Wednesday, 30 July 2014

In Search of Emeralds

17th July 2014

Another attempt at finding some Emerald Damselflies at the Amwell Dragonfly Trail. They have been very spasmodic over the years and never more than one or two, but were certainly present last year. However today, despite it being well into their flight season, there were still none to be found and you start to wonder whether they will arrive at all.

Luckily other dragonflies were active such as this male Broad-bodied Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer which, instead of settling on the mud as usual, chose to perch on a small twig low over the mud. Also present was a female Brown Hawker busily egg-laying at the base of a stone. I find Brown Hawkers quite difficult as they tend to perch away from water so ovipositing females are the best bet.

I then moved on to the butterfly meadow between the gate and the orchid enclosure. This used to be a fairly unique habitat in this part of Hertfordshire being a very short sward due to nibbling of rabbits throughout the year and grazing by cattle during the summer months. The short sward attracted good numbers of Brown Argos, Common Blue and even the odd now very scarce Small Heath. Unfortunately, last year only six cattle were put on to graze and not until the middle of July, basically too little too late.

As a result the grass this year is chest-high in places and there were no Brown Argus and only one or two blues. The only grassland butterflies that I saw were a few Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and a handful of skippers. Fortunately one of the skippers sat up and posed, clearly showing the black tips on the underside of its antennae confirming that it was indeed an Essex Skipper.

However, in one or two areas of shorter grass, Common Centaury and Musk Mallow were at their best.

Today, however, pride of place must go the the humble and totally under-rated Teasel. These plants are totally unique in their flowering behaviour. Whereas most plants with an extended flowering period such as Foglove start flowering at the base of the stem and move upwards, the Teasel starts flowering in the middle and then progresses upwards and downwards simultaneously. Just look at the following sequence.

Now, a lot of people don't know that!!!

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