Now that the sunshine has arrived and the grassland habitats at Strumpshaw Fen are buzzing with life, the meadow trail is open for visitors to enjoy. Come and discover the majestic hunters that patrol the ditches and dykes – our Norfolk hawker dragonflies!
The Norfolk Hawker
Photograph of a Norfolk hawker dragonfly in the fen by Matthew Wilkinson
Although more widespread in continental Europe (where it is known as the green-eyed hawker) and North Africa, the Norfolk hawker is a special species for the area; it is named after our county because, in Britain, it was recently confined to the Norfolk Broads. These wonderful dragonflies are now spreading their wings further afield and can also be spotted at RSPB Minsmere.
Norfolk hawkers can be seen flying and hunting other insects from May to July. They have brown bodies, clear wings with black wing veins, a yellow triangle at the top of the abdomen and distinctive green eyes. (Dragonflies’ colours take some time to fully develop after they emerge, so the descriptions for each species here are of the mature adults.) The larvae develop and hunt below the water’s surface before taking their turn to rule the skies. This British Dragonfly Society web page provides more information about Norfolk hawkers.
An illustration of a Norfolk hawker dragonfly by Chris Shields (rspb-images.com)
Other Strumpshaw Dragons
Some of the other dragonflies you may see on your visit include the chasers and skimmers. The four-spotted chaser is a common species and is easy to identify because it has four dark spots on each pair of wings.
Photograph of a four-spotted chaser dragonfly perched on a reed stem by Matthew Wilkinson
The scarce chaser – as the name suggests – is less common, so the well-vegetated, slow-flowing ditches and dykes on the meadows are an important habitat for this species. The females are orangey-yellow with a line of black triangles along their abdomens whilst the males are blue once mature.
A female scarce chaser looks straight down the camera lens in this photograph by Matthew Wilkinson
As you follow the trails around the rest of the reserve, you might be lucky enough to see a black-tailed skimmer flying low – appearing to ‘skim’ – along the path in front of you. The mature males are blue, as in the illustration below, whilst the females are yellow and lack the black tail.
You may be accompanied by a black-tailed skimmer, such as the one in this illustration by Chris Shields (rspb-images.com), as you explore the visitor trails at Strumpshaw.
Strumpshaw is home to so many beautiful dragonfly and damselfly species that I can’t list them all here, but I will highlight the banded demoiselle because the mature males of this species are one of the easiest to identify; they have wide, dark bands across their wings. Both sexes are exquisite, iridescent blue/green colours, which makes for a beautiful display as they dance above the water.
Photograph by Matthew Wilkinson of a banded demoiselle perched amongst vegetation
Why Do Dragonflies Love Strumpshaw?
Norfolk hawkers, and many other dragonfly and damselfly species, require slow-flowing water with plenty of vegetation to lay their eggs in. The ditches and dykes on the meadows fit the bill perfectly! The team works to maintain them in peak condition and to protect the quality of the water by preventing salt and excess nutrients from entering the system. Norfolk hawkers, in particular, prefer habitats containing water soldier (an aquatic plant shown in the photo below), which requires high quality water to thrive.
Water soldier plants (the spiky crowns of green leaves) growing along a dyke at Strumpshaw Fen. Photograph by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
Even Fearsome Predators Need Help Sometimes
Just a small amount of water can attract an amazing variety of wildlife to your garden, maybe even a few glistening dragonflies of your own! Check out this Nature On Your Doorstep article of ideas for wildlife water features for any garden and this page for more dragonfly-friendly gardening ideas.
Even a washing-up bowl can become a wildlife pond! Photograph by David McHugh (rspb-images.com)
We would love you to show us how you help dragonflies, and you can do this via our social media pages on Facebook and Twitter. Or get involved in our community pages.
Blog written by Jenna Hatch
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