It has been a few days since this years ‘30 Days Wild’ campaign launched and despite not being able to write, tweet and waffle about it as much as I did last year – 3G up here is a nightmare – I have been busy. Over the last few days, I have dedicated an hour, each evening, to get to grips with some of the more delicate life that persists around my summer abode – forsaking the usual birds (and mammals for that matter) in favour of dragons, damsels and other delicate things.
Late Thursday afternoon saw me out seeking dragonflies, specifically,around a delightful upland stream. A relatively small, unimpressive stream; bristling with rather sharp sedges and brimming with the succulent leaves of Bog Bean and the radiant blooms of Marsh Marigold. Here, amid the greenery, I decided to sit and wait – doing my best to protect my virtue from the ticks, midges and other bitey critters hell bent on crawling into every available nook and cranny. Half and hour in and things did not appear overly promising; a copulating pair of Large-Red Damselfly and a single Common Blue the best to be had and, later, a few charming Blue-Tailed Damsels. The latter comprising my first of the year no less. Soon however, things took and exciting turn and, as the afternoon sun bore down upon the mire, an exciting cast of creatures glided into view.
First came a Common Darter, or maybe Highland Darter – both are said to persist here and for the life of me, I am unable to tell them apart. Following the first individual, four more soon appeared; zipping frantically over the waters surface, nimble and lightening quick. Rustic and altogether rather pleasant but, on this occasion, a mere appetizer compared to what was to come.
Marsh Fritillary, Clouded Buff and Small Copper
Next, a jet black individual joined the fray – equally as quick as the more ginger darters, some of which, by now, had retired to the nearby juncus. This individual proved rather difficult to view well, supercharged by the glaring sun, though there was no mistaking its identity. A male Black Darter – A new species for me, localised in my native Northumberland and seldom encountered in the lowland areas I frequent. The beauty of this species came as quite a surprise – transparent wings and inky black thorax catching the sun wonderfully and providing a real feast for the eyes. Before long however the darter melted away into the nearby bracken though not before making a lighten quick pass at a near invisible insect – A midge perhaps, they certainly are plentiful here.
Half an hour soon passed – the more ginger darters still providing occasional flybys and a second Common Blue Damselfly perching, in a rather picturesque fashion, on the nearby Pignut flower. By this time, a myriad of other creatures had been and gone – First, a male Hen Harrier, silver and sublime, quartering a nearby hillside before dropping out of sight. A Small Copper butterfly feeding on a nearby patch of trefoil in the company of a few Small Heath and a lone Marsh Fritillary. The latters wings on par with the finest stained glass window. Finally, a male Clouded Buff – disturbed from a patch of bracken. Following these; my attention was soon drawn to a frantic buzzing to my left. A deeper sound as opposed to the shrill, annoying, buzz of a bluebottle or housefly. Turning, the unmistakable tones of a Gold-Ringed Dragonfly became visible. The culprit passing leisurely over the waters surface to perch on a nearby bracken frond. A true monster of a dragonfly, and perhaps my favourite of all.
I confess, setting out on this little jaunt it was Gold-Ringed I had in mind. It had, by this point, been over a year since I last laid eyes on the alternating yellow/black bands of one of these colourful beasts. I was not disappointed – the dragon taking flight minutes later and proceeding to snag an unlucky hoverfly feeding amid the nearby blooms. A colourful hoverfly, emerald and lovely but nothing compared to its pursuer. A vision of beauty and, arguably, the greatest of the Britain’s ordanata. How lucky I am.
Content, I soon opted to head home though not before adding one more species to the days ever growing tally – a mating pair of Four-Spotted Chaser. Another “ginger” dragon, stubbier and more compact that the species mentioned previously, these two remained rather amorous during the duration of my stay. The female later breaking away from her mates embrace to begin ovipositing on a boggy pool, a stones throw from the stream. A behavior I am yet to witness in even common dragonflies, never mind a species, such as this, largely restricted to upland areas. These, like most of the species seen throughout the hour, proved far too lively to photograph – the sun no doubt to blame for this. I did however managed to capture another, much more sluggish individual, on a dull morning a few days past. The photos of this beauty can be seen above.
All in all, a grand few hours spent enjoying the smaller things in life and with the weather set to be nothing short of beautiful for weeks to come, there will be plenty time to indulge myself once more.