6 Jul 2019

30 Jun 19 - Sunburnt Darters

It was getting to the end of June & as usual, the Dorset Birding was very quiet. Many species have bred & are either moulting or attempting to raise a second brood. The first few Waders have started to appear, but that has just been a trickle so far. My thoughts were turning to Dragonflies and the expectation of trying to get some reasonable photos of Red-veined Darters. They have been seen in low numbers at Longham Lakes in recent years, but I've not been successful in seeing them there in the past. There had been a mid week post on twitter from local Birder, Ian Ballam, that he had seen & photographed some. The weekend looked promising, albeit exceptionally hot & sunny on the Saturday. I contacted Peter Moore on the Thursday evening to see if he was up for a visit, but he was thinking of travelling further afield for Brilliant Emerald on the Saturday. Fortunately, I've managed to photograph Brilliant Emeralds in the past. I made a flippant remark about I would still head there at the weekend & probably find something good. As well as Red-veined Darters, Lesser Emperors have also become established there in recent years. The next day I had a text from Peter saying "Scarlet Darter at Longham Lakes". Clearly, there was something good there, but it had already been found. This is only the second Dorset record, with the first being seen at Longham Lakes on 8 & 9 Jul 17.
Scarlet Darter: I was one of around 15 people who connected with the original individual before it disappeared (9 Jul 17)
In the end I decided to give the Saturday a miss. There is limited on road parking at Longham, unless you fancy a longer walk from the garden centre & I figured that it would be very popular given few people have seen a Scarlet Darter in the UK. The previous Longham Lakes record appears to have been one of the most twitchable individuals & it didn't linger long enough for more than a few locals to connect: as it was only seen on & off for a couple of hours mid morning. I was still keen to visit & the Sunday looked perhaps more promising. It had been in the low 30s the day before, but an overcast morning & more of a breeze was going to keep the site cooler. I grabbed the camera & left. After an afternoon of negative news on the Scarlet Darter, I had no problem in finding somewhere to park the car. After a ten minute walk, I reached the small pond where the Scarlet Darter had been seen the previous day. There had been no sightings, but it is a great looking site & I hung around to have a look. After all, if it was still around, but only liked to show in the mornings, then perhaps it was worth a wait. After about fifteen minutes, a guy I've not seen before said he had a bright red Darter flying over the pool. He said it had red eyes & he was 99.9% certain it was the Scarlet Darter. Being cynical, I didn't think it could be the Scarlet Darter, solely based upon the 99.9% certain statement. But I was also knew that two Red-veined Darters that had been seen on the pond during the previous day. I couldn't see it from where I was looking, so walked across to join him. It reappeared & perched up a few meters into the pond. Time to use the camera.
Red-veined Darter: It wasn't close
Red-veined Darter: A closer crop. I could see the dark edged pale pterostigma which I knew was a feature of Red-veined Darter. Also, it didn't look bright enough on the abdomen. I was trying to remember the other features for Scarlet Darter, but despite looking at the book over breakfast, I could only remember the overall brightness of the abdomen for Scarlet Darter
Having looked at the back of the camera photos, I checked my photo of the original Scarlet Darter & I could see that the pterostigma were dark. It had to be one of the Red-veined Darters. It probably wasn't what the handful of other peeps there wanted to hear, but that's life. It had flown, but returned to the same perch a couple of minutes later.
Red-veined Darter: This time it was side on. I thought that Red-veined Darters have a blue lower eye, but it is hard to see on this individual because of the wings. There is a hint that the lower eye could turn blue, but perhaps that happens over time. I was confused about the white band on the side of the frons. I couldn't remember reading about that it the past, but it was a few years since I looked at Red-veined Darter identification
The dark marks on the side of the abdomen was something that the previous Scarlet Darter hadn't shown. Checking the books, it is something that Red-veined Darters show. It was now happy to sit around & allowed views through the guy's telescope. Somebody had looked up the other features on their phone & confirmed it should have had a broad flat bright red abdomen with no black & no black on the red legs. In the end, we all agreed that it was a Red-veined Darter. It showed a couple of times, before disappearing for most of the next two hours. I hung around and chatted with various friends who were steadily arriving. Eventually, it was time to accept defeat that the Scarlet Darter wasn't round & head off with Olly Frampton & Peter Moore for the North Lake: which had been the stronghold for the Red-veined Darters during the week. Soon after arriving at the North Lake, we had found the second Red-veined Darter. I saw another two on the way back to the car. There had been about thirty seen during the week, but presumably the breeze wasn't helping.
Red-veined Darter: Note, the black marks on the abdomen & the dark bordered pale pterostigma
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter: The dark legs & the facial pattern showing the blue-grey lower face & the white edges to the frons
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter 
Red-veined Darter: A close of the wing showing the red veins & the distinctive pterostigma
Clearly, it wasn't just me that was looking sunburnt that day.

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