Branching out: The southern migrant hawker


This millennium, Britain’s dragonfly contingent has been in the throes of revolution. Several sparkling species have crossed the sea to start colonising the UK. In this ambitious itinerary, you might see up to seven magnificent dragonflies unknown in Britain two decades previously.

Wat Tyler Country Park in Essex is the most reliable site for southern migrant hawker. This large dragonfly, with electric-blue eyes, first bred in Britain in 2010 and has the merest toe-hold in the country. Look for it above ponds or ditches, along the entrance road. While you search, check for scarce emerald damselfly in sedges lining the pools. While no newcomer, this metallic-green damsel is nationally threatened. Commoner dragonflies include migrant hawker and ruddy and common darters.

Then drive south and head into north Kent. Pass the afternoon at RSPB Cliffe Pools. Common dragonflies abound, but a trio of rarities share top billing. It is a stronghold for scarce emerald damselfly,and it has become Britain’s most reliable site for southern emerald damselfly, a verdant species that colonised in 2010. Amazingly, the vicinity sometimes also hosts southern migrant hawker.

Start the next morning on the Isle of Sheppey for the rarest of the magnificent seven. After an assumed absence from Britain of nearly 60 years, dainty damselfly was rediscovered here in 2010. This tiny, feeble-flying damselfly has the most precarious grasp on British terrain.

More reliable is willow emerald damselfly south of Reculver. With only three records in Britain before 2009, an amazing 400 were found that year at 35 sites in East Anglia. Look on the channels themselves for small red-eyed damselfly.

Hence to Sandwich Bay on the Isle of Thanet. Restharrow Scrape, 1km south of the bird observatory, is one of the most reliable British sites for red-veined darter.  Also here should be brown hawker, black-tailed skimmer and red-eyed damselfly.

For your final dragonfly rarity, journey south to Dungeness. First recorded in Britain in 1996, lesser emperor breeds now at the Long Pits. Seeing this imperial immigrant would provide a remarkable finale  to a weekend searching for the magnificent seven.

This is an edited extract from 52 Wildlife Weekends by James Lowen, published by Bradt. IoS readers can buy a copy for just £7.79 (inc UK p&p) by visiting and using the discount code 52WW. Offer valid until 31 Janurary 2015