Monday 16 August 2021

A First For Devon!

Rewind back to Monday 2nd August, and the still blue dawn encouraged me up to Beer Head to see if there were any early autumn migrants around.  It was a beautiful morning which warmed up surprisingly quickly...

Looking east from The Summit

On the bird front there wasn't much variety (well one Whitethroat and a flyover Redshank to be precise) but the still conditions had clearly encouraged Willow Warblers to move.  I counted 28 during my hour and a half wander, although I suspect there were more like 50 on-site.  Autumn Willow Warblers aren't the easiest subjects to photograph, so I was dead chuffed when this one stayed still for more than three seconds...

The uncropped version, nothing wrong with a bit of shrubbery in shot!

The cropped version which I also love! A sherbet-lemon beauty.

It was about two minutes after I took the above photo that my morning went to another level. Stratospheric in fact.  And it happened along this hedgerow at 07:55...

'The Gorse Hedge'. Yes we didn't really think too hard about the name of this part of Beer Head!

I was suddenly aware of a vivid blue and green-thoraxed dragonfly hawking in the lee of the hedge.  My immediate thought was Emperor, but once my brain had caught up with the fact I'd never seen an Emperor up here before, and that it didn't quite look long enough in the body, my pulse began to race. I was willing for it to land... which thankfully it did!  This was my first photo...

That's no Emperor!  It's a bright blue Hawker... with bright blue eyes!

I'd done it.  After years of searching and hoping, and when I really wasn't expecting it, I'd only gone and found my first Southern Migrant Hawker! A stunning male too...

Just look at those eyes! Hypnotically blue. Lovely reddish pterostigma too which I wasn't expecting


The key identification features in the above photos being:

  • Blue and black body
  • Green thorax sides
  • Blue eyes
  • Restricted antehumeral markings (that's the small green marks between front wing base and head)
  • Triangle marking on segment two

Unfortunately after only a few minutes of enjoying this beast I really had to leave as was already running late for work, but this didn't hamper my enjoyment of it, not one bit.  I was disappointed though that it didn't stick around for others to see, in fact Kev looked for it less than half an hour later and there was no sign.

Now I could spiel off my own interpretation of the distribution of Southern Migrant Hawker in the UK, but the fantastic British Dragonfly Society website will do it much better than me...

"This rare migrant appears to be becoming more frequent in the UK, and is a potential colonist. After a single confirmed record during the twentieth century, four individuals were observed in southern England during 2006. During 2010 many individuals were then seen in south Essex and north Kent, with oviposition being noted at two sites."

Further afield, Southern Migrant Hawkers are found in southern and central Europe and all around the Mediterranean, in North Africa, the Middle East and across Asia to China. So quite a widespread distribution globally, and with our warmer climate it's no real surprise they have now colonised the UK. However it is primarily the south east of the UK where some have settled, this far west they are still pretty rare. However I didn't know just how rare...

It was later in the day when Dave Smallshire informed me this was actually the first confirmed Southern Migrant Hawker for Devon. Which I won't lie made the whole experience even more satisfying, what a result and thanks for the gen Dave. Another great result for the Axe patch too!

Next on my Odonata hit list is Vagrant Emperor, a species that Dawlish Warren can boast four records of. Am not sure why I am struggling so much with this one to be honest, as I clearly don't have a problem finding Lesser Emperors... Oh go on then, let me just slip in here that on 21st July I was thrilled to turn up my fifth Lesser Emperor, at Lower Brucklands Ponds of course just like the previous four. As you might be able to tell from my photo it wasn't quite as photogenic as the Beer Head blue-eyed beauty though...

Still just about identifiable!  Note the mostly plain dark abdomen with blue restricted to upper sections.

It's encounters like the above that make me really cherish the fact wildlife is such a big part of my life.  The effect it can have on me, actual real physical effect, is absolutely priceless.


  1. Terrific account Steve. Even someone as bad at dragonflies as me can see what a thrill that must have been. I do look at them when I'm on the coast, but unless I get a photo I could easily imagine a rare one slipping through the net. At least I know what a Southern Migrant Hawker looks like now though!

    1. Thanks Gav appreciate the comment. That's the good thing about always being armed with a point and snap! See it, snap it, worry about the ID later... This beast would have made you stop in your tracks though am certain of it.

  2. Top work Steve and a great looking dragonfly.

    1. Thanks Chris! Give it a few years and am sure we will all be seeing these.