A field guide to the damselflies and dragonflies of Britain and Ireland
by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash. Third Edition. Fully revised and updated.
Published by WILDguides (Princeton).
The authors Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash require little introduction to the enthusiastic dragonfly hunter, weathered naturalist or keen beginner alike. Their latest instalment acts as an update to the two previous field guides to the damselflies and dragonflies of Britain and Ireland, produced by wildguides. The book keeps a similar structure to its two predecessors, with an introductory section which covers subjects including ecology, biology, habitat preferences and where to watch dragonflies. Then the book turns into what it was essentially written for, an up to date field guide on the identification of dragonflies and damselflies, with individual accounts for the 56 species likely to be encountered in Britain and Ireland, with additional attention given to vagrants and potential vagrants.
A detailed identification key precedes the species accounts with detailed identification characteristics for each species. This can be especially useful in the field whilst cross-referencing different species. Systematic species summaries including notes on identification, behaviour, breeding habitat and population and conservation make up the majority of the book. These are excellently written with annotated photographic plates of dragonflies in their natural resting positions, showing the key identification criteria for that given species. Importantly this book pays particular detail to males, females and immatures which can look considerably different in this group even within the same species, it also highlights different ages and colour forms.
Importantly the identification summary for each species is punchy, with key distinguishing features highlighted in red and regularly cross reference to the photos and other similar species. This is an important character of such guides when a quick reference is required in the field, without reading through reams of text. Each sex is separated within the main text and is described accordingly.
A paragraph on behaviour for each species covers important information to aid identification giving tips on how one would expect the dragonfly to behave in the field as well as notes on mating. The section on breeding habitat is relatively brief and acts more to aid identification rather than as a detailed account of species habitat preferences. Population and conservation rounds off the text for each species account and includes some interesting facts about records, recent colonisation events, as well as population outlook for the future.
On the whole the photographs within the book are excellent, given how difficult this group can be to work with and have been selected to show key identification criteria. Most photographs show adults in their typical resting positions, allowing a clear view of all the important identification features for that given species. Given that we often see dragonflies in flight an excellent addition to this guide summarises identification of dragonflies in flight with some fantastic supplementary photographs.
As someone who spends a lot of time pond dipping and surveying ponds, a section about the identification of nymphs is also invaluable and is much improved on previous editions, with a detailed key aiding field identification.
Due to the time of year in which this review was undertaken I field tested the book on nymphs. The book is relatively light, comes with a waterproof cover and is small enough to fit into most bags. It is excellent for field work being both light and durable. The keys are straightforward and easy to follow without being over complicated.
On the whole this is a comprehensive guide which beginners and experts alike can take into the field and confidently use to identify any dragonfly or damselfly that is likely to be encountered in the British Isles. I would thoroughly recommend it to anybody wanting a book on these species or wanting to get into what can initially be a daunting group.