Tuesday, 11 September 2012

If you go down to the woods today . . . .

A bit of business at Thornley Woodlands Centre gave me the opportunity to check out the dragonfly pond in the woods there for perhaps the last time this year. I love this intimate little site as I've said before, there's none better for getting up close and personal with Southern Hawker, and today was no exception. It was surprisingly sunny when I arrived and being completely sheltered from the blustery wind I was quite hopeful of some late season action.

Thornley Woods Pond
Superb for observing Southern hawkers
No sooner had I arrived when a patrolling male connected with a female hiding in the right-hand margins, the mating wheel was formed and after a couple of undulating laps of the pond, up they went, rather haphazardly into the treetops for the mating ritual.
A couple of minutes later another female came to the pond to oviposit (obviously a different individual as unlike humans, coupling in this species takes over an hour).
She settled on a half-submerged branch and probed with her abdomen to find suitable nooks and crannies in which to lay her eggs. She remained there for the next hour at least (she was still there when I left) giving me ample opportunity to take photos, though later I found a lot were spoiled by the incredibly strong sunlight ( I just can't win).


I spotted two common darters before the next hawker arrived, this time a male southern, who began a thorough search of the pond margins. I hoped he wouldn't spot the ovipositing female as they're not unknown to disturb the egg-laying process and force the female into mating again. But before long another male came on the scene, cue the inevitable scuffle, a fight which unusually went on for some time, I think because the first male had only just arrived on the scene himself so he wasn't going to give up his session at the pond lightly, had he been there a while he most likely would have submitted and zipped off without too much fuss.
One of the males eventually gave up the fight but like on my previous visit, the scene was set for an afternoon of territorial scrapping, with at least four different males on site.
Despite my less than successful previous attempts I still decided to try for some flight shots of the males who as usual flew tirelessly during their stint at the pond without settling, but amazingly one in particular seemed more curious of me than the others and repeatedly hovered right in front of my camera, often too close for me even to focus on him, with the result I at last got some half decent flight shots. (Yes I even shocked myself!)

I couldn't believe how sharp this one turned out as I still
had the camera on macro setting! 

If I didn't know better I'd say this feller was posing for the camera,
for a time he just wouldn't leave me alone!

Another female arrived, possibly the one seen earlier come back to the pond after mating to lay her eggs, as rather than taking refuge in the vegetation to await a suitor, she looked like she was looking for suitable egg-laying sites. Unfortunately for her there were now three randy males on the scene, two of which were busy fighting each other, but the third spotted the newcomer and chased her around until he was able to clasp on to her and carry her off up into the trees for another bout of mating, poor lass!

Still time for a grand finale though, as the remaining male on site actually landed at the back of the pond, hanging vertically (as they do) from a clump of dead leaves dangling among the brambles, and stayed there long enough for me to take a few snaps of his colourful armour in all its glory.

Unbelievable, you wait all year for one then two come along in three days, still I'm not complaining, I'm pleased to say late season is serving up some cracking dragonhunting!   


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