Monday, 10 July 2017

Scarlet fever at Longham Lakes

On Saturday evening Dorset birder Martin Wood posted on Twitter a photograph, taken at Longham Lakes, of a startlingly bright red dragonfly, along with a request for help with the ID. Martin is a popular figure on the Dorset birding scene, not least due to his endearing habit of not checking what the auto-correct function has done to his posts before he sends them. Thus, a number of new species have been added to the Dorset list over the years thanks to these typos, including Montagu's Barrier, Woodstock, Wedge Warbler and the aptly-named Wood Sandpaper.
Scarlet Darter (confusingly also known as Scarlet Dragonfly or Broad Scarlet) is an incredibly vivid shade of red - here resting with wings swept characteristically forward 
The abdomen is flattened compared to other red Darters, and it has a small yellow patch at the base of the hindwing. Note also the blue underside to the eyes, a feature evidently shared with Red-veined Darter
A different angle to show the brilliant scarlet head and eyes. On one of the finer points of ID, 10 or 11 ante-nodal cross-veins on the leading edge of the forewing can be seen on the photos above (compared to 8 in other red darters)
Red-veined Darter had been reported at Longham in recent days and Martin posed the not unreasonable question of whether this might be one of that species. The internet 're-identified from photos' phenomena reared its head at this point with dragonfly buffs confidently proclaiming it to be a Scarlet Darter Crocothemis erythraea - only the 8th record for Britain and apparently the first for Dorset. I had trudged around Longham Lakes in the heat of Saturday afternoon trying to improve on my earlier photographs of Lesser Emperor - unsuccessfully I should add - and was unaware of the presence of the even rarer visitor which must have been present at the same time. So with a good forecast on Sunday morning I made the short journey back to Longham while the rest of the family were having a lie-in, arriving just after 0900.
Lesser Emperor at Longham Lakes - note the pale blue band at the base of the abdomen. An absolute swine to photograph - they seemed to patrol over a much larger area than Emperors, and they hovered only rarely
I never saw one perch in almost 6 hours at Longham - as a result I had to wait patiently in the baking sun and hope for one to pause long enough for the auto-focus to lock on
Fortunately this one did and although the light was unkind I was pleased to have improved on my earlier efforts
Checking the areas of the lakes allegedly favoured by the Lesser Emperors (again, unsuccessfully), after about an hour I headed down to the bottom end of the south lake where Martin had photographed the Scarlet Darter. There I met up with some other local dragonfly hunters who had come to search for the Darter. We spread out and covered the area near where Martin had photographed it, before moving on to pay close attention to a small pool at the base of the south lake.
On any other day this Red-veined Darter would have been the star of the show - but yesterday it played 3rd fiddle to the Scarlet Darter and Lesser Emperor
Brown Hawker - the only other dragonfly to be as restless as the Lesser Emperor, I had to settle for a flight shot
This Golden-ringed Dragonfly was more inclined to perch on tall vegetation - though it seemed to want to stay in the shade unfortunately
As I walked slowly along the edge of the pool, primarily looking for Small Red-eyed Damselflies close enough to photograph, I was stopped in my tracks by a tiny telephone box of a dragonfly which I surmised could only be the Scarlet Darter. Hailing the others, we all enjoyed close views as the Darter basked and made occasional hunting sallies before returning to perch on the same stalk of vegetation.
Emperor Dragonflies were sparring with the Lesser Emperors
A female Emperor
Emperor is more inclined to perch on vegetation than Lesser Emperor
After a bit of debate about the ID during which our disbelieving minds were almost in denial of the clear evidence before our eyes, we eventually ruled out Red-veined Darter and put the news out that the Scarlet Darter was still present. A number of locals and a few from further afield managed to get to Longham to see it before it went missing around lunchtime. Thanks to his discovery of the Scarlet Darter, we can now celebrate Martin for yet another addition to the Dorset list! A great find and a just reward for his diligent coverage of the Lakes.
Black-tailed Skimmer was by far the most numerous large dragonfly at Longham Lakes this weekend
Here a female Black-tailed Skimmer captured in flight
Three species of damselfly in this picture - Small Red-Eyed (top left), Blue-tailed (top right) and Common Blue (bottom left)
After success with the Scarlet Darter, everything else then fell into place - the Lesser Emperor(s), previously so elusive, were found faithfully patrolling the same stretch of the south lake shore, a Brown Hawker floated past, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly played hide-and-seek in some brambles with a pair of Banded Demoiselle, and a Red-veined Darter posed for photos. Some 16 species of Odonata were recorded at Longham Lakes this weekend - firmly establishing it as one of the country's leading sites for this fascinating family.
Common Blue Damselfly
The much rarer Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Banded Demoiselle


  1. somewhat gripped off. Stuck at a wedding in Wales. Actually, fucking gripped off to shit. Very nice pics.

  2. Great to see so many people visiting my local patch at the moment :)