I’m really good at starting lists, but not so good at finishing them. Or referencing them. Or not losing them. But this year, all that’s going to change, at least for wildlife – there’s no need to set the bar too high... I’m trying to “finish” my UK list of damselflies and dragonflies after being inspired by a spectacular set of four-spotted chaser shots taken by Bex Cartwright at RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset, and to make sure it happens this year I’m writing it down for all to see.

What an incredible photo. These four-spotted chasers are roosting in this shot. The only time I've seen anything close to this many dragonflies before is at RSPB Lakenheath Fen, where hundreds of common and ruddy darters sunbathe on the paths between the reedbeds (Photo: Bex Cartwright)

The U-boat-come-Apache Gunship jewels of summer are fascinating creatures. Spending most of their lives in a larval state underwater terrorising anything smaller than them sets the tone for the comparatively fleeting airborne state they morph into during summer. It is during this last flurry of life and activity that most people notice them or yearn to tick them. For me, they are the species that deliver the strongest hit of collecting nostalgia – up there with pogs and build your own dinosaur mags.

I’ve seen some beauts already, but there are still lots to see. My highlights so far are seeing a golden-ringed dragonfly storming up and down a stream in the new forest, and swimming amongst dozens of banded demoiselles in the river close to my home. What I’m left with now are the scarce, the rare, and the regionally endemic. I might actually have to do some legwork.

Someone's going to get eaten here... Dragonfly larvae are just as deadly underwater as the adults are in the air (Photo: rspb-images.com)

If you’re like me and want to enjoy finding and watching some of the world’s most adept predators, you need a list. A “where to see what and when” list of RSPB reserves!

The reserves near me I’ll be heading to soon are:

RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes in Cambridgeshire. A very good friend of mine lives nearby, and some recent sightings of scarce chasers will get me inviting myself over to his gaff soon before the end of July to catch its flight time. It’s a small reserve with limited facilities, but some of the villages nearby by are very attractive and well worth a visit. It’s great in winter for flocks of wildfowl, too.

Dersingham Bog National Nature Reserve near RSPB Snettisham on the Norfolk coast. I’m hoping to see a black darter here, as there’s been a recent sighting. They fly from June to October, and have national distribution – I’ve just never managed to see one! Snettisham is an annual outing for me, as the wader flocks in winter are simply unmissable. A little way east along the coast at Stiffkey is a winter hen harrier roost, so it’s well worth the trek to what I think is some of the UK’s most beautiful coastline.

RSPB Rainham Marshes in North London is well equipped for visitors and offers a good mix of dragonfly and damselfly species, including the rare migratory species I’m keen to see: southern migrant hawker. There are some great activities run at the reserve, and of course, water voles! If I’m going to see one of these rarities, I’ll have to get to Rainham between July and August.

Willow emerald damselflies lay their eggs into the bark of willow or alder tress overhanding canals and rivers (Photo: Rabs Pics, Flickr creative commons)

Here’s a very short list of some of the RSPB’s other great dragonfly and damselfly reserves I’ll be putting in the diary for a visit:

I adore RSPB Dungeness. I spent a couple of months volunteering there in winter, and am ashamed to say I’ve never visited the reserve in summer. It’s a hotspot of invertebrate species, and just such a magical place to be in my opinion.

I’m sure many of you reading this have heard of RSPB Loch Garten for its ospreys, but probably not for its dragonflies and damselflies. With some Scottish rarities such as northern damselfly and white-faced darter, I’m hoping to get up to Scotland in July to catch the end of their flight time. 

Down it goes, head first! Common clubtail is another species I'm after this year (Photo: gailhampshire, Flickr creative commons)

RSPB Newport Wetlands is another reserve equipped for visitors, and being just on the edge of Newport itself, offers the essential connection to nature people living in urban environments need and seek out. I’m quite often in Bristol, so hanging around for an extra day on an upcoming weekend is firmly in the diary.

After visiting RSPB Bempton Cliffs and seeing glorious Yorkshire for the first time, I hardly feel I need an excuse to visit RSPB Fairburn Ings in West Yorkshire. It’s a big reserve that’s very well kitted out for visitors, and I’m dead keen to get up there and see what species I can find quartering the waterways.

Now it’s all written down it’s looking like I’ll be pretty busy all summer. Let us know if you see any dragonflies or damselflies near you this summer by emailing natureshome@rspb.org.uk

Jack

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