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An Oxfordshire Dragonfly and Damselfly site guide


Introduction
This is a site guide to the best places for dragonflies and damselflies in Oxfordshire. At present, it is based largely on personal knowledge of the sites mentioned. I hope however to incorporate additional information provided by others, which will naturally be agreed with the contributor and acknowledged.

In contrast to wealth of local information on birding, I am unaware of much information online about where best to find dragonflies in Oxfordshire. For birders, a site guide book covers the county and there are online blogs for two of the three main birding sites (Otmoor and Port Meadow). Apart from a useful but obscure booklet "The Dragonflies of Oxfordshire" by Anthony Brownett published in 1996, there is little information for the dragonfly watcher apart from the information below.

I hope this page, with the others on this site on dragonflies in Oxon, will help to increase interest in dragonflies in the county. I freely admit my local knowledge of dragonfly sites is limited, and I would welcome contributions from others with additional information. All the photos shown below were taken at the sites mentioned.

Dragonflies and Damselflies in Oxfordshire
In general terms, Oxfordshire is not a particularly exceptional county for dragonflies and damselflies, mainly due to the almost total absence of acidic heath or marsh habitats. Nevertheless, there are plenty of the commoner species, to be expected in southern England. In terms of the largest and most obvious species, some of the hawkers (Emperor, Migrant, Brown and Southern) are well represented. Darters and chasers and the commoner damselflies also occur in good numbers in the right habitats.

In terms of localised or nationally rare species, Oxfordshire is notable for Club-tailed Dragonfly along the river Thames. Hairy Dragonfly can be found at Otmoor, Small red-eyed Damselflies also have a toe-hold at least in the county, and the rare Lesser Emperor has been seen at a couple of sites. Southern Damselfly, Small-red Damselfly and Keeled Skimmer can also be found, although at only one or two sites.

Species List
For the list of dragonflies and damselflies in Oxfordshire, click here.

Sites
This section has information on the following sites:

Otmoor RSPB reserve
Location:
North of Oxford, near Beckley SP570126

Access:
To reach the RSPB car park, in the village of Beckley, go past the Abingdon Arms pub, bear left, and then sharp left down Otmoor lane. Continue to the end. Access to Otmoor is also possible from other villages, including Noke and Oddington.

Links:
Otmoor Blog
RSPB website

Habitat:
Extensive reed beds, pools and ditches. Grassy fields, mature hedgerows.

Description:Four Spotted Chaser, Otmoor
In terms of sheer numbers, Otmoor is probably Oxfordshire's premier dragonfly site. On a fine day in mid summer, the relatively newly created ditches are alive with masses of the commoner species. Indeed Hobbies know all about this abundant source of one of their main prey items, and are frequently in attendance in the summer months, once the day has warmed up!

Early in the season, Otmoor is probably at its most interesting for the keen dragonfly watcher, with the very localised Hairy Dragonfly the main target. This species can be difficult to find in among the masses of Four Spotted Chasers that are on the wing at the same time. For Hairies, try both sides of the main east/west track, especially the section between the turn off to the blinds (by the new hide) and Noke. They can be seen patrolling low over the ditches on the north side of the track, and are also sometimes to be found over and in the vegetation and hedge on the south side. With patience, a visit on a good day in late May should be successful. In windy conditions, the Roman Road behind the car park can also be good for many species as it is often a sheltered spot. Azure Damselflies are often present here in their hundreds. Another interesting species sometimes to be seen early on is the Large Red Damselfly. In 2010 it has become clear that Downy Emerald can also be found here early in the season.

Later in the season, large numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers and some Broad-bodied Chasers appear, along with good numbers of Southern and Brown Hawkers. Common Darter are very numerous. Otmoor is also probably the best site in the county for Emerald Damselfly. A recent addition to the Otmoor site list is Beautiful Demoiselle (first record in 2012).

Notable species

  • Hairy Dragonfly
  • Downy Emerald
  • Emerald Damselfly
  • Large numbers of common species- Four spotted Chasers, Broad-bodied Chasers etc.
  • Southern and Brown Hawkers
  • Red-eyed, Common Blue, Azure Damselflies
  • Banded Demoiselle
Radley Lakes
Location:
Immediately east of Abingdon SU520977

Access:
From the Audlett Road/Twelve Acre Drive roundabout, take the Radley Road for about 500m. At the road junction, turn right onto Thrupp Road, then follow a number of sharp right-angled turns. Park on the left when you get to a metalled lane with cycle track signs. Walk down the lane, and view the flooded gravel pits mainly to the right.

Links:
Radley Village Website
Site Dragonfly list from Radley Village Website
Site map on Radley Village Website

Habitat:
Flooded gravel pits, fly ash filled lagoons, woodland, river Thames.

Description:Brown Hawker, Radley Lakes
Going back several years, this was a delightful area with a variety of flooded gravel pits. Good for birds and no doubt dragonflies. Then the Didcot Power Station owners arrived and filled two of the pits with waste fly ash. This work has now ceased, but both these areas are surrounded by tall steel fences. More recently there was a real threat that the remaining pits would go the same way, and the whole area was patrolled by guards for sometime. Following a very vocal local campaign, this threat has now thankfully been lifted. The latest development is that the Northmoor Trust is now managing the area for the benefit of the remaining wildlife.

The second and smaller lake (Bullfield Lake) to the right of the main access track (just before it comes to a disused railway) is probably the best pit for dragonflies. The list of dragonflies given on the Radley Village website is an impressive one, including (local) Club-tailed Dragonfly (presumably along the Thames). Beware however disturbance from illegal motorbike activity, mainly near to the large fly ash lagoon.

One species that brought me back to this area was a Lesser Emperor seen in August 2007. Also present at that time were impressive numbers of hawkers - especially Southern Hawker and Brown Hawker. In 2010, Wayne Bull managed to add Hairy Dragonfly, Downy Emerald and Small red-eyed Damselfly to this site's list. In September 2012, he again struck gold - with an immature Red veined Darter (confirmed by his photo). This site is probably the premier site in the County for its variety of dragonflies!

Notable species

  • Hairy Dragonfly
  • Southern Hawker
  • Brown Hawker
  • Lesser Emperor (once)
  • Downy Emerald
  • Red veined Darter (rare)
  • Small red-eyed Damselfly
Barton Fields near Abingdon
Location:
Between Abingdon and the River Thames. In 2015, the best location for the Variable Damselflies was around SU512970

Access:Variable Damselfly
The easiest place to park is on Barton Lane at about SU511972 and then walk a short distance west on the track that runs parallel with the road. Then almost immediately turn left along the footpath that heads towards the river. On reaching the Thames path, turn left, go over a small bridge and then take a small track on the right which leads very shortly to a small pool. Unfortunately in 2017 access to this pond was prevented by the owner who erected a fence around it, much reducing the value of this site.

Habitat:
Small pools and much emergent vegetation adjacent to the River Thames.

Description:
This surprising site came to prominence in 2015 when Martin Wackenier discovered a colony of Variable Damselflies - the only currently known locality for them in the county. He reported they were most easily found early in the season, before the other blue damselflies emerged and make finding the Variables more difficult. Nevertheless various observers were able to quite easily locate a few Variables even in mid June. The highest count reported was about nine.

With the influx of observers, it was clear that other notable species can be found in the same general area by walking further along the River Thames path towards Radley. These include the occasional Club-tailed Dragonfly (only reported in 2014), White-legged Damselfly and Hairy Dragonfly. The area with the Variable Damselflies also held good numbers of several other common damselflies.

This site is very close to Radley Lakes, described above, and are connected by the Thames path, which allows both sites to be covered in one visit, if required. This whole area is probably the most productive in terms of variety and numbers of rare species of dragonflies in the county.

Notable species

  • Variable Damselfly
  • White-legged Damselfly
  • Club-tailed Dragonfly
  • Hairy Dragonfly
  • Many other common damselflies
  • Four spotted & Broad-bodied Chaserw
River Thames at Goring
Location:
River Thames south of Goring at about SU605795

Access:
There are two ways of accessing this site. Either park in the (signed) public car in Goring (with toilets) and then walk south along the river to where the railway crosses the river, or for a nearer approach take the minor road past Goring station towards Gatehampton Manor. There is limited parking by the turn to the Manor, or you might be able to park in the nursery/garden centre (which is further on along the track towards the Manor). Then follow the public footpath through the grounds of the Manor (to the left of the buildings), then right and down to the river, and then right again (west) for a short distance.

Habitat:
River Thames with well vegetated banks in places.

Description:Club tailed Dragonfly, River Thames at Goring
This is the only dragonfly site in Oxfordshire that has a full entry in the book "Watching British Dragonflies" by Steve Dudley et al, on the strength of its speciality - Club-tailed Dragonfly. However, the location described in this book differs somewhat from the one I give above - which is where I have seen this species.

This is an early flying insect (late May/early June) and is not easy to find. I have seen it only twice in about 7 visits. Once was in early June and just downstream of the railway bridge. It can be found resting on the riverside bushes but stationary dragonflies are very difficult to find it my experience. On my first successful visit it was easier to spot flying low over the river. However even then it was quite difficult to pick out. The wall below the bridge itself is a possible spot for emergents (if you are very lucky) and exuviae (more usually). The best time for these is typically mid to late May. On 23 May 2015, I was fortunate to locate an emergent and was able to secure a memorable sequence of photos.

Also at this site, and along the Thames from Goring, from about early June onwards are White-legged Damselfly - these should be easier to locate in the riverside vegetation than Club-tails. If nothing else, you are almost certain to come across good numbers of Banded Demoiselles.

Notable species

  • Club-tailed Dragonfly
  • White-legged Damselfly
  • Banded Demoiselle
Dry Sandford Pit, BBOWT Reserve
Location:
Near Cothill, to the north west of Abingdon SU467997

Access:
On the minor road just to east of Cothill there is a small car park obscured by bushes, just off the south side of road (difficult to spot). There is an information board, and a path leads out of the car park and circles the pond/marshy area. The best area is on the left side.

Links:
BBOWT websiteKeeled Skimmer, Dry Sandford Pit

Habitat:
Pool with some open water and a marshy area.

Description:
This is a compact BBOWT reserve with some fen like habitat - very unusual in Oxfordshire. It is notable for Southern Damselfly and also Keeled Skimmer (since 2006 at least). There are also good numbers of Large-red Damselfly. Other species include Ruddy Darter and Southern Hawker.

The marshy area is fragile and easily damaged. This site can be combined with the adjacent Cothill Fen/Parsonage Moor area (see below).

Notable species

  • Southern Damselfly
  • Keeled Skimmer
  • Large-red Damselfly
Cothill Fen & Parsonage Moor
Location:
Near Cothill, to the north west of Abingdon SU459996

Access:
On the minor road in Cothill there is a public car park on the north-west side of the road, opposite the Merry Miller pub. From here take the public footpath that runs north and then west out of the village (String Lane on the map). The two reserves are adjacent to one another, with Parsonage Moor being reached first. This is a BBOWT reserve which is being actively managed to improve the site. It has a sign at the entrance and a boardwalk. Cothill Fen (green area on map) is less obvious, and is tucked away on the western edge of Parsonage Moor. It can be accessed either from further along String Lane or by an indistinct track through Parsonage Moor.

Habitat:
A rare example of lowland calcareous fen. Parsonage Moor has reeds and one or two shallow pools and somewetwet areas, although is prone to drying out in drier years. Cothill Fen has a tiny, deeper pool surrounded by hazardous (deep) boggy areas (extreme care needed), and seems to be less prone to desiccation.

Description:Description:
These two sites have some small pools and boggy areas  - unique in Oxfordshire. Parsonage Moor is notable for Southern Damselfly and Cothill Fen is the only knownsiteein Oxon to havein Oxon to have Small-red Damselfly. Keeled Skimmer are also regularly seen. There have also been intermittent records of Variable Damselfly records from here, with the most recent being in 2017, after a gap of several years.

I generally find Cothill Fen to be the better site but it is quite hazardous under foot due to the boggy conditions. Parsonage Moor can be quite dry. In 2015, there was a new site record for Hairy Dragonfly which is increasing its range in the county.

Both sites are very fragile and easily damaged. Stick to the Parsonage Moor boardwalk if possible.

Notable species

  • Southern Damselfly
  • Small red Damselfly
  • Variable Damselfly
  • Keeled Skimmer
River Thames at Farmoor
Location:
Immediately to the west of Farmoor Reservoir SP430067

Access:
Park in the Farmoor reservoir car park (fee payable on exit), and walk over the causeway. Access to the Pinkhill hide is to the right and down the slope at the far end of the causeway.

Alternatively, access without a permit is possible by parking in Farmoor village and following public footpaths down to the river.

Links:
Thames Water websiteMigrant Hawker, Pinkhill

Habitat:
Pinkhill lagoon and Shrike Meadow lagoon, River Thames, grassy meadows.

Description:
Farmoor reservoir is probably the premier birding site in the county, but the reservoir itself is concrete lined, and has little dragonfly interest.

However, the adjacent River Thames and the Pinkhill lagoon (with hide) can be reasonable for dragonflies, especially in mid/late season when hawkers can be fairly abundant in a good year. It is a notable site for Brown Hawker, usually to be found along the Thames between the two lagoons. From the Pinkhill hide various species can be seen albeit distantly such as Black-tailed Skimmer, and various damselflies. Migrant Hawker is often be seen here, and can even be photographed from the hide (as shown here). Club-tailed Dragonfly has also been seem here, though not every year.

Notable species

  • Migrant Hawker
  • Brown Hawker
  • Black-tailed Skimmer
Tar Lakes, near Witney
Location:
Tar Lakes are found to the south east of Witney, on Cogges Lane, a single track road that runs from Cogges to Stanton Harcourt. The Rushy Common car park is probably the best place for parking at SP380074, although there is space for one or two cars immediately next to the site entrance on the bend.  

Access:Tar Lakes map
From the Rushy Common car park, take the path east, cross the road and enter the Tar Lakes site. A path leads round the first lake and there is access to a second lake beyond. A small pool in the north east corner of the site, close to the road, should also be checked.

Links:
Oxfordshire County Council LWV Project website

Habitat:
Shallow lakes and a small pool.

Description:
The Tar Lakes reserve has been recently established on the site of former gravel workings by Oxfordshire County Council's admirable Lower Windrush Valley Project. It is notable for providing access to the waters edge, which has clear benefits for photography etc, but some unfortunate consequences in the form of disturbance from the general public, especially dog walkers.

This site appears to have considerable potential and might some day attract Small Red-eyed Damselflies as the habitat looks good for them. However in visits in 2015 and 2017 all I found were Red eyes, and good numbers of other common species, as listed below.

The many other flooded gravel pits in the area appear to provide plenty of suitable breeding habitat for dragonflies and are probably worth more exploration, although access is usually problematic, especially to the waters edge. There was once a Lesser Emperor seen from one of the hides at "Pit 60" near Standlake (another great LWVP reserve) but in a few recent visits I have found nothing more notable than Brown Hawkers and Black-tailed Skimmers.

Notable species

  • Emperor
  • Brown Hawker
  • Black-tailed Skimmer
  • Four-spotted Chaser
  • Red eyed Damselfly
  • Common Blue Damselfly
 
Cholsey Marsh BBOWT reserve
Location:
River Thames east of Cholsey, SU600856

Access:
From the A329 east of Cholsey take the minor road past the southern edge of the old Fair Mile Hospital down to the river.

Habitat:
River Thames with emergent vegetation. Freshwater marsh.

Description:
This site gives easy access to the river Thames and is just a few miles upstream from Goring. A path goes both north and south from the end of the road. Probably to the north is better for immediate access to the river bank. There is a chance of Club-tailed Dragonfly here. More likely are good views of White-legged Damselfly and Banded Demoiselle.

Notable species

  • Club-tailed Dragonfly (possible)
  • White-legged Damselfly
  • Banded Demoiselle
Faringdon Folly Park Pond
Access:
Park in the small area adjacent to the park entrance on the outskirts of Faringdon at the end of Clements Way (SU294948). Walk into the park and you will see the fishing pond no more than 100m ahead of you. It is possible to walk around the pond, but the most productive bank is often the one closest to the park entrance. Expect some disturbance from those fishing, dog walkers etc, especially on fine, sunny days (which are of course the best for dragonflies).

Habitat:
Small urban fishing pool with floating and emergent vegetation.

Description:
This is a surprisingly productive site, given its location, although disturbance can be annoying and prevent close approach to some of the water's edge. Although visited for several years  by one dedicated local recorder, it did not come to the attention of other county dragonfly enthusiasts until as recently as 2017. With the sad demise of nearby Shellingford pit,  it is now the only reliable site in the county for Small Red-eyed Damselfly.

This small pond also has a considerable species list, including the very localised Emerald Damselfly, which can also be found on the same visit as the SRE Damselflies. Early to mid August is probably the optimum time for a visit for these two species.

Notable species

  • Small red-eyed Damselfly
  • Emerald Damselfly
  • Emperor
  • Migrant Hawker
  • Brown Hawker
  • Ruddy and Common Darters
If anyone else would like to contribute any information, don't hesitate to get in touch.
All pictures copyright Stephen Burch, unless stated otherwise