Odonata. Odo- what? In ancient Greek it means 'toothed jaw', and this is the name under which dragonflies and damselflies are grouped and the name comes from the fact that their mouth parts are serated.
Dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing from May to September with a small number of species on the wing into October and November. In the UK 52 species of odonata have been recorded with 38 of these breeding in the UK. The rest of the records are of species which have either become extinct in the UK in the last 50 years or are migrant species such as the Vagrant Emperor. Many species with a primarily Mediterranean distribution in Europe are known to now be advancing northwards, possibly related to climate change. And there's one species, the Highland Darter, which is thought not to be a seperate species at all but a dark morph of the Common Darter.
Southern Migrant Hawker
Identifying dragonflies in the field can take some practice, particularly with something like the hawkers which settle infrequently. Taking in fight style, habitat, colour and markings can help. Males tend to be more brightly coloured then the females - it all sounds a bit like birds. Damselflies and dragonflies are fairly obviously told apart with damselflies generally being smaller with a weaker flight. At rest, dragonflies will hold their wings open whilst damselflies usually hold their wings shut. Another difference is that damselfly eyes are proportionally much smaller than dragonflies, which have massive compound eyes, giving them 360 degree vision that enables them to detect the smallest of movements from a distance.
Common Hawker, photo courtesy of Ken Gartside
That's nothing compared to their flight. These are insects that can beat their two sets of wings out of phase, hover and fly backwards and sideways. And they can fly fast - the maximum speed of large species like the hawkers is around 25-30 mph, although average cruising speed is probably about 10 mph. Dragonflies can make rapid changes of direction, making them fantastic aerial predators, feeding on everything from small midges to butterflies. A dragonfly's legs have rows of sharp spines which help trap prey, often consuming it in flight. And dragonflies themselves are prey for birds such as Hobby and Tern. I recently watched a fantastic aerial chase between a Common Tern and a dragonfly with the tern finally catching the dragonfly.
The British Dragonfly Society says that over a third of the UK's breeding dragonfly and damselfly species are in decline. Some of this is due to changes in agriculture through, for example, the loss of ponds that were once used to water livestock. As much as 95% of the life cycle of a dragonfly is spent under water, so garden ponds can be important habitat for dragonflies and it's just one reason why we create ponds as part of our woodland management work at Dove Stone.
Broad bodied chaser photo courtesy of Ken Gartside
So what of dragonflies at Dove Stone ? With hawkers we've seen recently Brown Hawker, Common Hawker (including ones egg laying ) and Southern Hawker, whose distribution is more lowland and southern, which makes this a good spot ! There's also been Broad Bodied Chasers at our woodland pools. With damselflies we've recent sightings of Large Reds, Azure damselfly, Blue tailed damselfly and Common blue. Thanks to Ken for keeping the records and photos coming. However, some of the UK's dragonflies aren't doing so well due to habitat loss and, here's the link, this is particularly affecting bog-loving dragonflies such as the White-faced darter.
Blue tailed damselflies, photo courtesy of Ken Gartside.
The White-faced darter is one of Britain's rarest dragonflies and has been found to breed at only five sites in England, including upland bogs, and it certainly used to be found in the north-west. It's habitat is one of acidic water ( which doesn't support predators such as fish ) and the larvae of the White-faced darter live amongst Sphagnum moss. Re-colonising Sphagnum moss is a big element of our blanket bog restoration work at Dove Stone. Who knows, maybe one day we'll have White-faced darter to add to our records !
More soon with an update of Dove Stone's 2013 bird list and a bit about moths, ahead of this weekend's National Moth Night.
A quick update on what's around and about at the moment. On the bird front recent sightings include some good raptors: two Merlins, one chasing and catching a Meadow Pipit, two Red Kites, Peregrine, two Sparrowhawk and a family of five Kestrels. Last year we also had good, frequent sightings of a family of Kestrels regularly over Aldermans Brow. Kestrels are awesome little birds. Also recently, reports of Long Eared Owl. Up on the moor tops there's a few Golden Plovers and Dunlin still around as well as of course resident Red Grouse. Around the main trail and in the woods we've recently seen Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch, Coal Tit, Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren and Mistle Thrush. There are also some Swallows still flying around the farm land adjacent to Dove Stone reservoir and good numbers of Black Headed Gulls on the res itself. One to look out for at the moment is Crossbill and perhaps even worth keeping an eye out for Two Barred Crossbill, which seem to have irrupted this year. So, it won't be too long before we start to get reports of migrant birds coming through, but for now our Dove Stone Reserve Birdlist is treading water at 65.
On the butterfly front, about two weeks ago there was a proliferation of Small Tortoiseshells. Now it seems to be a lot of Peacocks on the wing, with good numbers to be seen in the fields around the main trail. I love the way that the underwing is a very dark brown and then you get these amazing colours when it opens its wings. So, there are still Small Torts to be seen with some on the wing today. I've also seen today Speckled Wood, good numbers of Large Whites, a few Meadow Browns and a couple of very worn looking Ringlets. There are quite a few Antler moths on the wing too. Dragonflies are also still on the wing so worth looking out for. I watched one at Dove Stone this morning hawking after a moth but it was going too fast to get a proper id on it. It got the moth though.
Last sighting from today is one for the fly fans. Up at Dove Stone we've a lot of Common Knapweed, which is not only good for pollinators like bees and butterflies but is also good as birds such as Goldfinch feed off the seed. But the Goldfinch might be after something else. If you tease apart the flower head of Common Knapweed ( which is also known as Hardheads ) then right at the very bottom of it you may, just may, find a small larvae with a brown head. If you don't like grubs or larvae then perhaps not for you. However, what you'd be looking at is the larvae of one of the flies belonging to the tephritidae family. Which exact species this is, I don't yet know as flies in this familiy can number in their thousands. Regardless, it's a neat example of how our plants are an important food source that goes beyond their seeds. You can put out niger seed in a feeder for birds like Goldfinch but why not try something in addition: plant some Knapweed or Teasel. Let a few thistles grow in your garden. The results will be worth it.
If you're interested in how we can propagate wildflowers at Dove Stone then this Sunday we have our second seed collecting drop-in. The last one about two weeks ago was good for Yellow Rattle and now seeds from Hardheads and Oxeye Daisy are ready to collect. There's also a lot of Rowan berries at Dove Stone at the moment so it will be good to collect some seed from these too and propagate some trees. If you fancy coming along find us on the main trail from around 12 noon to 3pm.
Common Blue and Hoverfly on Common Knapweed
More soon with a posting on Dove Stone's fungi, some of which are now starting to appear.
Here's some pictures of the litter that was collected at Dove Stone on Sunday - ten bin bags full in the space of a morning from just one part of Dove Stone.
As well as two tents we picked up glass bottles, plastic bottles, beer cans, drinks cartons, straws, crisp packets, nappies, cigarette packs and on and on...A big thank you to Claire and Karl for picking all this rubbish up. Good work but sad and pretty outrageous that it needs to be done really. And really hard to understand that the people who leave litter care so little about the environment that they presumably come to in order to enjoy the beauty of the landscape. And that's not to mention the effects on wildlife of left litter. At the weekend I picked up a beer bottle that had been thrown away at Dove Stone and when I tipped it up 13 dead Violet Ground Beetles fell out. The other day one of the RSPB team removed a plastic carton from the top of a thistle head - a very effective way to stop any butterflies and bees from feeding on a plant.
Violet Ground Beetle
We really do have a throw away, disposable culture. We use 8 billion plastic bags a year in the UK (2011). 8 billion. And on average these are used for just 12 minutes. That's all. How long does it take a plastic bag to biodegrade ? The answer is that they don't; they just break down into smaller and smaller bits that contaminate our soil, waterways and seas. More on this subject in the near future, plus details of ' The Big Pick-Up!' at Dove Stone, coming soon.
On a more positive note, the warm weather means that there's still lots and lots of butterflies to see at Dove Stone. At the weekend there was a Comma on a nettlebed next to the main car park, which just goes to show that wildlife can be seen in the places you might least expect ! I also saw at the weekend Gatekeepers, Ringlets, Meadow Brown, Small Skippers, Large White, Green Veined White, Small Heaths as well as a few day-flying Antler moths . I'm sure there would have been other butterflies around as well that we see regularly such as Speckled Wood.
The best butterfly sighting of the day for me though were large numbers of Small Tortoiseshells which I think are the freshest looking that I've ever seen with really bright, intense colours. Still time to submit your buttefly sightings from your garden, local park or other greenspace to Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count www.bigbutterflycount.org
On the bird front sightings from the weekend include Raven, Wheatear, Bullfinch, Treecreeper, a single Lapwing flying over and along Dove Stone reservoir dam wall before heading off towards Alderman's Brow, Peregrine, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, large numbers of Black Headed Gulls on Dove Stone res, Swallow, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Great, Blue and Coal Tit and Kestrel . Nothing to be heard from Common Sandpipers who having bred will have left to begin the return journey to Africa. More soon...