Dragonfly-Days
....for South Wales Dragonfly enthusiasts


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Hairy Dragonfly  Brachytron pratense
           Flight season is mid-April until late June

Paired Hairy Dragonfly (Male on top).
I understand that there has been some confusion with the proposed name change for this species, the larger dragonflies (Anisoptera) were to be called Warriorflies and this species was to be re-named the Hairy Hawker. For whatever reasons the name changes have not as yet been adopted by the British Dragonfly Society.

The earliest of our hawker dragonflies on the wing and allied to the fact that it's also the smallest makes it highly unlikely to be confused with any other hawker.

The image to the left shows the female beneath the blue-eyed male in course grasses during copulation.
The female Hairy Dragonfly - (not the most flattering name!!!) - has more abdominal hairs than the male, which appear sparse in comparison. Although the females pattern is very similar to the male, her colour is yellowish-green and the antehumeral stripes are more limited. The costa (leading edge of wings) in both sexes is yellow, while the pterostigma are brown and narrow. The male is often seen in flight as a generally dark insect, but at rest the oval paired abdominal markings are clearly seen along with the well defined yellowish-green antehumeral stripes, the thorax is covered with bristly type hair, hence the insects common name.
Early emergence means this species has little territorial conflict with other hawker species. It is undoubtedly expanding it's range across the region and I've recorded it in recent years from Parc Penallta in the Rhymney Valley.

This species prefers slow moving or still water bodies, such as ponds, canals and even reens, providing there are at least some surface covering and emergent plants in reasonably clear water.

The two most likely sites to see this species is either the Newport Wetland Reserve in Gwent or Kenfig NNR in Glamorgan. The male (image on right) is far more likely to be encountered than the rather more elusive female of the species.
I have seen this species being chased by Hobby on the Gwent Levels, the Hairy Dragonfly's emergence just so happens to coincide with the migrant falcons arrival back to Britain from it's African winter quarters, the chase is a superb spectacle to witness - two masters of the air!!!

Be aware that the Hairy Dragonfly has the shortest flight season of any of our native British hawkers.

Common Hawker  Aeshna juncea
            Flight season is mid-June until early November

Female Common Hawker
Locally common throughout the region, the uplands and their associated bog pools are the species stronghold, this is not to say that the species is absent from the lowlands and coastal stretches though, because they most certainly are not.

The superb female that you see on the left was having a little trouble getting a purchase on plants while ovipositing, I gently moved her towards some reeds (took this photo!!!) and then quietly left her to get on with what nature intended, the production of a future generation.
When the weather is fine on the uplands and moorlands of south Wales there is absolutely no better place to spend a few hours than watching and photographing Common Hawker, these critters are always very aware, sometimes your alerted to their presence by a clash of wings in the reeds or tall course grasses where either a territorial dispute is being resolved or a bout of love making is taking place. I've often seen them far from their usual haunts on warm summer evenings, they are strong flyers and distance does not seem to trouble them much.
male_common_hawker_new
The contrasting differences between the sexes is simple yet stunning, where he has deep azure blue the female has yellow. Both have highly discernable yellow costa as can be seen on the photograph of the male on the right.

I cannot remember finding this species out in the open where a good photograph could prove nicely convenient, its more often than not a case of concentrating on keeping your feet dry as you slowly sink into a bog and the image you thought might prove worth keeping has suffered from camera shake, just have a closer look at this image...duh!
In Ireland its known as the Moorland Hawker, which I believe is a far more suitable name, this beautiful dragonfly is perhaps not as common as the name may actually suggest, but then again so many species are not as common as they once were, much of it's habitat on Gelligaer and Merthyr Common is under threat from the landscape destroying open cast mining, a form of coal mining that is even worst than deep mining, you would have thought that the Welsh Valleys had been ravaged enough!!!

Migrant Hawker   Aeshna mixta

           Flight season is from July until early November
Female Migrant Hawker
The last of our hawkers to emerge, often lasting into late autumn if the weather allows.

Expanding it's range in Wales, and it's now frequently recorded from the valley's. In good summers the species is often augmented by an influx of migrants from Europe, which can make it locally common.

Easily recognised by looking for the yellow 'golf tee' on it's 2nd segment just below where wings meet the thorax. The female is much less likely to be encountered, while the male by comparison is sociable.
I've seen hedgerows in well sheltered places on warm windless days contain up to a dozen male Migrant Hawkers and it appears that they might be the most tolerant of their tribe, only rarely clashing while perhaps chasing the same prey, they seem unbothered about territory. During cool weather males can take on a shade almost approaching lilac and this can cause much confusion with identification, I well remember many years ago first seeing this rather unusual phenomenon and thinking I'd perhaps discovered a species new to the British list, but they were a far less common insect then than they are today!!!
Male Migrant Hawker are probably the most approachable of all our hawkers. Your more likely to see a good 'in-flight' shot of this species of our larger dragonflies than any other, look out for the bright blue 'flash' on the thorax when it's flying.

Males can often appear very dark as the image on the right shows, if you look more closely you will see the upper segments in particular are a deep 'polished chestnut' colour. Males eyes are blue from above while the females are greenish brown. Both sexes have brown costa and look out especially for the long anal appendages, which are probably the longest of all our native hawkers. The wings are clear.

Migrant Hawkers do not frequent small garden ponds, but most other sunny and unpolluted standing water bodies are used, it does not tolerate acidic water. The species can often be encountered on the larger water bodies such as lakes and reservoirs that many of the other larger dragonflies avoid. It appears that the larvae of this insect does not survive low temperatures and this may well define it's preference for the more southerly (warmer) counties of Britain.
Southern Hawker   Aeshna cyanea
   Flight season early as May and last's well into November

Female Southern Hawker
Of all our larger dragonflies this is the one that your likely to see more than any other, and the reason may well be because it likes to visit garden ponds, even small ponds are likely to have this beautiful hawker as a summer visitor.

This is also the most inquisitive of all of our dragonflies, if you happen to get a large dragonfly 'checking you out' then it'll most likely be Southern Hawker.

The Female is a real stunner, with chocolate coloured thorax and abdomen and lovely fresh apple green markings. Her eyes and frons are greenish brown. Both sexes have brown costa and the wings are clear.
The habitat of the Southern Hawker is usually ponds and pools that are reasonably well-vegetated and preferably with some surrounding tree cover ie. woodland ponds. One reason put forward for their utilisation of garden ponds is that the urban garden very often resembles the type of environment found in woodland clearings. They don't like acidic waters, but otherwise can be found in most any other kind of standing water environment.
Male Southern Hawker
There are no sexes among the hawkers more unlike one another than Southern Hawker. The male has green markings on a dark brown almost blackish ground, the last three abdominal segments are a brilliant cyan blue. The eyes are almost the same shade of cyan and the frons is green to compliment the abdominal markings...a mighty impressive insect!!!

The male is aggressive and also highly territorial, however it's very often absent from suitable waters where the even more aggressive and powerful Emperor Dragonfly exists.

Male Migrant Hawker
Brown Hawker   Aeshna grandis
    Flight season is from early June until the end of October

Female Brown Hawker
Up until recently the Brown Hawker could only be found around the old feeder ponds on moorland at the Heads of the Valley's in North Gwent. A few years ago the larvae of the insect was discovered near Heolgerrig, Merthyr Tydfil and so this lovely hawker was added to the Glamorgan recorded species list. I have also been informed of vagrant sightings from the Newbridge area of Gwent and on the Gwent Levels near the second Severn Bridge.

There is no doubt that the Brown Hawker is a rare insect in South Wales and it's habitat is under threat from both environmental vandalism and industrial and housing development.
The both sexes have two lemon-yellowish bars on the sides of the thorax and the wings are suffused with a delicate amber hue, the wing edges appear almost golden on close-up. The males eyes are bluish from above and the females are browny yellow. The female is distinctly thicker where abdomen meets thorax (Segments 1&2) while the male is 'waisted' in the same area, males have small blue markings on the sides of their abdomen while the female has either more faded blue dots or more likely yellowish ones, both are distinctly coloured brown as the name obviously implies.
You cannot confuse the Brown Hawker with any other British dragonfly; excepting the rare Norfolk Hawker which is only found in the area that it's name refers to.

This species glides and soars like no other and when I'm photographing and studying them I'm always reminded of the dragonfly equivalent of the Common Buzzard!!!

I don't remember this fine dragonfly being overly aggressive, it seems to spend lots of time gliding over it's chosen waters until a prey item is found and then it seeks herbage where it can eat in peace.
The breeding habitat of this species is either standing or slow-flowing water. On the Heads of the Valley's where I have spent considerable time trying to understand their needs, they seem to choose the smaller feeder ponds that have good amounts of marginal and submerged plants, I've also noticed their preference for some near tree or shrub cover. I was delighted to watch a female Brown Hawker ovipositing in a rather unexpected location that is the regular haunt of anglers, I always try to get the local fishermen 'on side' by explaining how special these insects are, I've yet to receive a negative response.
Head Study of Brown Hawker
The core area for Brown Hawker is located on land that was sold at auction in 2012 to a private buyer, I'm trying to find out more about who the buyer actually is and if they fully realise the significance and responsibility that came with the purchase - I saw or heard nothing in the 'public domain' that mentioned this auction. Blue Lakes who originally owned the site entered into a local agreement in 2007 with EVAD to manage the land as a (community) country park.

The Brown Hawker is a rare dragonfly in Wales and Gwent's feeder ponds could become the start of expansion by the species with just a little help. I remain optimistic about the species future in south-east Wales because the insect still 'hangs on in there' breeding even under current threats and habitat disturbance, and lets hope that the local authority insists the owners clean up the disgraceful mess.

Emperor Dragonfly   Anax imperator
          Flight season is from May until early October

Male Emperor Dragonfly
Britain's most powerful dragonfly is a superb looking insect in every way, its not just the size or colour, its also the indefinable presence it exudes to the observer.

Males are real warriorflies as the photo on the right well illustrates, I've seen countless of them battered in territorial disputes with other males of the same species and also fierce aerial battles with other warriorflies, they never seem to know when to quit.

The stunning turquoise blue abdomen has a black central stripe down its middle, the thorax is apple-green. It's eyes are greeny-blue.
The large size and unmistakable slightly curved abdomen when in flight makes the Emperor Dragonfly a hard insect to mis-identify, the wings have the look of clear cellophane, the costa is yellow and the wing spots are brown. The body length can reach 78mm in prime specimens and is only exceeded by that of the female Golden-ringed Dragonfly, but the Emperor's body size is considerably thicker.
Teneral Emperor Dragonfly (Note unhardened wings)
The female abdomen and thorax are green with a central black stripe similar to the males. Both sexes can 'fade' their normal colour in cool weather, and the male is known to change colour during periods of darkness and at night when the temperature drops below about 10ºC this is something that can cause confusion for the novice dragonfly watcher. I can well remember seeing one in my torchlight beam 'roosting' on some rushes when doing a moth-trapping session in the Forest of Dean!!!

This powerful insect can prevent other species using the same habitat by it's mere presence.
The small man made lakes commonly seen in many of our country parks and nature reserves appear to suit the species nicely, I think they like lots of marginal rushes and similar plants, many of the best views I've had of this notoriously difficult to approach dragonfly have been on or around such marginal vegetation.

Although reknowned for it's aggressive nature, I watched amused at seeing one being continually chased off a small man made pond at Parc Penallta in Glamorgan by a male Broad-bodied Chaser (really living up to it's name!!!), the reason could be that there are several other small adjacent ponds and perhaps such territory is not so hotly disputed...then again perhaps that particular Emperor was a wimp lol

    Lesser Emperor  Anax parthenope

This rare vagrant turns up in Britain only infrequently and then only in very low numbers, up to 1980 a mere five were recorded, and between 1980 and 1998 just eleven more were confirmed, for the next ten years it was not recorded at all, it's more recent British history has been erratic, but its no co-incidence that many sightings are on the southern British coasts when we have had dust laden winds from the Sahara. This is a hawker species that can turn up even in the depths of a British winter, in early January 2011 one was found exhausted on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Footpath near St Davids and is one of three records for Vagrant Hawker from Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

The county of Glamorgan has also recorded the species from
Dragonfly-Days territory, notably from Llanilid, near Pencoed in late April 2011 and a week or so later from Cosmeston Lakes, Penarth. There are also 'probable' sightings from the Cardiff area. The BDS also has a record from the Port Talbot area in West Glamorgan.
         Flight season is early June until late August
Paired Lesser Emperor (Non British Image)
My experience with Lesser Emperor is limited to a few hours at Kenfig NNR a few summers ago, the (male) insect hunted over the pool, yet it frustrated me by staying behind the rushes that populate the margins. Disappearing for many minutes at a time much patience was required just to get reasonable views with binoculars, but any thoughts of obtaining a record shot was not to be. I understand that the species has been recorded on a regular basis from Kenfig over recent summers.

The male is noticeably smaller and less bright than the Emperor Dragonfly and it flies far more 'stiffly' with the abdomen appearing straighter.
The most outstanding ID feature in the male is the conspicuous blue on segment 2&3 with a yellow band above, this is well illustrated on the above image - © Alpsdake Commons Creative Licence - which shows the male in tandem with the female, incidentally these are the only hawkers to exhibit "in tandem" egg laying. The species first bred in Britain in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire in 1996 (neighbour county to Monmouthshire!!!)

Apart from the Kenfig sightings, recent records in south-east Wales include the insect being seen at Cosmeston Lakes near Penarth and also near the Rhymney River estuary at Cardiff. The Rhymney River has historically always formed the boundary between Glamorgan and Monmouthshire so it would be probably fair to assume the species has visited Monmouthshire too.  

Vagrant Emperor   Hemianax ephippiger

Male Vagrant Hawker (Courtesy Luke Phillips)
When all this tremendously exciting Vagrant Emperor activity was taking place in spring 2011, my good friend Luke Phillips (RSPB Arne Dorset) sent me a photograph that he had taken on May 2nd in the Weymouth area of Dorset, apparently 'twitchers' came from far and wide, the insect remaining 'locked to the spot'...ughh!!! while record shots were taken.

It will be most interesting to see if South Wales have further visits from Vagrant Emperor in the not too distant future, this is a very erratic species that can turn up at any time of the year and is a fascinating example of what can happen when the wind blows from the Saharan region in our direction...its an ill wind that blows no good!!!

Golden-ringed Dragonfly   Cordulegaster boltonii
       Flight season early May into October

Male Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Some of my earliest memories as a kid when out 'birding' was of close encounters with this superb dragonfly, I will admit to having a real soft spot for it. The Golden-ringed Dragonfly seems to embody the spirit of the habitat it frequents. The moorland streams and acidic upland water runs are home, but they must have silted or gravel bottoms to allow ovipositing for the female.

Standing or stagnant water is never tolerated. In the former mining valley's of south Wales there are many suitable sites for the species where man-made water drainage channels on old coal waste tips are often favoured. Parc Penallta in the Rhymney Valley has several of these long water channels, and some have never (in my experience) completely dried up, this is where I have studied them by the hour, along with Keeled Skimmer and the blue damselfly species.
Golden-ringed Dragonfly are almost unmistakable, perhaps only a few female or immature hawker species could possibly be confused with them by the novice. The female is an elusive insect and your ten times more likely to see the male than her ladyship, who happens to be the longest of all Britain's dragonfly species, she also has the longest ovipositor which is used repeatedly to jab into the soft silt or detritus base in a shallow stream when egg laying, it's absolutely fascinating to watch her efforts. Females may attain a body length of 85mm and a wingspan approaching 100mm which is only surpassed by the Emperor Dragonfly.
Male Golden-ringed Dragonfly on trousers.
Several times I've been walking along the drainage channels that Golden-ringed Dragonflies enjoy and stumbled across a male patrolling his run, now they seem rather friendly critters and if I've remained still they've perched up on me and I've asked if they would object to having their photograph taken (I'm sure most creatures know if you pose a threat)...but no royalties paid mind!!!

The larvae can take from 2 to 5 years to mature, the longest period of any British dragonfly. The larvae is hairy and accumulated debris can 'camouflage' them as they lie in wait in the silt for passing prey...nifty!!!
I know of one wet meadow that has literally hundreds of Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare that only grow to around three feet or so (seen them almost 5 feet!!!) and I can almost guarantee that I'll 'put-up' Golden-ringed Dragonfly there, well I can never resist attempting yet another (better) photograph of this highly photogenic insect, and so I start 'stalking' and just forget all about the Spear Thistles for a while...but only for a while...because they ain't called Spear Thistle for now't...but every year the same thing happens, doubt I'll ever learn, all for the love of dragonflies!!!

Common Club-tail   Gomphus vulgatissimus
         Flight season late April until late June

Female Common Club-tail
Formerly called the Club-tailed Dragonfly this is another of the recent name changes adopted by the BDS and used!!!

This interesting medium sized dragonfly is the only member representing it's tribe Gomphidae in the British Isles. It inhabits slow-flowing rivers and happily Wales has several rivers well suited to the species; the Dee, Severn, Teifi, Twyi and Wye, but its the last named river that has provided me with the pleasure of studying the species.

This is a spring species and I'm always reminded that it co-incides with Hawthorn blossom during it's flight season, the most beautiful time of year I feel. My first efforts were centered around finding the species and I spent many hours on different parts of the Wye just trying, persistence paid off eventually when I located the insect a few miles from Hay-on-Wye, but all efforts at getting a record photograph were thwarted, I well remember finally locating a nice female and was ready to click the shutter down...when...wait for it, a Robin swooped down and the insect was off and away skywards, all I got was a blurry photo of a ruddy Robin!!!  
Relating the little tale above reminds me that the female Common Club-tail is another elusive dragonfly, I've seen just a handful usually perched too high or too far away for photographing, so I was delighted when Gareth Stamp a fellow dragonfly enthusiast sent me a photo of a beautiful female still partially covered in morning dew, I'm pleased to have Gareth's permission to include it on Dragonfly-Days the image is seen above. 
My sorties with male Common Club-tail have been somewhat easier, the secret is all about timing your visit to co-incide with a good hatch, if your lucky you may find several or many tenerals and/or immature insects that you can enjoy watching before they take to  air.

This species keeps it's wings folded to it's back at an angle when freshly emerged, it remains like this for around an hour or so before attaining the more normal wing posture seen on the photograph to the left, its then time for it's first flight, and be aware they can sometimes fly high and quickly out of sight. I recall Luke Phillips telling me about seeing them on Yat Rock high above the River Wye when he worked on the Rock for the RSPB. 
I have promised to spend more time with the adults, the problem is always with weather conditions and the short season that Common Club-tail allow, but the adults take on a lovely lime green hue and deep black that is well worth the effort to see, but the season is over by the end of June, mid-May is the optimum time. I'm reasonably sure the species is under-recorded on the Wye and probably also the Monnow too in Monmouthshire, parts of these rivers are often difficult to access or access is restricted on privately owned land.

Downy Emerald   Cordulia aenea
      Flight season is from early May into August

Mature Male Downy Emerald
Pyscodlyn Mawr in the Vale of Glamorgan is the only known place in South Wales that the Downy Emerald has been recorded from. This woodland pool is also the haunt of course fishermen and its often difficult to get the peace required to observe this scarce and local insect.

Recent summers have not proved very helpful for any serious observations at this location, even when I've made early season visits before the course fishing season starts the weather has often been most unhelpful, it means returning later in the species flight season and then the insect is more often than not in it's mature stages.
Downy Emerald are notoriously difficult dragonflies to observe owing to their constant activity, and they are often still active in cool windy conditions that other species won't tolerate. The sheltered wooded margins of Pyscodlyn Mawr are close to the paths that surround two sides of the lake, open space is at a premium and the insects are most likely to be seen in the small inlets where they constantly hover, move on and then return busily, I often wonder if these insects are curious about intruders into their domain, they seem to be very inquisitive. They appear as bronzy metallic green when fresh but turn far darker when mature, the image above illustrates a male in maturity, and may I add here that it took me a few years before my patience paid off to get this photograph at Pyscodlyn Mawr.

I have never counted more than eight adult Downy Emerald at Pyscodlyn Mawr during any visit I've made in the past ten or so years, they remain a very scarce dragonfly in South Wales and I sincerely hope that the continuing expansion in range by the territorial and highly aggressive Emperor Dragonfly does'nt have a drastic or even worst fatal impact on Downy Emerald if the larger insect finds and colonises Pyscodlyn Mawr.
Paired Downy Emerald
Downy Emerald shares the woodland pool at Pyscodlyn Mawr with Red-eyed Damselfly, and you can find these species in association at many other similar locations. There is a theory that Downy Emerald were far more common and widespread than at present and that colonies such as the Glamorgan one is a 'relict', whatever, the nearest colonies we have to ours are in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire and there may still also be one in Herefordshire. There has been much concern that the arrival and colonisation by Emperor Dragonfly at the only known Downy Emerald site in Herefordshire may have led to the species demise in the county.
Your most likely to see this species in flight, then it's abdomen appears to droop downwards, in sunshine the lovely metallic sheen becomes evident and close-up views also reveal the striking emerald green eyes. Note the 'downy' thorax on the paired insects seen in the wonderful image above, my thanks to Gouwennar (Creative Commons Licence) for use of the image, I trust he will not mind my constructive editing of the image to present a close-up side on view suitable for use in Dragonfly-Days. Females are slightly thicker along the entire abdomen and don't have the 'waisted' or 'club-tailed' appearance of the males. Immatures of both sexes have brownish coloured eyes.

Please note: The name Pyscodlyn makes no real sense and is probably an English or Norman corruption of the proper Welsh name Pysgodyn which means fishpond (Welsh place names are accurately descriptive) Pysgodyn Mawr means Large Fishpond.
© Gouwennar (CCL)
© Luke Phillips

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Pysgodyn Mawr the Large Fishpond
There are several other 'fishponds' in the Hensol Forest, Vale of Glamorgan, it would prove interesting to know if any of these ponds have ever had Downy Emerald on them, some no doubt were dug specifically for fishing in recent times, there could be a remote chance of one or two in private hands where the species could perhaps fly!

The photo to the left was taken in June 2011 and while I scanned the lake for signs of Downy Emerald, I spotted a basking Terrapin about the size of a dinner plate - (I kid you not!) - that I pointed out to several anglers who were absolutely gobsmacked by it's size.

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Male Common Club-tail
I'm pleased to report that during a visit to Pyscodlyn in mid-June 2014 I counted as many as eight Downy Emerald and saw no Emperor Dragonfly in the general area, I'm still concerned about the latter insect finding this last remaining South Wales haunt of the delightful Downy and will be paying further visits to monitor the situation in the future.

As a footnote to the above; I saw and photographed an immature male Emperor Dragonfly within a hundred metres of Pyscodlyn Mawr in early June 2015, it now seems reasonable to presume that this rapacious insect is actually breeding at Pyscodlyn, worryingly, not a single Downy Emerald was seen during the couple of hours I spent at the water - it was not exactly the calmest June day, so I suppose one has to make some allowance for the breezy conditions.
Male Hairy Dragonfly
Male Brown Hawker