A glimpse of a golden dragon?

This week, a guest blog from author and photographer Marianne Taylor, in search of elusive insect visitors …


What an Easter weekend it was. Every day was wall-to-wall sunshine, and the heat was more suggestive of August than April. We’d already had one full day out, watching Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Peregrines at Seaford Head in Sussex, and now it was Sunday night and I was surfing around the wildlife websites, looking for inspiration for something to do on Easter Monday. A thread on a message board caught my eye – ‘Vagrant Emperors at RSPB Dungeness’. I read on – three rare dragonflies that were supposed to be in Africa had been found hawking over a ditch down in east Kent.

Twitching, or rarity-chasing, isn’t just for the birders. When we arrived on Denge Marsh Road on Monday morning, there was already a long row of parked cars – everyone eager to see the exotic dragonflies. People were standing on a nearby stone bridge over the ditch that had seen all the action yesterday. No Vagrant Emperors to be seen – perhaps they had flown on north, but it hardly seemed to matter. We were surrounded by wildlife.

A male Marsh Harrier soars away (Marianne Taylor)

Overhead, the local Marsh Harriers cruised and wheeled. Through the morning they shared their airspace with a mini-procession of migrant raptors – a Red Kite, another, a Hobby, a third kite. Closer to hand, a Sedge Warbler sang with extraordinary verve and exuberance. I watched as it pirouetted around a reed stem, then launched itself skywards, singing furiously all the time. Over the creek flew little Hairy Hawker dragonflies, while right below us in the water lurked a hefty Pike, regarding the humans above with a cold and disenchanted eye.

A Sedge Warbler doing its thing (Marianne Taylor)

Then a shout came from down the creek – when all hope seemed lost, someone had spotted the Vagrant Emperor. The electrified crowd moved as one, racing down the path alongside the creek, trying to control swinging binoculars and cameras and dodging ruts and furrows underfoot. We caught a glimpse of the golden-winged dragon just as it disappeared around a bend.

Vagrant Emperor in flight, Dungeness (Robert Cardell)

We waited, and eventually it came powering back along the creek, a volley of camera clicks tracking its progress. We sat in the long grass and watched it go by again, once, twice, three times, and then it was gone. Everyone began to drift away, but we stayed a little longer, watching Swallows skimming the fields around us while fat, clumsy alderflies settled on our shoes and a freshly emerged Hairy Hawker climbed slowly up a reed stem, the sunshine glistening on its brand new wings.

Hairy Hawker (Marianne Taylor)


Marianne is the author of our brilliant new book RSPB Nature Watch – click the cover below to pick up a copy! You can read more about Marianne’s adventures on her blog, The Wild Side.

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