With, at last, a break in the shitty weather, a friend and I set out to hunt down the Southern damselfy at a couple of local sites. The more I find out about this creature, the more I realise just why it's so bloody rare in the UK. It's rubbish at dispersing, flies like a big girl's blouse and gets bullied by every other insect on the planet.
Still, it's very rare and very important and I wanted to see one. First stop was some water meadows along the Itchen Navigation just south of Winchester, also home to Golden-ringed dragonfly and both British demoiselles. An hour of mooching about turned up plenty of Banded and Beautiful demoiselles, a Southern hawker, a host of butterflies including Meadow brown, Gatekeeper, Small tortoiseshell and a presumed Silver-washed fritillary, plus shoals of Minnow, a specimen Perch, Graylings and an Eel.
Southern hawker Aeshna cyanea
With no luck on the Southern damselfly front, we headed off to the perhaps the best site for this species - Itchen Valley Country Park. This reserve, nestled on the edge of Eastleigh and right next to the airport is a gem. The Itchen flows through it, and numerous old drowners and ditches criss-cross the meadows, providing superb habitat for aquatic plants and insects.
Within 10 minutes of arriving, having negotiated our way past the hordes of chav families in Southampton FC shirts having noisy barbeques (the undesirable underclass of Britain is all-pervading), we found veritable swarms of blues....Azure, Blue-tailed, Common and Southern. The Southerns are very soon distinguished by their weedy behaviour.
Being a SSSI, and the species being Red-listed, there was no way to get a really good look without breaking the law and catching one of them. However...spider to the rescue!! We managed to find one of the beasties caught in a web, and with some delicate work we were able to deny said spider of a rare meal - I hate spiders anyway so I don't feel too bad.
Southern damselfly Coenagrion mecuriale
With the damsel in hand, we were able to get a good look at the mercury mark on abdomen segment 2. Sorted!