Damsels and Darters

I escaped from Auntie for a few hours after work on Friday for a ramble around Newport Wetlands Nature  Reserve. This meant I was able to take my time and do some really serious fossicing around without feeling under pressure as Aunty waited further up the path. The sun peeked from behind the clouds every now and then, and it was lovely and warm. At this time of year there isn’t much of interest in the bird department, as many are finishing their moult and feeding up and were are all well hidden. So do it was invertebrates that took my fancy. The reserve is a good place to guarantee at least a few dragonflies, and today was no exception. The one thing I’ve found with dragonflies is that you need patience and a lot of tiptoeing to get close enough for even a vaguely in focus photograph.

As I was walking along one the quieter areas of the reserve I came across a pair of Darters that seemed to be competing for stretches of territory along the path. Every now and then one would invade the others patch and they would quickly fly around each other and then settle down again on the path with about 8m separating each other. It was a challenge to get close enough without disturbing them and get a couple of reasonable photos. It was only when I got home and had a closer look at the results I realised they were two different species, Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum and Ruddy Darter, Sympetrum sanguineum.

The Common Darter is one of the most common dragonflies in Europe and can be seen on on the wing from June through to October, and during mild spells into November. It’s not large, and grows to about 4cm, maybe slightly larger, but is easy to notice due to its red colouring. The main distinguishing feature is the dark yellow stripe down the top of the legs. But this is not so easy to see when it is darting about.

Common Darter
Common Darter

The Ruddy Darter is not as common as the Common Darter (living up to its name there) but it’s still easy to locate. At about the same size, they do both look very similar when flying around. If you look closely at the photograph below of the Ruddy Darter you can see there are similarities between the two – and I’m using this as my defence. However, the legs though dark do not have the yellow stripe, and the colouration seems to be brighter. If it’s possible to see the face,  Ruddy Darter has a red face.

Ruddy Darter

Darters select prominent perches, typically on waterside vegetation, from which to launch sorties to capture prey or deter others. Hence their common name. Territories are not fixed, but are selected for their exposure to sunlight and so vary both over the course of the day and seasonally. Territories may be unguarded during mating activity, and so taken by subordinate males.

Further along the path up popped a Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum. Now I really like these bright, dainty damselflies. But they can be tricky to identify. No change that! I find them almost impossible to identify in the field. I can only do so with the photograph and the field guide, because the black markings on the abdomen can be very similar in different species, of which there are seven that occur in the UK.

The Common Blue flies from around May through to September, and is not an uncommon visitor to gardens. As they fly they appear to drift through the air, snatching prey from vegetation. Damselflies rest with their wings folded lengthways along their body. During mating, the male clasps the female by her neck while she bends her body around to his reproductive organs – this is called a mating wheel. The pair flies together over the water and eggs are laid within a suitable plant, just below the surface.

Common Blue Damselfly

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