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Friday, 18 May 2018

Downy Emeralds - on Monday 14th May, 2018

I have a 'hit list' of dragonflies and damselflies that I hope to see this year, and on that list is Downy Emerald dragonfly. This species is described as being "local in the British Isles, and mainly concentrated south of the Thames". The species is notable for only emerging during a short period, and this is probably one of the easier times to photograph them at rest. I was, therefore, stirred into quick action when I got a 'heads up' from Marc Heath who had documented the emergence in spectacular fashion on Saturday 12th May at Thursley Common (Surrey), which you can find here.

On Monday 14th May, having set the alarm for 04h30, I was on my way at 05h15, with my SatNav, telling me I would arrive at 07h50. It's a long time since I did any motorway driving at this hour and I was surprised at just how much traffic was around at this time. I'd been hoping to be early enough to miss the worst of the traffic round the M25, but at the south end of the M40 the SatNav was already telling me I was facing 23 minutes of delay. I did the first 100 miles (160 km) in about an hour and a half, and the next 50 miles (80 km) on motorway took a further hour and a half. I eventually parked my car at Thursley Common Moat Car Park at about 08h30.

Having put on wellies, as recommended by Marc, I set off to explore. Almost immediately I met a gentleman and got into conversation with him. He'd seen three Downy Emeralds in a bush the previous week and had come back, hoping to get some better photos. We searched the immediate area and found nothing, and so wandered off to check out some other areas of the lake, in case I had misunderstood Marc's advice. We still found nothing, so came back to the original spot. 

It was then that the penny dropped as to why Marc had advised wellies, and I gingerly stepped onto the boggy area at the edge of the pond and was relieved that I only sank in by about 3-4 inches (75-100 mm). My new-found friend, Tony Hovell, had not brought wellies, however, so was virtually confined to dry land, although he did venture out at one point and got wet feet!

I found a few exuvia, a couple of which were from Downy Emerald, but the only thing moving was a Large Red Damselfly that had very recently emerged and had not yet managed to fully elongate its abdomen. It was too far away to get a decent shot with the Sigma 150 macro, and so I went back to the car for breakfast and changed the lens to the Sigma 50-500 as it looked as if I would need the reach of that lens. 

On my way back to the corner at around 09h30, I met up with Tony again, and we spotted our first dragonfly - and it was a Downy Emerald! I spent a while trying to capture this creature in flight, but was having difficulty getting it in frame and in focus. Eventually I found a technique which helped, and got a few shots. 

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) (male) - Thursley Common, Surrey
We returned to the corner, spotting a pair of Redstarts that Tony had told me were there when he'd visited the previous week. It was apparent that the conditions had suddenly become suitable for the dragonflies and damselflies to become active.

I soon started to notice something that was giving some issues for photography, and that was the huge amount of pollen in the air which was coating everything, including my camera and the dragonflies. This rather interfered with the clarity of detail in my shots.

For a while, I 'had my eye in', and was getting a number of shots of the dragonflies in flight, although, for the above mentioned reason, I'm not over-happy with the results. Here are some more from the session:-

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) (male) - Thursley Common, Surrey
After a while, I seemed to lose the ability to track the Emeralds with the camera, probably due to fatigue - my arms were aching! I only once saw a Downy Emerald settle - it was on Tony's bush, and literally for a second and I missed the shot!

I was relatively dedicated to observing the Emeralds, but I did break briefly on a few occasions to photograph other species.

Apart from the previously-mentioned newly emerged Large Red Damselfly (first image below) I saw the start of another LRD emergence (2nd image), but didn't spend any time on it because of the awkward angle and wanting to concentrate on the Emeralds. I did take some shots of adults too (the last one is a male).

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - Thursley Common
There were a couple of Four-spotted Chasers mixing it with the Downy Emeralds from time to time, but these usually settled back on their distant territorial watch-points. I was glad I'd got the reach of the 50-500.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Thursley Common
There were several  blue damselflies around, but I admit to largely ignoring them. I did take a few shots - all of them of Azure Damselfly. The second image shows, on the lily pad, just how much pollen was falling out of the air.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Thursley Common
All the while I was at the Moat Pond, there was a seemingly endless stream of people with binoculars and cameras passing on their way to see 'the Cuckoo'. It seems that this Cuckoo has been trained to come to mealworms and approaches photographers to within just a few metres. If I'd not been on a mission, I might have been tempted - but I'm not sure. I did, however, take a couple of shots of the male Redstart that was keeping us company.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) (male) - Thursley Common
By 13h00, a while after Tony had departed, I was feeling rather tired and, as I was due at a wake that evening, and not wanting to fight rush-hour traffic again, I set off homeward. I got home a few minutes before 16h00, but was extremely tired and had a headache, so decided I should miss the wake. 

I wish that Thursley was closer to home, and that the getting there was not so frustratingly traffic-bound. I only covered a minute part of the place and the Dragonfly Boardwalk which, I am told, is also frequented by lizards, sounds rather interesting. I could probably enjoy a couple of days exploring there, so maybe I'll return one day? Certainly I'd enjoyed this day, and Tony's company added to the occasion.

As for the Downy Emeralds, I am booked to be on a British Dragonfly Society visit to a private site in Northamptonshire in mid-June, where the main target is this species. I suspect that I'll not even do as well as this visit to Thursley as there will be a dozen of us, and it's never so easy when one is in a sizable group. However, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. 

Thank you for dropping by. Once again, I'm not sure at this stage what my next post will be.