Sunday, 10 July 2011

Norfolk Hawker

July and August are the months of high summer. Blossom turns to fruit, birds moult and forget how to sing. The dominant sound is the buzz and hum of insects.

The biggest insects you can find are almost honorary birds: You can watch them through binoculars and photograph them through your telescope; and they now have English names, so you don't need to know Latin. They are relatively easy to identify and there are not too many species to worry about. Best of all, there are a number of recent field-guides to help you.

The "Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland" is published by BWP and covers resident and migrant species. It is written by a former resident of St Neots, Steve Brooks, who now works at the London Natural History Museum. Every now and then it has to be updated because these insects are always on the move. Maps have to be redrawn and new species arrive in the UK almost annually these days.

Steve popped into Paxton Pits a week ago and walked the Meadow Trail where he was as surprised as I would be to spot a Norfolk Hawker. Now this species is confined to the Norfolk Broads and a bit of Suffolk so in his place I would have decided that I was mistaken, but Steve took the view that he knows what he's talking about so it's a male Norfolk Hawker!  I'm guessing that this is the first record for Cambridgeshire. The nearest breeding site is probably 80 miles away at Strumpshaw Fen, near Norwich.

Actually it is quite an easy beast to identify. It looks like a Brown Hawker but instead of the wings being ginger, they are clear. In Norfolk I have seen it flying along water courses choked with Water Soldier. Is it a co-incidence that the Hayling Pit also has huge rafts of this plant?

I have been down to the Hayling Pit several times since, in search of this dragonfly, but it seems to have given up on finding a mate and moved on. Perhaps it will be the first Norfolk Hawker in Bedfordshire next. Another has been reported from Kent.