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Damselflies

The limitations of the lockdown in Scotland (and the world) has made searching for insects hard work. However, the emergence of damselflies has been a welcome change, as there is a small pond about half a mile from my house that I had previously seen Blue-tailed damselflies at, so I set about exploring it in more detail.


Damselflies are fascinating insects. Their scientific name is Zygoptera, which means 'paired wings' - they have two pairs of equally sized wings. They are delicate little things, around 30-40mm long, but although weak flyers, they are agile in the air. They can hover almost stationary in the air, fly backwards, and always land with great precision. They are hunters, eating smaller insects. I watched one catch an eat a St Marks Fly this week - one less St Marks Fly for me to accidentally eat as I walk along!


As expected, the first damselfly I spotted was a Large Red, notoriously difficult to photograph, they seem to be far more alert to humans with cameras than other species. The following day, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find a male Azure damselfly, a new record for the area. Azure damsels are very common in England and southern Scotland, but until recently have not been seen north of the River Tay. Like some butterfly species though, it seems climate change is suiting them, and they are expanding their territory yearly.


Day three of hunting damselflies at the pond was great, with male and female Azures posing for photos.

Female Azure (f4, ISO100, 1/125th)

Male Azure (f5, ISO100, 1/400th)

Female Azure (f5, ISO100, 1/500th, 2 image stack)

Male Azure (f4, ISO100, 1/250th, 2 image stack)


Hopefully these images will be sufficient to allow the presence of the species to be confirmed - I have submitted them to irecord.


As with butterflies, I am almost exclusively shooting macro photography without flash this year. The aim is to get a more realistic looking result, and a more controlled depth of field, but this often necessitates stacking a few images to get damselflies sharp. They key is typically to try and get the plane of focus along their body length.

Damselflies are skinny wee things, if you get exactly side on to them, you can get them sharp in one shot. Often a second or third images is required for the eyes to be pin sharp

Get the angles slightly wrong, and the tail will fall badly out of focus though.


In previous summers I've addressed this with diffused flash, trying to get the aperture up to around f8-f11 to get a greater depth of field. This provides two major problems though, messy backgrounds and harsh reflections, even with a lot of diffusion on the light.


Shooting these at a wider aperture with natural light is producing, in my opinion, a far more accurate colour reproduction, and far less blown out highlights. However, even without flash, sunshine can create harsh bright spots on both bodies and wings.


On Wednesday I went on an epic 14 mile walk to Duns Dish, in the hope of finding more damselflies, and maybe even early four-spotted chasers, but I saw only three Large Red damsels, and none of them hung about for long.


So on Thursday I returned to my local pond. This pond is a great example of natural regeneration. It is little more than a hole in the ground used to drain adjacent fields, dug out to collect water to irrigate the same fields with. The banks are made up of discarded rubble, metal, car parts, concrete, tree roots, all sorts of nasty stuff. The pond itself is full of rubbish, but the area has become overgrown with rushes, reeds, willow, nettles and wildflowers. This habitat seems to be ideal for butterflies and damselflies, and all sorts of other insects besides. I have seen numerous scorpionflies here too - another new record for the area, and various interesting sawflies and nomad bees.

Fabulous little midge (non-biting male - chironomus plumosus) taken with flash, f10, ISO100, 1/250th.

Female Scorpion Fly (f4, ISO100, 1/100th)


Thursday brought the greatest success of the week. An early walk to the pond was bereft of sunshine, and I only had one butterfly to photograph, but what a poser he was. I tried out some new stacking techniques, learned from a webinar earlier in the week, and got three images I am really pleased with.

Green-veined White male (f4, ISO100, 1/160th, 12 image stack)

Green-veined White male (f5.6, ISO200, 1/320th, 16 image stack)

Green-veined White male (f4.5, ISO200, 1/320th, 18 image stack)


Due to the breezy weather, there were discrepancies between layers, and these had to be stacked manually - took a while!


I walked back to the pond later on in the sunshine, and was delighted to find several Blue-tailed Damselflies alongside the Large Reds and Azures. I had not previously realised that female Blue-tailed Damselflies come in several colour forms, slowly maturing to a blue colour. I saw both rufescens (pink/orange) and violacea (violet) forms today. They are hard damselflies to see, due to their darker bodies, and their small size, but the shimmering wings are the way to spot them, and differentiate them from the thousands of crane flies zooming about.

Female Blue-tailed Damselfly - violacea (violet colouration) (f5, ISO100, 1/640th, 2 image stack)

Female Blue-tailed Damselfly - rufescens (pink/orange colouration) (f5.6, ISO100, 1/500th) - a very immature specimen, so colour may change quickly.

Immature male Blue-tailed Damselfly - he will change colour quite quickly. (f3.5, ISO100, 1/500th, 2 image stack)

Male Blue-tailed Damselfly (f3.2, ISO100, 1/2500th second, 2 image stack - trying to blur the background which was messy and quite close to the subject, hence the wide aperture)


I also finally got a semi-decent shot of a Large Red Damselfly - they are larger than the other species on the site, and as I said earlier, a lot more readily startled. They will happily nip up to the top of the nearest tree too, whereas the other species prefer to be nearer the ground, and can be followed to their next perch when they fly off

Large Red Damselfly female (f4.5, ISO100, 1/800th)

Large Red Damselfly female (f5.6, ISO100, 1/400th)


Despite being really chuffed to see three species at the pond (where I was only really confident of finding one at the start of the week), my favourite image by far is of this male Azure peeking over the top of a leaf at me, with his silhouette showing through the lead - this really shows it's character.

Male Azure Damselfly (f6.3, ISO100, 1/320th, 2 image stack)


I hope to find some Common Blues in the next couple of weeks to complete the set of damselflies here. I do not think the site is ideal for Emerald Damselflies, but I will of course keep my eyes open later in the summer - it would be remarkable if this farm dump had five different species of damselfly present!



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© 2020 By Ben Freeman