With the prospect of another reasonable day in our currently crappy weather pattern, we were expecting to be able to continue our Norfolk Hawker hunt with a visit to its well publicized breeding ground at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s site of Upton Broad and Marshes In this context, “another reasonable day” means a day with temperatures approaching the seasonal average, some sunny spells and rain that doesn’t arrive until later in the afternoon. After a few necessary camp chores, we packed some chorizo and tomato sandwiches for lunch and headed out for an 11:00 AM start.
We’d been given a map and directed to two areas of the reserve, the so-called turf ponds near the entrance and a water soldier dyke at the north-eastern extreme of the reserve. Being near the entrance, we hit the turf ponds first. This was an intriguing habitat different from any I’d seen before: small, roughly circular pools, each surrounded my a mown grass border to facilitate access, with taller grasses between them all. Whilst not what I’d describe as swarming, there was plenty of activity to keep us amused until lunchtime. A Norfolk Hawker or two were hawking about but not settling for photo shoots. Black-tailed Skimmers (Orthetrum cancellatum) and Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata) were much more amenable.
Then we hit the boardwalks to head for the Water Soldier dyke. For some peculiar reason, the UK population of Norfolk Hawkers (Aeshna isosceles) has something of a fixation about Water Soldier (Stratiotes aloides). Water Soldier is a curious water plant that spends most of its year submerged until, in summer, it rises to the surface to produce a single flower. In the UK, the dragonflies seem to be tightly bound to Water Soldier for their reproduction, laying their eggs on the plant when it has surfaced. I said “peculiar” because the reliance on Water Soldier seems not to be the case abroad where A. isosceles exists without Water Soldier and where, naturally enough, it is not called a Norfolk Hawker. 🙂
We eventually came to the dyke which was, indeed, absolutely covered/choked with surfaced rosettes of Water Soldier. A couple of (presumably) male hawkers were cruising back and forth holding territory. A pair formed a copulation wheel – not a pair of males, you understand – right in front of me and zoomed off. Then we spotted a female ovipositing deep within the swathes of Water Soldier. She was mostly obscured by the leaf fronds but it makes an interesting shot.
On our return wander we came across our first/only perched male which makes an interesting comparison, for amateur odonatologists anyway, with a female that we also passed along the track. The female was being videoed by a man staring through a large movie camera, complete with furry microphone, mounted on a very large tripod. We paused at some distance and let him finish before advancing, for which he was very grateful commenting that, “very few people would have been so considerate”. I know only too well what it’s like to have a shot ruined by a passing stranger or a passing stranger’s galloping canine. We chatted awhile while I scared off the hawker. Though dogs are banned at Upton, it seems that dog owners bring them in anyway, particularly at weekends, despite notices being displayed. Our new friend had had several altercations with dog owners and was not shy about expressing his hatse of dogs. He proved to be a very willing recruit to my Dog-Free World Society. What a nice man! 😀
The sexes of the Norfolk Hawker appear very similar and I was having trouble with some of my identifications but I think I’ve got it now.