2022 A Year of Two Halves For Dragonflies

2022 A Year of Two Halves For Dragonflies

Each year in conjunction with the British Dragonfly Society (BDS), county recorder and Durham Wildlife Trust Trustee, Michael Coates, publishes an annual report summarising sightings in our region. Read the summary below and the full report attached at the bottom of this page.

Overall, the analysis of all sightings submitted via iRecord and a Durham Wildlife Trust app concluded that 2022 was an excellent year for Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), however, the summer and autumn drought might mean that 2023 has fewer of them emerge. That is because Odonata spend most of their life underwater as larvae (often called nymphs), and after one or possibly two years, they climb up vegetation, shed their exoskeleton and emerge as a dragon or damselfly. With so many ponds, including large ones such as Shibdon having dried up in 2022, there will probably be a reduced number of the species that would have laid eggs early in the season.

There were 3932 sightings submitted, compared to 2315 in 2021, and 1257 during 2020 (lockdown year). While this massive increase is very positive, 1200 sightings came from one observer, and primarily at one site, so we still need to increase the number of regular contributors. While a sighting could be of a single dragonfly, the most seen on one occasion was 300, when a mass emergence of migrant hawker dragonflies occurred. While 300 is very impressive, on mainland Europe around every ten years, swarms of 2.5 billion four-spotted chasers have been recorded, so we have a little way to go yet.

Four spotted chaser Dragonfly  on a branch

Four spotted chaser dragonfly (c) Christopher Bill

The most frequently observed dragonfly was the common darter, which regular visitors to Rainton Meadows will no doubt have seen resting on the paths in late summer. Not far behind was the blue-tailed damselfly, which despite its name only has a blue ring at the end of its abdomen, and even then only on the males. In third position was the Southern hawker dragonfly, which is easy to identify as it has two bright yellow 'headlight' markings on the top of its thorax, and also as they will often hover in front of you and check you out.

Rarer breeding species in our region include the brown hawker, which sadly was not seen at Joe’s Pond last year. Hopefully, it was simply that the spotters were not there on the right day. Another species that frequents Rainton Meadows, but very few other sites is the ruddy darter.

Ruddy darter dragonfly on rush

Ruddy darter dragonfly (c) Joe Finlay

A possible sighting of a willow emerald damselfly occurred at Joes Pond, but without a photo to support the sighting, it is just a “maybe” for now, but we will be monitoring the pond closely this year.

2022, turned out to be a memorable year, partly because a former Durham Wildlife Trust site Brasside Pond, next to Frankland Jail, became the most northerly breeding site for small red-eyed damselflies. With their close proximity to a number of Durham Wildlife Trust reserves, we are hopeful that they will be observed there very soon. Similarly, a Keeled skimmer was seen at a pond not far from Edmondsley Woods. A single sighting of a Southern migrant hawker in the south of our area, caused a paparazzi like flurry of activity, making it the most northerly sighting ever. While only the small red-eyed damselfly is breeding in the local area, the arrival of other rare migrants is in line with the progressive northerly spread of Odonata species that traditionally have only been seen in the south of England. It is thought that this is probably due to higher annual temperatures.

The BDS classifies locations as a “priority site” if they have a nationally or locally rare species breeding there, or if they have over 13 species. Rainton Meadows consistently has 14 species, and normally so does Low Barns but unfortunately, sightings were only submitted from Low Barns on five occasions in 2022, so it did not reach the threshold. We would like to encourage visitors to submit sightings from any of our reserves in 2023, but of particular interest are, Rainton Meadows, Low Barns, Black Plantation, The Whinnies, Milkwellburn Wood, Malton, Barlow Burn, Burnhope Pond, and Hedleyhope Fell.

The season typically starts at the end of April, when large red damselflies emerge at most Durham Wildlife Trust sites with ponds.

To download a copy of the full report click on the link below.

To submit sightings in 2023, please either use iRecord or this app developed for Durham Wildlife Trust

For a map showing the best sites in the North East, including a number of Durham Wildlife Trust reserves, click here.