Welcome to The Durham Wildlife Dragons Newsletter No. 2

An interesting Summer from a weather point of view, so different to 2018.  Heavy rain has filled ponds that were very shallow in the spring, and Saharan winds have brought spells of intense heat and migrant dragons.  After a very late start (reasons unknown) dragons are now being recorded at most sites including 3 species that were not formally recorded last year.

The other big difference has been that I have not had to cover the whole Tyne to Tees region by myself! Thanks to all of you, over 200 records have been submitted and we still have 3 months to go. It has also been great to see some of you attending the recent talk and walks, and I will be arranging autumn events soon, watch your email.

So, please keep up the great work and in particular I need more records from these DWT reserves. 

  • Burnhope Ponds
  • Heselden Dene
  • Lamsley Pastures
  • Rabbitbank
  • The Whinnies
  • Tudhoe Mill
  • Low Barns (go try the new cafe)

Michael Coates

Survey Leader

Before we get into some news and tips, what do you think this one is?  The answer will be at the bottom of the newsletter so no cheating. Remember, head, body markings, wing marks, colour, colour of Costa (front wing edge) and for male or female, look at the anal appendage and if from the side, look for a little spike sticking down near the anal appendage.  Then get your guide book.

Another great achievement this year has been the number of exuvia spotted, photographed and collected. This is the best evidence for showing that the dragonflies you spot did emerge at that site, (otherwise they could just be passing by). Knowing that a site is supporting successful breeding also helps the DWT to maintain the area, if it is one of our reserves. If you do collect some exuvia, please drop them off at Rainton or Low Barns for me.  Later in the year we will run an event to look closely at  them and in the meantime, you can use guide books to identify what emerged.  Here we have what are most probably Common Hawkers, partly because immature Common Hawkers were spotted the same day and because that site (Malton Ponds) had exuvia like that last year.  The difference being that last year I risked life and limb to get one, while Malcolm, manged to easily get a handful!

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis)

Here we have a new one for Rainton Meadows, or at least a first formal sighting.  It is a Brown Hawker (thanks Joe) and you can see that it is quite distinctive.  Firstly, it is very brown, hence its name, but also it has amber tinted wings and a pair of prominent yellow stripes on the side of its thorax.  So is it a male or a female?

While in many Odonata (dragonfly) species, the males and females are totally different colours, sometimes they make your life harder and look identical, especially when they are young and colours are indistinct. In those instances you look at S9 and 10, (the end of the tail) for an oviposter (a tiny downward spike on a female), plus the anal appendages are different shapes. The male's tends to look more like a grabber, as that is what he does, he grabs the female by the neck.  Check your guidebook and this will often let you see whether it is a male or female.  

However, this little one decided to hide S9 and 10...but while I wasn't there, that body position might indicate it was laying an egg (not unknown, well outside of a pond) but luckily we can see that the marks on its side are purple and that makes it a female. We are at the far north of the Brown Hawker's region, so please look out for them.

The Exuvia mentioned above are the exoskeleton left behind after a dragonfly emerges.  The nymph climbs up some vegetation, or crawls out of the water and into nearby plants, and then bursts out of the back of its neck. They come out backwards, head first, requiring a dramatic sit up, before wiggling the back legs out.  At this point they are very vulnerable to predation and falling in to water.  Their wings are very shiny for the first day and that is a great indicator that you are looking at a newly emerged dragon. At that early stage their colours might not match the guide books, as they tend to show adults rather than tenerals (new born).  

Here we have a Southern Hawker that I stumbled across emerging in July at Malton Ponds. In the last newsletter I showed one of his siblings in my hand having found him emerging alongside the pond.  This weekend, I saw Southern Hawkers laying eggs at my feet as I stood next to the pond, so they really do seem to like that area - be careful when you walk around close to the edge.

Don't Ignore The Damsels

Now that the bigger and more dramatic Dragons have arrived it is easy to ignore the damsels that we saw so many of early in the season. Currently its the turn of the Emerald Damsels to be out in large numbers. Easy to spot, both the male and female have a shiny emerald thorax, that often glistens in the sun. The males have a smokey blue S1 S2 (just behind the thorax) and S10 (the end of its "tail").

In this photo you will see an Emerald (a male, check out his anal appendage!) that emerged in front of us at a DWT open day, held at one of Northumbrian Water's treatment plants.  

So...how did you do identifying that mystery dragon at the start?  Here is a further photo, if that helps. It is Britain's smallest dragonfly.  Both sexes have black legs and wing spots. It is more common in the uplands of north west England, but has found a home, not on a DWT site but on what I am told is a quite "run down" pond area at Annfield Plain 54°51'17.3"N 1°44'33.5"W. There have been a wide range of species at this pond, so go take a look, and pick up some trash while you are there.

Oh I almost forgot, its a teneral Male Black Darter. A pat on the back if you got that right. If you said it was a female...well you could be right, I would not bet my life on it, however if you look very closely in the first picture there is no Oviposter visible. Thanks to Malcolm for these photos.

Talking of Black dragons, another new one from Rainton Meadows is the Black Tailed Skimmer. Both male and females have been spotted on the paths and on Pond 1 near the "egg" statue. The male looks a bit like a Broad Bodied Chaser but the black end to the tail is distinctive.  The female, and just to confuse things, immature males , are yellow but again with much more black on the tail than the Broad Bodied Chaser. Great to see new species at DWT sites.

Last but by no means least, back at Joes Pond at Rainton Meadows, Joe captured the most crowded bull rush ever. I have seen 3 exuvia on one stem before but I gave up counting here.  They are most likely Emerald Damsels but why they all chose to come up on one stem, we will never know.  Sadly it was out of reach so we could not retrieve it.

I hope you found this newsletter interesting and apologies if your great photos have not been included, there are simply so many things to display. Please do go to the sites mentioned above, remembering that Low Barns has a new cafe, try it out! You can submit all your sightings for a single location in one go using this link. https://survey.zohopublic.com/zs/OwB3P0

Thanks for helping with this years survey - keep it up, they will be around until the first frost.


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