Hunting Damselflies

Normally when I visit Brandon Marsh nature reserve I take my ‘scope and go looking for birds.  However, in the Summer this path usually leads to disappointment, so yesterday I decided to go armed with my macro lens and go looking for insects, particularly damselflies.

I did get a good shot of damselflies a couple of weeks ago with my compact camera whilst on a lunchtime stroll, but I hoped to be able to get something a little better when armed with my ‘proper’ camera.  In some ways I was disappointed, the damselflies were ever so jumpy, as soon as you moved they were off.   Also, there were areas which looked perfect for other insects, but they were just not there, all those obliging umbellifers at the side of the path, and they were empty (I found the same problems at the Country Park this afternoon).

However, I did achieve what had become an unconscious ambition.  For the last year or two, mainly as a result of my macro photography I have developed an interest in insects.  The increase in the size of our pond has added damselflies and dragonflies to the list that was previously populated by butterflies and bees.  As a result, and, through viewing various nature programs, I have always wanted to see a demoiselle, a type of damselfly.  Particularly, a Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx Splendens).  You may be wondering what I am talking about, but these are particularly beautiful damselflies, that flutter like butterflies and sparkle in shades of green and blue.  They are truly beautiful (in fact there is a Beautiful Demoiselle, but I think the Banded is prettier).  I never thought that I would see one, but they are apparently present at Brandon Marsh.

To cut a long story short, I got a brilliant birthday present, and had been at Brandon just long enough to drink a hot chocolate and wander a few hundred yards onto the reserve before one tantalisingly zipped past – I got just enough of a glimpse to realise what I had missed.  Then, no more, but some beautiful emerald coloured damselflies which did not seem to want to stay still – it was going to be one of those days.

On my way back from the furthest of the hides I decided to risk going the long route back through an area which is usually too boggy to try – and, despite all the dry, hot weather, it was still muddy in places.  My walk was rewarded, Banded Demoiselles were there in numbers.  They were also pretty nervous and any movement or the slightest breeze sent them fluttering up.  Getting a photo was difficult, and I apologise for the poor quality, but I think you will agree that these are lovely insects (unless you are my mother, who doesn’t like any form of nature apart from blue tits, robins and some butterflies).  I have since discovered that the green damselfly is in fact the female Banded Demoiselle.

Insects, insects, and some flowers

No nature notes for two weeks, it is not due to a lack of things to see, just a time issue.  Where to start – probably insects.  The weather has been pretty variable, some sun, rain, thunder, lightning, it was just hail and snow that were missing.  This seems to have had a different effect on insects.  I don’t know what is happening where you are, but I don’t think I have seen a single butterfly in the last two weeks.  I am not sure if it is just a natural hiatus, some are in caterpillar form, others are waiting for the correct plants, but it does seem odd.

What are about in abundance are damselflies.  A walk round a lake on a sunny day reveals them in numbers.  I managed to take some of my best pictures ever. This was taken along the path, and is my first bit of insect porn.  I love the colours of the damselflies against the green of the leaf.  I think that these are common blue damselflies, but they are apparently very similar to the azure and variable blue damselflies and I am just not good enough yet.  There were also lots of large red damselflies about.  Last week I also saw a lot of Blue Tailed damselflies which flew up whenever I brushed past some grass by the lake.

The sage is flowering now, and is bringing a lot of honey and bumble bees to the garden whilst the birds foot trefoil is attracting them to the back which is good because that is where my broad beans (the first time I have tried growing them) are flowering.

Wild flowers are still in abundance, although lots have gone to seed.  The grasses, for those not attacked by their pollen, are looking pretty in both the sun and the rain an around the lake there are a lot of flag iris about, looking bright amongst the green.

The garden is covered in birds every morning.  The finches, green, gold and bullfinches turn up every day, making a lot of noise and getting through a lot of sunflower hearts.  We also had the first baby great tits last weekend.  In recent years they have always appeared over the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May.  This year they are a week late.  They usually turn up at the same time as the baby blue tits, both can be distinguished from their parents by the more squeaky noise they make and the fact that they look as though they have faded in the wash.  However, I haven’t seen any blue tits yet, even though the ones on Springwatch have fledged.


At this time of year you may notice lots of damselflies zipping about. As far as I can tell these emerge from the pond earlier than dragonflies, and, who can blame them as they make a tasty meal for their voracious cousins.

The damselfly lays it eggs in or close to water and these hatch after about a month. The nymphs then remain in the pond for one to two years before crawling up a convenient piece of vegetation and emerging from their larval case (exuvia). I think we have had at least 10 emerge from our pond in the last month. Here’s a picture I caught of a damselfy as it was emerging.

Damselfly emerging from larval case.The damselfly then has to sit there as it pumps fluid to its wings and dries out before it can fly off. The time taken for this depends on the weather and one I was watching took about 3 hours in early May, but about half that time a couple of weeks later.

Damselflies are much smaller than dragonflies, and sit with their wings held in to their long slim body (thorax) unlike dragonflies which are much larger and wider and who hold their wider wings out.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

This is a large red damselfy (which I think is the species that emerged from the pond in early May). Unfortunately they only tend to live for a few weeks so enjoy them whilst you can. Can you think of a better reason to put a pond in your garden than to see these fantastic creatures close-up?

For a great introduction to dragonflies and damselflies see the Leicestershire and Rutland Dragonfly Group website.