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Dragonflies and Damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies love it at Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve. So this is an important site for these captivating insects. Visit the reserve between mid to late spring and late autumn and you are likely to see some.


You may see damselflies slowly drifting amongst the vegetation, some like tiny glowing strip lights. You may see blue, red, orange, yellow and brown dragonflies dart across your path. They hover in mid-air momentarily, before streaking off at great speed.Michael Brighton

In 2018 and 2019 comprehensive surveys confirmed that at least 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies live at Portbury Wharf. The surveys will continue so as to gain an insight into their breeding success at Portbury Wharf.  Please click Dragonfly Surveys to see details of the 2018 survey.


NB Please click on images to enlarge.

Large Red Damselfly May-June

Pools and ditches with plenty of vegetation growth.

Reasonable chance
This damselfly was only seen in May, in small numbers, during the 2018 survey.

Azure Damselfly


In vegetation by the sides of sunny paths and water. Fields. Widespread over many parts of PWNR

Easy to see
Easily confused with Common Blue Damselfly.
Common Blue Damselfly May-August

In vegetation by the sides of sunny paths and in meadows. Widespread over many parts of PWNR. Sometimes seen in small loose ‘groups’ over water.

Easy to see
Easily confused with Azure Damselfly.
Blue-tailed Damselfly May-August

In vegetation along the sides of paths, water and in fields. Check patches of brambles around the South Pools hide.

Easy to see
Look for a dark body with single blue segment close to the end of the abdomen.
Banded Demoiselle

Could be anywhere. Likes to sit in sunny positions close to slow flowing water.

Difficult to see
A few individuals have been seen across PWNR, possibly blown into the reserve from nearby populations as they frequent a nearby rhyne.  You might be lucky.
Emerald Damselfly

Likes ponds and other standing water with plenty of luxuriant growth of rush, grass or sedge. Look from the South Hide at the pool edges in front of the hide. Also try looking from the boardwalk by Frog Pond.

Reasonable Chance
Small red-eyed Damselfly July-August

This is a rare damselfly at PWNR. Sometimes seen on, or flying above, floating pondweeds and algae.

Difficult to see
This damselfly has rapidly expanded its range from the south east of England. It could become more common at PWNR.


NB Please click on images to enlarge.

Common Darter July-September

This species, which is often seen away from water, basks on the ground, fence rails, bramble patches and branches.

NB The males turn a red colour as they mature while the females have a light yellow thorax and abdomen turning darker brown with age. If you ever get close enough you might notice the cream or yellow stripe on their black legs!

Easy to see
Possibly the commonest and most obliging dragonfly at PWNR.

Ruddy Darter


Look at areas of damp meadow and along the rhynes.

Reasonable chance
Easily mistaken for Common Darter. Look for redder colouration and slim ‘waist’ in males.

Red-veined Darter


Seen mainly along the dried mud edges of the pools.


Difficult to see
This is a scarce migrant and rare breeder. Not known whether it breeds at PWNR. Easily overlooked because of its similarity to other darter species.

Broad-bodied Chaser May-July

Quite widespread, can be seen along the rhynes and from the Ecology park boardwalk.

Easy to see
Four-spotted Chaser June-July

Has a preference for pools and rhynes, but wanders and could be seen anywhere. It has the habit of repeatedly leaving and then returning to the same perch. Can be seen along the seawall path and Water Vole Lane.

Reasonable chance
Most dragonflies have wing spots towards the end of each wing. The Four-spotted Chaser has four extra spots about halfway along the front edge of each wing.
Scarce Chaser

This nationally scarce dragonfly (as its name suggests) has only been seen on rare occasions at PWNR. It prefers well vegetated margins of pools and rhynes.

Difficult to see
Not unlike Broad-bodied Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer at first glance!!!
Black-tailed Skimmer June-July

Frequently seen basking on sunny paths throughout the reserve. Check the seawall path and Water Vole Lane. Also seen at the Ecology Park pools.

Easy to see
Compare its slimmer body with that of the Broad-bodied Chaser.
Brown Hawker

Prefers pools and ponds and slow flowing water.

Difficult to see
Only one individual recorded at PWNR in 2019. Reasonably common in our area and we hope to see more.
Migrant Hawker

This stunning dragonfly can be seen hawking along sunny hedges and bushes almost anywhere on the reserve. Check rhynes, plus the lane adjacent to the South Pools hide and the path along the seawall. Sometimes small ‘swarms’ might be spotted.

Easy to see
Possibly the most beautiful dragonfly on the reserve. Easily seen late summer to autumn.
Southern Hawker July-September

This inquisitive dragonfly might well approach and inspect you. Southern Hawkers, like all damselflies and dragonflies, are harmless. Prefers well vegetated pools, even small ones.

Difficult to see
Even though inquisitive, unfortunately, very few Southern Hawkers are seen at PWNR.

This nationally scarce dragonfly (as its name suggests) has only been seen on rare occasions at PWNR. It prefers well vegetated margins of pools and rhynes.

Difficult to see
Hairy Dragonflies are not common nationally.
Emperor June-August

This beautiful, large blue dragonfly can be seen flying over the reserve’s North and South Pools. Often spotted from the South Pools hide. Also from the Ecology Park boardwalk.

Easy to see
This spectacular insect is Britain’s largest (but not longest) dragonfly.
Lesser Emperor June-September

Seen hawking above the larger pools at PWNR.

Difficult to see
This is a rare vagrant, but has breed in the UK. Unconfirmed glimpses of this species throughout the summer, but eventually photographic confirmation gained late in August.

There could well be more that the survey missed, or future new additions at PWNR. We will add new species to this page as and when they have been confirmed on the reserve.  However, the variety of dragonflies and damselflies recorded on the reserve is already impressive!


Dragonflies evolved over 300 million years ago. That is 100 million years before dinosaurs roamed the earth. They were giants then with a wing span of up to two feet (60 cm)!

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Very Scarce Lesser Emperor

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Looking for dragonflies

After a very quiet start to the season, last week’s survey of PWNR turned out to be one of our best. Some surprises included a Red-veined Darter (well done Dave) on the North Pools. It’s an uncommon species… Read More