Monday, 6 June 2016

Downy Emeralds

With the coming of June I'm now firmly in summer mode which means flowers and insects. With this in mind when I saw reports of one or more Downy Emeralds dragonflies just down the road in Abingdon at Barton Fields NR it very much piqued my interest. Now, as part of my quest to tick off all the UK dragonfly species I'd already seen Downy Emerald before at Warren Heath (see here for write-up). However it had only been a brief view and I'd never seen on in Oxfordshire before (not that I do a county odonata list) so it seemed rude not to pop down and pay it a visit. Of course the weather has been far from ideal for insects so far with a remarkably cold wind and low cloud making it feel anything but like June but this Sunday suddenly the weather flipped into warm mode and it was forecast to be warm and sunny all week. Needing no further excuse, after lunch I went on the short trip down to Abingdon with my (now nearly ten year old) son L in tow to see what we could find.

I'd visited this location last year (see here) to see the Variable Damselflies that had been newly discovered there so I knew the layout already and soon we were turning off the main path towards the small narrow lake that adjoins the Thames here. I scoured the area where the Variables were last year but then it had been very wet and flooded and in the one hot spot there had been loads of them. This time, it was dry and I didn't see a single damselfly at all. Not to worry, they weren't the main target today and we made our way on to the lake itself.

It didn't take us long to find our quarry: we worked our way along the lake stopping at each opening in the vegetation (which I think had been cut out for fishing purposes) and towards the eastern end we had our first views of a shiny Downy Emerald as it came up and patrolled the gap in the reeds before it shot off elsewhere again. We then passed a very pleasant hour and a half working our way along the bank looking out for occasional views of the Downy Emerald as well as the odd Hairy Dragonfly and a stubby little Four-spotted Chaser. In addition there were moderate numbers of Azure, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies along the bank and out in the middle I could see quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies patrolling low over the water. We also spotted a large bat (a Noctule?) flying around over the lake in broad daylight - very strange! L amused himself with my point-and-shoot macro camera taking lots of photos of the various bugs that he found whilst I tried in vain to get a photo of the Downy Emerald - a species which is notorious for rarely settling.

Azure Damselfly
Black-headed Cardinal Beetle
We eventually homed in on a hot spot right at the eastern end where a large flat piece of wood had been laid out in the reeds to make a sort of platform. Here we saw that there were in fact two Downy Emeralds and we had lots of fun trying to get a flight shot though my bridge camera is particularly bad at this so in the end I resorted to video and managed a record-shot grab of one in flight.

Video grab of a Downy Emerald in flight
Eventually one of the Downies headed over to a nearby tree where, miracle of miracles, it did actually settle briefly and I managed a record shot of it though it was rather distant.

Settled in a tree

After a while L started to get tired and so we headed back to the car and on the way home we stopped off for ice cream before returning to Casa Gnome where I rewarded myself with a nice cup of tea.

These days I never miss an opportunity to learn more about any interesting flora I might spot. Apparently this is Reed Canary-Grass (with some Greater Pond Sedge in amongst it)

Welted Thistle
Hairy Tare

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