Madeira, Mar 2012

The winters can feel long for anyone, never mind those keen on dragonflies. Fortunately, for those with a general interest in wildlife, winter migrant birds can offer some cold-weather relief but can still seem a struggle. So, in search of some potential winter sunshine combined with a little additional exercise, we headed for a week in Madeira towards the end of February to walk the levadas [irrigation canals] and mountain trails. Not expecting much in the way of wildlife, we were travelling light with one snappy camera and one real camera (i.e. DSLR) armed with a single “universal travel” lens, 18-200mm.

View Dragonfly Sites, Macaronesia in a larger map

After our week of walking we had a free day to explore Madeira’s main town, Funchal. Carol is into flowers so we decided to head for the local, supposedly famous, botanical gardens on the very pleasant, if somewhat expensive (€28.00 per person including entrance fee), cable car.

Once in the gardens, I tagged along dutifully displaying as much interest as possible in the flora. It was actually quite colourful and enjoyable; I don’t dislike flowers, they simply don’t particularly excite me. Half way up a steep slope my eye caught a flutter of movement in my peripheral vision. I spotted a dragonfly land on a plant stem in the bed beside which I was standing. My jaw dropped. Perhaps had I understood flight seasons on Madeira, it wouldn’t have been quite such a surprise, we were a long way further south, after all but it was such an unexpected encounter.  Keeping my eyes locked onto my newest best friend, I begged, borrowed and stole Carol’s proper camera and lens and began snapping away while my quarry posed cooperatively.

Island DarterI was aware of the existence of something called an Island Darter and wondered if this might be an example, though that felt a little hopeful. Had I known more, I’d have known it was an Island Darter, though, because this looked like a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) but that species is “replaced” by Island Darters on Madeira and the Canary Islands. The most noticeable distinguishing feature, without resorting to capture and hand lenses, seems to be that Island Darters have almost completely black femurs whereas Common Darters have a distinct yellow stripe all down their legs, including the femurs.

This specimen is quite interesting from another viewpoint. Although the colouration is most reminiscent of a male, this is actually a female as indicated by the shape of the abdomen and appendages, together with the half-segment black lines along the length side of the side of the thorax. I was similarly confused by a male-looking female Ruddy Darter in Provence last year.

Whether Island Darters are a distinct species or a subspecies of the Common Darter appears to be open to question and debate. Hence, the binomial/scientific name is often written Sympetrum (striolatum) nigrifemur. For simplicity, though, I’ll refer to it as S. nigrifemur . I’m just delighted to have seen one to count as my first Odo of 2012.

This surprise encounter made us wander around the garden scrutinizing the various areas with water features looking for more Odos but, alas, we found no more.

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