Small Red-eyed Damselflies at Uskmouth in 2017, the second county record

by Tara Okon

On 4th July 2017, while employed as the RSPB Learning Officer at Newport Wetlands NNR, and on a rare day off from school visits, I was guiding my Learning Assistants on a tour of the reserve. At the pontoon bridge on the way to East Usk Lighthouse, we stopped to admire the dragonflies and damselflies flitting over small islands of floating vegetation in the water. I commented on the fact that in Somerset I often saw Red-eyed Damselflies (Erythromma najas) doing the same thing and was curious as to why we had never seen the species at the reserve. Literally moments later my eyes were drawn to what at first, I thought was another Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) flying towards us, when the light caught its eyes – a Red–eyed Damselfly! Or was it a Small Red-eyed Damselfly (E. viridulum)? At this stage I wasn’t sure but along with my colleagues managed to count at least 10 individuals. Although unable to get a photo, I mentally noted details to ID back at the centre.

After initially deciding they were Small Red-eyed Damselflies and posting on social media, I doubted my ID when the British Dragonfly Society queried if they were definitely Small Red-eyed, or Red-eyed; either one apparently would be a good record for the reserve and Wales as a whole. However, after an RSPB volunteer managed to capture a photo of a mating pair, with key features such as the precise pattern of the blue abdominal markings of the male visible, their identification as Small Red-eyed Damselflies was confirmed a few days later.

A Small Red-eyed Damselfly at Uskmouth by Martha Okon

[At the time, it was believed that these were the first records of Small Red-eyed Damselfly for the county, however it subsequently transpired that the species was recorded during ecological surveys at Newport Docks in 2015 by David Gibbs. These first records were soon followed by a rapid colonisation of the county, with several other sites being discovered in 2017, and further ones in 2018. Within a few years, it was widely established on the Levels and around Newport, and 2022 and 2023 has seen a major expansion, with new sites being found in the centre and north of the county. This looks set to become one of our most common and widespread damselflies species in the next few years. Steve Preddy]

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