A Salopian Weekend

Being an Odo-nutter, a self-confessed dragonfly anorak, I maintain a list of the species I’ve seen in various countries. Of most interest is, perhaps naturally, that of the home team, the Odonata of the UK. In Britain’s Dragonflies, Messrs Smallshire and Swash list 44 breeding species though I would tend to argue against one of those being included: the Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum), of which the BDS says this.

Irregular migrant but may occur in large numbers (1995, 2006). Has bred after major influxes (e.g. Chartley Moss, Staffordshire, in 1996), but colonies do not persist.

British Dragonflies says something similar. Personally, I’d leave it in the separate migrants/vagrants list until such time as colonies do persist.

So, my list is actually 43. There are four species that occur only in locales “where angels fear to tread”. I’m thinking particularly of the Irish Damselfly (Coenagrion lunulatum), which I will never see in our territory since I am not prepared to go anywhere near Ireland, together with the Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea),  Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum) and Northern Emerald (Somatochlora arctica), all three of which are limited in range to Scotland which, following last September’s disastrous trip weather-wise, I’m not about to hurry back to tick off, either. Fortunately, those four are at least potentially available in France.

That leaves me with four target species that I’m prepared to find in the UK. Two of my missing four species are very localized in their territory but at least their locales are civilized. One reason that I haven’t yet seen them is that both have a main flight season in June, when I am habitually swanning around France. This year however, is different because I am “stuck” in the UK awaiting my cataract operation. My enforced stay has its compensations, however, in that it enables us to go in search of them.

Last weekend, we had booked in to a campsite just outside Shrewsbury to search for the very habitat-specific White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia). This character is dependent upon peat bogs with floating Sphagnum Moss, 95% of which habitat we have contrived to destroy in the UK. It is now rare and localized but there is a thriving population at Whixall Moss about 12 miles north of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. The icing on the cake was that this was forecast to be a largely sunny weekend. During our 120-mile drive up on Friday, we got a phone call informing us that my cataract operation would be on the following Thursday (13th June). Hoorah! Happy camper.

J01_2830 campsite Downy EmeraldThis was my first trip to this part of the country and we lucked out in that the campsite proved to be excellent. In a second stroke of luck, the campsite presented us with some on-site Friday afternoon entertainment in the form of a flooded quarry. Here we found eight species of Odos the most interesting of which was a Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea). Like a good little Odo observer, I submitted my sightings to the Shropshire county recorder and it seems that my Downy was a first at this site. Good job I got a photograph as proof.

J01_2883 White-faced DarterJ01_2880 White-faced DarterOn Saturday we went to the hallowed ground of Whixall Moss in search the main quarry of our trip, the White-faced Darter. En route we called in to another moss, Wem Moss, thinking that we might find some sundews for those with a botanical bent but our attempt proved unsuccessful, the entrance track being something of a quagmire and, in all probability, the sundews being yet to appear, anyway. Fortunately, Whixall Moss was much more successful. Here, not only did we find the White-faces in reasonable abundance, but I also bumped into another couple of other dragonfly enthusiasts from the UK Dragonflies website, who were up on a day trip from the Bristol area. Though the White-faces tend to keep low and can be tricky to snap, we had a bit of nature photo-fest together.

_MG_0303 Quantum LeapOn Sunday we took a break from dragonflies and went in search of more cultural entertainment in Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury is in a large loop of the meandering River Severn, which I now know to be the longest river in Britain, and is the home town of Charles Darwin. It’s difficult to get away from either when visiting Shrewsbury, not that one should want to, I’d say. We’d really lucked out for this weekend and our third day of sunshine showed off Shrewsbury to good effect. On one bank of the Severn, we found this memorial, cast in concrete, to Charles Darwin intriguingly entitled Quantum Leap. A little further along the riverside a festival of some kind was just beginning to warm up with a zumba demonstration by a group of energetic ladies.

So, even though the temperatures were kept a little low by an easterly airflow, our three day sunny weekend will probably go down as this year’s summer. It’s been a long time since I was away for just a weekend but I can’t remember enjoying one more. Mind you, I was getting Billy withdrawal symptoms. Not only did we get to walk and sit outside but we found our intended quarry. That all adds up to it being a great success, I’d say.

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