For Odonata, a.k.a. Dragonflies and Damselflies, that is.
It has been a long winter for a relatively new addict for many reasons, not the least of which, of course, were my surgical experiences caused by ridding myself of a freshly emerged cancerous prostate. Freshly emerged last September, that is. My hope was to have myself fixed up and recovered by the time the new wildlife watching season started. Not wishing to get ahead of myself, but it looks as though it may have happened.
Given my latest addiction, a few weeks ago I decided to join the Bedfordshire Natural History Society. Using their records from 2010, I discovered that the first Damselflies records were Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula – these are always first) on 20th April, 2010, at Duck End Nature Reserve at Maulden, Beds. We’ve had some staggeringly good weather this spring so off I went with my spotter (hawk-eyes Carol doesn’t miss much) looking for much more welcome freshly emerged cellular clusters.
Sally Satnav got very confused trying to get us to within a spit of Duck End. Some scurrilous rascal has slung in a completely new road heading for Bedford, a road that neither I nor she knew about. Thinking I was at a different roundabout, I mistakenly turned onto said new road. Poor Sally!; as far as she was concerned our little Mazda MX5 was emulating our Honda CR-V and was merrily tromping across the farm fields of Bedfordshire like a fully accomplished off-roader. Garmins are irritatingly amusing when you get off course – “recalculating, recalculting, recalculating”. Actually, since our Garmin is currently set to French [Ed: Don’t ask] she muttered, very sexily, “calcul encore, calcul encore, calcul encore”. Naturally, since we were now not on a road as far as she was concerned, she had a very hard time calcul-ing encore. Eventually, though, we hit a road that did exist a few months ago and both she and we were back on track. OK, Sally, don’t panic.
With the help of a local allotment holder, we located Duck End NR, forced our way through about 10 football-toting youths [Ed: Darwin, how much better the world is when Satan’s little disciples are incarcerated in school!] and started looking for signs of intelligent life. Orange Tip butterflies were in profusion but very uncooperative. A Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) was much better behaved and basked with its wings nicely opened. Nearby, a Small White (Artogeia rapae) seemed to be sucking moisture from some mud but didn’t sit very long and certainly not with its wings open – they rarely do. Both enabled me to get a little practice, though.
For a pocket-handkerchief of a reserve, Duck End sports four bodies of water. Having tried #1 and #2 to not avail, I was studying #3 when I heard my spotter dry, “here!” back at the far side of #1. Bingo, hawk-eyes had seen our first damselfly of the year. Just as I was getting my camera ready, it flew off into the trees. Bugger! We waited, we watched – nothing. Curses! I shouldn’t have worried, hawk-eyes wandered a little further along the hawthorn hedge and spotted a few other Large Red damsels. Hawthorn hedges and brambles make for a confusing background, confusing enough to cause my Canon EOS 40D autofocus logic to get very confused. Bugger! Over winter, I’d forgotten how frustrating this focus-hunting can be. Eventually I got it stabilized enough for some decent shots of these truly beautiful critters, though.
Hawk-eyes struck again when she found a couple of exuviae attached to some of the vegetation surrounding the damsels’ nursery pond. One was particularly interesting because at least one lamella was still attached to the rear end of the abdomen. The lamellae, there are usually three, are like gills for damselfly larvae and absorb oxygen from the water .
I have just realized that that, during this entire afternoon, not once did I think about any incontinence. That’s the first day that’s happened for four months. Wow!
An excellent day – not only was the weather stunning but my friends are back! Something else may be mostly back, too, but I don’t want to jinx it. 🙂