Dragonflies & Damselflies of North Merseyside by Steve White

Male Small Red-eyed Damselfy, Lee Park Golf Course by Steve Young

 

North Merseyside has a rich variety of wetland habitats suitable for dragonflies and damselflies, ranging from garden ponds to rivers, canals and streams and several large nature reserves. It also has a large and increasing number of dragonfly recorders and we currently hold almost 11,000 records – probably more than for any other group of insects.

Twenty-four different species have so far been seen in the area, 14 of them fairly common and breeding annually and four less commonly (see list below).

Unlike so many other species most British dragonflies are thriving and several are responding positively to global heating and expanding northwards. Black-tailed Skimmers had not been seen in North Merseyside before they appeared on Bold (Collier’s) Moss in St Helens in 2000 but they are now quite common and widespread. Although Emperor Dragonflies, Migrant Hawkers and Banded Demoiselles were first recorded in the closing decades of the last century, in 1983 at Ainsdale, 1994 on the canal at Aintree and 1997 in the Rimrose Valley respectively, they too have spread exponentially.

Our most recent colonist has been the Small Red-eyed Damselfly, a species which did not breed in Britain until 20 years ago but which has been spreading rapidly. The first record was at Lee Park Golf Course in Childwall in 2017 but was only recently confirmed from photographs, having previously been thought to be a Large Red-eyed Damselfly. Two years later a thriving colony was found on the old Garden Festival site in south Liverpool. Both colonies were thriving in 2020, when further records were confirmed at Stonebridge Business Park in Gilmoss and on Hesketh Golf Course in Southport. This is clearly a species we are likely to see much more of and the jury is out at the moment as to whether recent records at Mill Wood in Speke, Stadt Moers Park in Huyton and Havannah Flash in the Sankey Valley were of this species or its Large Redeye relative.

 

Male Small Red-eyed Damselfly, Lee Park Golf Course, July 2017 (Steve Young)
Male Small Red-eyed Damselfly, Lee Park Golf Course, July 2017 (Steve Young)

 

In complete contrast, the Large Red-eyed Damselfly remained doggedly confined to two small dams in Eccleston, St Helens where it has been present since at least the 1990s – but probably much longer – until it was also discovered on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in Aintree in 2016; both sites support the water-lilies that this species requires. The Ruddy Darter is another rare breeding resident that is long established but, although it has been widely recorded in North Merseyside, it is our only declining species and known to be established currently at just two sites, the Sefton Coast, especially Birkdale Dunes, and Lee Park Golf Course. The Red-veined Darter is a different matter. It is essentially a regular migrant from continental Europe, occurring whenever weather conditions are favourable, but it does sometimes establish short-lived breeding colonies, most recently at Ainsdale, Hightown and Crosby Coastal Park. Yellow-winged Darters are also continental migrants but far more sporadic, having been recorded only in 1995, 1999 and 2006, all on the Sefton Coast.

One of our two rarest species, Southern Migrant Hawker is another vagrant; we have one record, in July 2017. The other, Hairy Dragonfly, seen at Lunt Meadows in 2020 is, however a British native which breeds in both Cheshire and Cumbria.

 

Male Hairy Dragonfly – the first record for ‘Lancashire’, Lunt Meadows 25 May 2020 (Phil Boardman)
Male Hairy Dragonfly – the first record for ‘Lancashire’, Lunt Meadows 25 May 2020 (Phil Boardman)

 

The Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Society is in the process of updating its 2004 publication, ‘The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Lancashire & North Merseyside’, and is looking to gather as many records as possible during 2021 – particularly from less well-visited sites. All records are valuable, so please send them to Merseyside Biobank or stevewhite102@btinternet.com or enter them on iRecord.

 

* 24 different species that have been recorded in North Merseyside

Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa                                        Regular breeder

Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens                           Regular breeder

Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella                                    Regular breeder

Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum              Regular breeder

Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma najas                               Rare breeder

Small Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma viridulum             Rare breeder

Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans                               Regular breeder

Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula                       Regular breeder

Southern Migrant Hawker Aeshna affinis                             Rare vagrant

Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea                                         Regular breeder

Brown Hawker Aeshna grandis                                            Regular breeder

Common Hawker Aeshna juncea                                         Regular migrant

Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta                                             Regular breeder

Emperor Dragonfly Anax imperator                                     Regular breeder

Lesser Emperor Anax parthenope                                         Rare vagrant

Hairy Dragonfly Brachytron pratense                                  Rare vagrant

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa                              Regular breeder

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata                    Regular breeder

Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum                     Regular breeder

Black Darter Sympetrum danae                                            Regular migrant

Yellow-winged Darter Sympetrum flaveolum                      Rare vagrant

Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii                        Rare breeder

Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum                                 Rare breeder

Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum                                Regular breeder

 

By Steve White