Midday with damselflies

August 17th, 2009 | Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The plan was to walk along the small river that comes down from Montseny to Aiguafreda, marked on the map as the Riera de Pujol. It was a bit disconcerting to find a bone-dry river bed, but a few shallow puddles on the outskirts of Aiguafreda encouraged me to keep walking.A kingfisher hunting by a small dam was an even more hopeful sign.

The sporadic pools were linking up.A waterfall crashed down, where a man stood immersed up to his chin, eyes closed, exulting in the cold water.Up on the dusty track, the sun was scorching hot. Two women from the fire-prevention squad had parked their jeep and were refilling water bottles at the spring. I followed a path that dipped steeply under the trees.

It was like stepping into a church.  At the end of the vault of trees there was a flat gravelly bank.Beyond that point the river deepened and levelled off, and the water grew still.On one side were smooth grey rocks, where a dipper had been perching, and the other bank was a tangle of vegetation in full blast of the sun.Boots flung off, I cooled down in the shade, and observed the scene.

There was a general commotion: iridescent damselflies flashed turquoise, clusters of butterflies fed, mated and basked, quantities of spindly water striders littered the water and light dappled on every surface.As usual when you sit in one spot for long, dimensions began shifting.Soon I was looking at a vast wilderness river, flowing by sheer grey cliffs and impenetrable jungle.Then I’d wade out into the canyon and, with water just above my knees, the world would shrink again.

The sunny bank was bustling with butterflies.Dusty pink Hemp-agrimony and a large dome of Wild Angelica were the most popular attractions, attended by a constant crowd of Silver-washed Fritillaries (Argynnis paphia).Any butterfly that fell into the water soon disappeared under wiry clumps of striders.

silver-washed-fritillaries

Most beguiling of all were the Beautiful Demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo), whose name goes straight to the point. The males would display their wings in a flash of dark blue silk, like peacocks.

calopteryx-virgo-beautiful-demoiselle

The females are very metallic, a white spot on each of their four bronze wings, their abdomens a coppery green.

female-beautiful-demoiselle-calopteryx-virgo

An impish damselfly perched on a twig, as if flown straight out of Dr. Caligari’s cabinet. Though in silhouette, the dark band of its narrow wings revealed it to be a female Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis).

female-copper-demoiselle

Engrossed in damselflies,  legs pleasantly chilled, a sharp pain made me look down.The mob of water striders were honing in for a nibble.

I retreated to the cool gravelly bank and lay listening to the water tumbling over rocks to fill the canyon.  A waspish Large Pincertail (Onychogomphus uncatus – see Forum) settled on a stone. The dipper returned, flying low up-river.From this angle its white breast looked enormous.A Silver-washed Fritillary floated down like an autumn leaf.Occasionally a gust of wind would come up the valley, roaring in the tree tops, making the branches creak.It was a reminder of the hot world out there.It felt good down in the cool green vault.

silver-washed-fritillary-argynnis-paphia

I began to hear the sound of car doors slamming – post-siesta people coming to stock up with spring water.I walked up-river for a while, rock-hopping, and surprised a sparrowhawk who’d also been quiet down under the trees.