Cornmill Meadows

Thankfully, September has begun much better than August ended – well, than August was all the way through, to be accurate. While one of us remained chez nous awaiting a delivery, I took myself and my camera gear over to visit a place we’d been told about by one of Carol’s Greensand Trust colleagues intending to maximize my use of the late summer sunshine. The place in question was Cornmill Meadows in the Lee Valley Park and, just north of Waltham Abbey, it boasts a dragonfly sanctuary. Irresistible!

IMG_7270_Brown_Hawker After a mere two wrong turns (I still don’t have a satnav and my Navigation Officer was at home waiting for stuff), I finally arrived at my intended car park. The car park was surprisingly, free – things were getting better and better. A notice board at the exit to the car park announced, “Dragonfly Walk”, and suggested that I follow the way marks. I set off along the path but, try as I might, I could find nothing that I would call a way marking sign: no posts, no arrows on tree trunks, nothing. I did bump into a river with paths going left and right, however. Though there were still no signs, there was an unusually cooperative Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) hanging in the tree beside the river right in front of me. These guys are tireless flyers and seem to stop only rarely. It was half hidden by a leaf but it was an opportunity, nonetheless.

I flipped a mental coin and turned right. After a few hundred yards I came to another dividing of the ways and a bridge over the river. There was a public footpath sign but again no “Dragonfly Walk” sign. Since the footpath seemed to be heading back towards the road, I crossed the bridge. Here, without an arrow to indicate direction, was another notice board saying “follow the Dragonfly Walk to learn more”. “I’d love to. Where is it?”, I muttered. There were two paths, both of which went alongside streams so I flipped my mental coin again and moved on.

IMG_7289_Banded_Demoiselle IMG_7273_Banded_Demoiselle I must have done something right ‘cos I was soon watching some fabulous Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) flitting about in the sunlight. In common with most damselflies, these chaps sit with their wings folded along the length of their abdomen. However, occasionally, often just after they have alighted, they flick their wings open once or twice, almost as though they are flexing their muscles. With a little patience, timing and luck, you can catch them with their wings open on pixels. After a few failures, I struck lucky. On the left is the female of the species with clear, greenish tinted wings. On the right, the male showing off its striking metallic blue-green  colour.

IMG_7367_Migrant_Hawker IMG_7348_Migrant_Hawker Continuing along the path after thanking the Banded Demoiselles, I came to another notice board mentioning the “Dragonfly Walk”. More by luck than judgement, I seemed to have happened across the correct path. The correct path produced quite a few of the “usual suspects”, Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum) and Ruddy Darters (Sympetrum sanguineum), which I’m getting a little blasé about, but there was also quite a bit of hawker activity. Along most of the walk the hawkers were so restless that I couldn’t make an id. Then, on a stretch of the return route, I hit pay dirt. Several hawkers were not only picking spots in which to hover, but were sometimes alighting on grass stems on my side of the river. I now know that they are Migrant Hawkers (Aeshna mixta), one of the so-called “mosaic hawkers”, and what magnificent creatures they are. Twice I tried to tear myself away and twice I returned, captivated.

All good things must come to an end, though, and eventually I tore myself away so I could return to fire up the September barbecue. It’s possible to while away several pleasant hours at Cornmill Meadows. I will return though it may have to wait until next season, now.

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