Monday, 24 November 2014

Number 7: There be dragons!

Number 7 - 4th and 5th August 1995 - Dragonfly invasion at Dungeness

Another 'event' rather than a moment.

In the first days of August 1995 an unprecedented invasion of darter dragonflies took place along the east coast of England, and included in that was Dungeness. This was all too much to resist, so, along with Derek Coleman, I travelled down to try and experience this historical event.

We arrived on the evening of Friday 4th August and immediately searched the gardens around the observatory. This revealed at least 4 Yellow-winged Darters and a walk around the station gorse found another four. For a species that hadn't been recorded annually in the UK, this was mind boggling. But this was just the start.

Saturday 5th August saw that more than a few birders had turned into odonata enthusiasts. Throughout the day, dragonflies were arriving from the point and landing on the gorse and broom between the observatory and the old lighthouse. Most remained still, allowing excellent views and firm identification. Most of them were darters - Common, 5 Ruddy, a handful of Black (a new species for Dungeness) plus an unprecedented 80+ Yellow-winged. But better was to come, as Dave Walker found a female Vagrant Darter, the first in the UK for many years and one that we all were able to see, as it had been netted.

At about the same time as this rarity was causing Dave's adrenalin levels to surge, up at Greatstone, Ray Turley was going through a similar experience, as a pristine Camberwell Beauty was on his back garden buddleia. With deftness of mind and hand, it was soon in a net and then on show in a large glass jar, feeding on sprigs of buddleia. This ensured a constant supply of visitors to Ray and Janet's bungalow.

As the afternoon wore on the dragonfly numbers dwindled. We assumed that they were heading inland. To end the day we placed two MV traps in the southern bushes of the trapping area. It was not yet dark before the night's star moth arrived - a Tawny Wave, which chose to alight on Derek's back and caused a flurry of panicked mothers to pot it up while imploring Derek to keep still.

And what about the birds? Oh, I forgot to mention that throughout all of this, a long-staying first-summer Laughing Gull was to be found loafing along the beach... some weekend!

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