In July last year I was shown the delights of the Canvey Island ditch in south Essex by John Wiltshire. It was a very hot, sunny day and our target, the Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly, was in no mood to settle to have it’s picture taken! On Friday I decided to treat Mrs H to a day out as things have been somewhat topsy-turvy just lately. It was going to be hot but with some cloud at times so somewhere nice and scenic with a bit of interest for me, where better “To the ditch!” Ok so it’s not that scenic, I may have glossed it up a bit to wangle a day’s dragonfly watching but pack a nice pic-nic and let’s make the most of a glorious summer day. Two hours and a hundred and thirteen miles later and we were ‘darn sarf’.
So a quick recap. The Southern Migrant Hawker is a rare dragonfly in the UK. It only colonised after an influx in 2010 and is mainly found around the Thames Estuary (hence the trip to Canvey) where it was found to have bred. It is medium sized, about 2.5 inches (60mm) long with (the male) striking bright blue eyes and black & blue abdomen. As last year, the males were holding territory along the ditch, patrolling up and down looking for emerged females. On the territory boundary a small clash would ensue if two arrived at the same time. I was hoping if the cloud covered the sun for a while then they might settle, wrong. They went into a feeding frenzy. Nothing for it, I would have to resort to in-flight shots. Now I know some of you have tried this amusing form of wild life photography but for others who have not, this was my approach. Keep on the macro lens (they can come close plus the lens is sharper) set to manual focus, use shutter priority (I set 1/1250th sec), lowest iso you can get away with, in bright sun it was 320 and let the apperture sort itself out. Watch your subject, they tend to have a flight pattern and will hover for a second or two, now is the time to focus and shoot. Easy yes? No! A hit rate of about 1 in 30.
We noticed a pair in tandem where they fly with the male grasping the females neck (who says romance is dead?) and they dropped into the ditch. Tina’s sharp eyes picked them out, they were ovipositing. Most dragons lay eggs directly into the water or submerged water plants, affinis lays in the cracks in mud with the male lowering his mate down. Here the eggs go into diapause (dormant) waiting for the winter rains to fill the ditch or until conditions are right, maybe a year or two, then the life cycle is completed in very quick time.
There were lots of butterflies in the field including a few Marbled Whites which were coming to the end of their flight period. Also hundreds of smaller dragonflies, the darters. Mrs H was sitting in the shade and called me over to see a very friendly female Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum). It was sitting on a grass flower and going into the obelisk position. This was to keep the insect cool by ensuring the minimum amount of sun was on it.
Well not a bad day out but when the herd of cattle moved into the field, complete with calves, it was time to call it a day and head for home.