And so to the main event of our 2017 extended trip to the Antipodes. Following our 3-week Australian wildlife foray, we made a 4-week campervan trip around New Zealand. This constituted two “lifers” for us being both our first time in New Zealand and our first time in a campervan. We spent one week on North Island, followed by three weeks on South Island. This was primarily a landscape tourism trip for Carol rather than specifically odo-hunting but, though not travelling to specific dragonfly locations, we took every opportunity to see what we could en route. Route, BTW, was 3000mls/5000kms.
First, a word or several about New Zealand odonata. New Zealand has a paucity of dragonflies. Technically the total recorded species in New Zealand is 17 of which 2 are very rare vagrants/migrants: Orange Glider/Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) and Red Glider/Saddlebag Glider (Tramea transmarina). So, realistically we’re down to 15 resident NZ species. A further 2 of those 15 are in strictly limited geographic locations: Chatham Island for the Chatham Redcoat (Xanthocnemis tuani) and the alpine headwaters of the Rakaia River, above Arthur’s Pass, for the Alpine Redcoat (Xanthocnemis sinclairi). So, on a casual trip we’re effectively down to 13 possibles. However, we have to take timing into account as well.
Our trip was right at the beginning of the New Zealand flight season, their early spring, when not all of the 13 possibles would be on the wing. Using information taken from Perfectly Worded, an NZ enthusiast’s site which seemed to contain the most comprehensive information I could find on the Internet, I pruned the 13 possibles according to flight season and developed my hit list of just 8 species that I thought I stood a chance of seeing. Using the New Zealand common names, these were:
- Austrolestes colensonis (Blue Damselfly)
- Ischnura aurora (Gossamer Damselfly)
- Xanthocnemis zealandica (Common Redcoat)
- Xanthocnemis sobrina (Kauri Redcoat)
- Antipodochlora braueri (Dusk Dragonfly)
- Aeshna brevistyla (Lancer Dragonfly)
- Diplacodes bipunctata (Red Percher)
- Procordulia grayi (Yellow-spotted dragonfly)
Those in bold type are NZ endemics.
We actually saw 6 species in all in New Zealand with 5 of those being in my hit list. The 6th, Hemicordulia australiae (Sentry Dragonfly), was not actually in my list because, it seems, the pre-trip information used to compile my list was less than completely accurate in respect of this species, both in terms of geographic location and flight season. We did see a 7th species, Uropetala carovei (Bush Giant) but just fleetingly, enough to identify (with help) but with no possibility of a photograph. We also suspect that we briefly saw Antipodochlora braueri (Dusk Dagonfly) whilst at Ohakune on North Island; the conditions were correct for the species, i.e. dull and grey, and the habitat was also right, forest edge, but we’ll never know so this one is not included. I was actually very happy with our results and we had a great time to boot. 🙂
Our locations outnumber the species involved by a wide margin, so I’ve taken a different approach on this report. Rather than summarizing by location, I’ve summarized by species, noting for each the location(s) in which they were seen.
Here’s the map of indexed locations, the increasing indexes indicating our route.
Xanthocnemis zealandica (Common Redcoat)
This was without a doubt the most widely seen of our target species. A New Zealand endemic, we saw it widely across both North and South Islands. If we encountered just a single species at any location, then this tended to be it.
On day #2 in Gilmour Reserve at Waihi, a tandem pair was the subject of our first encounter with any New Zealand odo. Being at Gilmour at all was fortunate because it was on a side road that the satnav chose as a short cut. There is still some debate in my mind as to the precise identity of these Gilmour Reserve specimens. Chances are that this was probably X. zealandica, based upon habitat. However, there is a suspicion that our friend could have been X. sobrina (Kauri Redcoat) which is a larger critter by about a centimetre. We did form the impression that this Gilmour Redcoat was a good size and the X. sobrina is certainly nearby. However, I did snag an androchrome female at the same location and androchrome females of X. sobrina are not recorded, I’m told. I suppose it is possible that both Redcoats could be at the same location – now there’s a thought.
Seen at: #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23 [i.e. every location but #3.]
Austrolestes colensonis (Blue Damselfly)
The second most widely seen of our New Zealand friends was A. colensonis, another New Zealand endemic and again on both islands. It is quite a large damselfly, noticeably larger than the Redcoats. If a site showed two species, they tended to be X. zealandica and this, A. colensonis.
Seen at: #2, #3, #6, #8, #9, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23
Procordulia grayi (Yellow-spotted dragonfly)
Widespread NZ suspect number three was Procordulia grayi (Yellow-spotted Dragonfly), another NZ endemic. I was not confident about seeing these before we started so when we spotted a couple flying around on our third day on North Island, I was a very happy camper. I was even more delighted to manage a flight shot, since neither of my suspects ever settled. In fact, though we saw this species several more times at several different locations, we never did see one settle but we did collect a few decent flight shots.
Seen at: #2, #6, #8, #11, #13, #15, #20, #23
Ischnura aurora (Gossamer Damselfly)
I had really been hoping to see this diminutive delight which is a mere 1in/25mm long. Actually, by the time we got to NZ we had encountered it at a couple of sites on the earlier Australian leg of our Antipodean trip. It was very satisfying, though, to see it in New Zealand itself at Gilmour Reserve in Waihi on only our 2nd day. It is apparently limited to North Island.
Seen at: #1
Aeshna brevistyla (Lancer Dragonfly)
This is another one that we’d encountered on the Australian leg of our trip, where it is known as Adversaeshna brevistyla (Blue-spotted Hawker). The NZ dragonflies site I was using has Aeshna brevistyla (Lancer Dragonfly); quite where Lancer comes from, who knows? Another tireless flier, at our first encounter it did eventually settle for Carol and she snagged a shot amongst reeds. Later in the trip, though, we met it again and this time it was somewhat more cooperative posing where obstructions could be avoided with care.
Seen at: #5, #18
Hemicordulia australiae (Sentry Dragonfly)
We first encountered this confusing character flying over a pond thick with lily pads near the enticingly named Cape Foulwind on South Island. We were unsure what it was at first, the quality of the only in-flight photos I managed being poor shooting against very strong contre-jour lighting over a confusion of vegetation. NZ dragonflies do not seem keen on settling, I’ve noticed. From what I could see, though, this character looked for all the world like Hemicordulia australiae, known as the Sentry Dragonfly in NZ but it’s the same beast as the Australian Emerald back across the Tasman Sea in Australia. However, my pre-trip planning information [see above], suggested that H. australiae was limited to the North Island and that its flight season would not yet have begun.
Fortunately, I had since made contact with the author of the book on NZ dragonflies, Richard Rowe, and he put me straight on location and timing. He agreed that it was indeed H. australiae.
We subsequently saw them again at Marble Hill in the Lewis Pass, still never settling and we couldn’t get a picture at all, there, against a confusion of reeds.
Seen at: #5, #19
Uropetala carovei (Bush Giant)
This brief, single encounter was both a thrill and a frustration.
On 1st December at Marble Hill in the Lewis Pass, we had just finished failing to photograph H. australiae and were just pulling out of our lunchtime parking space when a large dragonfly first sniffed around the passenger side window of our campervan beside Carol, then briefly investigated her side of the windscreen before disappearing. It was obviously a Giant but I couldn’t tell which. There are two candidates, the Bush Giant (U. carovei) and Mountain Giant (U. chiltoni). I pulled back in to the parking place and went looking, somewhat frantically, but alas, we couldn’t find our celebrity again.
I described our contact and precise location to the master of NZ Dragonflies who studied the habitat and suggested it would have been the Bush Giant (U. carovei). It was at the start of this species’ flight season. It was thrilling but at the same time gutting – so near yet so far.
Seen at: #19