Readers of recent issues of “Dragonfly News” and the BDS Journal will be well aware that dragonfly watchers in Great Britain and Ireland are living in exciting times. Over the past decade or so we have seen rapid extensions of the breeding ranges of a number of species, and also an unprecedented number and variety of migrants. 2012 has been a particularly interesting year, with e.g. the first UK records of Large White-faced Darter Leucorrhinia pectoralis for over 150 years, and good numbers of apparently locally-bred Southern Migrant Hawkers around the Thames Estuary.
We are fortunate in the British Isles, as nearly all of our adult dragonflies can be readily identified in the field, given good enough views. Thus, the information for the forthcoming atlas will be based predominantly on sight records that will be checked and validated at the local (county) level, as was the previous atlas.
However, given the increasing number of reports of national-scale rarities and migrants, the majority of which are found by observers with only limited experience of these individual species, it was felt there was a need to establish a formal system whereby sight records like these could be assessed. Such records need to be validated and placed on permanent record in the same way that sightings of rare birds are assessed and validated by the Rarities Committee set up by the journal British Birds in 1958. The work of such a committee ensures that there is a permanent, firm basis for including species on the national list and an established system for tracking the patterns of occurrence or colonisation of migrants.
The Odonata Records Committee (ORC) was set up by the BDS for this purpose in 1998. The committee comprises a small group of experienced dragonfly specialists who critically assess sight records of the rarest migrant dragonflies. The ORC normally considers records from Britain, including the Isle of Man, and additionally is happy to advise on Channel Islands records. Records for Ireland – both North and South – are handled separately.
What the committee does
The ORC only deals with the rarest species - those for which just a handful of records exist or which are seen in very small numbers each year. These currently include Southern Emerald Damselfly, Vagrant Emperor, Scarlet Darter, Vagrant Darter and anything even rarer. Records of Willow Emerald Damselfly and Southern Migrant Hawker away from current known breeding areas are also considered. The ORC no longer assesses records of Lesser Emperor or Small Red-eyed Damselfly, and has never dealt with sightings of Red-veined or Yellow-winged Darters, since these have always been seen more regularly. Also in general, the Committee does not consider records of established British Isles species outside their normal range within Britain (“local rarities”). These are normally assessed at the county level, but again we are more than happy to assist local recorders if requested.
For a record to be assessed and validated, we need something to work on - even a record from a Committee member will not be accepted if it consists only of the bald statement, “I have seen Trithemis annulata“! These days, many dragonfly watchers take photographs, and these can be invaluable in providing back-up for a record. However, photographs can sometimes be misleading. Usually a single shot will not show all the key features and critical areas for identification at the extremities are often out of focus. If at all possible, areas such as the anal appendages, the pronotum, the side of the thorax, the pterostigma and any other critical features should be specifically zoomed in on, so each feature is targeted even if the remainder of the insect is out of focus. At the same time, we accept that few dragonflies pose for extended periods!
Photographs are, however, not a pre-requisite for records to be considered, and ‘description-only’ records are treated as being of equal worth. Such descriptions need not be highly technical in style, but should be based on notes made in the field and contain sufficient detail to rule out similar, commoner, species. A general description, with emphasis on key features that serve to characterise the species, should usually suffice. Even if photographs are available, it is always very helpful if a few lines of description are still included. The description should again mention the key features and crucially, all descriptions should explain what led the observer to identify the dragonfly as the one proposed and not a similar species.
Finally, if you have seen a dragonfly that you think could be a rare migrant, but you are not completely sure of the identification, then we might be able to assist, especially if you have a good description or photograph. You may however prefer to contact your local county recorder in the first instance. In either case, it is far more important that you submit your record to someone, than not submit it at all.
The ORC will always be pleased to provide further details or advice on submitting records.
Records should be sent to Adrian Parr, 10 Orchard Way, Barrow, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP29 5BX. Email: email@example.com
Current Committee members are Adrian Parr (Suffolk, Chairman), John and Gill Brook (Kent), John Phillips (Gloucestershire), Dave Smallshire (Devon), Pam Taylor (Norfolk) and Mark Tunmore (Cornwall).