I wasn’t feeling up to much today, but towards lunchtime I wandered round to the village pond…
Sorry – say what again?
The village pond that’s probably been there for centuries, but which I only discovered a week ago, did I hear you say?
Yes. Yes indeed. That village pond. Excuse me a moment while I grind my teeth.
… to see what might be occurring. By this point in the season the remaining Odonata are on borrowed time and you have no guarantee of finding any at all, but the autumn has been mild so far, and I thought there was a good chance that at least some of the darters and hawkers I saw last weekend would have made it through the week. In the event there were only Common Darters there today, but they produced plenty of drama.
I have no way of knowing if these insects have an instinct that their lifespan is limited, but if they do, this one at least was not ready to go gentle into that good night. Battle-scarred, and missing both front claws (how?), he attacked every other male that came to the pond, whether solo or flying in tandem with a female – a couple of times with such ferocity that I thought either he or his rival was going to end up in the water. I think he may have a bit of a reputation among the other boys, because the ovipositing pairs kept flying in wide arcs around the field and approaching the pond from different angles, instead of working fast and efficiently over the water surface as they usually do. If they were hoping to avoid being challenged, they rarely succeeded.
Eventually his speed and determination won him a female of his own. The pair formed the mating wheel, flew over my head and then dropped into the grass just behind me, and I had to stand almost in the pond and wind in the lens quite a way in order to get the second photo. Afterwards I tried to sneak around to photograph them from the other side, but he was having none of it, and removed his paramour to an unphotographable position in the reed bed. A few minutes later they broke the wheel and began tandem oviposition, and I was amused to see that none of the other males bothered them.
I’ll be looking out for especially combative Common Darters at this pond next season, and if I spot any I’ll be doffing my imaginary cap to this feisty little dragon.