Dragonfly Days

A barrow-full of Ragwort 

Last week we cut an area of the meadow that had a lot of Creeping Thistle in an attempt to weaken and control it. This week it is the turn of another injurious weed from the 1959 Weeds Act, Common Ragwort.

Ragwort contains a toxin that slowly builds up in the livers of horses and cattle and does them no good at all. Although we know that animals are not going to graze these meadows and that any hay cut is not going to be fed to them, we have decided to remove it all anyway and ensure that we will not be guilty of letting it spread to other land. It has a lot of wildlife value but there is no shortage of Ragwort on rough ground around this area. The verges of the M20 down to Dover, for example, are completely acid yellow with the stuff at this time of year.

In our first summer, there was so much Ragwort growing here. Now, five summers of Ragwort-pulling later, there has been an enormous reduction. The annual Ragwort cull provides an opportunity to quietly step around the meadows, immersing yourself in its July loveliness and reacquainting yourself with all its little absorbing details. It is tremendously therapeutic.

There has been much Dragonfly action at the hide pond. This male Broad-bodied Chaser rests up at the side for an arriving female.



Once she turns up, things happen really fast – the pair join together whilst flying noisily over the pond and, after a couple of minutes, the female starts flying alone, dabbing her abdomen into the water in flight to lay eggs:



Below are two females laying eggs side-by-side. The abdomens of some older females start to go blue:


Female Emperors have also been laying eggs into the pond with a different technique. She lands, sticks her abdomen onto the water and lays the eggs over the course of several minutes which is so much easier to photograph:



One Emperor made a miscalculation and became submerged in the water and we needed to launch a rescue mission:



She was alright.

Today, we had two additional species of Dragonfly at the pond as well. The Red-veined Darter is a scarce migrant from Europe, although I did photograph one laying eggs into the pond two years ago.

Red-veined Darter male, awaiting a female. The blue undersides of the eye and the single pale stripe on the thorax are the distinguishing features of this Dragonfly


The red veins in the wing

A Dragonfly that we have never seen here before today is the one below – the Black-tailed Skimmer:

Black-tailed Skimmer


To round off this great day of Dragonflying, we noticed 20-30 very small Dragonfly exuviae (empty larval cases, the adult Dragonfly having emerged from it) clinging to the reeds of the pond.



I brought one back and measured it – it was only 16mm long and, looking in my book, I think that it is the exuvia of a Common Darter.


From only occasionally seeing Kestrels this year, we have started seeing them everyday hunting over the meadows.

Two Kestrels on the white cliffs

A short walk away is an area where the white cliffs rise up and then run south down to Dover. We went there and met a man who pointed out a hole high up on the cliff where Kestrels had nested this year and had just successfully fledged four young. These have to be the same birds that we are now seeing over the meadows.



Kestrel with the back half of a rodent prey

These Kestrels were up high on the cliffs and it is so great to now be able to take photos of them with my new camera lens.

The bird ringer also visited this area and took this photo of a ringed male Linnet singing:


This bird is almost certainly one of the approximately 150 Linnets that have been ringed here in the meadows and this is the first time we are aware of one being seen elsewhere, albeit only half a mile away.

The new tiny ponds that we dug in last week are proving popular amongst the local bird population, the first birds arriving only a couple of hours after they went in.

Trail camera



A satisfyingly easy project now successfully completed.

Here are a few other photos from the meadows:

Trail camera
Having a good old scratch at peanut time
Screenshot 2019-07-12 at 06.40.18
The young Badgers do so much romping together still
A trail camera caught a Goldfich in flight
So many Gatekeepers out in the meadows at the moment. This is a male with the dark central bars on the forewings.
In contrast, so few Burnet Moths this year. The first 6-spot Burnet that I have seen.
Marbled White

The headline from the wood is that the pair of Bullfinches are now visiting the wood ponds several times a day:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera
Male and female Bullfinch

The Tawny has been worming underneath the feeders again although this has to be optimistic given how hard the soil is in this dry spell:

Trail camera

The lack of rain has meant that the ponds are getting a lot of visitors. Here are nine birds using the pond at the same time:

Trail camera

And the mammals are using it much more frequently as well:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Surely we are due some rain now?





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