This spring has been different. For one thing, it’s been a lot colder than normal – the coldest for 50 years, I think it is now said – which has delayed nature all round. The emergence of long-awaited damselflies after what seemed like an interminable winter was certainly late. Damselflies are the first Odonata to appear but shortly after, a few dragonflies, the big boys, do begin appearing. One of those is the Hairy Dragonfly [BDS name] or Hairy Hawker [preferred by Dijkstra/Lewington … and myself, for that matter], Brachytron pratense. It’s a so-called mosaic hawker, those with a dark abdomen with inlaid coloured spots/markings. If you see a mosaic hawker zooming about in May, in the UK that is, it’s almost guaranteed to be a Hairy. They don’t settle particularly often so they are a tricky species to snap.
I know my fascination with Odonata began only about four years ago, but I went for three of those years with just a single Hairy Hawker spotting, complete with a crappy photo of it. My subject was an ovipositing female and it was definitely a grab shot but I really should have been able to do better; it’s not as though they bounce up and down, like some species, while they oviposit, darn it! Just for a laugh, here’s that picture. Lose 10 points JC.
Though the weather this spring has been absolute pants, we will all have noticed, with much relief I suspect, that we are currently enjoying a very welcomed spell of settled weather with a good amount of sun. We are still in the grip of largely easterly/north-easterly winds that have a distinct chill to them but it is very pleasant and one heck of a lot better than anything hitherto. I’m quite certain that our wildlife will have been breathing collective sighs of relief.
First of all, on one of our earlier sunny days when we went exploring Roxton, We spotted two Hairy Hawkers and Carol managed to snag a grab shot of one settled in a rather inaccessible position. It, too was a female and, though awkwardly positioned, was a hell of a lot better than my historic, blurred ovipositing female.
A second encounter came last Sunday, three days ago, while we were exploring Harrold-Odell Country Park for the first time. Here, yet another female Hairy Hawker settled in a tree beside us to devour a hapless teneral damselfly. She was not obscured, at least from the best angle, and we now had a very good picture of a female Hairy.
Our third encounter happened today when we risked life, limb and car by visiting the Blue Lagoon in Bletchley. That might sound like a romantic name but the reality is quite different. It may not be quite as bad as I make out but the Blue Lagoon’s surroundings are, shall we say, on the rough side of civilized. It’s a decent enough habitat but is on the doorstep of a questionable housing estate and comes complete with a traveller encampment (I won’t dignify them by calling them Gypsies) at its southern end, very near the secluded car park. It does not engender a feeling of calm and security.
Shortly after we bravely parked in said secluded car park, we were stalking a couple of Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata) flying and perching in a sunny inlet on the first lake. Yet another Hairy Hawker flew in, sniffed around the reeds as they do, then flew back out. We amused ourselves with the Four-spotted Chasers, which were our first of this season.
We moved a few yards further round the lakeside to another access point. I’d peered at the reeds at the edge of the lake itself and seen nothing when Carol announced that another Four-spotted Chaser was settled in an accessible position. I grabbed another shot – you can never have too many Four-spotted Chaser pictures. Then to my astonishment, we spotted a Hairy Hawker perched on a sapling a foot or so above the ground. Apart from needing to avoid a few blades of intervening grass, it couldn’t really have been any better. It sat for some time while I snapped away. I could see this one was my first ever male, so we now had a matching pair for the collection. Excellent!
We’re usually in France for June but this year I’m “stuck” here waiting for a cataract operation. Still, it gives me the chance to seek out UK species that I usually miss due to my absence. It’s not entirely absence that makes the Hairy Hawkers difficult, though, ‘cos I’ve seen other respected dragonfly enthusiasts say they’ve been waiting years for a decently settled Hairy. So, I consider myself very fortunate this hairy spring.
Maybe I’ll have to stay here more often? Nah!