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Dragons and Damsels through 2021

It’s been a strange year for a lot of wildlife, some species had a late and short season, some species having a bumper year and its been certainly an odd year for us when it comes to dragonflies and damselflies. It wasn’t until May that we saw our first Odonata (collectively the dragonflies, Anisoptera and the dasmselflies, Zygoptera) with Large Red Damselflies emerging in our garden pond. It’s a tiny pond but we have had up to 30 or so emerge in a season, but this year counted less than 10.

Large Red Damselfly at our 3 ft long garden pond!

At about the same time we went to one of our best local sites, Magor Marsh, hoping for Hairy Dragonfly, and saw none at all. So it was with mixed hopes that we went up the road to Monmouth to look for Club-tailed Dragonfly on the River Wye.

Gorgeous male Club-tailed Dragonfly


On arrival we found a few Banded Demoiselle, but sadly far less than the same time last year. However, once we worked our way along the river we soon found our first Club-tailed, resting amongst vegetation and, frustratingly, flying off on its maiden flight as soon as we had found it. It’s always a special moment to see a dragonfly fly off on its maiden flight, but couldn’t it have waited just one more minute! However, we need not have worried as soon after we found another newly emerged Club-tailed, then another and suddenly we realised we had timed things perfectly, with no less that 7 Club-tailed all in different stages of emergence, from just out of the nymphal case (exuvia) through to hardening their wings. We rang some friends to let them know, one of whom made it from Pontypridd in less than an hour in a new land speed record for Wales we estimate! We saw about 20 Club-tailed Dragonflies over the next four hours but could have found many more had we walked along the river. However, the river level was rising fast, in fact a foot over the time we were there. This meant that several Club-tailed were in danger of being washed away during emergence. So we stayed put and carefully cut vegetation to lift them higher up the bank into safety. The highlight was watching a nymph crawl out of the water and, over two hours, emerge and fly off as a beautiful male Club-tailed Dragonfly. What an amazing experience!

Emerging Club-tailed Dragonfly rescued from the rapidly rising water level of the River Wye


In early June we headed up to Scotland for a week, looking for wildlife in general but with a top target of Chequered Skipper butterfly. So we stayed east of Appin, near Glasdrum Wood. There are some great dragonfly sites in the area and we were hopeful of Northern Emerald and White-faced Darter. The former teased us, with a probable at Shian Wood and then one newly emerged at Glasdrum but it flew up into the trees as soon as we found it, vanishing to sight! We were much luckier on the Moss of Achnacree where we were lucky to find about 12 newly emerged White-faced Darter around the pools. This is one of my favourite species and I love the yellow and black males before they acquire the red colour of maturity. Great supporting cast at the site of Four-spotted Chaser, Large Red, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselfly.

A young (teneral) male White-faced Darter at Moss of Achnacree


The rest of our time in Scotland was quiet for dragonflies, although we found Beautiful Demoiselle near Fairy Bridge in Glen Creran, and 100s of Large Red Damselfly emerging along the Appin cycle track. On the way home, we found Azure, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies at the Moffat Community Nature Reserve, and some nice Four-spotted Chasers.

A patrolling male Downy Emerald at Woorgreens Lake


Mid-June we headed to Woorgreens Lake in the Forest of Dean to look for a dragonfly species which is pretty scarce over our way in South Wales, Downy Emerald. This proved to be one of those days when dragonflies want to make you work for it but show well in the end! It was also amazingly hot. The Downy Emerald did what they always do, patrol out over the water in small bays before flying up to rest in trees, rarely ever in sight! However, we got lucky and did find one male perched low enough to enjoy through close focusing binoculars.

A perched up Downy Emerald after a long wait!


We also found a newly emerged Black-tailed Skimmer as well as a few males flying along the waters edge patrolling territory. Emperor, Broad-bodied Chaser, Four-spotted Chaser, Common Blue Damselfly and Large Red Damselfly made up a great day list. The star of the day though were the Downy Emerald, with about 12 males seen and also an ovipositing female.

Newly emerged Black-tailed Skimmer

Late June we went back to Magor Marsh, but no luck, with just lots of Azure Damselfly and a couple of Emperor Dragonflies. However soon after in early July we returned to Monmouth and had a superb day watching 100s of gorgeous White-legged Damselfly. This is one of my favourite damselflies, with the beautiful blue-eyed and strikingly blue-bodied males and pure white teneral (young) females. They were very obliging and our group saw many, along with plenty of Banded Demoiselle and a great range of butterflies and orchids too.

Male and female White-legged Damselfly


Early July also saw us head to Northamptonshire with a group. Looking for Purple Emperor butterfly. This was an amazing weekend with lots of Purple Emperors, including sipping salts from our hands or heads! The dragonflies provided a great supporting cast as well. Several Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Four-spotted Chaser, Broad-bodied Chaser as well as Azure and Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Mating pair of Golden-ringed Dragonfly


The end of July, and we headed up to north-west Wales, staying at Llan Ffestiniog. Lots of common species seen, including beautiful Golden-ringed Dragonfly, plenty of Common Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Emperor Dragonfly and Large Red Damselfly. There were also a few Banded Demoiselle, but the highlight of the trip was watching Beautiful Demoiselle mating and ovipositing on vegetation in a small fast flowing stream. We returned a couple of times for this show as its magical to watch the metallic sheens of the blue-purple-green males and green females dashing over the water. A highlight of the year.

Male and ovipositing female Beautiful Demoiselle


The dragonfly year calmed down a lot for us over August and September, but we did manage a few trips and nice sightings. At a local site, Goldcliff, we found Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly amongst the Blue-tailed, Emerald, Azure, Common Blue and Large Red Damselflies. There were plenty of Migrant and Southern Hawker too as well as our first Ruddy Darter amongst the Common Darter. One female Darter was watched ovipositing and had eggs visible form the abdomen.

Female Ruddy Darter with eggs at the end of her abdomen


At another local site, Garn Lakes, plenty of lovely Black Darter, Emerald Damselfly, a few Common Hawkers and we found lots of exuviae from Emperor Dragonfly. At Kenfig Nature reserve we enjoyed watching 100s of ovipositing Common and Ruddy Darter and several Emperor but could only find one Black-tailed Skimmer.

Egg-laying Common Darters and a close up of a Black Darter


We made one more trip in August, heading to Otmoor RSPB reserve for a weekend trip. Great for wildlife overall, with lots of good birds including Cattle Egrets and a Bittern, as well as the target, Brown Hairstreak butterfly which put on the best show I’ve ever seen for this species (about 20 seen on a single day!). The dragonflies were great with lots of Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker (and a possible Southern Migrant Hawker which didn’t ever land but looked good for this species, one having been reported earlier that day apparently), and common damselfly species. Star of the day though was our first ever Willow Emerald Damselfly perched in vegetation along the Old Roman Road. Seen well for about a minute before she flew up into the trees. But guess what, the camera failed and we got only a clip of blurred video. A target for next year!

Migrant Hawker and a terrible blurred image from a video of a Willow Emerald


At the time of writing, early October, there are plenty of Migrant Hawker and Southern Hawker locally and masses of Common Darter (seems to be a great year for this species) and a few Ruddy Darter. I’m guessing that’s it until next spring, but we’re happy, a great year of Odonata sightings, the highlights being emerging Club-tailed Dragonfly, Downy Emerald, White-faced Darter and, although all too brief, a glimpse of Willow Emerald. Compared to locked-down 2020, 2021 has been great for wildlife.

A collage of beautiful dragonflies and damselflies from 2021

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