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Explore the world of these wonders on the wing

PUBLISHED: 10:29 23 June 2018

A common blue damselfly.

A common blue damselfly.

Archant

Ben Lewis, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen Warden, talks about dragonfly adventures.

During the summer months, something very strange and alien-like happens in the waterbodies of Norfolk. Predatory water creatures climb up emergent vegetation and break out of their former bodies; they grow two pairs of wings and reveal themselves as dragonflies!

Dragonflies spend their formative years as nymphs, living in ponds and ditches, predating on other pond life before the time comes to transform into the dragonfly we see on the wing.

The first time I visited RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, I was struck by the number and variety of dragonflies and damselflies that were on show. That first visit inspired me to learn how to identify them and I have admired their fascinating ways ever since. Being on a wetland reserve containing reedbeds, broads, pools, woodland and grassland offers a variety of niche habitats; most importantly a network of ancient, pristine ditches through our fen meadow where a large range of dragonfly species set up home.

An amazing 22 regular species can be found on the reserve so what better way to celebrate national insect week, than to take a gentle meander along Strumpshaw Fen meadow trail in search of these magnificent beasts.

My top three spots are:

Norfolk Hawker

This is our rarest dragonfly (at a national level) but is abundant at Strumpshaw Fen throughout June and early July. These are ‘proper’ dragonflies, they patrol clearings and sometimes form large groups, which can be quite a spectacle. Apart from being rare, they are also beautiful, with bright green eyes, golden brown bodies and a yellow triangle on their back, which is where they get their Latin name ‘isosceles’ from. Dragonflies are expert predators - you can watch Norfolk hawkers flying low along ditch edges and witness them catching and devouring their prey whilst on the wing. As magnificent aerialists they are able to hover, dive, fly backward and upside down, pivot 360 degrees with three tiny wing beats, and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.

Blue damselflies

This is not a single species, but a group of six damselflies which all have black and blue markings along their slender bodies. On first glance it is easy to assume they are all the same species, but on closer inspection the bands of blue are ever so slightly different for each. I love the challenge of trying to identify them while they are in flight, and getting to grips with identifying the females. The males can mostly be identified by the shape of their second segment; one shows a wine glass, another a U shape, while another shows a mushroom cloud.

Banded demoiselle

This is a common but stunning species found along rivers across most of the UK. Their metallic blue, green and bronze bodies are impressive enough, but when you see a male fly, with clear wings marked with a large blue band across the centre, they reach a whole other level. Thanks to the blue wing stripes you can see that each wing works independently, some people even describe them as looking like helicopters!

So take a closer look at your local dragonflies and damselflies. Apart from the variety of colours and shapes, each species has its own personality and hunting style, these really are the jewels of the predator world.

Feeling inspired? Then join our expert warden for an in-depth exploration of the world of dragonflies and damselflies at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Through a friendly and relaxed workshop, learn about ID techniques, look into the amazing world of lifecycles, and learn to recognise key identification features in the field. An unforgettable experience among the magical beauty of the Strumpshaw Fen and meadows. Suitable for the enthusiast or complete beginner with ample photography opportunities.

Course 1: June 30 (must book by June 27), Course 2: July 29.

Book your place via Eventbrite online at http://bit.ly/dragonflyanddamselflydiscovery or call 01603 715191 to find out more.

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