One thing that almost matches visiting new habitats is visiting old habitats at a new time of year; the species are likely to be different. In August 2016 we had been delighted to discover Northern Banded Groundlings (Brachythemis impartita) at the Parque Natural del Hondo just south of Alicante. I was keen to see them again, if possible.
We’ve managed to get our friend Jim interested in photographing critters, too, so much so that he’s been investing in better camera gear to capture them on pixels. So, when we offered him the chance to accompany us down to Hondo, he readily accepted. It’s a 90-minute drive. We picked Jim up and arrived at Hondo at 11:30. Being out of main season and mid-week, it was quite quiet with only two other cars in the car park. Excellent.
First we made for the boardwalk, which we’d missed out on last August having started on the mudflats and being instantly captivated by the enchanting Groundlings. There were quite a few Long Skimmers (Orthetrum trinacria) flitting about, including this one which I spotted settled and tucking into a hapless Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans). Long Skimmers do seem to be particularly prone to eating other Odonata.
Further along the boardwalk life got exciting, in a slightly frustrating kind of way. Hawk-eyed Francine spotted something unfamiliar-looking flying low down in the reeds to our right. It was small but clearly a dragonfly. It was black. It was very difficult to follow and was proving even more difficult to focus on. Why is it that Canon DSLR autofocus logic strongly favours green vegetation? As a result of a post from a contact that I’d seen earlier, from the Valencia region, I was almost sure that what we were seeing was a Black Percher (Diplacodes lefebvrii), and so it turned out to be. I was beside myself as we all contorted ourselves over the handrails in various attempts to snag the little delight. Francine resorted to manual focus to try to improve our chances. Given the situation, they were never going to be prize-winning shots but we did get some.
Cock-a-hoop, we repaired to a baking hot car for some lunch temperatures were forecast to hit 30°C.
Time to go in search of Northern Banded Groundlings on the mudflats. These like to fly around your feet catching smaller insects that your footfalls disturb. Disappointment; Northern Banded Groundlings were there none. Maybe we were a little too late being some three weeks later in the year, though the book says we’re still in their flight season. No matter, we’d got a new species, anyway, so the day was good.
Further round the mud flats We began spotting a few more black dragonflies and these were perching atop stems with clear backgrounds. Great stuff! Having already seen the Black Perchers, I began snapping away at what I assumed were the same species, without taking that much notice of the details in my viewfinder. I did see a colour of pterostigma that gave me pause but since I wasn’t familiar with the detail of the Black Percher I continued snapping in my belief that these were they. Wrong! These were actually male Black Pennants (Selysiothemis nigra). I was right to wonder about the pterostigmas, after all. I’d see Black Pennants first in 2016 both in Croatia and then, again, here at Hondo in Spain. However, I had seen only females. Now, at last, I had the males.
I’d love to have seen the Groundlings again but I had ample compensation with a new species and a previously missing male. What a good day.
A contact on a Spanish dragonfly site has since mentioned that Northern Banded Groundlings can be prone to just disappearing from a site, for no readily understood reason. I do hope they will return.