Sunday, 27 May 2012

The big hatch

Castle School visiting our new
viewing platform.
The long, cold, wet spell seems to be over so now we can take stock on the costs and benefits.

We certainly needed the water and the vegetation looks the best it has for years in terms of sheer greenery. We lost all of our spotted orchids due to a late frost and the generally low temperatures have held back flowers and insects until this week. Very few butterflies and no dragonflies have been seen at all, until now. Worse still, our blue tits and other resident birds finally got round to laying eggs, but when the chicks hatched there was no food for them. The pair of bluetits that nested in our camera-box lost all their chicks so I imagine the same fate has befallen others. Maybe they will start again?

Banded demoiselle, female.
But, this week we have been transformed. The hawthorn is in full bloom and there are insects everywhere. Orange tip and brimstone butterflies are normally over by now, but this year they are just getting started. May-flies are dancing over the river banks and there are smoky plumes of  swarming midges over the tree-tops. But the most spectacular event is the on-going emergence of millions of damselflies of various species around our lakes. They are currently attracting up to six hobbies oat once over the visitors' centre.

Banded demoiselle, male.
The greenish nymphs swim wriggling to the shore and climb fence posts or small trees where they can cling on while the most extraordinary transformation happens. They split down the back and a fully formed damselfly emerges, complete with wings. At first the insect is soft, green and very fragile, then they turn grey in what is called the teneral stage, before they take on the full colour of adults. That's when  we can sort out what kind of damselfly they are. We have half a dozen species emerging just now, including large red, common blue, azure, blue tailed and re-eyed. All of these species are happy in still water, but it must be un-polluted.

Scarce chaser.
Demoiselles are more dainty, longer legged and metallic in colour, and they are only found in running water. The ones you see here are banded demoiselles. The females are metallic green and the males are deep iridescent blue with prominent dark blotches on their forewings.

Unlike the species above, dragonflies rest with their wings spread out and most of them are quite large. I have only seen two kinds so far; hairy dragonflies which are large and scarce chasers which are medium-sized. We expect a dozen or so species to emerge in the next few weeks.