Dragonflies At Roydon Common

Fourteen species were seen during a dragonfly walk round Roydon Common, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve in West Norfolk, with the Gaywood Valley Conservation Group.

And we were shown members of the black darter family illustrating the changes in them as they age. Two females, one young and one more mature, were caught  by our expert leader, the Norfolk Dragonfly Recorder.

The male black darter, with his neatly nipped-in waist, perching on plants near the first pond, was one of the first dragonflies we saw. It’s easy to identify, being Britain’s only black dragonfly. Later on, the female representatives were neatly trapped in the County Recorder’s net. Another point to look out for to help with identification of black darters is a row of three yellow dots on a black stripe on the side of the thorax.

The male black darter.

Black darters like shallow, acid-water pools with abundant vegetation on heathland, moorland and bogs. It’s a small dragonfly, whose flight is erratic and of short duration and which perches frequently among vegetation.

At the first pond, Pam introduced us to the male and female emerald and male and female scarce emerald damselflies. I managed to get photos of each, but when I looked at them later, I sadly just couldn’t work out which was which! They are so similar! It comes down to the markings on the second segment of the abdomen and also the differences in the anal appendages- none of which showed up sufficiently well in my pictures!

Which emerald damselfly is this?

Pam later commented the scarce emerald is in fact becoming more widespread in the west of the county.

We were also able to look closely at common blue and azure damselflies. The former have broad blue “shoulder stripes” on the thorax and  what I think of as a tree shape on the second segment of the abdomen while the azure carries a “u” shape on the second segment and narrower shoulder stripes.  Blue-tailed damselflies were also present.

A male common blue damselfly.
A male azure damselfly.

A male emperor dragonfly was patrolling the pond while a female was egg laying by dipping the tip of  her abdomen into plant material just below the surface. Another large species, which I’ve yet to see perch – the Brown Hawker – was here too.

I caught sight of male and female common darters around a stream as we continued our  late July walk around the common, which is a SSSI. Unlike the big hawker type dragonflies, common darters often perch so I managed pictures of both the male and female. I did see one pair flying “in tandem”, the male leading, ready to either mate or lay eggs. And Pam rescued a newly emerged common darter by scooping it out of the water on the handle of her net.


The newly emerged common darter.

I just caught sight of the light blue abdomens of a few keeled skimmers as they made their way around the vegetation at a low level. Pam explained that these had recently spread from nearby Dersingham Bog and that they had previously only been at Holt Lowes, another heathland site in Norfolk.

Two migrant hawkers, if you could recognise them as easily as our expert leader could, were more prominent, flying high over an area of the common in pursuit of prey.

There was a good view at the final pond, which was more enclosed with plants, of a bright red male ruddy darter. It can be confused with the male common darter, but the ruddy has all black legs.

At the beginning of the walk, Pam had seen a southern hawker perched on a tree in a lane – being at the back of the queue, I unfortunately missed it! And a four-spotted chaser was also seen.

Being eager to improve my knowledge of dragonflies, I always look forward to these walks, which have become a regular part of our GVCG calendar.

On this particular warm, sunny day, we also saw two roe deer leaping sure-footedly through the heather, which was just beginning to turn purple and, having heard the stonechat’s call (like two stones being knocked together) several times, we were finally rewarded with a view of the small bird towards the end of the morning.




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