A New-ish Visitor

Common Swifts by Bruno Liljefors

Dear Readers, I was sitting in the garden on the hottest day of the year, and pondering whether swifts are the only animals that are named after their most important physical attribute. They are certainly swift, and they were cutting through the air as if they were flying scimitars – it wouldn’t have surprised me to see the blue sky peeling away in pieces as they tore past. It looked as if some of the birds were newly fledged – one almost flew into an open upstairs window, and another actually landed on the roof for a split-second, something an adult bird would never do unless it was breeding. Soon, they ‘ll be gone. Summer is only just getting going for us humans, but for many birds and insects it’s already almost over. The feeders are much quieter, the baby starlings visit in twos and threes rather than in mobs of thirty, and I suspect that some birds are going into the moult already. I don’t think the excitement is quite over yet though – I distinctly heard baby jackdaws a few hours ago, so I’m expecting them to visit and wreak havoc on the bird table.

But back to my new visitor. In the film above, you can see a female broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa). We knew they were around, because a friend of mine photographed one on her bird bath a few weeks ago. At this point in the year, it’s all about reproduction: the female drops her abdomen into the water and deposits the eggs a couple at a time, over and over again. How did she know the pond was here? She flew straight up the alley by the side of the house and started laying. A broad-bodied chaser was the first dragonfly to visit the pond back in 2011. Is it fanciful to think that this female is a descendent? My European Dragonflies book describes this species as one that ‘wanders freely in search of new ponds, sometimes appearing within hours of their creation’. Apparently it is also one of the creatures that is benefitting from climate change – it has extended its range north by over 100km in the last fifty years. Pity the creature who is already as far north as it can go, however.

Female broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa) Photo by Linda Alliston.

What magnificent, ancient creatures these are! This one looks to me as if she’s been hammered out of molten metal. Dragonflies can be a little frightening at close quarters, with their fierce flight and that clatter of wings. My book mentions that, although the male sometimes hovers nearby to deter other males when the female is laying her eggs, the females often also seek out water where there are no males, so that they can get on with the business of procreation in peace. The only creatures on my pond were the usual red and blue damselflies, who keep a very low profile when a dragonfly appears because the larger insects are not averse to munching on their smaller, daintier relatives.

Blurred action shot!

And, in other news some water and bog plants have arrived: I get mine from Puddleplants who have been a most reliable source of all things aquatic since I started the pond. They rang me up yesterday to tell me that they weren’t happy with the quality of one of the plants that I’d ordered so they suggested a couple of alternatives, and now I’m the happy owner of a water plantain, along with a teasel, a bog-bean and some other pollinator-friendly bog plants. I shall let you know how I get on with them all! Though I’ll be hoping that the temperature has gone down a bit by the time I get stuck in to planting. Like all the plants in the garden, I wilt when exposed to too much heat.




8 thoughts on “A New-ish Visitor

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I know what you mean about the swifts. There’s a flock of about 10, maybe 12 (they’re too fast to count), that we see hoovering up the insects in our valley. From our slightly raised vantage point we see them move around, from one side of the valley to the other, eventually swooping right across the front of our balcony, before they move on. I often wonder how they manage to miss each other, they go so fast. As for creatures with names which reflect their nature – how about a sloth? (It may not be it’s most important physical attribute, but then I don’t really know what is!) A sidewinder also springs to mind or an anteater…? I’m sure their must be a few in this (perhaps slightly altered) category. I’ll have a think.

    1. Bug Woman

      Sloth and sidewinder are great! Once I’d written the blog I thought of about a dozen 🙁 but slow loris and slender loris just sprang out at me (slowly, obviously).

  2. Anne

    You are right about the seasons working differently for birds and animals than they do for humans. Having past the mid-point of winter, we know that very cold weather still lies ahead. Your comment about swifts makes me realise that they will be returning here, along with the Lesser-striped Swallows and others in a few months. It is good to know that their life cycles have not been disrupted by this pandemic – perhaps they have enjoyed a respite from human activity! Your pond sounds very interesting.

    1. Bug Woman

      I am just reading a book called ‘Greening’by Tim Dee, one of my favourite authors – he has recently married and his wife is from South Africa, so he’s seeing the migrations from ‘both ends’ as it were. And yes ‘our’ swifts will be travelling south and will soon be ‘your’ swifts – when do they usually arrive?

  3. Vinod

    Lovely dragonflies, but they are certainly frightening up close, and their nymphs are even scarier as they lash out their fearsome spiny jaws to snare underwater larvae and tadpoles.

    As for animals that were named for their attributes, are we counting things like skimmer, darter or diver? In that case, and staying on the topic of dragonflies, we have the globe wanderer or globe skimmer, which lives up to its name, especially as it migrates from eastern Asia to Africa via South Asia (followed by flocks of Amur falcons which feed on it).


Leave a Reply