Spain, Spring 2017

Travelling by slow boat (30 hours) between Portsmouth and Bilbao, this was a 6-week visit to our base in Spain at Jalón/Xaló. This being my first early season odonata hunt in Spain, I was looking forward to something fresh.

I had a nagging concern, though. The 2016-17 winter in Spain, our part anyway, was a real winter. After several years of drought conditions, plenty of much needed rain fell and Jalón even had snow which settled for the first time in 30 years. Of greatest interest to me, was the Gota Fria [literally, Cold Drop] of mid-December, 2016, which we’d witnessed on our Xmas/New Year visit. Torrential rain fell and, though the town wasn’t actually flooded by the Riu Xalo-Gorgos bursting any banks, the river, normally just a few pools that hardly flow at all, turned into a raging torrent sweeping away stands of mature bamboo along with part of a road. This short video, shot by a friend, should give an idea of of why I had concerns.

2017-05-18 14.55.272017-05-18 14.55.44On arrival this time, the river had mostly returned to its normal, calm self, though it was still flowing a little more than we considered normal. These pictures are taken from within the river course itself, the river being nowhere near its banks, and the couple of fords were useable, as is usual. Examining a few stretches along the river showed that new shingle banks had appeared in places, changing the [placid] water course slightly, and a  few large stone blocks that must weigh as much as a modest car had been relocated, washed off the tops of a couple of dam structures. Actually, when this happened about 10 years ago, a car was relocated downstream towards Xábia/Jávea. What would have been the effect of such a powerful flow be on any odonata larvae, I wondered? With two weeks at the end of April and three weeks in May, I had the opportunity to find out.

We did, of course, visit several of my other favoured odonata haunts to see how they were doing. Largely because this was a lengthier visit and earlier in the season than our norm, we encountered four species for the first time in Spain. The Spanish refer to a first-timer, I’m told, as a Bimbo. How delightful is that? [I’ve come across the term lifer applied in the UK.] So, all in all, a very positive trip, despite the winter weather concern. Read on. 😉

Here’s my usual map and summary.  [Aside: my maps are back on Google Maps, Mapbox having changed their interface and ruined it, IMHO – no longer an easy click to add points to maps.]

Marjal de Pego-Oliva, 14 & 30 Apr, 16 May [#1]

J17_0976 Aeshna isocelesThis has become the most interesting place local to our base in Spain, being a mere 20 minutes away, being a pleasant, normally quiet environment for a nature ramble and, of course, having a good spread of odonata. This time, we visited it on three separate occasions and introduced it to a friend who was also interested in photography. Our three visits netted us three new species for the site: Platycnemis latipes (White Featherleg), Aeshna isoceles (Green-eyed Hawker) and Gomphus pulchellus (Western Clubtail). These were our first encounters in Spain of the Hawker and the Clubtail.

J17_1289 Trithemis annulata maleThe Green-eyed Hawkers were active and quite numerous, our count reaching six. The Clubtail seemed like a lucky encounter because we saw just one and only once. The season was just beginning, evidently, for Trithemis annulata (Violet Dropwing) and Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet), which were present in low numbers. It did present me with a beautifully fresh male Violet Dropwing, though, so different from the gaudily pink mature adult. We saw only one of the normally numerous Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter), too.

All of which brought tour site total to 15 species. I would have to say that, although we saw a total of 11 species here this time around, the individual numbers of most species seemed to be low. Maybe it was just early in the season for some. We did, though, solve our on-going Ischnura sp question – at least one of these was clearly I. elegans and not I. graellsii.  Shame! 🙂

This is what we saw this time around.

  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Erythromma viridulum (Small Redeye)
  • Erythromma lindenii (Blue-eye)
  • Platycnemis latipes (White Featherleg)
  • Aeshna isoceles (Green-eyed Hawker)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Anax parthenope (Lesser Emperor) ?
  • Gomphus pulchellus (Western Clubtail)
  • Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter)
  • Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet)
  • Trithemis annulata (Violet Dropwing)

Aula Natura Marjal de Gandia, 16 Apr [#2]

J17_0712 Crocothemis erythraeaThis site is normally relatively peaceful. However, normally does not include an Easter weekend sunny day, even in Spain. Although it is tagged a marsh, there is a lot of grassy area for folks to set up tables and chairs. On this day, the site was absolutely heaving with large family groups picnickinhg, kicking balls around, playing badminton, etc. It did not make for good Dragonfly spotting. Around the first of the two lakes, we saw just a pair of Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetails) and, of course, several hundred Homo sapiens. I was on the point of giving up completely but thought we might as well exit with a circuit of the second lake. JUust as well; we found there some patrolling Anax imperator (Blue Emperor) and a very teneral Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet) which had clearly just emerged and had taken its first tentative flutter.

  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet)

Marjal del Seniller, Moraira, 20 Apr [#3]

On one occasion we have been allowed access to this normally closed off site. We’ve seen five species here. This time, we just wandered past on our way to lunch, not really being here for dragonflies, but did spot a single Anax imperator (Blue Emperor) as we did so.

  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)

Parque Natural del Hondo, 23 Apr, 14 May [#4]

This site, new to me in August 2016, instantly became one of my favourites when I found not only Selysiothemis nigra (Black Pennant) but also, brand new to me, Bracythemis impartita (Northern Banded Groundling). ‘T was certainly too early in the season for either of those but I was keen to visit again and see what I could find at the start of the season.

J17_0805 Anax ephippigerOur first visit was rather spoiled when Carol was descended upon by too many mosquitos for her to bear. She retired from the field of battle and left me to swiftly find what I could before driving her to safety. My main find was good numbers of patrolling, mating and ovipositing Emperors, both Anax parthenope (Lesser Emperor) and Anax ephippiger (Vagrant Emperor). Both males having a blue saddle, they are a little tricky to distinguish in flight. One, though netted me what I feel must be my best ever dragonfly picture, a male in flight, ahead on – the wind, which they tend to fly into, was in exactly the right direction.

J17_1217 Sympetrum striolatumWe returned for a second visit, Carol now equipped against mosquitos, and added a couple of new species for our site list: Erythromma viridulum (Small redeye) in good numbers and an emergence of Sympetrum striolatum (Common Darter) with individuals clearly rising up on their maiden flights.

  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Erythromma viridulum (Small Redeye)
  • Anax parthenope (Lesser Emperor)
  • Anax ephippiger (Vagrant Emperor)
  • Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)
  • Orthetrum trinacria (Long Skimmer)
  • Sympetrum striolatum (Common Darter)
  • Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter)

Fonts d’Algar, 2 May [#5]

Hitherto, we had visited this site only once but it was in May and we saw the delightful Calopterx haemorrhoidalis (Copper Demoiselle) in good numbers. This visit was about a week earlier in the year but I was keen to see the beauties again, if possible.

J17_1049 Onychogomphus uncatusFor me, it was not possible but Carol did see one which regrettably fluttered off before I got to it, never to return. I was surprised by the lack even of an Anax imperator (Blue Emporor), though we did once again encounter a single Onychogomphus uncatus (Large Pincertail) sunning itself on the rocks. On our way out, an immature Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer) put in a last minute appearance, which was new to us for this site.

Three species but a measly three individuals, in early May, two-thirds of the way down Spain. It didn’t feel right, somehow. Was this apparently poor showing a result of the effects of a cooler, longer and wetter winter than normal, possible with the waterfalls and waterways becoming torrents? Speculation time. 😉

  • Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis (Copper Demoiselle)
  • Onychogomphus uncatus (Large Pincertail)
  • Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer)

Riu Serpis @ Beniarres, 8 May [#6]

The Riu Serpis emanates from a reservoir near Planes. It was another new discovery for us in 2016. Finding water in this part of Spain for dragonfly habitats can be a challenge and run offs from reservoirs seems to be a useful tactic.

J17_1116 Platycnemis acutipennisSince this was a different part of the season, I was again keen to see what species we could add to our site list. Here’s the four that we did identify, which included our first Spanish encounter with Platycnemis acutipennis (Orange Featherleg) and took us up to 10 at the site; reasonable for a couple of visits, I think. It got me my sight of Copper Demoiselles, too, having missed the one Carol saw at the Fonts d’Algar [#5].

This visit also clarified the Bluetail question that prevails around here – there were also Ishnura elegans (Common Bluetail), so I’m still to find that elusive I. graellsii (Iberian Bluetail), regrettably. There was actually a fifth species, red darter-ish which we saw just fleetingly and failed to id.

  • Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis (Copper Demoiselle)
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Platycnemis acutipennis (Orange Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)

Riu Serpis @ L’Orcha, 8 May [#7]

We continued along to to this second site along the same river. Here, we got a bit of a surprise. This site had clearly been hit hard by floodwaters during the winter. Here, the course of the river had changed slightly and there were gravel banks where water used to be, save for a cut off remaining pool or two. Even the parking area was now more of a gravel tip. At first we saw absolutely nothing, apart from scaring up a few Plovers clearly nesting on the stony ground; we gave them a wide berth). We did eventually find three individuals. Again, like the Fonts d’Algar story, these were three separate individuals of three species – just one representative of each. Perhaps indicatively, all three were located around the pool remaining from the original water course, now changed.

Much of the ground where larvae would have been was now dry. I think this site will need some recovery time.

  • Platycnemis acutipennis (Orange Featherleg)
  • Orthetrum brunneum (Southern Skimmer?)
  • Trithemis kirbyi (Orange-winged Dropwing)

City of Arts & Sciences @ Valencia, 9 May [#8]

J17_1167 trithemis kirbyiThis was an unexpected surprise. We had a trip to photograph the artistically architected buildings of the City of Arts and Sciences on the eastern side of Valencia. We knew they were surrounded by reflecting pools of water but I suspected these pools would be utterly sterile – and so they were. Behind the (on the northern edge) the buildings was a fairly pleasant park area with water but that also looked sterile. Until we got to the section beneath the road bridge, that is, a section which buts into a permanent source of water complete with reeds. To our surprise, we found this impressive list of seven species flitting about, again, not in great numbers – just one or two of each – but at least they were there.

  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Anax parthenope (Lesser Emperor)
  • Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)
  • Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer)
  • Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter)
  • Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet)
  • Trithemis kirbyi (Orange-winged Dropwing)

Castell de Castells, 13 May [#9]

J17_1205 Pyrrhosoma nymphulaA low count (1 or 2) of a single species hardly qualifies this as an odonata site but technically it is and I’ve included it because it is notable as being our first ever encounter with this particular species in Spain, Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damselfly).

Castell de Castells is a popular walking area. We’d been up on an orchid hunt and were returning through Castell, which has a very modest stream running through it, one you can almost literally step across. Scouring the streamside vegetation in overcast conditions, we found one, possibly two (one disappeared and another appeared but could’ve been the same specimen) Large Reds. Modest but exciting because of its significance.

  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damselfly)

Riu Jalon-Gorgos [#10]

And so to my main concern, the river flowing through Jalón itself. Bearing in mind that I had at least four weeks to observe and look for odonata here, to cut a long story short, my fears seem to be well founded. This site had been my leading Spanish site in terms of number of species witha count of 14. It had also been good in  terms of numbers of individuals. Despite checking here on a regular basis during the 4-5 weeks of this stay, all we could come with as identifiable specimens were three cruising Anax imperator (Blue Emperor), a lone Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter ) and a lone immature Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer), this last being at our final attempt. The RVD was actually on a higher stretch of the river at Alcalalí.

To complete the picture fairly, earlier in the trip, towards the end of April and before we hit the road to play tourist, I believe I saw a red-looking darter-sized dragonfly, possibly Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet) but it was fleeting and never seen again. Later in the trip I saw another darter-sized individual fleetingly, not red, but again it was unidentified and never seen again.

So, up to 20th May, 1000 miles further south than my home base in England and in a noticeably better climate, in 5 weeks we had notched up five confirmed individuals, three of which had been Emperors.

Fully formed Emperor larvae are large and strong. Is it possibly that a few of these might have survived the torrents where other lesser individuals might not have? What of lesser formed Emperor larvae? They do, after all, take a few years to develop fully. All other larvae of the species I’ve seen here are smaller and less strong. Five individuals, seven with the two uids, simply cannot be good. I honestly believe that the torrential river flow caused by the Gota Fria of December 2016 has taken its toll on the odonata population in the river at Jalón.

Nature will bounce back but it’ll take a while given what we saw this time.

  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer)
  • Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter)

Riu Duero @ Soria, 23/05/2017 [#11]

Mercifully I can end on a brighter note. Travelling by car, we stayed for two nights at Soria  a mountainous area about 3 hours south of Bilbao. Soria is at an altitude of about 2000ft. It’s apparently one of the coldest places in Spain, with 90 days of frost every year. Unbeknownst to us beforehand, it is also near the beginning of the Duero river which finally becomes the Duro and flows out into the Atlantic at Porto, Portugal. When we arrived we were delighted at what we saw, a well maintained river with well constructed and managed walkways beside it. We had originally intended to play tourist in the car but the river was irresistible and we just walked locally in fabulously clear weather.

_MG_8416 Sympecma fuscaWe were very glad we did. Damselflies don’t seem quite so easy to find in Spain as dragonflies but here we found four species. Not only that, but two of them were firsts for us in Spain.

Our Spanish firsts included good ol’ Coenagrion puella (Azure Damselfly) which, on a sizeable river, was a bit of a surprise. My biggest delight, though, was Sympecma fusca (Common Winter Damselfly) which was present in large numbers along every part of the river we examined. We’d seen them before in small numbers in France but here they were teaming. I did wonder if their over-wintering as adults made them well suited to surviving those 90 days of frost but it seems they like dead/dying reeds, of which there were plenty.

It was also only our second encounter in Spain with Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damselfly). So, all in all, three out of four species were pretty special – a very welcome spot of success on our way home.

  • Sympecma fusca (Common Winter Dasmelfly)
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Coenagrion puella (Azure Damselfly)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damselfly)
Posted in 2017, Spain, Trip reports
2 comments on “Spain, Spring 2017
  1. Simon Mackie says:

    Wow…how did I miss seing this until now ?
    A…mazing Vagrant flight pic John ..should win awards

    • JC says:

      Thanks Simon, you’re very kind.

      I was very happy with that shot. It’s cropped, of course, but conditions were with me. You get lucky every now and then.

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