Welcome to The Durham Wildlife Dragons Newsletter

Well 2020, a year for us all to remember. As many of you will know I was out in Mexico when the lockdown hit,  so I have had a sunnier and more flexible time than most of you. I have also doubled the size of my bird sightings life list and come across wonderful creatures such as the Red Rumped Tarantula and the Giant Mesquite Bug. I have also run dragonfly ID training sessions via Zoom and somehow managed to coordinate the DWT region survey, remotely.

This newsletter is an opportunity to bring you up to speed with the first two months sightings and to add to your knowledge.  It also provides a platform to display just a few of the fantastic photos that have been submitted. I hope you enjoy.  Of course, if you do not wish to receive such newsletters, please do email me.

Michael Coates

Survey Leader

First of all, a massive thank you to all of you who have submitted sightings. Last year, in total we received 387 records between April and November.  This year by June 10th, despite the travel restrictions,  we already have 87 records submitted, meaning that we are likely to far exceed last year's numbers.  This is partly due to the season starting earlier, which in turn is due to a wet 2019 and a hot May 2020. Last year, John Humble and I spotted Large Red Damsels at Malton around 28th April.  This year, sightings came in from various sites a week earlier. In 2019, dragons were very late arriving and apart from one solitary Broad Bodied Chaser at Rainton, dragons didn't really appear until 3rd June. This year however, multiple reports came in on May 22nd. 

But its not just that they arrived early, they emerged in far larger numbers than we have seen in previous surveys.  Last year, the largest number spotted at one time was 35, and only 4 recordings included sightings of more than 30.  This year, I have had to alter the online recording form to allow sightings of over 100, and already many records include sightings of 40- 100. While other wildlife have benefited from humans being locked in their houses, the likely reason here is the perfect combination of full ponds throughout 2019 and the winter, followed by the hottest May on record. 

So, if you are new to dragonfly spotting, this is a great year to be taking up this hobby.  If you have a camera (or just your phone) do try to capture shots that help me confirm your ID. Remember multiple angles please if its not an obvious species. We already have some wonderful ones including the Large Red, eating what appears to be a moth. (Thanks to Mal Wilkinson).

Where Should You Look?

Strictly speaking any area of land that has remained wet for the last 12 months could be a site for seeing dragons, whether that be  boggy field, a ditch or a garden pond. During the lockdown many people across the UK have built ponds and dragons have often appeared within 4 weeks, which shows that they must have been quite close in the first place. 

In the DWT region there are many sites where dragons can be spotted, however, partly as the survey was originally only for DWT reserves, and I am but one part time volunteer, we have concentrated our efforts on 52 sites that either have ideal conditions or have historically had plenty of dragons.

The full list appears in the online survey form, which can be found here

To see a map of the region and read details such as directions, parking and layout of the site, click here.

Due to the travel restrictions a number of sites have not been surveyed yet (or hardly), so as long as you feel it is safe for you to travel, then please visit, Low Barns, Malton Pond, Burnhope Pond, Barlow Burn , Black Plantation, Hesleden Dene, Hetton Bogs,  Milkwellburn Woods, Rabbitbank Wood, Shibdon Pond, Tudhoe Mill, Coatham Woods.

Two sites that I am delighted have dragons are The Whinnies (a DWT reserve near Darlington NZ 34893 13897) and School Aycliffe Wetlands (NZ 25874 24098). The Whinnies Pond is having work down to kill off invasive vegetation, but it does not seem to have impacted the nymphs. School Aycliffe is the quintessential wetland area perfect for dragons, but none were sighted during the past two years. Maybe we were just unlucky as they are now there.

Photo Mick Lobb

Hopefully this year you will get to see one of these, a Beautiful Demoiselle. They have not been spotted in our region for some time, but as luck would have it they were seen on the north bank of the River Tyne two weeks ago, so with a fair wind from the north, we should be able to record them in our region. The males are easy to differentiate from the Banded Demoiselle, as the wings are completely dark rather than in a dark band. The males have a metallic blue-green body, while females have brown wings and green bodies. The females are less easy to differentiate, so make sure you get some good photos. 

The female Banded Demoiselle has narrower green iridescent wings as opposed to broader brown iridescent wings seen in Beautiful Demoiselle. In addition there is a pale brown dorsal stripe present on abdominal segments 8-10 which is darker in Banded Demoiselle and paler in Beautiful Demoiselle. These 2 species also have different habitat requirements which may aid identification though they can occur together if the habitat is varied. They prefer faster flowing streams and rivers with a sand or gravel bottom and often well shaded by trees.

This video provides a good guide to identification.

While hopefully they could be at any suitable slow flowing water site, they were seen at grid reference NZ1009764309. lt's on the north side of the river Tyne and is between Wylam and Ovingham. 

The Golden Ringed Dragonfly is probably the easiest to identify, which is why, as none were recorded in our region last year, it is  unlikely that they were missed or misidentified.  This beauty was spotted by Silvia Coates (no relation) at Waskerley Moor, near Stanhope, which if you don't know the site also has reservoirs. 

Both the male and females have golden rings. The females body is straight from S1-10 unlike the males with a club shaped S7-10, or a nipped "waist" depending upon how you look at it.

This video shows them very clearly.

As they are so easy to identify I am setting you all the challenge to see them at the original survey sites this year.

So far the most common sightings have been of Common Blue, Blue Tail, Large Red and Azure Damsels, each having been seen on abut 30 occasions.  So that means they should be at more sites, please get looking. Of the Dragons, the Four Spotted Chaser and the Broad Bodied Chaser have been seen the most often. These photos by Christopher Bill, show some of these species very clearly. 

Remember that the Four Spotted Chaser has those 4 dark wing spots. The female and recently emerged male, Broad Bodied Chaser are golden and not the Wedgewood blue of the adult male. The Blue Tail, has a blue solid band on its tail (or brown on the female).  For further ID tips, if you did not attend the recent Zoom training, then contact me and I will send you the slides.  Otherwise, take photos and consult your guidebook.  There are only about 25 options in the North East, so you have a strong chance of getting it right.

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