Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Sat 7 Jun 2008 Black Lochs area, near Connel
Few sights in nature make me feel as privileged as that of a stream alive with the flights and fights of the Beautiful Demoiselle. From a distance I thought they were butterflies, as their black wings give them a more solid shape in the air than other kinds of dragonfly. There were half a dozen or so males, like the one above, in view at any one time, giving chase to each other or to the occasional female. To add to the colour there was a tandem pair of Large Red Damselflies flitting about the pool as well.
This is a female Beautiful Demoiselle. Typically one would appear from downstream and immediately be chased back where she came from by one of the males. But soon she or a different female would return and the same would happen.
It was a different story with this female who is ovipositing on Water Mint while guarded by her mate
This tiny lochan with its Yellow and White Water-lilies was teeming with all kinds of insect life, but above all dragonflies.
The most numerous species was the Variable Damselfly, which I had not seen before. The male is similar to the Common Blue, but has the following differences. The Common Blue has abdominal segments 8 and 9 pure blue, whereas the Variable has a black mark at the lower end of segment 9 (there are 10 segments altogether, with the highest-numbered ones at the tail end). Segement 7 is all black in the Variable but has a blue patch at the front in the Common. Segment 2 has a mark like a wine-glass in the Variable, but like a bush on a lawn in the Common. The blue stripe along the thorax is broken in the Variable, so as to look like an exclamation mark, but is complete in the Common. All these factors are variable (no kidding) in the Variable, and the Common can also produce aberrant individuals, but the Variable in the picture ticks all the boxes.
On the left is a male Variable adopting the Meerkat position, keeping guard while his mate oviposits. They fly around like this, constantly dipping into new gaps between the leaves to lay a few eggs.
This male doesn't have the "exclamation mark"; his blue thorax stripe merely narrows where the gap should be. But you can see well his wineglass mark on segment 2. The female has a mark on segment 2 that has been compared to a thistle head or the astrological Mercury sign (Steve Brooks 1997).
The Variable Damselfly is not territorial like the Beautiful Demoiselle, so the male guards the female herself rather than the territory in which she is laying.
What the threesome are up to in the picture above is left as an exercise for the reader.
Incidentally these pics show the difference between the leaves of White Water-lily (left) and Yellow Water-lily (above). The former has the main veins radiating from a central point, but the latter has them branching from the midrib in herringbone fashion.
A tandem pair of the Large Red Damselfly, and a Blue-tailed Damselfly.
The Yellow Water-Lily, or Brandy Bottle. The large outer yellow bits are the sepals and the narrow downcurved strips inside are the petals. The back sepal shows the impress of the stigmatic disk over which it was originally folded.
Wherever there was a thin layer of water over a water-lily leaf, as many tadpoles as it could hold had wriggled into it. I don't know why they do this, nor whether they are frog or toad tadpoles. Any suggestions? I did see a toad in the marshy ground around the loch.
Four-spotted Chasers were about in large numbers. Males like this one kept flying from one perch to another, often hovering for a while in mid-flight. Females were ovipositing with quick dips of their tail onto the water surface.
This Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary landed briefly on a Cuckoo Flower in the surrounding marshland.
A rather random shot with not everything in focus. White and Yellow Water-lilies with Water Horsetail, Lesser Tussock-sedge and Common Spike-rush.
A couple of uncommon tall loch-side sedges. The dark one is Lesser Tussock-Sedge, a "Red Data List" species, and the other is Tufted Sedge ("Very rare in Scotland" - Jermy et al 2007). It resembles a very tall version of Common Sedge. Its female spikes are often, as here, male at the top.
At Loch Lagain all the Blues I managed to identify were the Variable Damselfly, but at the Black Lochs they were all the Common Blue. However, 99% of them had to remain unidentified at both places, as you have to get either the camera or the binoculars on them to tell them apart. The LH pic above shows a pair of Common Blues mating. The RH pic shows the features of the male Common Blue. The differences from the Variable Damselfly are easily seen: segment 9 wholly blue, segment 7 has a small blue patch at the front end, segment 2 has a "bush on a lawn" and the blue stripes on the thorax have no sign of a break near the distal end.
I thought at first that the insect on the left was a Shield Bug
on Bracken, but then recognised it as the Red-breasted Carrion Beetle.
Later by coincidence I did see a rather similar Shield Bug on Bracken, the
larval stage of the Forest Bug. Although vegetarian, it seems to be eating a bird pellet or dropping.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer