Thursday 24 May 2012: Dragons of the mire
A male four-spotted chaser rests on a stalk in a bog pool at Foulshaw Moss. The spots in the middle of the wings are diagnostic for this species. This one and others of its species were zipping about the bog pools in the warmth of the early afternoon. One day, I might just get a reasonable shot of one of these in flight, but not today.
But this wasn't the real prize we were after. Corrie and I went in search of white-faced darters. This is one of England's rarest dragonflies and they have been much reduced in distribution and abundance in recent decades. The Cumbria Wildlife Trust, under the expert guidance of David Clarke, Cumbria's dragonfly expert and recorder, are attempting to re-establish them at Foulshaw Moss. Two years ago the first nymphs (the water living larval stage) were introduced to several of the bog pools. The larvae can take several years to mature and they live in very acid bog pools with abundant Sphagnum cuspidatum (the bog moss that grows in pools and supposedly resembles drowned kittens when lifted from the water, and responsible for the golden background in the blip). Emergent plants such as cotton grass are needed for the nymphs to crawl up when they are ready to moult into adults.
Today we found lots of the exuviae of the white-faced dragonflies, these are the larval exoskeletons left behind as the adult emerges and takes to the air.
We weren't sure we would be lucky enough to see an adult, but then Corrie spotted one. And here is the evidence. Maybe not the best shot in the world, but unmistakable, a male with its huge white face and black abdomen with red spots. Not quite up to blipping standard, but not bad.
This is all very encouraging for the reintroduction programme. The weather conditions are excellent for the adults to emerge, find a mate, and lay down the next generation of eggs.
As if this wasn't good enough, an osprey flew over heading for the pines in the centre of the bog.
The best lunch break I've had in a long time.
ps The photograph of the white-faced darter is the first record of an adult flying at Foulshaw since the introductions started. Exuviae have been found previously showing that adults have emerged, but none have previously been seen over the pools.