Dragonflies and Damselflies

Site Visit Diary

The second half of 1997

River Ouse and Grand Union Canal
19 October 1997

This was a beautiful, warm, sunny Saturday, perhaps the last of the "Indian Summer". I took our dog, Merry, for a walk starting at Haversham and walking up to the Grand Union Canal, then through to Stony Stratford, back to the canal at Cosgrove Lock and over the fields back to Haversham. All the waterways had good numbers of Common Darters, almost all paired up and ovipositing. There were also a fair few Migrant Hawkers around.

I suspect that these are the last dragonflies that I will see this year as the past week has been very cold, with severe frosts at night.

Over the winter months, diary updates will be few and far between but you can expect entries to resume in earnest next spring!

Various Sites
September 1997

This diary entry is really only meant to try to "wrap up the year" by reporting some observations from around Milton Keynes at the end of the flying season. Although a few dragonflies are still on the wing, the number of species represented in the area is now very small. Migrant Hawkers, Ruddy and Common Darters, being those most likely to be seen from now on.

In early September, a visit to the River Ousel near Willen Lake brought to light Migrant and Brown Hawkers, and the two Darter species mentioned. There was quite a lot of courtship and mating activity taking place, with egg laying observed by the Darters.

Shenley Wood has not had the hoped for large flying display from the Migrant Hawkers this year. Although the species seems quite widespread, I think that numbers are noticeably down on the last few years. I also saw fewer than expected Darters basking on the umbellifer heads along the woodland rides.

Right at the end of the month, a visit to Willen Lake (birdwatching) found many Common Darters, mostly coupled and ovipositing, and a fair number of Migrant Hawkers. I would have hoped to have seen Southern Hawker too, but these seem to be over for the year now. The birds seen on the visit included Great Crested Grebe, Cormorants, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Gadwall, several hundred Lapwings, Goldfinches as well as the common species such as Greylag Geese, Magpies etc.

Shenley Wood
8 August 1997

Shenley Wood is only a short walk from where I work, and I certainly didn't want to drive on this hot and humid day! A very small pond on the northern edge of the wood proved very rewarding. There were large numbers of paired off ruddy darters here. The males have attained their characteristic blood-red colour and are looking very smart. There were also a few common darters. I found a solitary male emerald damselfly and saw several brown hawkers working the woodland edge and rides. Migrant hawkers have now begun to arrive but have not yet assembled in the huge swarms that are often seen at this site.

I greatly enjoyed watching a male southern hawker hunting over the pond. On several occasions he hovered at the level of the boardwalk that crosses the pond, immediately below me. I could hear the rustling of wings in the grasses at the pond edge but it took me some time to spot the female southern hawker ovipositing there. Soon after I saw her, so did the male! He chased her and grabbed her by the neck but she was not interested in him and tried to shake him off. They buzzed around, locked together for a couple of minutes and then crashed to the ground. They appeared to be quite stunned by the experience and stayed on the side of the path for about a minute before flying up, and breaking apart.

Howe Park Wood
30 July 1997

Back again to my favorite site! The Odonata populations here are truly impressive. The ponds are only small and are quite recently dug (about five years ago), but support a good range of species. On this occasion I saw common blue and blue-tailed damselflies and just two male emerald damselflies. Both broad-bodied and four-spotted chasers are still around as are black-tailed skimmers and lots of common darters. These latter were seen flying in tandem and ovipositing, the female flicking her eggs, one by one, into the water and marginal mud.

I also watched female emperor dragonflies ovipositing in floating vegetation, potomageton I think. The breeze was quite strong and a little gusty and on one occasion a gust caught a female and tipped her over, head first, into the water. She immediately flew up to about 8 to 10 feet above the water and "shook herself" by spinning rapidly. I could clearly see water droplets spiralling down. Then she flew back down and resumed laying eggs.

Lodge Farm Lake
29 July 1997

A short, lunchtime visit to this site near the centre of Milton Keynes. I used to visit this location regularly but bank clearance work some years ago severely disrupted Odonata populations. The lake has now recovered quite well and I observed six species during my visit. Common blue and blue-tailed damselflies were fairly abundant and there were a few common darters and banded demoiselles. Emperor dragonflies were patrolling the lake.

I spent several minutes watching female brown hawkers ovipositing in the timbers of the fishing platforms built around the lake edges. I was able to get very close to them but, naturally, did not have my camera!

River Tove, Abthorpe
23 July 1997

I had received an e-mail reporting both Banded and Beautiful Demoiselle at the same site near Towcester, so I decided to go and have a look to see if I could find them. Find them I did, at the first site I tried! Several specimens of each species on the same few metres of the young River Tove. I was struck by the obvious difference between the females of the two species when seen side by side. Banded Demoiselle females have obviously green wings whereas the Beautiful Demoiselle females have pale brownish wings. Having found Beautiful Demoiselle this close to Milton Keynes (about 10 miles away), I am determined to search for it in North Bucks!

Howe Park Wood
22 July 1997

Back to my favourite site again! Eleven species found in a lunchtime including the two species I was particularly looking for, Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa seen paired on the water plants, and a female Southern Hawker flying on one of the woodland rides. Both first records of the year for me.

The other species found were Blue-tailed, Common Blue and Azure Damselflies and Emperor, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common and Ruddy Darter, Broad-bodied Chaser and Brown Hawker.

Blue Lagoon
21 July 1997

Another lovely day. This short, lunchtime visit to this excellent Milton Keynes site revealed nine species of Odonata. These included Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies and both Common and Ruddy Darters. Also seen were several Four-spotted Chasers and a single, male, Broad-bodied Chaser in excellent condition. Black-tailed Skimmers, Emperor Dragonflies and Brown Hawkers complete the tally.

Also of some interest were a small number of Marbled White butterflies. This species is not common in Milton Keynes.

Ashton Mill National Dragonfly Museum
20 July 1997

This was a Milton Keynes Natural History Society field outing.
We were greeted on arrival the museum by Ruary Mackenzie-Dodds, who took us on a guided tour. We were first shown the "garden pond" created and planted as an example of how to make a suitable garden habitat for Odonata. Ruary then showed us the mill stream and explained about the founding of the museum and the history of the mill. We saw some of the other collections, not related to Odonata, such as the fish collection and the collection of old farm implements and machinery. We then visited the wetland habitat, created from water meadow by diverting some of the water from the mill stream. This was built with assistance from Anglian Water.

One of Ruary's colleagues then presented a live demonstration of dragonfly eggs and 1st instar larvae, and of a larger larva feeding on midge and mosquito larvae. This was done via a projection microscope and was extremely interesting. I had never seen dragonfly eggs before.

Finally Ruary showed us around the Mill itself and explained its conversion to a hydro-electric supply for the Rothschild estate at the beginning of the 1900's. The turbine is still in place but is no longer functioning. However one of the two oil-fired engines has been restored and Ruary started this up, with much banging and thumping! Once running, the engine was extremely smooth and quiet.

This is a must for all Odonata enthusiasts to visit! See the British Dragonfly Society page for details.

Odonata seen on the day: damselflies - Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue, Red-eyed, Blue-tailed.
Dragonflies - Brown Hawker (ovipositing in logs), Common Darter, and Black-tailed Skimmers including a pair mating and then laying eggs.

Emberton Park
19 July 1997

A beautiful, clear warm day. All of the expected species were found but of particular note were the good numbers of White-legged Damselflies paired up and ovipositing on the River Ouse. Both Common and Ruddy Darters were seen.

Damselflies: Common Blue, Blue-tailed, Red-eyed, Banded Demoiselle, White-legged.
Dragonflies: Brown Hawker, Emperor, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter.

Harrold and Odell Country Park
06 July 1997

A pleasant Sunday trip out to this country park just a few miles from Milton Keynes, in Bedfordshire. The day was warm and quite sunny with just a light westerly breeze. Harrold and Odell Country Park is next to the River Ouse and consists of a couple of large lakes and a wetland wildlife conservation area. Many Common Blue Damselflies were flying over the surface of the lake close to shore. There were also several Red-eyed Damselflies and Black-tailed Skimmers. Male Broad-bodied Chasers were competing for mastery over their own territories and there were also several Brown Hawkers and Emperor Dragonflies.

I saw my first darters of the year in the water meadows, several teneral (immature) Common Darters. White-legged Damselflies were to be found on the River Ouse and I saw my first Ruddy Darter of the year between Odell and Felmersham.

Also seen were Blue-tailed Damselfly, Four-spotted Chasers, Banded Demoiselles and a solitary Large Red Damselfly. Thirteen species in all, a good tally.

Howe Park Wood
02 July 1997

The first time I've got out Odonata spotting for several weeks! A break from the rain resulted in a bright day with only a light westerly wind. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a good range of dragonflies and damselflies to be seen.

The top pond has filled a little with the rain of the past two weeks and is looking quite healthy but it is disturbing to see that someone has seen fit to "dump" some large carp in this small pond. They could do great damage to the invertebrate, amphibian and small fish fauna.

Several female Emperor Dragonfly females were seen ovipositing in this and the bottom pond. A couple of males were seen too. Also actively mating and ovipositing were Broad-bodied Chasers. I saw one male on the bottom pond dividing his attention, with great success, between three females. All three were seen to oviposit on pond weed. At one point they were within inches of each other, all dipping the tips of their abdomens into the water together. A few Four-spotted Chasers were also seen along with one or two Black-tailed Skimmers. The skimmers are very easy to tell apart from the Broad-bodied Chasers, even at a distance, because of their habit of settling on bare earth to sun themselves. The Chasers invariably settle on isolated, emergent, stems or leaves.

Common Blue Damselflies and Azure Damselflies were flying in tandem and ovipositing in floating vegetation. There were also quite a few Blue-tailed Damselflies and a solitary male Large Red Damselfly. Eight species in total - not bad considering the appalling weather in late June.

Reports from the first half of 1997

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