9 Jul 2017

9 July 17 - Scarlet Fever

Every summer we get a few days of sunshine with rising temperatures & Britain ends up in meltdown with everybody desperately heading to the coast or some nearby park to sunbathe. If I am going out, I try to get out early & then either find some sheltered woodland to look for Butterflies or try to avoid the worst of the sun. Not today. The plan was for an early visit to Studland, where Brands Bay produced a few Waders including a couple each of Whimbrel & Dunlin (neither unexpected for this day), an early Grey Plover & just under 125 Med Gulls (a good total for this date). I planned to go out later to trying to get some Butterfly photos somewhere sheltered from the sun.

That plan changed when I saw a photo on the local Birding email group of a presumed Red-veined Darter from one of the local Birders. Martin is just starting to get into Dragonflies & so perhaps it's not surprising that he had assumed that was what it was. However, the photo started ringing alarm bells for me as I could remember looking at the extremely rare Scarlet Darter in the books & it looked a very good fit from my memory. However, my memory wasn't so good on where I had placed the Dragonflies books I had moved yesterday, but eventually I found them & sure enough it looked a like a Scarlet Darter to me. Knowing Peter Moore was already on his way to look for it & feeling rough enough to take a hay fever tablet, then I thought I would give it some time for the tablet to kick in before heading off to Longham lakes. As the tablet started to work, Peter rang to say they were watching the presumed Scarlet Darter on a large pool at the Southern end of the South lake. It's not that far as the Dragonfly flies, but it was a slow journey this morning due to the heavy traffic. Once there, I found Peter had moved on and was trying to photograph a Lesser Emperor on the side of the lake. This year seems to have produced several individuals around the edge of the lake, perhaps suggesting the species is starting to get itself established at the site. Having spent several hours failing to see one the previous day, then I wasn't going to repeat that again, especially with a Scarlet Darter only a few minutes walk away. About ten minutes later, I arrived at the small lake to see about six others looking for it. They confirmed they had seen it a few minutes earlier, but it was coming & going, but occasionally settled on low vegetation at the lake edge. After a five minute wait, it reappeared & flew low over the large pool, before disappearing again. It was such a deep & obvious red in flight, that I was already pretty happy that I had seen the right individual. After another five minutes, it reappeared & fortunately, one of the guys further right from me had seen it land. He carefully walked about a few metres & called us over. It was good to see everybody was well behaved & hung back, rather that try & get in close to get a frame filling photo. Had this been a Hairstreak at one of the well known sites & more general wildlife photographers, then I'm sure somebody would have felt obliged to be more selfish. But good that everybody behaved. After a couple of minutes, it was up on the wing again & I found all my photos were out of focus. I was probably just a few inches too close from the 3.5 metre minimum focus on the 400mm lens. Fortunately, it was back in the same area about five minutes later & this time I was a few inches further back, (but probably should have still be a little further back). After a few more flight views, it briefly landed further down the track, before flying off.  Another brief flight view & we lost it. I stayed at that end of the large pool, before spending another hour at the other end. But there were no more sightings. The previous day it had been seen on vegetation on the main Southern lake which was just the other side of the causeway path, so presumably it disappeared back onto the main lake. Despite a lot of other locals, as well as, Dragonfly peeps from further afield arriving, there were no more sightings over the next four plus hours. Hopefully, it will be pinned down again in the next few days & people will start to get a better idea of its behaviour & favourite haunts.
Scarlet Darter: Male. There are few UK records with the first UK sighting being in 1995. There are records from Hampshire & the Isle of Wight, but this looks to be the first Dorset record
As for me, after spending about five hours in strong sunlight by the lakeside, with no sun cream, I'm likely to almost as red in the morning.

Will anybody heading there in the next few days, park on one of the local roads or the Haskin's Garden Centre. The fisherman's car park is only for permit holders.