Tuesday, 12 January 2010

UK sites for spotting Odonata: Askham Bog

Since Adrian was brave enough to take a trip to Askham Bog in rather less than cheerful weather I decided to blog about the bog in summer.

Askham Bog (formerly Ascam and often spelled Askam) is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve located on the outskirts of York, UK (close to the village of Copmanthorpe to be exact). A site of Specific Scientific Interest since 1961, the bog has attracted naturalists for over 200 years. In addition to being a botanist's dream (over 420 species having been recorded over the years) the bog is home to many species of mammals, birds and insects including a number of red data book species. A wonderful history and extensive species lists for the period 1879-1979 can be found in the book "A wood in Ascam" edited by Alastair Fitter and Clifford Smith.

Much of the reserve is as the name suggests, bog, but there are also three woods - Far Wood containing lots of old beeches and oaks, Near Wood and Middle wood being composed of younger trees such as birches and hollies and two ponds. Exmoor ponies are employed as grazers to prevent the trees from spreading too far into the bog:

The small pond, looking towards Near Wood

The big pond

According to the magazine British Wildlife (Vol 13, No. 5, 2002), 8 species of Odonata were known to be breeding at the reserve in 2002. By 2005 when I moved from York to Exeter in the South of the UK I believe this totalled at least 11, but not being particularly good at identifying damselflies I'm not sure of the exact number.

The species I've seen at the reserve are as follows:

  • Four-spotted chaser
  • Broad-bodied chaser (only seen on occasion although I have seen them breeding at the small pond)
  • Common darter
  • Ruddy darter
  • Black darter (I only saw a male once and doubt that they are breeding at the site)
  • Emperor dragonfly
  • Southern hawker
  • Brown hawker
  • Common blue damselfly
  • Blue-tailed damselfly
  • Large red damselfly
  • Beautiful demoiselle

I believe that I have also seen migrant hawkers in flight, but have no photographic evidence to back that up.

In early summer the hawkers and emperors can be seen hawking over the ponds and ovipositing in the large stretches of mud at the edge.

Female brown hawkers, ovipositing in the mud produced when the water level of the small pond drops in summer:

Female southern hawker, ovipositing in the grass next to the large pond:

Later in the summer the boardwalk around Middle Wood is laden with hundreds and hundreds of common and ruddy darters. Each time you put your foot down a few more rise up and fly further down the boardwalk, only to be disturbed again a few moments later.

A male ruddy darter:

Male black darter:

The field next to the railway line contains lots of little pondlets, which are favoured by the four-spotted chaser:


  1. Terrific photos once again,Helen. I can't wait for warmer weather when, with these to assist me, I should be able to identify some of our local species.

    Pleased to see the Exmoors are doing their bit and thanks for including them (I worked with them on Exmoor years ago) - they are now an endangered breed with less than 500 registered mares in the UK. It is good that conservation grazing is giving them a new role.

  2. So that is what it looks like. Super photographs. Thanks again.


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