Throughout July, our largest dragonfly, the Emperor, can be seen speeding over the gravel pits, especially Hayling Lake and Rudd Lake. It’s very territorial, chasing off other dragonflies of all species. It is also a superb hunter, catching a range of insect prey which it often consumes in flight. Because it flies so quickly and rarely lands, it’s hard to get a close look at it. If you are lucky enough to see one perched, then look for the all-green thorax. Another chance of a good view comes when the female lays her eggs. The photograph shows an egg-laying female being mobbed by a damselfly, probably because the emperor larva is an aggressive predator, likely to eat the damselfly’s own larvae.
The riverbank by the moorings is a good place to look out for our largest and most attractive damselfly, the Banded Demoiselle. The dark wing patches of the male are unmistakeable; the female is less conspicuous but is a beautiful metallic green. This is another territorial species and you sometimes see dozens of males performing display flights over the water to attract females.
Many people visit Paxton Pits to watch and photograph our dragonflies at this time of the year. Hobbies, on the other hand, visit us to eat them! Hobbies are small falcons which overwinter in Africa but fly north in the summer to breed. In many ways they are like giant versions of the dragonflies that they eat. They are very fast and acrobatic flyers, often eating their prey on the wing. As well as dragonflies, they also eat swallows and martins.
Meadow Brown butterflies
Butterflies have appeared late this year and in lower numbers than usual, probably because of the poor weather in Spring, but perhaps more will be flying in July. The Meadow Brown is one of our commonest butterflies but is easily overlooked. As its name suggests, it is found in grassland and they are usually abundant at Paxton Pits. Look out for the single small spot on the front wing. Females also have orange patches on their front wings: this is one species where the female is more colourful than the male.