Sunday, 17 June 2012

Double dragon delight in Norfolk

We got back from our dragon-finding week in Norfolk yesterday. It was a week of not-great weather but on our first day we got lucky with a warm, sunny morning. This was enough (just) to enable us to find our two target dragonfly species - Norfolk Hawker and Scarce Chaser - at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in the Broads.

The dragons didn't make it easy for us, though. On advice at the Strumpshaw visitor centre, we headed for the Meadow trail - a path through lovely long grass alongside some straight-cut, well-vegetated ditches. There were dragons here aplenty - but they were all Four-spotted Chasers. This is Rob's pic, so I can say how much I love it (a lot) without self-consciousness.

Looking harder, we began to pick up a few Hairy Hawkers, nipping along near the water and dodging the chasers' territorial attacks. But no NHs or SCs. After walking the trail back and forth three times I was getting a bit overheated so retreated just off the trail into a wooded area to chill out, and it was here that I spotted another chaser.

I quickly realised it was not a Four-spot. It lacked the spots halfway along the wing edge but instead had an extra dark blob on each wingtip, at right angles to the pterostigma. Its abdomen was not grey-green but a very pleasant honey colour. It was a female Scarce Chaser, and proved to be an amazingly obliging little model. Occasionally it nipped off after some prey but always returned to its perch. It was still on its stick when I left it there and went to find Rob.

He and I were on our way back to the Scarce Chaser when I noticed a hawker over the ditch that looked bigger and browner than the Hairys. A look through the binoculars confirmed it was our most important target, a Norfolk Hawker. It was cruising elegantly up and down a short stretch of ditch, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, often being intercepted by a Four-spot. Using my 300mm lens, Rob grabbed a great sequence of in-flight shots.

The hawker eventually settled, though it picked a very unhelpful spot from a photography point of view. At least this shot shows one of its key features, that great green apple of an eye. It received some gentle mobbing from the damselflies while it rested. Clouds were starting to close in at this point but that was fine by us.

Later in the week we had another good Odonata session at Catfield Fen (a Butterfly Conservation reserve), though we didn't see any more NHs or SCs. We were actually in search of RSPB Sutton Fen, and after a long drive down progressively smaller and rougher roads were surprised but perfectly happy to end up at Catfield Fen. The walk along the 'Rond' pathway gives great views over the fen, which is managed for the benefit of Swallowtail butterflies (we saw four, none photographable though).

Lots of Four-spots here too, many of them teneral, with shiny wings and hesitant flight. I even encouraged one of them to sit on my hand for a moment.

Another 'first' for the year, a striking Black-tailed Skimmer.

There were Hairy Hawkers here too, including this male which actually stuck around long enough for photos.

On the last stretch of path before we returned to the car, we found a sunny clearing with many damselflies in situ, including good numbers of Variables.

A teneral male Variable, his blue bits a dark, dull violet.

A mature male Variable. Very similar to Azure (which was also present) but with broken antehumeral stripes, a wine-glass rather than a U on the first abdominal segment, and more black further down the abdomen.

At some point in the next few days I'll do another blog post (or maybe more than one) about all the other stuff we saw.


Rohrerbot said...

Nice work capturing all of these beauties!!! I can get hot, but all that hard work paid off. They are really fascinating to observe out in nature.....and those flight shots are tricky:) thanks for sharing.

Warren Baker said...

An Odenata bonanza Marianne, and that was on a poor week for 'em! love the flight shot :-)

Had my first Black-tailed Skimmer today, I think it's an immature, what do you think ?