Odonata is the scientific term used by entomologists and enthusiasts to describe the order of insects that comprise Damselflies and Dragonflies.
Oakhill Nature Reserve has an impressive list of Damselfly and Dragonfly species with twenty species recorded. Making it a premier site in Yorkshire. 2016 year saw nineteen species found. This included a new arrival for the site, and also two new breeding observations. The area has a diverse range of habitats that require careful management for the conservation of the Odonata. This essential work is undertaken by knowledgeable and seasoned volunteers of the Friends of Oakhill.
A prolonged, cold and wet spring resulted in a delay to the start of the season. It was not until May that the first Large Red Damselfly was seen, usually this species is on the wing from mid April. It was a similar pattern with Blue-tailed Damselfly and Azure Damselfly not being seen until late May. Indicative of the unseasonal conditions which continued well into June, and resulted in the late emergence of Common Blue Damselfly and Red-eyed Damselfly.
Hairy Dragonfly is the first of the hawker species to appear and duly was seen at its prime breeding areas near the Brick Ponds in early June. Hairy Dragonfly is a recent colonist to the site. First being recorded in 2012 when a mating pair were found. The small pools near the Brick Ponds provide optimum habitat, and is restricted, as far as breeding is concerned to these areas. It was recorded for the first time this year at the Level Crossing pool. Hairy Dragonfly is one of the star species. It is not common in Yorkshire.
The unsettled weather conditions prevailed throughout the best part of June. But despite this Four-spotted Chaser and the much scarcer Broad-bodied Chaser were seen. It is likely that the site will lose Broad-bodied Chaser. This species prefers new freshly created pools, and is averse to pools that have progressively matured. However, the newly created drain to the north of the Brick Ponds may keep it here.
As the season progressed into July the weather was now becoming more improved and much more seasonal. By the middle of the month Emerald Damselfly. Common Hawker. Southern Hawker. Brown Hawker. Emperor Dragonfly and Black-tailed Skimmer had emerged along with Common Darter and Ruddy Darter. It was an exceptional year for Common Hawker with mating and ovipositing (egg laying) observed for the first time at the level crossing pool. This pool was a focal point for the ever popular Dragonfly events lead by the volunteers. Friends and first time visitors were royally treated to amazing sights of various Damselfly and Dragonfly species in action. From aerial territorial battles to in flight mating and ovipositing.
Another thrill in July was the first sighting of Small Red-eyed Damselfly. The latest addition to the site list with a pair seen mating at the Brick Ponds. It is the last of the Damselfly species to emerge and, in comparison to other Damselfly species, has a short flight period. Running from mid July to September. It was hoped this Damselfly would eventually arrive here. The smaller of the two Brick Ponds has the floating vegitation it has a preference for which is Rigid Hornwort. Small Red-eyed Damselfly is a relatively recent colonist to Yorkshire and is only found at a few sites such as Spurn. Paull Holme Strays and nearby Saltmarshe Delph. It was first recorded in the UK only in 1999. A real feather in the cap for the reserve.
Black Darter is a species of intrigue to the site. Whilst the reserve does not have prime breeding habitat, it has been recorded for several years now. Records and observations have increased remarkably in recent years, particularly of tenerals (immatures). 2016 being the best year by far. The thought is that it may be breeding. There is no proof yet. But the search will be on in 2017.
Last but by no means least is Migrant Hawker. The last of the Dragonflies to emerge. It was seen in good numbers and continued to be on the wing well into October along with the last of the Common and Ruddy Darters. With the season now over. Its the long wait until mid April of 2017 when, weather conditions permitting, the first Large Red Damselflies are seen and the new Odonata season starts.
For species photographs and details please visit the species file on this website and click on Odonata.
My thanks are due to Daniel Challenger. Matthew Cox. Peter Hinks and Michael Lloyd for their records and observations.
Friends of Oakhill volunteer.