Monday, 20 August 2018

A Dragonfly and Butterfly Safari at Strumpshaw Fen

It was a mild, cloudy and windy day; nothing like the scorching, calm weather we’ve gotten used to, so we weren’t overly optimistic about how many of our spectacular aerial display masters we would find on our dragonfly and butterfly safari at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Luckily, the cooler weather meant the smaller species were less quick on the wing so Andy from Butterfly Conservation Norfolk, who was leading the walk, was able to quickly net a common blue damselfly less than five minutes in to point out the identifying features. I’ve always loved dragonflies, but I’m still getting to grips with identification techniques, so this was extremely useful, especially for the tricky-to-tell-apart blues. The common has a dot on ‘S2’, the second abdominal segment, whereas an azure, which we didn’t find, has a U-shape. Our next find was a holly blue butterfly enjoying some bramble flowers, unfussed by the small group of interested naturalists keenly watching it crawl.

Common blue damselfly
Holly blue butterfly
This was shortly followed by a willow emerald damselfly, our next catch, even more beautiful up close, this damselfly is a relatively recent colonist here and has spread incredibly quickly.

Willow emerald damselfly
Ruddy darters kept themselves out of reach, perching on tall sticks or staying out over the water to prevent us sneaking up on them. Andy did manage to catch one later, however, to point out its characteristics. More keenly ‘waisted’ than a common darter; this was obvious when in the hand as an identifying feature of this species rather than just going by colour.

Ruddy darter
Southern hawkers I’ve always thought of as an impressive and curious dragonfly, but the female that was netted really impressed. Not at all happy with being caught, she valiantly tried to gnaw her way free, showing the movement in her jaw as she tried to pierce the skin. Up close, this is clearly a robust dragonfly with strong flight muscles and beautiful eyes.

Female Southern hawker
A pretty emerald damselfly was our next catch, really unimpressed with being caught, he curled his abdomen over his back in an attempt to tell us to leave him alone.

Emerald damselfly
Spotting a brown hawker that was far too high to even attempt to reach and several migrant hawkers running rings around us brought our dragonfly total to seven for the afternoon. However, the show wasn’t quite over yet. For a finale, Andy spotted a male southern hawker in the hedge and managed to catch it to show us the colour variation between male and female. This individual had beautiful green-blue eyes and an ‘expression’ that seemed to show how angry it was at being caught.

Male Southern hawker
For anyone interested in dragonflies, I would highly recommend this event – the next is in June 2019. 

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