Black-tailed Skimmers at lunchtime

Written by Lucy Brzoska

With parallel worlds evolving in the park, it’s amazing what can be happening by your elbow, unnoticed.

I’ve seen squirrels hanging upside down on the tree trunks, looking down at oblivious heads only inches away.  Or Black rats bursting out of the hedge, flying straight into a litter bin, while people chat or have lunch nearby, none the wiser. And the other day it was the Black-tailed Skimmers.

A pair were trying to mate in the wide expanse of the palace forecourt, getting pestered by a lone marauding male.   The couple finally found some peace and quiet on the stone balustrade that runs behind the semi circle of benches.

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You could clearly see the way the male folds the darkened tip of his flexible abdomen over the head of the female, to secure her in position.  Or the way the female uses four legs to hold onto her partner, while the third pair gets tucked right back, neatly out of the way.

Perhaps I disturbed them, because the Skimmers flew over to a flowering bush, next to a woman absorbed in her newspaper. The dragonflies, their green eyes like aviator goggles, held on tight, as the twig swung in the breeze.

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After separating, the female rested on the ground for a while.  Female Black-tailed Skimmers emerge into the world bright yellow, but with age can change colour.  This one had an indeterminate grey green shimmer.

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I saw her zipping over the ornamental fountain, dropping off eggs at a terrific speed.  The only pity is it wasn’t the pond, where chances of hatching are significantly higher.

Dragonflies out to graze

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The beginning of September is dry and dusty in Collserola, after weeks of cloudless skies and hardly a drop of water since early July.  Only the Umbrella Pines look fresh and green.  One of the few flowers to be seen is the Sacred Herb (Verbena officinalis), tiny specks of blue on the tip of long stems.  Thistles are brown and petrified.  A few Corymbose carline thistles still show yellow flower-heads among the blonde grass, where flocks of young dragonflies cling.  They’re this year’s second generation of Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii), out to graze on flies and build up their strength.

They have plasticine-bright colours – yellow abdomens, pale green segments in the thorax and sky-blue eyes.  This young male has just a touch of the deep red of his adult colouring.

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The males turn scarlet as they grow, while the females stay yellow.  Females are distinguished by their double black lines, like this one who munches on a fly while clinging to a broom seed pod.

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The darters anchor themselves to twigs and stalks, immobile except when the breeze ruffles their wings.  Sometimes they turn their heads in quick, deft movements.  This male’s golden wing veins will soon turn red.

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For all things dragon and damsel, it’s well worth visiting Steve Jones’ Cornish Nature web site, where you’ll find a wealth of information and superb photos of species found in Cornwall and Iberia.  Steve loves dragonflies and they’re quite partial to him too.

Late July in the park

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Up in the pine trees, the hectic sawing of the cicadas almost drowns out the parakeets. The sprinklers are on in force, hissing curtains of recycled rain water. When puddles form on the paths, magpies and parakeets waddle over to bathe.  A Tree rat emerges from the undergrowth, spruce and bright-eyed, and wants to join in, but is driven off by a magpie.  Tail-pecking is a tried and trusted technique, often used on cats.

I get to see my first ever cicada.  It seems ludicrous that I’d never seen one before. Fixed quite low on the tree, its body vibrates without pause, long wings curved like sycamore seeds.

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Over in the pond, an inevitable Red-eared slider swims ponderously past.    Someone’s also introduced shoals of small gold fish – several days hunting for any kingfisher passing by next autumn.  Dragonflies sunbathe on the stone slabs round the edge and I try to sneak up for a closer look.

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The Broad Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) is almost transluscent under the hot sun.  It’s saturated with colour, which spills over to the wings, where the veins near the body are like red netting.  The amber pterostygma at the tips are like small stained glass windows.

There’s another basking dragonfly – the Blacktailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) – stocky and powder blue.

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So many male dragonflies – where are the females? I spot two Scarlet Darters coupled up in the wheel position.  Once released, the beige-coloured female oviposits pogoing across the water, dangerously oblivious to the group of young mallards.  One lunges at her, but she’s away.