Sunday 29 May 2016

Oxon dragonfly mini tour: 28 May

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Goring Railway Bridge
The forecast for today had been changing all week gradually for the better, so it seemed high time for a tour of some of the current Oxfordshire hot spots for dragonflies. With reports of two emerging Club-tails earlier in the week, the railway bridge at Goring seemed the obvious place to start. I reckoned there was no need for a particularly early start, so I arrived there around mid morning, having walked down the riverside path from Goring, seeing only the odd Banded Demoiselle and one Blue-tailed Damselfly en-route. At the bridge I found a surprising number of other Club-tail seekers, but no actual Club-tails, apart from one spent Exuvia that was pointed out to me.

I spent some time here during which time there was no hint of anything crawling up the wall. Wandering a little further along the path I came across a good spot for Banded Demoiselles, with at least twenty present.

Male Banded Demoiselle

Female Banded Demoiselle

Returning to the bridge, there still seemed no sign of anything and so I decided to cut my losses and head elsewhere. Club-tails can be very elusive. In several attempts to see this species at this site in the last ten years or so, I think I have only been successful about one time in three, although last year I was most fortunate to capture an emergence on camera.

Barton Fields, Abingdon
Given recent reports from Abingdon, the Barton Fields area was my next destination, where I arrived early afternoon. Parking in Barton Road, it was not far at all to the pool (SU512970) in the vicinity of which the Variable Damselflies were found last year. This year, the access seemed improved, and various paths down to the pool had been conveniently cut - seemingly just for dragonfly watchers although I was the only one present!

Almost immediately on arrival I had the first of several sightings of Hairy Dragonfly, flying low around the waters edge, without any realistic photo opps. Further on, towards the eastern end of the pool, I found the main reason for my visit - a Downy Emerald again flying around low over the water but pausing from time to time momentarily. I spent some time trying for flight shots but failed completely - it was just moving too fast for me. But then to my amazement it suddenly landed very close by. Unfortunately at the time I had my 400f5,6 lens on the camera with no extension tubes, so I had to retreat to 3.5m to get it in focus! Here I grabbed a few hand held shots before trying to get to the extension tubes, but in vain as it took off and showed no signs of returning. Still, this was a stroke of luck as emeralds are always difficult to photo, and Downies very rarely settle in view in my experience.

Downy Emerald (c) Stephen Burch
For a larger image click here

Other species at the pool itself included Azure, Common Blue and Red-eyed Damselflies, Banded Demoiselles and one Four-spotted Chaser. I didn't find any Variables, but I didn't spend too long looking for them.

At one point, a family of Swans swam past, I couldn't resist a quick shot of one of the cygnets that were in a particularly appealing phase of their development.

A cute Mute Swan cygnet

There was also some butterfly interest around the pool, with this Orange-tip briefly obliging:

Orange Tip

Shellingford Pit
Buoyed by the good conditions and the excellent range of species, I decided to then head south and west to check out my local patch site of Shellingford Pit. Last year the water levels at this site got very low by the end of the summer, with much of it dried out. This year looks like being another bad year in that respect, with levels already very low. By the time I arrived, there was a cool breeze and perhaps because of this, and/or the low water levels, I found very little activity. All I could find was a few Azure Damselflies along the sheltered bank on the eastern side of the pit. It remains to be seen how the season progresses here. Hopefully things will get going shortly.

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