We’ve just returned from a week in the Scottish Highlands, our biennial booster to health and happiness before the onset of another winter. The Loch at the bottom of my sister’s garden was rather quiet: most of the birds that we see in Spring, the gulls, gannets and black guillemots, have completed their breeding season and gone off to their normal pattern – a life at sea. So, just the occasional seal to disturb the silvery blue water and the flurry of the local heron arriving to stalk the shoreline. We spent a day exploring the Isle of Bute, visiting the Victorian Fernery at Ascog House – a superb collection from all over the world – surrounded by beautiful gardens where a huge clump of Gunnera, over eight feet high, lush tree-ferns and elegant eucalypts created a back-drop for more familiar herbaceous plants.
It was here I had one of those encounters with a wild creature, memorable not so much for its rarity as for a kind of perfection of circumstance. As we entered the Gardens a large dragonfly zipped past us, circled and then came to rest on a small evergreen shrub, where it hung, exactly at eye-level, the brilliant sunlight making it shimmer. A long abdomen with segments patched in clear blue and pale green, a thorax striped with lime green and wonderful bulging blue eyes – Wow! What’s more it rested there quite calmly as we gazed at it and then took its photograph. It was a Common Hawker: we often see it here in Wharfedale. My book says it is “slowly creeping into the North” but I guess climate change has accelerated the spread in Scotland. Lots of our WNS members take pictures of perching dragonflies, but my attempts seem to be being constantly frustrated by their instant take off as I approach, so this was a real treat.
I’ve been told that, if you stand still holding out a twig or even a finger towards a hawking dragonfly you can entice it to perch. This always sounded pretty unlikely to me – but I have proof positive in front of me as I write. Our daughter- in-law in Wales held out her finger to a passing Gold-ringed Dragonfly that not only obligingly perched there but then allowed her to carry it several hundred yards back home to show her husband. While he went inside to get the camera, she transferred the cooperative insect to her nose. I have a lovely photo of her wearing it like an exotic piece of jewelry. If we get just a little more good weather before Autumn bites, there will still be some of these glorious insects on the wing and you can even try this out for yourselves!