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Sunday, 27 August 2017

Of damsels and dragons (Part 1)

Graemsay Quarry (Copyright Alan Nelson)
Back in July it was "Dragon and Damselfly Week" in Britain where folk went out and about to look at these beautiful creatures and record them for biodiversity records.  In Orkney the recorder for "Dragons & Damsels" is Mr Tense Towers.  So in anticipation of  D&D week, G & G came to visit Graemsay with their friend A. a fellow "odonata" (latin name for D&Ds) enthusiast.

Last year G. has spotted some blue-tailed damsel flies at the old Graemsay quarry as he thought it was a good habitat for them, so this was where we all headed (photo above of the quarry).

It has to be said I'm not the most patient of wildlife watchers.  Five minutes max any wildlife has to appear and impress.  Needless to say nothing appeared so I left those with more - er- enthusiasm and persistence than me and headed back home.  However they very kindly send me a text once something DID appear so I jumped in the car and headed in an orderly fashion back to the quarry.

A. was senior photographer on duty so all these are his photos which he has kindly given me permission to use. First up is a young damselfly (blue tailed) newly emerged and not yet coloured up. They are very vulnerable at this point as their legs and wings are very soft and so they cannot fly or move far.  Therefore they are easy prey for fish, birds etc.

Emerging damsel. Copyright Alan Nelson

Can you spot her/him?  Sitting on the pond weed in the middle of the photo above.  Even more extraordinary is apparently it had emerged from the larval casing (which it is hanging onto) upside down.  And had managed to turn itself right way up.

The pond weed seemed very popular as there was evidence of "exuvia" (the larval casing) on several fronds. Like on this piece below.

Exuvia (larva case) Copyright Alan Nelson
And then.... the star of the show..... a beautiful blue tailed damsel. A female I think! (Mr G?)

Adult blue tailed damsel. Copyright Alan Nelson
Now I learned recently (because I've become a bit obsessed about this), that one major difference between a dragon and a damsel is that when damsels are at rest their winds are folded along their abdomen/tail. whereas dragons have their wings at right angles to their bodies (and fixed in that position).  So this gorgeous creature was being a bit of an anomaly by having its wings at 45 degrees!

I have to say also that this lovely damsel is the size of a matchstick!  So you need a good telephoto lens and binoculars to spot them!!  Er..... a bit like this..... I was very keen to study my first sighting of a damsel and made sure I was comfortable for a good few minutes..... why stand when you can rest I say. Haha!

It's in here somewhere! Copyright Alan Nelson
Eventually I was dragged away from plunging head first into the quarry - I think the concern was for the winged damsel not the human one!  I headed home and the rest of the party went off exploring further.

Other creatures found were......  an ant!  I used to see hundreds of these "south" but this was one of only a very few I have seen in Orkney!  They are not very common here.  Well apart from in one part of Stromness where apparently they escaped from the local Co-op having arrived in some produce!

Ant. copyright Alan Nelson

And this is a water cricket.  Again not very common! This was happily living in a ditch just down from the Manse.

Water Cricket. Copyright Alan Nelson
So that was my first experience of A Close Encounter with A Damselfly! Remember, delicate, size of matchstick.... Orkney..... gales...even in summer...... tiny little creatures of resilience and persistence!


  1. Oh, to live in a place where damsel flies are more common than ants!

  2. Haha I hadn't thought of it like that :-)