...I was kneeling on the damp grass by my garden pond, hunting for nymphs. Why on earth do I do it? Well, about three weeks earlier, I had found some large dragonfly nymphs resting in the shallow areas of the pond.

As the days went by, I watched carefully (obsessively, my husband might tell you) as each nymph poked its head out of the water for short, and then longer, periods. One afternoon, I found a nymph clinging to a piece of pipe, with its head and thorax raised above the surface.More nymphs soon followed suit. Then, a few days later, it's abdomen was also held out of the water, and I started hoping to capture the moment when the adult dragonfly would emerge.
However, I suspected that the nymphs belonged to the southern hawker dragonfly (which is our most common local species) and a quick search on the internet suggested that hawker nymphs emerge at night. Oh well. At least I should have a plentiful supply of adults to photograph in the near future.

So you can imagine my delight when I visited the pond at 8 o'clock one morning and found a fully emerged dragonfly, wings outstretched, hanging from a dried grass stalk,with the cast-off casing (or exuvia) still clinging to the same stalk.
The dragonfly was pale and s
oft-looking and is called a teneral at this stage, from a Latin word meaning tender, soft or delicate. It was rapidly shaking its wings, perhaps to finish drying them, or to prepare the muscles for flight. I just had time for a few quick shots before the young southern hawker flew off into the trees.

I collected the exuvia from the stalk and examined it. It was paper-thin and as light as a feather, and yet felt surprisingly strong. In close-up, it made me think of some prehistoric monster.
Now I found myself with a bit of a dilemma. Another search on the internet discovered a different website which stated that southern hawker nymphs leave the water at night but that the adults don't emerge until the morning. Should I get up early next morning in the hope of watching the amazing transformation? I decided not to set my alarm, but to get up if I awoke naturally. So it was, that I made it to the pond by 6:45 am. The following day it was nearer 6:15, and the next was just before 6 am. Every morning, I scoured the vegetation around the pond in search of nymphs. I found an exuvia clinging to the underside of a piece of timber. I found one hidden amongst some ivy, and one morning I even found a teneral, in a clump of grass, with its wings still folded and watched as the dragonfly flicked them open for the first time. But no nymphs.

The next day, I was in the garden by 5:30 - in time to see two nymphs sitting comfortably with virtually their entire bodies out of the water, but showing absolutely no interest in moving.
As I thoroughly examined the area for signs of nymphs, I became aware of a lot of rustling in the undergrowth. A head poked out, and then another, and another. The frogs were returning to the pond and I was in the way. Eventually, they all plucked up courage to make a desperate leap for the safety of the pond. The local wasps visited for a drink, and the newts put in a brief appearance as they came up to the surface and poked their noses through the pondweed. But no exuvia, no dragonflies and definitely no metamorphosising nymphs.

All day, I debated whether to make one final attempt to capture that elusive moment when the beautiful dragonfly bursts out of the ugly nymph. The two remaining nymphs sat there on the pipe, all day, taunting me. So,with a deep sigh, I moved into the spare room and set the alarm for 5 am. In fact I awoke early, switched off the alarm and crept out of the house. And there I was, at 5 o'clock on a summer's morning, kneeling in the damp grass. It took only a couple of minutes to find it. No, not a nymph. The exuvia was clinging underneath an ivy leaf and yet another teneral dragonfly was hanging on to the exuvia. Its body was fully extended, but its wings were still folded, and its eyes were dark. It was rocking gently back and forth. Wonderful to watch, but I was too late. Again.


But where, I hear you ask, are all the adult dragonflies? Who knows? I suspect that they have taken advantage of their new-found freedom to fly as far away as possible from the pesky woman who has been sticking a camera in their faces for the past few weeks.

And where, oh where, is the final nymph? Do I get up at 4 am tomorrow? Defintely not. But maybe next year....