Taking Flight

It’s been a very slow August so far; in part attributed to a major change in the weather and the effects of the long, hot dry spell we’ve enjoyed for the past few months.

Having encountered all non-migrant local species with the elusive Moorland Hawker now is the time to relax and choose a few special ponds for observation and indulgence. Except these ponds have disappeared completely or dried out to puddles barely enough to cover your feet.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – male

Not a problem for the hardiest species such as Common Darter and Common Emerald, or indeed a solitary Emperor holding on in hope a female may visit.

The Emperor has been around since May and most individuals encountered are tired and tatty.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

Time to move over and give up the territories to the late summer hawkers; a Southern has no problem with puddles, but would rather avoid unnecessary conflict.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male

The Moorland Hawker is another who doesn’t tolerate other hawkers (except it’s own in certain places with high populations) and will happily take on an aged Emperor.

The sight of a high-flying Moorland coming in to scan below is always a welcome sight in the New Forest. Even better when he decides to come down and patrol a while.

Moorland (Common) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland (Common) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Most of the Migrant Hawkers are immature and shyly shoot off with minimal disturbance from their roost of gorse and trees surrounding favourite feeding grounds. They’ll settle down once they mature and provide the easiest in-flight opportunities of them all.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - male
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) – male

Despite a good look around Town Common mid-week I only found a few Black Darters, a few Small Red and even more Common Emerald. I probably would’ve seen a lot more if it hadn’t have been somewhat overcast

By the time I reached Ramsdown the sun put in a very brief appearance with the majority of activity centered around the hill pond, which is deep enough to have survived the drought.

The showers we had last weekend weren’t enough to effect the driest heath ponds, however now we’ve had some more rain I’m looking forward to seeing if the ponds have recovered enough to offer some late summer enjoyment.

Parched

Sunday 5th August

This European heatwave has been a blessing to dragonfly enthusiasts with perhaps the best activity we’ve seen for many years. We had a warning back in Spring with the late start and a bounty of early emergencies across the board.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

At first excited for the pleasing bounty I remember being a little concerned as if the odos knew far more about the coming season than we could possibly predict. They knew when the time was right; get out early and live their lives while they could.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) - over-mature female
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) – over-mature female

Three months of exciting and exhausting action to sink our teeth into is showing signs of slowing down considerably, the reason being the lack of water. Most of the ponds are dry and even some streams have stopped flowing.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) - pair in tandem
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) – pair in tandem

The surrounding heather hadn’t had the chance to fully bloom before before succumbing to the heat. Elsewhere lush meadows now a sea of hay which is at once beautiful and dangerous. Tinder dry with many fires breaking out.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - immature male
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – immature male

Mother Nature’s way of clearing out the cobwebs and starting afresh? Despite the worrying state of our meadows they do provide a pleasing backdrop for photography.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - immature male
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – immature male

Crockford has been simply fantastic this summer, but has now peaked. A visit during the week found very few Southern and Small Red damselflies, a sprinkling of tired-looking Keeled Skimmer and a few rather battered Golden-ringed.

The shallow ponds on the heaths of Town Common frequently dry out and recover but without frequent showers their surfaces are dry and crisp, the Black Darters having to seek out other options further afield.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - male
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – male

Hawker Season is already upon us with Migrant Hawkers gaining numbers and feeding up rapidly among the woodland rides. Southern and Moorland Hawker are starting to patrol the remaining puddles, and therein lies the problem.

A brief respite from the parched conditions with a good lashing of rain last weekend helped replenish a few pools just enough to kick-start some activity but after a week those few pools have returned to puddles.

So far this August pickings have been slim and I’m having to choose wisely, resisting the urge to travel too far in fear of wasted fuel and time, preferring to remain local where there should be enough to satisfy.

Seeking out places where a profusion of feeder insects bring in the feasting hawkers. Choosing those areas which retain some water; the larger, deeper lakes and ponds. The constant flow of fast-running streams which contain some pools where the hawkers can patrol.

Mostly though I’m hoping for a few more downpours to replenish those ponds which offer a chance to just sit & watch without walking too far in these hot, parched dog days of summer.

Where The River Flows

No-one would have believed we’d be blessed with the best summer for decades. No-one would’ve believed the sun would remain untarnished by solemn skies and rainfall. For a dragonfly enthusiast it’s been a summer to cherish.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

The instinct to soak it all up is irresistible, and slightly dangerous. Too much sunshine can wear out even the most active soul, and I’ve bitten off just a little bit more than I perhaps should have.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male on patrol
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male on patrol

A foolish seven mile trek in search of rare delights; an even more foolish search for a pond which turned out to be almost dry.

However these are lessons which stop us in our tracks to sit back and regroup. Take a little time out. Choose locations where you don’t have to expend unnecessary energy by staying glued to one spot.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male on Bog Myrtle
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male on Bog Myrtle

With the unsheltered shallow ponds of the heath drying out it makes sense to choose running water. A short section of a New Forest stream is ideal to just sit back and take it all in.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - pair in-cop
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – pair in-cop

Endless hours in the company of some of the New Forest favourites. Those boisterous Keeled Skimmers who like nothing more than a scuffle with opponents twice their size. With the Golden-ringed they can get away with it. Try it with an Emperor and they’ll end up as lunch.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - pair in-cop
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) – pair in-cop

Beautiful Demoiselles cascading above while Southern Damselflies go about their business below. Finding mates, copulating and ovipositing seemingly ignoring the fracas.

Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) - pair in-cop
Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) – pair in-cop

Look closely and you will see they have their own battles to fight. Likewise the Small Red decorating the Bog Myrtle – worryingly drying out beyond the immediate shoreline.

Small Red Damselflies (Ceriagrion tenellum) - pair in-cop
Small Red Damselflies (Ceriagrion tenellum) – pair in-cop

The introduction of a female Golden-ringed flying in to find a safe place to oviposit is a sight to behold. She has an instinct to find the best place to lay her eggs regardless of the dangers she would usually avoid.

Usually preferring the dark & shady hollows beneath the over-hanging Bog-myrtle or Bramble to avoid predation and the attention of patrolling males who occasionally get lucky.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) pair in-cop
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) pair in-cop

Forget the camera – just watch for a while. Fifteen minutes of your time can witness so much more if you attempt to understand their timescale. Lives lived much faster than ours, and over in an instant comparatively.

Golden-ringed (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male on patrol
Golden-ringed (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male on patrol

If you feel your life is moving too fast spend a few hours at a stream and relax. Suddenly your hectic life has just slowed down and been put into perspective. Life’s much faster around here.

Blue-eyed Beauties

Friday 13th July

I had some unfinished business with those Blue-eyed Hawkers which have taken up residence in Essex. A couple of weeks back we jumped the gun but were rewarded with fresh emergers.

Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – teneral female

Totally unexpected and a bonus despite only encountering a couple of distant adult males. I needed to have another shot or two at the adults so Sue and I arranged a revisit a couple of weeks later.

Thankfully we were rewarded with more than we wished for and very little traffic delays considering it was a Friday. A cracking day with over fifty males seen, five pairings and two tandem pairs ovipositing.

Barely through the gate we were rewarded with our first adult male patrolling a short dry section of the ditch. There were a few wet sections, but these weren’t half as much fun. I was in the sweet shop, in my element, having a damn good time trying to capture these beauties at close quarters in-flight.

Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male on patrol
Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male on patrol

Of course there were also Scarce Emerald and Ruddy Darter – the latter population somewhat diminished since last time; and there’s a good reason for that.

Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male

I didn’t concern myself initially about getting one perched. I found it difficult to drag myself away from watching their antics through the viewfinder.

Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male on patrol
Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male on patrol

Where to look next? A female navigating her way through the close growth of a bank-side bush, seemingly to avoid male attention or a pairing or a tandem pair ovipositing into the deep, dark recesses of cattle depressions? How about a mating pair?

Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - pair in-cop
Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – pair in-cop

Once I had made the most of the willing subjects available we walked on, taking each step slowly. We had a half-hearted attempt to look for the Southern Emerald population, but this was not the day for picking out tiny dancers. We were only after the divas. Those magnificent blue eyes and a species I’ve rarely had the chance to enjoy had taken all my attention.

Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male on patrol
Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male on patrol

Back to the key spots, where we noticed in the heat of the day activity started to slow down with most perching low down in the grasses; some choosing to delve into the depths, creating an audible fracas which culminated in them rising with an unfortunate Ruddy Darter in their mandibles.

Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
Blue-eyed (Southern Migrant) Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male

This could well be considered a welcome new resident species, and has been regarded so after successful breeding at their key sites. Sightings have been rife this year with new populations springing up in Hertfordshire and migrant influxes from Somerset to Hampshire.

For me the chance to spend a day in the company of such a magnificent Hawker resulted in one of my best days out this year.

Even Dragonflies Need Shade

Hot, humid, and the type of weather our European cousins to the south are used to, so why do we worry & panic? Maybe we’re a little too primitive. Haven’t adapted. Or maybe we’re so far advanced we expect it just so. There’s some old bugger who’ll complain. It’s the British way.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) - teneral female
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) – teneral female

From the late start to not being able to keep up with (comparatively) early emergencies it’s been a fabulous year for dragonflies. A headlong rush to all get out and enjoy the sunshine while it’s here.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

I’m enjoying myself as much as I did when I started. I’m able to go out and indulge without the annoyances and distractions of recent years. Time to reacquaint myself with some local favourites without wasting time travelling.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male

Time best spent in one place; almost rooted to the spot, allowing the action to come to me instead of chasing after something which probably won’t arise, wearing myself out in the process.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - female
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – female

The irony is all the photos featured here were taken while chasing around like a fool instead of heading my own advice! However I needed those unnecessary and mostly fruitless days to reprogram and settle down a little.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - female
Emperor (Anax imperator) – female

These balmy days of summer are perfect for just sitting back and taking it all in, even choosing to stay home and grab some shade instead of burning out too soon.

Live fast die young appears to be normal as far as some insects are concerned; the Silver-studded Blues are showing signs of fatigue after a few weeks of wearing and tearing. So too are the Chasers and Skimmers. They might be able to live another day if they weren’t so damn hasty.

Except the Keeled of course. They’re doing just fine. Still emerging, still feisty. From delicate teneral demoiselles to the mighty Emperor, the sensible species take a little time out from the heat.

Even dragonflies need shade.

Local Delights

A covering of cloud seems the perfect time to take a rest and catch up on the past fortnight, beginning with two days at at Crockford Stream.

Thursday 21st June

The insistent breeze kept the temperature under what it should have been. No matter – this was only a first scout of one of the New Forest favourites.

No Golden-ringed patrolling along the full accessible length of the main stream, and only a few regulars. However I did disturb a young male Southern Hawker – my first this season who out flew of sight, but not out of mind.

Invigorated by this sighting I decided to explore the clearing to the south, heading into one of the marl pools which only provided a few threatening sinking moments; unexpected after the dry spell.

Back on terra firma I headed upstream, walking through sheltered gorse stands hoping for another hawker or two. Only Keeled and a good showing of Silver-spotted blues decorating the yet-to-bloom heather.

More Keeled Skimmers along the headwaters with several Southern Damselflies busy courting, pairing and ovipositing. Also seeking a place to deposit her eggs was a female Broad-bodied Chaser.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) - female
Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) – female

At the ford an Emperor offered me some indulgence, the strong breeze challenging my subject. After a short while he came closer.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

A couple of skirmishes with another of his kind, and suddenly a Golden-ringed. When I’ve finished with my new found buddy I had another subject in mind. I just had to find him. They usually don’t stray far; keeping within the boundaries of their chosen patrol.

And there he was; tantalisingly and tentatively patrolling his patch and having arguments with a couple of Keeled Skimmers.

He perched. Not ideally. Rose again and again; hard to pin down. Just as I was getting purchase another skirmish, only this time a female. Watch, follow and hope. Primal urges had put pay to my plan and I had to choose another.

Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - pair in-cop
Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – pair in-cop

That’ll do. Day fulfilled. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday 25th June

Eager to capitalise on my good fortune I returned to Crockford on Monday for another session. More of everything this time around, with activity throughout the stream.

Even the Golden-ringed population had improved, with half-a-dozen between the road and the main basin.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male

I found a worthy subject further upstream; a delightfully social individual who turned out to be rather gregarious – ideal for attempting some in-flight shots, I thought optimistically.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male on patrol
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male on patrol

He took to flying around me at too close a range for the long lens, so switching to macro I’d forgotten to change the speed, which was a shame as this could’ve turned out sharper.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male on patrol
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male on patrol

Might as well have a go at a Demoiselle while I’m here.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - male on patrol
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) – male on patrol

And just for good measure, one of those pesky Keeled Skimmers.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - male on patrol
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – male on patrol

A thoroughly enjoyable couple of days in the New Forest, and there’s more to come.

From Headwaters to Heath

Wednesday 13th June

The time was right for another New Forest visit, this time connecting with our White-legged Damselfly populations along the Blackwater and Ober streams.

White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) - male
White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) – male

Starting at Dames Slough Inclosure it wasn’t long before I found my first White-legged holed up in the grasses to the south of the stream.

White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) - female
White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) – female

Plenty of opportunities meant I could ditch the long lens and concentrate on using the macro for the first time in a while.

White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) - female
White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) – female

Along with the WLD a good number of Beautiful Demoiselles were populating the stream while fresh Keeled Skimmers were rising from the shore.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - teneral female
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – teneral female

Taking refuge in the scrub was a fresh Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - immature female
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – immature female

Crossing the stream to the north bank provided the best displays with Beautiful Demoiselle, Southern, White-legged, Large Red and Keeled Skimmers all enjoying the sunshine, some undoubtedly more than others.

White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) - pair in tandem
White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) – pair in tandem

I spent a good couple of hours here observing and enjoying the spectacle and in hindsight should probably have stayed put, but with Ober Water close by I couldn’t resist a stroll along one of my favourites.

Unfortunately the wind was more noticeable here and this subdued activity along the stream; even the hot-spots were lacking. Regardless I carried on a circular route, returning along the top paths where at least I found a couple of Golden-ringed feeding along the path, although unwilling to stay around for a shot.

Monday 18th June
Halfway through June already and a decidedly different climate than May curtailed any outings until Monday. Although the forecast wasn’t ideal I found myself enjoying bright, if breezy, sunshine at Town Common.

The first pond had enough Four-spotted Chasers and an Emperor patrolling among the damsels in a perfect summer spectacle. The Emperor even came in to perch long enough for me to switch lens and practice some stealth.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

The first Darter spotted was a young male Common, one of a number encountered today.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - immature male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – immature male

However it was the Black Darter I was hoping for, and I wasn’t disappointed. Several fresh individuals at this little pocket of heath to keep me busy, however I had to wait until later to get the shot I was after.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - immature male
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – immature male

Beautifully situated on fresh blooming heather. Doesn’t get much better than that, however in the interest of diversity best I include a female.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - immature female
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – immature female

From the young headwaters of the Lymington River to the lowland heath across the Avon, these past two outings within the New Forest catchment area have reinvigorated yours truly with renewed faith in staying local.

I’ve already planned the next sunny day. Now I just have to wait…

Hidden Depths

Saturday 9th June
At Bramshill the shore of Long Lake had enough going on for observation and I had a few half-hearted attempts at the Emperor patrolling, but he was too far out and unpredictable.

While Sue took a rest I explored my usual circuit without much joy and returned to the shore of Long Lake to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t, so we decided to take a walk. After all, way too early to call it a day.

We decided to walk to the north-east pond in the hope that we’d find a few feeders on the way. We did, mainly demoiselles and damselflies holed up in the gorse and grasses bordering the paths.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - female violacea form
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – female violacea form

On arriving at the pond the usual sight of battling Chasers and Skimmer’s, an Emperor or two and a Downy brightened an afternoon which had become dull under cloud.

At the far end however, patrolling a small area of the murkiest section was a reward for the day – an early patrolling Brilliant Emerald.

Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) - male
Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) – male

In view of the light a record shot is all I managed, but it was the icing on the cake of a disappointing day.

Monday 4th June
I returned to Bramshill with a sense of hope and the added advantage that I could move and loiter at my own pace; taking in the north-east pond first and continuing along a new found path and a new diversion along a wonderful sunny ride with Meadow Brown and White Admiral joining the Demoiselles.

The type of sunny ride it would be wise to camp out at, as you never know what might turn up. Not today though, I wanted to cover as much ground as possible, calling in at the center ponds and following familiar paths hoping for a moment.

I had a long moment on the shore of Long Lake just watching the action, because sometimes you just need to take it all in. Pretty much the same as cast as Saturday only much more to enjoy.

Once I broke free of the reverie I continued along the path, festooned with Black-tailed Skimmers; always on the ground and supposedly out of reach.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) - male
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) – male

At a little inlet I found a teneral Common Darter – my first this year.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - teneral male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – teneral male

A little further down the path a female Emperor rose at my presence, hesitated and perched again, allowing me a cautious go with the macro.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - female
Emperor (Anax imperator) – female

The hidden ponds were a little disappointing today so I continued to the far shore of Long Lake to catch a female Keeled Skimmer having a snack.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - female
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – female

I returned to those paths I followed earlier, just in time to watch a male Hairy flying low down and back & forth before perching to eat his spoils. Who knows who else paid a visit while I was away.

Food for thought.

Shades of Latchmore

Sunday June 3rd

We arranged to meet Steve Birt at Latchmore Brook in the New Forest. With mainly sun and occasional cloud, conditions were perfect.

Sue spotted the first fresh teneral female on the way in; the fragile lift and shade of pink was unmistakable besides the vibrant blues & greens of the adult males patrolling the flush.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio) – teneral female pre-aurantiaca phase

Although not the best photo I’ve included it in post to show the differences from teneral to immature, an example of which you can find below.

The Keeled Skimmer were a lot more lively today, with several males and the occasional pairing decorating the flushes. On arrival at my favourite spot the ground had dried out considerably in a week despite the frequent showers, however the heather was yet to bloom and bring forth the bonanza of feeder insects to tempt the damselflies away from water.

A good few more Small Red than last week with a good showing of Large Red. No Southern around here either, but once again Sue’s eager eyes picked up the orange flash of an immature aurantiaca.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio) - immature female aurantiaca phase
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio) – immature female aurantiaca phase

The only one found, and unfortunately with a deformed wing, however a delight to find and certainly the highlight for Steve being his first experience of the species. Thankfully it wasn’t long before we found a resting male.

Keeled Skimmer )Orthetrum coerulescens) - teneral female
Keeled Skimmer )Orthetrum coerulescens) – teneral female

We walked upstream encountering the Southern and Small Red in abundance before returning to the back flush to marvel at the show put on by even more Southern, Scarce Blue-tailed and Keeled Skimmer.

While attempting to find a way back across the flush I came across a teneral female Keeled perched irresistibly on the fern. She only gave me chance for a quick shot.

Keeled Skimmer )Orthetrum coerulescens) - teneral female
Keeled Skimmer )Orthetrum coerulescens) – teneral female

Safely back across and searching the edge of the flushes I found a fresh teneral male, still to gain his technicolor adult colouring and starkly contrasted against the striking youthful looks of the female.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio) - teneral male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio) – teneral male

A beauty nevertheless, and the perfect round off to the day.

Wednesday 6th June

Returning to Latchmore mid-week I had the feeling I might’ve started the day a little too early as the flushes were bereft of Scarce -Blue-tailed, as was the feeding area despite an extended search. Only a few Large and Small Red in attendance.

Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) - teneral female
Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) – teneral female

I didn’t see any Scarce Blue-tailed until I reached the back channel where I explored even more and sat watching the action for a while. Sometimes it’s good just to breathe it all in. A young female Beautiful landed on the fern, breaking me out of my reverie.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - immature female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) – immature female

Photo opportunities were few & far between today and I hadn’t had a chance to use the macro, so I reluctantly returned along the stream where at least an Emperor offered me another chance to sit bank-side – only this time with the camera in hand.

(Blue) Emperor (Anax imperator) - male
(Blue) Emperor (Anax imperator) – male

 

 

The Challenge of a Cloudy Day

Wednesday 30th May

Let’s be honest – the weather on Wednesday was far from optimal. Unusually the BBC gave a better forecast than YR – light cloud and light winds. The latter was correct, but the clouds were often a darker grey.

Nevertheless instead of being stuck in front of the PC I decided to have a look anyway; a chance to wander off the beaten track a little.

I started at Town Common, taking a different route than usual to explore the SW section. A few more ponds to investigate in the future maybe, if I can drag myself away from the favourites.

One of these ponds is a recent addition and will need time to mature but will serve to be a prime breeding pond for Black Darter, Common Emerald and Small Red as the recent ponds across the bypass have proved to be.

Approaching the key area I had a sighting of one of the resident Peregrine, a display of Dartford Warbler and a couple of Smooth Snakes. Too cool or dull for the Sand Lizards, or too blind on my part.

None of the ponds had any activity over water whatsoever – even the hardy Four-spotted Chasers were noticeable by their absence. Just a few Azure, Common Emerald and Small Red within the heather.

Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) - immature female
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) – immature female

There were the occasional Scarce Chaser laying low in the heath but not the crowd experienced on Monday. Respect to the Scarce; I thought the Four-spotted were hardier!

Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) - immature male
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) – immature male

The damsels gave me more than enough to experiment with, the low light offering some interesting challenges, including finding the correct level of flash to reflect the metallic shimmer of the Emeralds.

Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) - immature female
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) – immature female
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) - immature male
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) – immature male

A proper flash (and diffuser) would be better, the above examples a little harsh, however they show the immature gender differences well.

On the way out I encountered the historical sight of an old & grizzled chap with a huge leather bucket, a shovel and a huge iron stake. I nodded but didn’t receive an answer; maybe he was up to no good or maybe the space-time matrix experienced a glitch.

Over on Ramsdown I encountered a gravid female Adder sunbathing on a corrugated sheet who hadn’t heard or seen me coming and had another Smooth Snake sighting.

Another Scarce Chaser on the heath, a couple of Emerald and a Four-spotted Chaser (at last) near the hill pond. and plenty of those pesky flies hovering around yours truly, the living embodiment of Pigpen from Peanuts.

Continuing on to Troublefield I noticed the DWT crew were present but thankfully not in my meadow. The first surprise was the level of growth in a week; frequently chest-high and sopping wet, but immense fun!

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) – female

Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles were present in good numbers and were keeping low and yet another Scarce Chaser, the first one I’ve seen here this Spring.

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) - immature female
Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) – immature female

More Large Red and Azure but alas no White-legged; the grasses only offering up a swarm of micro-moths and something more sinister which avoided my liberal spraying of insect repellent to festoon my upper arm and shoulder with an array of bites.

Challenging and frugal, however a fine wander.