Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) new to the Sefton Coast and North Merseyside

Vagrant Emperors pair-in-cop at Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR 27.06.2019 P.Kinsella

During the afternoon of the 27th June 2019, Pete Kinsella and Mark Nightingale visited Ainsdale NNR, Merseyside, primarily to search for insects, in particular hoverflies and Odonata.

While walking along a firebreak in the extensive woodland at the site, both observers spotted a medium sized dragonfly flying towards them at head height. Initially the insect appeared to be a rather non-descript brownish colour, but as it flew lower, a distinct blue “saddle” was visible at the base of the abdomen. Also the insect clearly had brown rather than green eyes, thus ruling out Lesser Emperor, Anax parthenope. Both observers were able to watch the insect through binoculars at close range as it hawked along the firebreak and it quickly became obvious that this was a male Vagrant Emperor, Anax ephippiger. The insect soon moved off inland and both observers were left elated at the sighting, but also frustrated as neither was able to obtain any photographs.

Soon afterwards, c.300m away from the original sighting, both observers watched a pair of dragonflies flying in cop at close range and were astonished to find that they were also Vagrant Emperors. This time however, the insects soon landed on the lower branches of a nearby pine tree and both observers could obtain photographs from close range. After ten minutes, the insects took off, still connected and flew off high over the trees, heading east, inland.

About 30 minutes later, 500m away, another male Vagrant Emperor was found hawking around the woodland edge. This insect was watched for ten minutes, before it too flew off inland.

Given that each of the Vagrant Emperors seen during the afternoon eventually headed off high inland, both observers consider it reasonable to assume that four individuals were present and indeed speculate that others may have been missed, as clearly a major movement of this species was underway nationally and across NW Europe at the time.

These records constitute the first for the Sefton coast and North Merseyside area and were part of a large influx into the UK of southern/eastern Odonata, including Red-veined Darters, Sympetrum fonscolombii. Many of the latter were also seen on the Sefton coast during this period.

Vagrant Emperors pair-in-cop at Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR 27.06.2019 P.Kinsella