Stories are told of Coombes Valley that in the deepest, darkest woodland there are ghosts and ghouls. But these are not the only legends of the Valley. There is also another fearsome creature, one that has been in existence for over 250 million years. They are skillful aerial predators that use their barbed legs to catch and kill prey as big as themselves, in mid air! They have the largest eyes in comparison to their body than any other creature on earth and can see in every direction..... at the same time! If some stories are to believed, if these creatures find you asleep next to the waters edge they stitch your eyelids together. Before their brief time on the wing they exist underwater for most of their lives. Underwater they rule with the use of a fearsome weapon. A double hinged jaw that fires out straight ahead at passing prey. This weapon is deployed at lightning speed, propels one third of their body length away, and pierces the flesh of the victim with two sharp daggers.
On a warm still summer day this underwater predator begins to change. It crawls up a branch in Coombes brook or a reed in the pond below Clough Meadow Cottage and begins its transformation. First its new head bursts through the skin of its old body, and then it slowly pulls its tail free.
Finally it begins to pump fluid into its brand new wings. After a few hours it makes its maiden flight. The mesmerising glisten of the teneral wings of this incredible creature is of course that of a Dragonfly!!!!!!!!!!!
Emerging Southern Hawker photo c/o Mel Brown
The freshly emerged beauty of a brightly coloured dragonfly is difficult to ignore. And at the same time you can't help but be impressed by its skillful life on the wing. An adult dragonfly can fly up to 30 mph and can attack and consume its prey using an amazing array of aerial combat styles. They can hover, swoop, dive, pounce, fly backwards and upside down and have even been seen diving into water and flying back out again. At Coombes valley although we are known as a woodland site and dragonflies are normally associated with wetlands, there is enough freshwater to support breeding populations in our brook and pond and certainly enough live prey and cover in the woods. The species of dragonfly you can find here includes brown hawker, southern hawker, four spotted chaser, broad bodied chaser and emperor. You can also see a range of the slightly daintier, but just as deadly damselflies. At Coombes valley this includes large red, common blue, azure and blue tailed damselflies which on a sunny day can be seen in abundance in our pond dipping pond.
Southern Hawker photo c/o S Brown and Large red damselfly enjoying a crane fly for lunch, Staffordshire, photo c/o Mel Brown
The best time of year to observe these magnificent insects is between July and September on a still and sunny day, normally between 11am and 3pm and near the waters edge.
If you do go hunting for dragons here keep an eye out for ghosts, but don't worry about your eyelids, that's just make believe ;-)