two surprises here if I could watch it regularly. It's easy for me to get to - it's just the threat of being trampled under hoof that's the problem.

Thank you for dropping by - more owls in the next post, with the current header giving you a taster.


  1. I don't understand the cattle and crayfish dilemma I am aware our Cray's are under threat from invasive yank crayfish but like you pointed out both cattle and Cray's have been there for some time however it has created a new bit of habitat.
    As for the cows I can lend you my bike if you like lol.
    Fascinating images I have seen the ladybird lava and too wonder what they were at least I know now, ugly though.

    1. Thanks Doug. I may borrow your bike to chuck at the cows. Actually, if I wasn't carrying so much camera kit and and bins, I suppose I should take a big stick with me as the cattle seem to respect that! I wonder why?

  2. Me and mum once got chased by a herd of cows. I never knew mum could run that fast. Your pictures are so good. From Findlay

    1. Thank you Findlay. I'm smiling at the thought of your mum trying to outrun a herd of cows.

      Best wishes - - Richard

  3. Great post Richard with some very nice shots indeed.

    1. THank you, Marc. Very kind words indeed from one of the masters of Odonata photography!


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