Can not hide the fact I was disappointed to return from Cumbria without having seen the two dragonflies I had targeted. I should not be greedy, after all I have seen and photographed five new species this year. Yet I am greedy! A plan was hatched sometime ago where John from Hertfordshire would take me to a special site to see a special dragonfly (or two!). The site is called the ‘Canvey Ditch’ so let me set the scene.
Canvey Island is in south Essex. It is in the Thames estuary east of London and is not noted for being a beauty spot. On the north side of the busy A130 that leads to the town centre is a cattle field, not very wide, that is split down the middle by a very narrow ditch at the most only a few feet across. For the most part of it’s 1.5 miles the ditch is dry or at least muddy and has an abundance of reed and true bullrush growing from it. The banks were dotted by hawthorn bushes.
We met mid-morning in the leisure centre car park and the temperatures were already in the mid 80’s and the sky cloudless. Only a few minutes after entering the field and saying hello to the resident cattle I spotted our target a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna affinis) and then a mating pair. This beautiful dragon was a very rare visitor to our shores. Then in 2010 there was a small influx to south east England. In later years it was found to have bred successfully in a few areas like the Canvey ditch.
The males held territory along the ditch, each had a stretch of about ten yards between bushes. When they met on their boundaries a quick tussle ensued. They were searching for newly hatched females. The day was very hot and the dragonflies were not going to settle so I had to resort to trying for in-flight images as they hovered for a few seconds whilst on patrol.
Also in this area resides a very rare damselfly the Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus). Carefully I checked the rushes. There were dozens of Scarce Emeralds, a species I saw for the first time on the pingo trail ( see post ‘A day with the damsels’). Then by chance I spotted one without any blue, a couple of quick shots for conformation, this was a Southern Emerald. First recorded in 2002 it is limited to only a couple of sites in the country.
A very successful day. The field also held a good number of butterflies including Marbled Whites which we do not have in Norfolk. The only downside to the day (apart from the travelling on over congested roads) was I forgot to check my camera batteries after the drag racing, yes they went/were flat!
Friday promised to be a good day inland away from the cool on-shore breeze. A bit of a dilemma what to do. There was a hot rod drag race on an airfield in south Norfolk which sounded fun or we could go and look for dragonflies at a new site. In the end the latter option appealed more so we headed to the Brecks and Thompson Common the start of ‘The Great Eastern Pingo Trail’. “What on earth is a pingo?” I hear you say. Without being too scientific a pingo was formed in the last ice age. It is a mound in the permafrost which creates a pond. These ponds are important habitats so there is plenty of conservation work carried out to stop them disappearing.
Thompson Common is a really beautiful place. A walk through woodland, in the cool shade, led to open flower filled areas favoured by several species of butterfly. The pingos varied from being in deep shady woodland looking like primeval swamp to open marshy dips to the large meadow pool with reeds, lilies and lots of open water. It was here I searched for the Scarce Emerald (Lestes dryas) a rare damselfly in the UK. There were hundreds of damsels around the pool, lots of Emeralds (Lestes sponsa) which was confusing, my field guide said these should appear later in July. I found my target but the differences between the two are quite slight.
The emerald family are also known as spreadwings. Unlike other damselflies which hold their wings along their backs the emeralds often have theirs in this semi open position. The pingo trail is eight miles in total. We walked a couple before returning to the car to find a pub lunch. After lunch and a refreshing pint at the Chequers we drove through Thompson village down a narrow and rough track to Thompson Water, a large man made lake at the western end of the trail.
As we approached the lake the whole area was covered with countless thousands of Common Blue and Azure Damselflies which rose up like a little blue cloud as you carefully walked among them. What I had come to see would be found on the water. These were the Red-eyed and Small Red-eyed Damselflies. Two species that look very alike, these sit on floating aquatic plants. Tina was in her element as my ‘spotter’ and was pointing them out to me. Trouble was they were several feet from the bank. I tried my zoom lens but the results were not sharp enough so I switched to the macro and hung out as far as I could, with my camera at arms length to get close, thankfully some shots were spot on!
A great day out and four new species of odonata photographed. Next week we are off to the Lake District for a holiday so if the weather behaves I hope to see some more, fingers crossed.
May 26th 2017. Today I decided to keep local and pay my first visit of the year to Hickling Broad. For any visitor to Norfolk ,or if you are local, this is a lovely walk at this time of the year. I use the Weavers Way footpath on the south side of the Broad. Starting at Decoy Road and head east to Rush Hills, for a longer walk you can carry on to the River Thurne.
There is lots of different wildlife to see along here in late spring especially if you go fairly early in the morning. The reed beds are alive with the song of Reed and Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and the ping of Bearded Tits. Overhead magnificent Marsh Harriers hunt and today I was lucky to see Common Crane and a dashing Hobby.
I spent most of my visit watching and photographing dragon and damselflies. There were lots of Four Spotted Chasers and several Broad Bodied Chasers. I noticed a few Hairy Dragonflies, a species not that common, this is the earliest and smallest of the hawkers to emerge, and they rarely settle, the image above is the only shot I managed.
There were lots of damselflies in certain areas, Azure, Blue Tail and Large Red. Its great to get images of these delicate creatures, when enlarged the detail is stunning.
I had hoped to see my first Swallowtail butterfly of the year but it was not to be despite the clear blue skies and hot temperatures.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.