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Judith Linders

Columns, essays, stories

  • Writer's pictureJudith Linders

The story of the Green-eyed Hawker

The story of the green-eyed hawker begins on a beautiful, cloudless morning in May. Later today it will get warmer but for now the air is still fresh and clean. Dusk has just sent the bats to their roosts. I saw them hunting earlier, these mach 2 fliers of the animal kingdom. I thoroughly enjoyed their flying skills and when I saw them tumbling around each other, I thought ‘they are just playing around before they go to sleep’. The blackbird is singing its most beautiful song and the great tits are already flying back and forth to my neighbour's nest box, where hungry beaks await their spoils. The jackdaws with their loud kuh, kuh have not yet arrived, but it won't be long before they gather on the ridges of nearby houses. I sit in my garden and enjoy my coffee. In the distance, I hear a cuckoo. This is the perfect life, having breakfast in the garden at 5.30am. My eye catches the washing line, ‘do the washing later, then it can dry outside.’ A dragonfly flies by. I've seen it here before. It is a green-eyed hawker.

After it first caught my eye, I looked it up on the internet. There I read that the green-eyed hawker is a dragonfly that was rare in the Netherlands, but is becoming increasingly common here. Its habitat is mainly low moor, which is not found around here. I do not know where it lives, there is not much still water in my neighbourhood. Maybe it comes from the Broekse Wielen, a few kilometres from here. It is an early dragonfly, you can see it as early as the end of April. What fascinates me are its eyes, which consist of tens of thousands of facets. With them, it can see 360 degrees and estimate speed very well. That helps it catch prey while flying. In addition, dragonflies have many more light-sensitive proteins (opsins) than humans, who can only distinguish red, yellow and blue. This allows them to see colours unimaginable to us, including UV light. Its wings resemble stained glass.

I hear my neighbour driving away. Another early bird. A rooster crows. Then the green-eyed hawker approaches again. My gaze follows it and I marvel at its speed. The speed of many insects is something people could learn from. Boom! Oh no!

The hawker has flown at full speed against my clothesline and lies motionless on the ground. How could this happen, with its good eyesight? I don't know what to do. Is it still alive? Is it going to be okay? I see it moving slightly. Thankfully, at least it's still alive. Maybe it needs to recuperate and will fly away in a moment. I take a good look at it. What a beautiful animal. I run to my study and grab my camera. I can't pass up this chance to take close-up photos of a dragonfly. The hawker turns in circles, like a ballerina doing pirouettes. It does so for minutes. Then I notice it turn and turn its head until its mouth is at the top. Occasionally it falls on its back and then struggles to get up again. Something is seriously wrong.

The blackbird comes closer to take a look. Does it spot a tasty morsel? What should I do? I want the dragonfly to live, but I can't watch it all day. After a while, I decide to take a shower and let nature take its course.

When I walk out again, I see that the green-eyed hawker is still lying where I left it. Strange, the blackbird leaves a substantial meal. Maybe it's not tasty? Perhaps even poisonous to birds? Who knows. The hawker moves a little more, spreads its wings. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my neighbour's cat approaching. If it catches sight of the hawker, the poor thing will done for. This week the cat has already caught a cabbage white. Damn cat. It is pitch black with pale green eyes and would fit right in a horror movie. I call it Satan's spawn, but its real name is Jip. How can I protect the dragonfly from that predator? I carefully slide it onto a magazine and put it on top of the leftover food bin, but the wind blows it right off. It crawls under the bin. Good, it will be safe there. But soon it crawls out from under it again. Ants. You don't want to hide among those if you're badly injured. A bit further on the terrace is a mesh lid that the previous residents made for on top of the leftover bin. Maggot prevention, my sister told me.

Below this lid, the dragonfly finally finds a quiet and sheltered spot. It makes a lot of noise with its wings, moving more and more lively. The cat is in hunting posture. Fortunately, it can't reach hawker. I think ‘the hawker will probably make it’ and decide to go and sort out my photos. When I return an hour later, I am very curious to see if the hawker has flown away. I lift the lid. Shit. Ants.

They're tiny, just a few millimetres. And they are swarming all over the dead dragonfly.

Whether it died and the ants descended on its corpse or whether the ants killed it I don't know. They are pavement ants, I see them very often, they love my leftover food bin. I try to remember what I know about them. In the Netherlands, they are one of the most common ant species. They are useful animals, because they eat all kinds of harmful insects. And they are well-known ‘cleaners’ in nature.

Their mandibles are impressive.

I am still taking photos, I can't ignore this fascinating spectacle of nature. I try to move the partly eaten hawker a little so that I can reach it better with my camera. Immediately, some of the ants swarm in my direction. They are looking for the threat. I have no doubt that they will defend their prey without hesitation and quickly slide back a bit.

Over the next day and a half, the ants make short work of the hawker. Bit by bit it disappears, starting with its beautiful eyes.

In the end all that remains are its beautiful wings.  




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