Damsels and Dragons

At this time of year, as the birds go quiet after raising their families, many of the bird watching fraternity turn their enthusiasm to watching odonata, that is dragonflies, which are divided into two distinct sub-orders, the zygoptera or damselflies and the anisoptera or dragonflies. It seems that RHS Harlow Carr has had some good numbers of these insects around and I have been sent photos by Sasha Jackson and Peter Fenton of common hawker, large red damselfly, common blue damselfly - as Sasha says, “the loveheart shape seems appropriate” - and a four-spot chaser. Roger Mattock has also been out, a few weeks back now, photographing odonata and took this picture of the beautiful banded demioselle damselfly at a pond near Green Hammerton. It’s inevitable that these huge and impressive insects have developed some interesting local names and in Yorkshire these have included, although in many cases I cannot for the life of me think why, ‘bull fly’ ‘hoss-fly’ and ‘hoss-stinger’. I can only assume that the epithet implies big. From other parts of the country we have the fascinating ‘devil’s darning needle,’ ‘mule killer’ and ‘adder’s spear’. Perhaps I need to show these fascinating creatures more respect?

Insect Places

If you would like to enjoy the countryside and see dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies then here are a few places where you might be successful, but it’s best to choose a warm dry day, if only for your own comfort. Clearly RHS Harlow Carr sounds good but YWT Staveley members have devoted a lot of time over recent years to digging dragonfly ponds whilst the wonderful flowers there may mean a chance meeting with a more unusual butterfly. Despite what recent television programmes may have implied, I still consider tortoiseshell and peacocks rare at the moment. The Nosterfield complex of wildlife places may also be productive, especially if you make the effort to wander round to Flask Lake. Ripon Canal is another good place with plenty of still water to encourage damselflies in particular. Of course butterflies will appear wherever there are loads of wild flowers, or even garden flowers and untreated grassland. Try a wander around Studley and/or Fountains Abbey and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed and whilst the kids are enjoying the many entertainments put on for them, including, on August 24, when BBC bug boffin Dr Roger Key will be leading three one-hour bug hunts, uncovering creepy crawlies hiding in the undergrowth, you can enjoy the wildlife.

Butterfly and Bee Update

Anne Ruddick has reported on butterfly and bee numbers observed in her garden recently. “I counted 11 bumblebees and two honeybees at the same time around 4pm on July 19. The numbers have increased steadily since the start of the hot weather. On July 18, five tortoiseshell and one large white butterflies at approximately 3.30pm. The butterflies have been visiting more frequently since the pink Kalanchoe has flowered.” I agree the warm weather has helped butterfly and bee numbers and we have plenty of bumblebees visiting and white butterflies whilst in the fields, at least those which haven’t been treated, there are good numbers of meadow browns and ringlets, but where are the tortoiseshell, peacocks, comma, painted ladies, gatekeepers etc? Very worrying.

High Batts Nature Reserve

My recent mention of this delightful nature reserve near North Stainley failed to mention that it is private and not permanently open to members of the public. In fact it’s only insured for members; however, you can join and for further details please contact High Batts via the secretary on email: highbatts1@gmail.com (Tel. 01423 711887) or David Beeken on 01765 600528.

Lapwings or Peewits

Alan Croucher writes, “Like you, I used to know lapwings as peewits. They are also known as green plovers and, locally, as tewits - which is where the name of out Tewit Well originates. I have been known to tease a pal by telling him I’ve seen all four - to ensure that my day’s tick list is a bit longer than his!” It’s an interesting thought, inflating the number of birds you see by calling them by their different names, although I wonder if Alan still has the same pal. Harrogate RSPB local branch when they were founded selected the lapwing as their “mascot” bird. A little embarrassing because the person whose idea it was and who knew most about it was Lenora Genovese, a lovely American member and officer. If you wish to know more about Harrogate RSPB branch then visit www.harrogaterspb.com.


In past few days at RSPB Aire Valley Reserves, Fairburn Ings and St Aidens have been recorded little egret, garganey, green sandpiper, greenshank, dunlin, mandarin, red kites and marsh harriers.

Gay and Alan Cruse tell me they enjoy watching barn owl quartering the farmland near their home, t’other side of t’river from Darley.

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