False Start

One of my favourite on-line Odonata communities is UK Dragonflies. They seem a particularly friendly bunch of enthusiasts, so much so that I made a trip to meet some of them by the river Thames in search of the Common Clubtail/Club-tailed Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) last year. [Yes, we did find one.] Naturally, the UK Dragonflies website goes a little quiet in the off-season but it doesn’t die completely, so I keep the occasional eye on it over winter.

Posting action on UK Dragonflies starts picking up in late March/early April as all us Odo-nutters eagerly await the first appearance of the new season’s specimens, normally the Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). The actual start of the season is weather-dependent, late March being reserved for good years. Last year, after a promising early start descended into the abyss weather-wise, Bedfordshire recorded its first Large Red on 21st April. Since this spring has thus far been in the abyss all along, everyone was expecting this to be a late start season. Given this context, I was stunned when one of the UK Dragonflies members relayed that a Large Red Damselfly had been reported (on a birding site, no less) as having emerged in Norfolk, three days ago on 14th April. Norfolk is further north and further east, from which our prevailing cold winds have been blowing. Normally the season would start first in the extreme south and work its way up the country.

Nonetheless, despite ones feelings of hopelessness, if there’s a Large Red somewhere in the country, one feels obliged to get out there and check. I went to my local Sandhouse Lane NR where I found almost nothing more than a lonely Pond Skater – not butterflies, not flies and certainly not dragonflies. With hardly any vegetation even, the place still felt more like winter than spring. Undeterred, I also tried Duck End NR which produced my first LRDs locally last year. Again nothing, more like winter than spring though the frogs were eagerly jumping on anything including what appeared to be a dead frog.

J01_2272 PeacockToday I stuck my nose in to King’s Wood, Heath and Reach, where I have seen LRDs in previous years. This was born more out of a desire for some fresh air than of hope. Sure enough, not an Odo in sight. I did, however, spot a Peacock (Inachis io) butterfly basking in the sporadic sunshine. I’m used to seeing these guys in spring after hibernating as adults. This one even appeared to be in good, clean condition after over-wintering.

J01_2265 CommaI don’t know where my butterfly brain has been all these years but I was much more surprised to see a Comma (Polygonia c-album) also sunning itself. Clearly these characters over-winter as adults, too, which is not something I realized. Having submitted my Comma to iSpot, I now know that we have five hibernating butterfly species:

  • Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)
  • Peacock (Inachis io)
  • Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).
  • Comma (Polygonia c-album)
  • Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urtcae)

I knew about three of them hibernated but the last two were news. Live and learn.

Still no Large Red Damselflies, though. Mind you, given the weather and lack of very much in the way of dragonfly food around, I’d say that emerging now might not be a good idea. I fear for the longevity of that apparently single Norfolk individual.

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