Monday, 20 June 2011

An Audience with The Emperor

News filtered through to Dragonhunter HQ that the weekend brought a couple of Emerald damselfly and Common Darters out (at Kibblesworth, surprise, surprise) Indiana Steve and his faithful hound Tilly checked it out this morning, and reports that not only did he get a few Emeralds and an emerging Common Darter, but an Emperor was on the wing, as was the first Black-tailed Skimmer of the year too. Fantastic! So with the sun shining (but for how long?) an afternoon exploration was immediately arranged, and today we were joined by Roving Ron H, eager to get some extreme close-up shots of dragons and butterflies.
An initial scan of the pool revealed at least half a dozen four-spotted chasers, hunting, skirmishing but not posing as they are seemingly driven to a frenzy by the bright sunshine, and a good number of single and coupling blue damsels, of which closer inspection reveals a mix of Common blue, Azure and Blue-tailed. We stealthily circled the main pool, looking for the Black-tailed Skimmer in the channels surrounding the island, but alas, nothing to be seen.
Suddenly a shout goes out as a magnificent male Emperor Dragonfly makes a sortie across the pool. This large hawker dragonfly is the most distinctive and aggressive of the British species, and combined with aerial speed and agility makes him a danger to all insects flying in the area, even the four-spotted chasers are not immune from his attacks. He makes three rapid passes of our position, I sweep my camera in tune with his sorties and click away in the hope of capturing him on his mission, and somehow succeed with this shot below. Result!

Male Emperor Dragonfly
largest of the regular Gateshead hawkers and most easily identifiable as this profile shot
shows the bright green thorax and mainly bright blue abdomen.
Our other regular hawkers are predominently black or dark brown.
Female Emperors are a paler greeny blue colour throughout.
He is on the wing as long as the sun shines, circumnavigating the pond somewhere below head height, then almost skimming the surface as he crosses to the far side where he resumes patrol along the margins, using his almost 360 degree vision to spot a target above and rear up to treetop height to take a victim. I love watching these hawkers in full flow!

Unfortunately, as seems to be the norm these days, the Curse of the Clouds strikes, and all dragonfly flights are called off. The cloud cover has an immediate effect, the dozen or so four-spotted chasers disappear too, so the rest of the session is confined to hunting out courting and freshly emerged damsels, of which there are many, and my two companions seek out perched up four-spotted chasers in the heavily vegetated far-end of the pool which they seem to favour.
Here are the best of the shots I managed, showing some new behaviour in the life cycle.

A canny profile shot of an Azure damsel
Plenty of these on show today, mainly in tandem pairs

The mating wheel
This is the next stage after coupling up, Azure damsels stay close to their
chosen pond for copulation, which generally takes about 30 minutes, before
returning in tandem for ovipositing. 

Another mating wheel, Azure damsels, seem to be much more common
than the Common Blue at the moment.

Female Blue-tailed Damsel
A mature specimen, immatures start adult life with either a pink or violet thorax
becoming green/brown with age 
The sun only makes fleeting appearances after that initial superb start to our quest, but I do get one final brief audience with the Emperor, and shortly before we leave I get sight of a single immature Emerald damselfly, but lose it again as it flies off towards cover, offering no opportunity to record it with a photograph, but they won’t elude us for long, I’m sure.
No Black-tailed Skimmer then, but we’ll be back, and a cracking view of the Emperor made the visit well worthwhile.

Mission Accomplished : Emperor Dragonfly Anax imperator

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