Dragonfly-Days
....for South Wales Dragonfly enthusiasts


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Four-spotted Chaser   Libellula quadrimaculata
        Flight season April until September

Although not the most colourful of Britain's dragonfly tribe, the Four-spotted Chaser does have the most interesting wing pattern. There doesn't appear to be much difference between males and females. The species also has a form known as praenubila which has larger black wing spots at the nodes and wing tips, this form is relatively common.

Mature insects become much darker with age losing nearly all of the ochre yellow of earlier days, the newcomer to dragonflies often confuse insects in their mature stage as totally different species and may have to refer to their fieldguide for ID help.
Four-spotted Chaser are to be found in reasonably good numbers where conditions are favourable, acidic waters on both moorland and heathland ponds are populated and even recently built ornamental garden ponds are quickly colonised, on the whole they are not overly fussy and many water types provide suitable habitat.

Males are highly aggressive and territorial, they often have favourite perches on medium high foliage, dead stalks are often used to launch attacks against rival males, once the transgressor has been driven off it will return to continue it's watch. On warm summer evenings on the Gwent Levels I have watched them hunting in numbers along the hedgerows for insect prey, they glide effortlessly on the warm air currents turning acute angles before catching their unlucky victims.
Four-spotted Chaser are hard to confuse with any other species, perhaps only rather mature female Broad-bodied Chaser could cause identification problems, the much rarer Scarce Chaser has not yet been recorded from the Dragonfly-Days area but they may also be considered a confusion species.

The species habit of returning to a favourite perch can prove advantageous to the dragonfly photographer, with some sensible fieldcraft and patience you may be rewarded with good quality images. This is one species where you may consider using a tripod, other insect interlopers can prove frustrating though.

Broad-bodied Chaser    Libellula depressa
        Flight season is late April until September

The Broad-bodied Chaser probably has a greater difference in colour between the sexes than any of our other native species, and the newcomer to dragonfly watching can be forgiven for thinking they are two separate species.

Mature females are a wonderful amber yellow colour, and at all stages of their lives have a shorter and broader body than the male. Immature males can be confused with females owing to the yellowish hue it shows before it's later adult colouration.

Mature females sometimes show signs of pruinescence (powder blue bloom) on the middle segments.
Most of the smaller standing waters will have Broad-bodied Chaser, they're common throughout the region. If I had to select one species for the aspiring dragonfly photographer to practice on then it would be this species, both sexes can be most accommodating when image-taking, however I've always found the females of the species to be more approachable, this might be because the male is constantly 'jittery' about rival males on it's territory and chases them off, but more often than not it will return to the same 'outlook perch'. Naturally, unmarked adult males make for the best photographs and with patience they can found. Incidentally if you dig your own garden pond - (especially for dragonflies!!!) - your likely to find that the Broad-bodied Chaser will colonise it, if they do, then place a stick or two around the edges to act as perches, then you have created your own personal dragonfly studio!!!
Male Broad-bodied Chaser
The male is a superb insect in his powder blue livery, the abdominal segments on the sides have yellow markings that often become abrased by the females legs during copulation that leave dark patches. The wings are very clear and have large areas of rich dark brown where they meet the body, the wing spots are black. The eyes of both sexes are brown.

The male can be confused with the male Black-tailed Skimmer, but the latter has considerably more black on it's lower abdomen (compare with the Black-tailed Skimmer image below).

The male Broad-bodied Chaser is both aggressive and territorial.

Black-tailed Skimmer   Orthetrum cancellatum
    Flight season is April until late September

Female Black-tailed Skimmer
Female Black-tailed Skimmer are rich ochre yellow in colour with a black 'ladder' effect pattern on the abdomen.
The costa is yellow and the wing spots are black. The eyes are brownish.

From personal experience I believe your most likely to stumble across the female in long grasses or herbage and then with some care and patience you may well manage a photograph, but careless actions will result in her flying rapidly off and the hoped for shot lost.

I've seen many females catching large prey items in long grasses, often the meal is a day-flying moth!
I can well remember seeing my first Black-tailed Skimmer (male) on the Gwent Levels well over twenty years ago, I've since watched with great interest as the species have expanded their range throughout South Wales, they are locally common when the habitat suits, I've no doubt that the advent of country parks with their man made waters has proved highly beneficial in attracting the species. Larger open water bodies, such as lakes and ponds are preferred habitat, but the species enjoys areas near water that have places for them to bask, gravelled and tarmac paths, wooden staging and bare earth are all used, the species obviously benefits from the extra reflected warmth that such surfaces provide.
Male Black-tailed Skimmers have powder blue bodies and the rather slender abdomen has black markings on the last few segments, the thorax is an olive shade and the eyes are greenish blue.
The wings are held slightly forward when basking and appear clear with yellow costa, the black wing spots are well defined.

Males are highly protective of territory and can often be seen chasing off other males and then returning to a favourite rock, stone or log.

It's habit of 'skimming' over the water surface and catching onto passing females for copulation is fascinating to watch, the actual affair can appear to be over in less than a minute!
The male Black-tailed Skimmer chooses the worst possible background for anyone that's hoping for a good photograph, their love of bare earth, rough paths and wooden decking can frustrate the even best of photographers and we must accept a compromise between a reasonably clear shot of the insect and a grotty background!!!
Occasionally you can find paired Black-tailed Skimmer away from water mating, then the process can be much longer (and probably more pleasurable!!!) and can last as long as 15 to 20 minutes (yeah! I've timed them) if disturbed the male will fly with his 'bride' some distance, before settling in a similar place and position to resume copulation, I'm reminded of a motorbike and sidecar when I witness this for some reason.

The photo to the left shows the male above the female, note the way she wraps her legs around the males abdomen, this can cause dark coloured abrasions and leave the mated male permanently marked (poor chap lol).

Keeled Skimmer   Orthetrum coerulescens
          Flight season is mid May until September

The female Keeled Skimmer has beautifully suffused yellow wings that compliment the ochre coloured body perfectly, the narrow pterostigma is a weak orange. The 'keeled' descriptive common name refers to the thin black line that runs down the middle of the abdomen. The eyes are brown.

Mature females turn to darker brown and well aged females are almost an deep olive colour. Both sexes at every stage have two buff coloured stripes on top of the abdomen.

The female pictured on the right was discovered in June in an unexpected location, once I had explored the area more closely, I discovered hidden seepages that were partially covered with brambles and this provided suitable habitat for this interesting species.
Wales has always been something of a stronghold for Keeled Skimmer and I've spent many hours studying the insect in Glamorgan and the northern uplands of Gwent. Many of the country parks I've described in locations holds the species.

Keeled Skimmers choose small boggy ponds and seepages that have some mosses such as sphagnum, these waters are naturally acidic and the South Wales area has many such places. Small slow flowing streams and runnels are also happily used and the man-made drainage channels on the old coal waste tipping sites could have been created especially for them. Keeled Skimmer share a small drainage channel with Golden-ringed Dragonfly in one location I've got to know and although the channel is quite narrow and shallow and can slow to a mere trickle in drought but never dries up, the source is not just from drain-off of higher ground but also from deep underground. Both mentioned species seem to be thriving in such stable water conditions.
Male Keeled Skimmer
The male Keeled Skimmer is powder-blue with the merest amount of black at the tip of the abdomen, the thorax is deep brown and becomes bluer as it ages, the eyes are blue-grey when viewed from above. The'keel' is not as evident as the females. The wings appear clear and have weak orange pterostigma and yellow costa, they are often held forward in the basking position as illustrated on the image to the left.

I've personally never really found male Keeled Skimmer to be aggressive, perhaps this is because the territory they hold is usually small, there may not appear to be so many disputes, each male knows his patch and guards it from a low perch or stone, rock etc, I've watched them patrol then rest on a regular basis, and much time also appears to be spent 'preening'....they seem tidy little dragonflies!!!

They seem to hover much more when a female comes near and will immediately take advantage of the situation before she moves out of his territory and offers herself to a rival, he siezes the female in flight and they go into copulation mode while still in flight, mating is usually completed on the ground in low vegetation, lasting from 2 to 60 minutes.

Black Darter   Sympetrum danae
             Flight season is from June to early October

Paired Black Darter
 
To see this species at it's best you need to visit the species stronghold in the upland areas of Glamorgan and the northern hills of Gwent, here you can see it at home in the bog pools and mires that are rich in bog mosses and fringed with marginal rushes, sedges and coarse grasses, these are acidic waters, much favoured by Britain's smallest dragonfly.

The female Black Darter has an ochre yellow abdomen and a triangle of black on the thorax, there are some black markings on the lower abdominal segments, but the abdomen is not waisted like the male. The clear wings have an amber tint where they meet the body.
Over recent years I've been shown some wonderful bog-pools on the Heads of the Valley by my good friend Gary Howells and the late and much missed Rodney Morris, in their company I've spent quality time finding out a little more about Black Darter and the other interesting species that reside there. In 2011 we witnessed an incredible hatch of Black Darter that were simply uncountable, the reeds and rushes were literally alive with the insects and any movement through the reed or rush put them up in clouds. This allowed several weeks of quiet study and great opportunities for photographs.
Male Black Darter coated in morning dew
I simply could not resist showing this delightful study of a male Black Darter photographed in the early morning by Gary Howells, this fine image is what dragonfly photography is all about, and Gary is still a relative newcomer to the world of dragonflies!!!

Male Black Darters are not totally black until mature, during the earlier stages they sport considerable amounts of ochre yellow, gradually losing it to black as they mature. The abdomen is waisted and the legs are pure black. The wings are clear with distinctly black pterostigma. There are three small yellow spots on a black area on the sides of the thorax.
Black Darter males can 'thermo-regulate' their bodies for colder conditions, its not until body surface temperatures reach between 20°c and 40°c that flying activity takes place, the insect changes it's body temperature by perching at different heights, when its very warm the insect can be seen pointing it's abdomen vertically towards the sun, and this reduces the body surface area that's exposed to the sun (Brooks 2004). What an absolutely fascinating little critter!!!

Common Darter   Sympetrum striolatum
          Flight season is from May until November

Immature Male Black Darter
Mature Female Common Darter
The name says it all, and it's not just the most common of our native darter species but also Britain's most common dragonfly.

Females can appear almost dark lemon in their teneral and immature phases, they get more yellow as they mature and when past their peak can turn russet along the upper middle of the abdomen as you can see illustrated by the image on the left, do note the 'vulvar scale' towards the tip of the abdomen.

The wings are clear but can show small areas of yellow towards the base. The pterostigma may appear reddish-brown or even shades of yellow. Eyes are brown.
Few waters don't support Common Darter, but they don't like fast flowing rivers or streams. The species are not found in the real uplands but I have often encountered them far from the nearest water at elevations of around 1000 feet in the valley's of both Glamorgan and northern Gwent. They are remarkably tolerant of both hot and cooler weather conditions and I well remember watching a female trying to oviposit in a small pool at Parc Cwm Darran (in early November) after quite a heavy frost overnight that had left a small margin of thin ice around the pools edges!!!
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darters appear bright orangey-red in their adult outfit, the immature male is more yellowish to light brown. The side of the thorax reveals two large patches of yellow split by a patch that is reddish-brown. The eyes and upper thorax are brown.

Males can be confused with Ruddy Darter - just remember that Ruddy Darter have jet black legs.

Get familiar with Common Darter in all it's different life stages and any confusion with other darter species can be overcome.
Few dragonfly ispecies are more accomodating for the dragonfly photographer than the Common Darter, sometimes they appear to almost pose for you, their large brown eyes moving towards you as you compose your shot. Their habit of returning to the same spot helps enormously, look out for them on wooden jetties, benchs, picnic tables and other wooden man-made structures that holds any warmth, especially in the late summer and autumn when every bit of extra warmth is welcome. They are often still seen into early December during milder weather in the lowlands of the region.

Ruddy Darter   Sympetrum sanguineum
           Flight season is from June until October

Possibly the most vivid of all the British dragonfly species, the Male Ruddy Darter is a stunning blood-red insect and is the only 'red' darter with totally black legs. The thorax is a slightly deeper red and the eyes are ruby red. Another distinct feature is the 'club-shaped' appearance of the abdomen.

Immature males have ochre-yellow coloured abdomens and pale brown thorax and eyes, it can be told apart from the female by the 'club-shaped' abdomen. With age they will gradually develop a blood-red abdomen.

The wings of both sexes are clear, but can attain a golden-yellow suffusion towards the base with age, the pterostigma are reddish-brown.
Ruddy Darter are uncommon insects in the Dragonfly-Days area and my efforts to get a better idea of their current status in both Glamorgan and Monmouthshire has met with some disappointment in recent years. Several visits to one of their south Wales strongholds at the Newport Wetlands NNR during 2012 turned up not a single insect, the couple of years preceding also gave cause for concern, I never saw more than a few insects on any visit. The last time I recorded Ruddy Darter at Newport Wetlands in anything like reasonable numbers was 2006 and 2007, but happily the summer of 2014 proved an exceptional one throughout their South Wales strongholds, while 'vagrants' were recorded from Parc Cwm Darran in Glamorgan and Allt-yr-Ynys Reserve in Newport.
On the Gwent Levels, Ruddy Darter are often
found along the 'reens' (man-made drainage ditches) that have good amounts of marginal plant growth, these 'reens' also have hedgerow cover, it appears Ruddy Darter like some type of foliage cover around their habitat.

The image on the right shows a mature female, with age mature females abdomens take on a weak blood-red colour. Your far less likely to see females that males, they have a tendency to remain hidden (from males and photographers!) in foliage and their colour certainly helps in this regard. 

Be aware that Common Darter share the same habitat with Ruddy Darter and are often the cause of identification confusion - especially between the females of the species.

Red-veined Darter   Sympetrum fonscolombii
        Flight season is Mid-May until October

Male Red-veined Darter
This species is regarded as a scarce migrant and rare breeder, yet it's officially confirmed as having bred at the Kenfig National Nature Reserve in Glamorgan. There are also unconfirmed records from the Gwent Levels but details are sketchy. I'm also informed that the Red-veined Darter has been observed on the River Wye in Monmouthshire, but I'm afraid I can find no further information to substantiate this. It presently has a distinctly coastal bias in southern Wales, but colonisation is quite possible especially after several recent good years of 'major arrivals'.
Red-veined Darter is recorded annually at Kenfig NNR and during mid-June 2009 I had the pleasure of my first encounter with this lovely insect. The red of the male undoubtedly rivals that of it's near relative the male Ruddy Darter, but the suffused red veining that gives the species it's generic name is soon apparent, the eyes are a deep ruby red

Although I spent best part of a day with the species, I saw no females or immature males. I became aware of their habit of perching up on warm bare ground, sandy patches or short grazed grasses, there were at least three different males present and they appeared to clash frequently, the 'loser' often flew far over the main pool, lost even to my binoculars.
Male Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter males are probably the most aggressive darter species I've seen, they are also highly 'tuned in' to any possible invasion of air space and I remember them getting far too close for comfort to House Sparrows when they came down to the pool-side for insects, to the extent that I was convinced that a cock sparrow was going to catch one and I had to quickly clap my hands to distract one from a chase - it can prove a bit embarrassing having to explain to passing walkers why your clapping the local House Sparrows!!!
Let's hope this fine dragonfly can go from strength to strength in our region and we can all find out more about it's life cycle.

I've no personal experience yet of the female or the immature male, however the recently revised fieldguides have really excellent summaries about the species and it could prove most worthwhile familiarising oneself with them.

Kenfig NNR is undoubtedly the species most preferred South Wales location.

Yellow-winged Darter   Sympetrum flaveolum
     Flight season is June until late September

This rare vagrant is another species that appears ready to colonise Britain, and since an invasion into the country during 1995 it was subsequently found to have bred here, sadly the species failed to establish a breeding population, this points to climatic conditions still not being conducive to a more permanent British status, but this is rather strange since the species actually breeds in several Scandanavian countries where conditions in winter are far colder than ours, could it possibly be that they don't like our damp temperate climate that has become considerably wetter during recent years, the Scandanavian countries winters might be much colder but their general climate is also much drier.

When the Yellow-winged Darter has favourable migratory conditions, namely; winds from the east or south-east blowing in from Asia (late July and August) they can appear in good numbers and can turn up almost anywhere. In Glamorgan they have been recorded from Kenfig NNR, Parc Slip Nature Park, a few from the Greater Cardiff area, and also from Merthyr Common in north Glamorgan. The only record of the species for Monmouthshire comes from Magor Marsh the Gwent Wildlife Trust Reserve.

Please Note: The above information has been provided from data sets held by the NBN Gateway. I'm most grateful to the NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Gateway for allowing
Dragonfly-Days to use this information.
Like many other dragonfly enthusiasts I have not had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful insect yet, I only hope the wind blows fair and we have another influx to rival the 'Great Darter Influx' of 1995 in the not too distant future.

I've had permission to include this superb image of a male Yellow-winged Darter from Christian Fischer, many thanks.

Note the golden-yellow suffusion that gives the species it's common name, also observe the reddish-brown pterostigma surrounded by thick black margins, the remaining wing area is clear. 

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Banded Darter   Sympetrum pedemontanum
      Rare Vagrant with one British record only

Paired Banded Darter
© Christian Fischer (CCL)
The only British record for this rare vagrant was from moorland near the village of Trefil, near Tredegar in Gwent (Monmouthshire). This record coincided with the 'Great Darter Influx' of 16th - 17th of August 1995, this period of unusual darter immigration originated from the south-east of Europe.

Apparently the type of habitat it was seen in is very similar to that of it's south-eastern European habitat.

The species is unmistakable and highly unlikely to be confused with any other darter species, this is a remarkable example of what can be found if you happen to be in the right place at the right time and keep your wits about you.

My thanks once again to Christian Fischer for allowing use of his wonderful image of paired Banded Darter -
© copyright remains his under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence agreement.

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Female Broad-bodied Chaser
Paired Black-tailed Skimmer
Male Yellow-winged Darter
© Christian Fischer (Creative Commons Licence)
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Male Black-tailed Skimmer
Four-spotted Chaser
Female Keeled Skimmer
Male Ruddy Darter
Female Ruddy Darter
Four-spotted Chaser form praenubila