Since we ill-advisedly partitioned Northern Ireland a few hundred years ago to create a false protestant majority, Ireland has been a problem for us. You’d think we’d learn but no, we continue to grab land and partition countries causing yet more problems. What use history if we fail to learn from past mistakes?
I have an Irish problem of my own. Of the 45 breeding species listed for the UK, there is one Damselfly that I am yet to see. There is a clue in the name of this beast as to the reason that I haven’t yet seen it: it’s the so-called Irish Damselfly (Coenagrion lunulatum). Yes, in the British Isles C. lunulatum occurs only in Ireland and wild horses wouldn’t drag me to Ireland. Fortunately the critter is also available to be seen in other parts of Europe where the alternative, non-UK-centric name of Crescent Bluet is decidedly more appropriate. There are a few scattered populations in France, including in the Auvergne, which is where we now find ourselves. I wonder why?
One of my fellow odo-nutters informed me of a specific location where my quarry might be found. Somewhat confusingly, the name of said location seems to be documented inconsistently varying from a simple Lac Estivadoux, through Lac d’Estivadoux to Lac de l’Estivadoux. In any event, the key piece of information is the Estivadoux bit and here we are camped but a few kilometres from it. I pointed to the lake on our Michelin map and, guided by my primary navgatrix, we set off to find it.
We failed but not by any fault on the part of primary navigatrix. We had definitely found the correct road, which began more like a cart track, passed through some open countryside on proper tarmac followed by a wooded area, then ended up at a crossroads, a right turn from which soon had us looking over the bigger, more touristy water body of Lac Pavin. We were in the right location; we’d passed Lac (de l’)Estivadoux but not seen anything resembling a lake, just fields. Ignoring the tourist trap of Lac Pavin, we returned to the crossroads where we now spotted a helpful walkers signpost pointed back up our original road saying Lac (de l’)Estivadoux 0.7km. We backtracked, slowly.
From this direction, the south, we could see behind the trees into the fields as we approached the wooded area. My eyes were on the road looking for oncoming traffic but primary navigatrix suddenly said, “there it is!” [gesticulates outside left window]. It still didn’t look like a lake; what it looked like was a very flat field, so vegetated was it. Having parked in the woods and wandered a short distance, a picture may help you to see the problem, though from this end you can see a little water which is not visible from the road. At least we’d found it. Now to the searching.
The first critters I found on the walk from the car to the field lake was another rarity that I’d made a special trip to Norfolk to find, the so-called Scarce Emerald, the better non-UK-centric name being Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas). The place was absolutely inundated with them so that was a thrill already.
We started combing the vegetation for blue-striped pyjama jobs – Bluets. I soon found out that there was a mixture of Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum) and Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella). Drat, that’s make the searching hard work ‘cos you have to study everything minutely. Then I spotted what I thought was my much sought after Irish Damselfly/Crescent Bluet. I snapped excitedly, hardly controlling my breath. I was sure I had it. I hadn’t. Unbeknownst to me, this lake also held a population of the very similar Northern Damselfly/Spearhead Bluet (Coenagrion hastulatum), which had been one of my quarries on last season’s trip braving the vagaries of Scottish weather. [OK, I can just about do Scotland but Ireland is a step too far.] “Bother”, said Pooh, crossly. Well, don’t get me wrong; I was delighted to see these critters again but I was still missing the Irish irritation.
A few years ago I had invested in a pair of wonderfully useful shoes – not particularly useful for Joe Normal but very useful for an odo-nutter. These shoes are Salomon Techamphibians. They were, I seem to remember being told, originally designed for river guides. They are made entirely of materials impervious to water, including Kevlar cable fasteners. Absolutely nothing on them absorbs water and their grip on wet rocks is quite exceptional. In an uncharacteristic attack of farsightedness, I had packed them and was now wearing them. [Frankly, they’re less useful in the UK where water temperatures are generally lower – not this year, perhaps – but are brilliant for odo-hunting in the south of France.] I began wading into Lac (de l’)Estivadoux, which proved to be about 30cms deep at most. I tried to study every blue-striped pyjama job that would settle long enough to permit study. I didn’t find anything buzzing with an Irish accent.
As I was wading failing to find anything Irish, primary navigatrix Francine spotted and snagged a Darter. I waded out of the lake but it had scarpered and we couldn’t find it again. Back at home base, I studied the Darter, which was snagged almost full frontal – not the best angle for identification. She’d done well getting it at all, though. I was perplexed; it didn’t look like anything I was familiar with. It wasn’t. Eventually, the heavy black along the lower side of the abdomen gave me the clue and the sizeable yellow area on the wings confirmed it: this was a brand new one for our catalogue, a Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum). Joy! Well, joy except that we’d have to return to try and get better shots of it.
Ireland aside, what and incredible piece of habitat Lac (de l’)Estivadoux is. Here is a high mountain lake, a lake that to the casual eye looks more more like a field, sitting at an altitude of 1250m/4100ft. It is home to at least three specialist species that we did see, including one difficult-to-find Darter that I was thrilled to add to our catalogue, as well as the one we didn’t find, the accursed Irish Damselfly. I like it better as the Crescent Bluet, despite disliking the term bluet.
I removed my Salomon Techamphibians and dried my feet as well as I could – clearly my forward planning wasn’t perfect. We have another two days. 😉