Scotland and the North of England, Sep 2012

With a date at an Edinburgh family wedding in mid-September, it seemed to make sense for us to turn it into a three week (or thereabouts) tour of northern England and Scotland. This was not primarily an Odonata-spotting trip but more of a touristy one, there being several northern sights as yet unseen, by myself, at least. I confess to being very bad at travelling north, being already far too far north by my reckoning, so I gave myself some mental encouragement by hoping to see any northern specialist species,. I was particularly keen on trying to track down a so-called Highland Darter.

Normally, I would immediately follow the vernacular name with the binomial/trinomial name but the Highland Darter makes life potentially difficult since its relationships are debated. Dijkstra/Lewington refers to Highlands as Sympetrum (striolatum) nigrescens. Since the trip, I’ve been given a copy of a scientific paper which reported recent DNA studies, the results of which concluded that Highland Darters are really just dark forms of the Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum). Such a pity for an old romantic such as myself who would love it to have been at least a separate subspecies. To my eye – yes, I did find one, they look noticeably different from a “regular” Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) so, perhaps, something like Highland Darter (S. striolatum f. nigrescens) could be appropriate?

Our main target for the tour was the west coast of Scotland, specifically the Caravan Club site at Bunree, just north of Ballachulish. That’s too far to drag in one day so we paused near Carlisle at another CC site for four days on our way north. After Bunree we headed east to Edinburgh and the wedding followed by four more days in the north-east of England near Seahouses.

Though the weather remained appalling throughout our trip (only 1½ days with sun out of 19), a few suitable Odo-spotting opportunities en route were taken.


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Haweswater RSPB Reserve: 31-Aug-2012

P1020672 Aeshna juncea femaleHaving done the required touristy bit at Hadrian’s wall the previous day, we headed for this north-east edge of the English Lake District wondering if we might catch a site of England’s only resident Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). We didn’t. We did, however, spot a couple of dragonflies buzzing about in unpromising weather conditions. One posed sheltering in some long grass for our snappy camera. It was a female Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) and our first sighting of this species in the UK. No other suspects.

  • Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)

Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve: 01-Sep-2012

A strong wind and overcast skies did not bode well as we headed for Campfield Marsh on the southern side of the Solway Firth. We tramped over half a mile in our Wellington boots (well done us for packing them) seeing nothing – well, a couple of swooping Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) preparing to run away to Africa, sensible things – before coming across a small pond with some action. Most of the action was sheltering from the wind but comprised:

  • Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Black Darter (Sympetrum danae)
  • Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

J01_0070 Aeshna juncea maleWalking further along a field edge and boardwalk produced more of the same until we finally turned back when two hawkers hung-up and presented themselves for portraits. The first was male Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) to go with our Lake District female from the previous day. Again, this was a first for us in this country. Finally, as we were almost back at the car, a male Southern Hawker posed slightly awkwardly, a little high up, in a hedgerow. So, add to the tally:

  • Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)
  • Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

Glenborrodale RSPB Reserve: 07-Sep-2012

J01_0140 S striolatum nigrescens female J01_0143 S striolatum nigrescens femaleCamped beside Loch Linnhe at Bunree on Scotland’s west coast, we suffered eight days of largely howling winds, driving rain and low clouds through which we saw neither the sun nor, even, the tops of the mountains. In a short morning of respite, we crossed to the opposite side of the loch and made for yet another RSPB reserve in search of my main quarry, the Highland Darter. We were about to give up as conditions deteriorated when I spotted movement. I snapped what looked very similar to a Female Black Darter (S. danae) but no, it was an actual female Highland Darter (S. striolatum  f. nigrescens).

This was the only warm body of the day; we did not, unfortunately, find a male to go with it. Oddly, nor did we spot any birds. Content, nonetheless!

  • Highland Darter (Sympetrum striolatum f. nigrescens)

Tailend Moss NR: 11-Sep-2012

We stayed at yet another CC site in Edinburgh for our family wedding. Just outside Edinburgh to the west is Tailend Moss NR. After being rained off on our first attempt to visit, it began to look as if the same was happening to our second attempt but we drove through the rain. Quelle surprise! Parking wasn’t great, the car looking a little vulnerable in a gated offshoot to a main-ish road, but we eventually found the entrance and risked a visit. The sun was intermittent but at least there was some and we were soon closely examining Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum) to make sure they weren’t Highlands – they shouldn’t have been over on the east – and chasing more Common Hawkers (Aeshna juncea).

_MG_3138 Aeshna juncea damaged maleJ01_0172 Aeshna juncea damaged maleThe Common Hawkers proved most interesting in that we found two males, each with one half of an upper appendage missing. They were certainly two different individuals ‘cos the damage was to a different appendage, right in one case and left in the other. Curious! I wonder what is eating the tail-end of hawkers at Tailend Moss?

  • Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
  • Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)
  • Black Darter (Sympetrum danae)
  • Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

Dunstanburgh Castle: 15-Sep-2012

On a regular touristy day gawping at a few castles on the north-east coast of England, we stumbled across an area of habitat just below the castle to the south and west. Not expecting much, we took a quick look and found:

  • Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)
  • Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
Posted in 2012, Trip reports, UK

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