Every summer I often find myself switching my focus from birds to insects. Birds seem to go a bit quieter and are more difficult to see well as they spend a lot of their time foraging in cover for food to take back to their ever hungry chicks, whereas insect numbers boom especially when the weathers good, giving photographers plenty of opportunity to get up close and personal with some superb species, my particular favourites being butterflies and moths (lepidoptera) and dragonflies and damselflies (odonata).
The levels are absolutely brilliant for dragons and damsels. It starts relatively early in the odonata year with several species of damselfly emerging in late April/early May. The first species I encountered were Large Red Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly, both flying together at Westhay NNR on the 8th May.
These were quickly followed by the first hawker of the year in the form of Hairy Dragonfly on Ham Wall RSPB a couple of days later.
From mid May the number of species increase, but the numbers go through the roof! One of the species that does incredibly well on the levels is the Four-spotted Chaser and this year was no exception with thousands emerging across the levels in late May. They give some wonderful opportunities for photography, and seem to be one of the most approachable of the species found in the area.
Mixed in amongst the masses of four-spots were a few Broad-bodied Chasers. These can be a little tricky to pick out but, when you find one, their golden bodies shine so bright you wonder how you miss them! When they first emerge, both males and females start of that beautiful rich golden colour, but as the season progresses, the males gradually turn purple, then blue. In their purple stage they can look spectacular!
By the end of May and early June it was a veritable explosion of species and numbers... Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles, Variable, Common Blue, Azure and Red-eyed Damselflies appeared all over the place and the larger dragons started cropping up too: Emperor, Black-tailed Skimmer and Scarce Chaser being found hawking up and down the rhines across the reserves. The dragons are always difficult to capture well, often meaning a lot of time stalking and waiting for them to stop their almost constant patrolling, but the damsels always perform well, especially the Demoiselles as they often return to their favourite perches.
Moving into late June and early July brought yet more species, but elsewhere away from the levels. I spent a couple of hours up at Priddy Pools on the Mendips looking for a spectacular dragonfly, the Downy Emerald. How people manage to get such incredible photos of these fabulous dragons is beyond me... They are pretty small, furiously quick and just don't ever seem to land! I managed to get a couple of half decent flight shots, but next year I think I might try and spend a bit more time there to get some better images.
I was also put onto a site for White-legged Damselflies by a good friend and fellow wildlife photographer Graham Hall (he's seriously good - check out his Flickr account here), just on the outskirts of Butleigh - not too far away from the levels. I thought they'd be pretty tough to find, but thankfully there were bundles of them. The day I went was pretty overcast, but it did give me the chance to get very close to them and get a nice even light for some nice profile shots.
During June and July not much changed apart from the odd early Migrant and Brown Hawkers appearing towards the end of July but now we're into August there are a few more about and the 'Sympetrums' - Common and Ruddy Darters are starting to appear.... We are coming to the end of dragonfly season, but there's still time to get a few more images before it's through for another year, so watch this space!