Taking a Damsel for Lunch

I’ve maintained a “to be visited” list of potential dragonfly haunts for some time. One of those is Harrold-Odell Country Park but, as reported in A Break from Paper Hanging, our recent spell of settled weather coincided with a bank holiday so I avoided it in favour of quieter haunts. However, with further Odo-friendly weather today, albeit with a wind that still had a chill to it, I just couldn’t resist my inaugural visit, even though this would mean braving Joe Public, Joe Public’s uncontrolled rugrats (controlling rugrats is clearly very unfashionable in the UK these days) and Joe Public’s even less controlled dogs (“down Rover, don’t jump up people” – how many times have they said that?).

The park lies in the north of Bedfordshire between two villages called Harrold and Odell. Ah ha! It took us about 45 minutes to get there, via Tesco at Kingston in Milton Keynes in search of an HDMI cable with a bendy head, which we found. An overflow car park was open and, Just driving into at, we were scaring up clouds of teneral damselflies which had to go unidentified but were either Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella) and/or Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum). We identified both, later. Even the overflow car park was approaching full and there were nearly as many teneral Homo sapiens as there were teneral Enallagma cyathigerum. I must say, though, that the place proved to be a pleasant surprise, very nicely done and essentially free, though there was a suggested £1 donation for parking which I’m more than happy to pay for such a facility. Donations are a nice way to do it.

J01_2735 Common Blue Damselfly maleHOCP has a big lake, Grebe Lake, which we sat beside to eat a chorizo and tomato sandwich while we watched the constant flutter of rising tenerals again. You really couldn’t take a step here without scaring up someone; there were hundreds of them. Here’s what some of the lucky ones of these will turn into, a fully matured male Common Blue Damselfly. I really don’t have any idea of the strition rate for teneral damselflies – interesting thought.

J01_2726 Banded Demoiselle maleAfter a brief lunch we headed into the “wildlife sanctuary”, a wooded wetland area, which was is also a blessed sanctuary from dogs. Excellent! We added loads of Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryz splendens) to our count and spent some time watching a suspected Hairy Dragonfly/Hairy Hawker (Brachytron pratense) zoom about waiting for a landing which, typically, never occurred. There was also a lone female Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Leaving the wildlife sanctuary, we struck out across a field of cow pats (avoided) to the Great Ouse which snakes borders the southern side of the park. Here we found a pair of Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) ovipositing though we didn’t see any others, somewhat curiously. The Ouse was clearly not navigable at this point, the middle being blocked in various places by clumps of reed and other emergent vegetation, much loved of dragonflies. There were a few sparse patches of lily pads near the river bank which were being occupied by several Red-eyed Damselflies (Erythromma najas), in their habitual manner.

J01_2738 Damselfly exuviaWith the day’s species count standing at a traditional seven – I have several sites in this vicinity with a count of seven – we began making our way back towards the overflowing car park. Oh well, just a quick extra look along the shore of Grebe Lake, then. 🙂 The lake itself looked relatively quiet but I did spot a damselfly exuvia on one of plants. Given the amount of tenerals going up throughout the afternoon there must have been lots more but they seem pretty difficult to spot. Where blue-type damselflies are concerned, they are also difficult to identify with any degree of certainly, apparently. This one is clearly that of a damselfly because it still has caudal lamellae attached – gill like structures at the end of the tail/abdomen.

J01_2740 Hairy Hawker at lunchJ01_2742 Hairy Hawker femaleThe highlight happened following my exuvia interlude. Another Hairy Hawker shot past us. Shortly it returned flying more slowly and looking somehow different. It settled in a lakeside tree just above our heads. At first glance Carol wondered if it had formed a copulation wheel with another. However, once settled we could see that it looked different because it had one of the teneral damselflies dangling from its mouthparts. Its lunch main course is a female damselfly – you can see its never-to-be-used ovipositor in the photo (left) but I can’t tell the species. The angle caused a twig to blur some of the dining subject, unfortunately, but I wanted the shot for interest. It took just a few minutes to munch everything but the wings. I moved round to get a better – less macabre? – angle which is the much better photo (right). This was my first ever decent chance for a Hairy Dragonfly photo shoot so I was very content with the day’s work.

Harrold-Odell Country Park proved to be a less intimidating place that I feared. I will certainly return to see what species the later season brings.

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