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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Emerald Damselfly - July and August, 2016

The Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) is relatively common and widespread in UK. It is, nonetheless, one of our most attractive damselflies and, fortunately, relatively approachable. 

Sunday, 31st July

I'd not been seeing many in 2016 so, on 31st July, I paid a visit to Alvecote Wood, where they have several ponds which looked spot-on for habitat. Alvecote Wood is privately owned and only usually open to the public in summer, when it can be visited between 18h00 and 20h00 on Wednesday evenings, and on the last Sunday in the month between 10h00 and 16h00. This visit was on a Sunday.

I arrived on site to find a falconer was there with a rather fine selection of birds. However, my main target was at the ponds, so off I set. 

I first saw Common Darter, but more of that later. My second sighting was of my target species, and a pair of Emerald Damselflies coupled up and in the centre of a pond, so not good photographic subjects.

Emerald Damselflies (Lestes sponsa) (male and female) - Alvecote Wood
Further explorations of the various ponds found quite a few more of the species, but all males! Hopefully you can see from the following images why I find this species so attractive.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I was just getting ready to depart and as I made my way alongside one pond I found a solitary female of the species. They're not as colourful as the males, but still very attractive.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Incidentals to the Visit

As mentioned, above, there were a number of Common Darters around. These seemed to be recently emerged, although I didn't spot any exuvia - primarily because I was looking for the emeralds.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (teneral male) - Alvecote Wood
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - Alvecote Wood
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
There were also a few Blue-tailed Damselflies. I did take a couple of distant shots of these mating, but they weren't usable.

There were some butterflies around, including several skippers.

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) (female) - Alvecote Wood

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) (female) - Alvecote Wood
There were also many Green Leaf Hoppers. These are only approximately 7 mm long, and I've never taken much notice of these before - however, the females are rather attractive.

Green Leaf Hopper (Cicadella viridis) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Green Leaf Hopper (Cicadella viridis) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Back near the entrance, I took some time out with the falconry birds. The Barn Owl was sitting up in a tree, looking relatively natural.

falconry Barn Owl - Alvecote Wood
The real star of the show for me, however, was the Long-eared Owl.

falconry Long-eared Owl - Alvecote Wood
This ended a most enjoyable day.

Thursday, 4th August

This was my regular afternoon out with pal John. This day was not totally focused on Emerald Damselflies, nor even the odonata in general, and the somewhat exciting non-odonata aspects were covered in my previous post to this blog which you can find here. 

Our ramblings took us along the 'woodland ride' which runs parallel to the west shore of Lagoon 2 at Rutland Water. Here we found several Emerald Damselflies - and they were all female! - somewhat in contrast to my findings four days earlier.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Other Odonata Seen During the Visit

There were Common Blue Damselflies in the area, but I tended to ignore those. However, there were a few Ruddy Darters and a few Southern Hawkers too. One Ruddy Darter in particular was amusing to watch as it was clearly trying to hide from us by dipping behind a railing, but coming up to check on us from time to time.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (immature male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Wednesday, 17th August

My third foray in search of Emerald Damselfly was at Alvecote Wood again. This time I went for one of their short Wednesday evening sessions. I arrived shortly before 18h00 to find that no one was around. Having respectfully waited until the official opening time, I made my way down to the ponds where I found Sarah (one of the two owners) and a local dragonfly enthusiast (whose name I've managed to forget) already engaged in looking for, and photographing the odonata. 

It was soon commented on that there was not as much about as was hoped for, particularly in the way of dragonflies. It was not difficult, however, to find the Emerald Damselflies.

It was quite sunny, and the low evening light made for some pleasant, but challenging photography, although not the best light for bringing out the salient features of the species. This first image might help you understand what I'm talking about.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
At first it was the males that we were spotting. The next image is of the same damselfly as the one above, but with a closer approach.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
As the sun got lower, the lighting conditions became more interesting, and playing the lighting became a significant factor. This period also seemed to bring out the females of the species. The difference between these next two images of the same damselfly was effected purely by leaning slightly to the right to take the second image.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
By now, we were all concentrating on the female emeralds.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
I found, more by accident than design, that it could even be beneficial to get the damselfly in shade - with my own body!

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
I noticed that my two companions were taking quite a lot of photos facing into the setting sun. Some recent damselfly images by Marc Heath prompted me to try this. I have to confess that I now appreciate how difficult this is! These next two, taken while experimenting with different levels of negative exposure compensation, won't win any prizes but it's a start, and I find them quite effective in an odd sort of way!

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Incidentals to the Visit

The only other dragonfly I photographed was a Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Alvecote Wood
There were a few Common Blue butterflies around, but I only grabbed a shot of one of them.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male) - Alvecote Wood
On my way to the ponds, at the start of the session, a Scorpion Fly (quite harmless!) was spotted.

Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis) (female) - Alvecote Wood
There seemed to be numerous Long-winged Conehead crickets around. These were quite fascinating as, if you moved, they ducked round to the back of whatever they were sitting on. They then slowly reappeared again. The first one, with short wings, and a black stripe (rather than brown) down its back is a nymph. That antenna reaches right to the top of the image!

Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (female nymph) - Alvecote Wood
Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (female) - Alvecote Wood
Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I'd had a most enjoyable time trying to get more images of the Emerald Damselflies, and observing their behaviour.


My first visit, beside water, was in the daytime, and yielded (primarily) males. My second visit, to a location maybe 50 metres from the water, was also in the daytime and yielded only females. My third visit, again beside water, was in the evening and started by yielding mainly males but, as the sun started to set, the females started showing. 

I suspect that males like to be by the water and females prefer to be away from the water, but return to the water to mate and oviposit, and to roost in the evening when they are less likely to be disturbed by males and other species. 

My next post might feature something other than dragonflies and damselflies!

Thank you for dropping by.