Scorched Earth and Serendipity

Wednesday 22nd April

The culmination of frugal days consisting of long walks and endless searches has subconsciously altered my modus operandi this season; and the delightful swarms seen at Hatchet earlier brought home to me that it’s the days of plenty which I enjoy most.

Those days when the walk takes a back seat and allows you time to stop and take it all in, filling your boots (metaphorical and otherwise) and enjoying the spectacle instead of relentlessly digging through the undergrowth seeking out tenerals.

However at this time of year it helps to just enjoy the walk!

With this in mind I chose a ramble through Town Common on Wednesday – much earlier than I’d usually visit this location – to get a feel for what was about, how the ponds were etc – just a relaxing stroll through a favourite (admittedly extensively managed) pocket wilderness.

Any Odo’s would be a bonus.

There were a few teneral Large Red rising from the heather as I passed and having been satiated I didn’t hunt them down. The only thing which could have disturbed my preamble was a variation in species, but not this day.

No matter – I’m enjoying the walk, remember?

I had a plan to wander a little further south along the old railway track in search of more water bodies, but as I came to the end of the back path I noticed the scorched thicket of gorse to my right.

When I turned the corner and broke out of the shadows I was confronted by a scene of utter devastation. It appears it wasn’t just St. Catherine’s Hill which bore the brunt of the recent arson; a third of Town Common had been laid bare too.

Scorched Earth on Town Common

Scorched Earth on Town Common

Three little words struggled past my lips as my eyes took in the horror. The gorse thicket where the Dartford Warblers frolicked…the deep heather where the Sand Lizards and Smooth Snakes basked and hunted, and feeding Odo’s took time out from the water. Now a bronzed landscape peppered with bronze trees and skeletal stumps.

The experience was shocking and unexpected, delivered in a sudden punch to bring me out of my reverie and cut short my peaceful stroll.

Still reeling from the blow I changed course and headed back across the line to more familiar territory and didn’t look back. Instead I decided to continue my ramble by crossing the road and retreating to Ramsdown, doing the full tour before heading back to the car and moving on to Troublefield where I took time out to just sit by the river and watch the butterflies…and take it all in.

Thursday 23rd April

I needed a change of scenery and subject, so began with a walk around Magdalen Hill before moving on to the tranquility of Noar Hill for some butterfly therapy.

Plenty of opportunity to just sit and drink it all in.

While I was amusing myself with a trio of Dukes and a couple of Dingy Skippers I bumped into another couple of BF nuts, followed by a couple more and accepted this wasn’t going to be a solo venture.

I struck up a conversation with one of the gentlemen regarding butterflies before turning to (my preferred) passion for dragonflies when in a moment of serendipity a Large Red flew in from nowhere and placed itself directly at my feet.

Large Red Damselfly - male

Large Red Damselfly – male

Don’t you just love it when that happens?

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A New Tail

Tuesday 21st April

Another beautiful day and a trepidacious visit to Titchfield Haven. A few things have changed since last season; a small increase in price (25p? Think I can manage that!), longer opening hours and doing away with that one-day-of-the-week closure.

On arriving at Darter’s Pond the first shock was the removal of the strand of trees (and associated foliage) to the south of the pond. This is a mistake (in my opinion) as it provided vital shelter from those stiff sea breezes which can ruin a visit.

The site is far too open now, which means that any risers from the pond end up drifting for miles towards shore instead of conveniently finding a perch close by and accessible.

This happened a lot today. Not least with a couple of fresh Hairy Dragonflies which disappeared way beyond reach to even think of a record shot.

No matter. A consolation prize were a few fresh Blue-tailed.

Blue-tailed Damselfly - Immature male

Blue-tailed Damselfly – Immature male

Besides these new finds (for the season) there were plenty of Large Red; mostly drifting the way of the hairy, but a couple at least placed themselves in what little foliage there was.

Large Red Damselfly - Immature female

Large Red Damselfly – Immature female

Give it another week and there should be more value for money ;-)

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Third Time Lucky

Monday 20th April 2015

It’s over a week since I looked at the southern half of the New Forest; with the usual triumvirate of Pennington, Crockford and Hatchet with Ipley Cross tagged on the end.

I was expecting more from Pennington, but perhaps being coastal it’s lagging behind a little. Not one seen except a teneral rising just as I was on my way out. I’m assuming Large Red, but I certainly couldn’t get close enough for a positive ID.

Maybe there are a few more kicking around in the treetops or adjacent land, as the foliage is in stark contrast to last year – virtually non-existent. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve done a superb job of clearing the excess, opening up a larger section of the bank. The problem lies with the lack of growth; as everywhere taking a little time to get going.

At Crockford things were pretty much the same, but at least there was heather and plenty of gorse offering low-level shelter, but again only a teneral spotted rising high from the shallow pond.

However things started to heat up nicely at Hatchet (Small) Pond. The gorse was alive with Large Reds. I stopped counting at 100, so you get the idea. Plenty of choice, but I wanted a shot against the yellow of the gorse flowers; a delightful contrast with the bold hues of the subject.

Large Red Damselfly - immature male

Large Red Damselfly – immature male

So if you’re pining for a Large Red Hatchet Small Pond will currently offer you more than you could possibly want without straying too far from the car…

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Early Risers

This pleasant burst of prolonged sunshine is just what we need to get things started, and after the lone individual spotted at Swanwick last Friday I’m pleased to report the New Forest has climbed aboard with the usually-reliable Broomy Pond producing a few emergers on Tuesday, followed by another half dozen at Ramsdown.

A quick call in at Swanwick on Wednesday produced another half dozen spent exuvia and a fresh teneral rising into the trees at the dog pond, but no signs yet at any of the larger lakes.

This of course makes perfect sense; the smaller, shallower water bodies heat up faster than their larger and deeper cousins. This is also why you may encounter premature emergings in a captive situation; including garden ponds.

In the wild things may take a little longer, especially at higher altitudes and exposed moors. Broomy is usually the first of the New Forest ponds to produce the first Large Reds, but a truer picture can be gained when adjacent ponds also show a good emergence.

Thursday was one of those days, where I observed my first 8 tenerals rising from the pond at Cadnam Common during a brief circuit.

Numbers were doubled at Milkham Bottom, with the tenerals lifting from one side of the boggy pond to follow the breeze uphill.

Broomy was even busier. Not quite as many as expected, but persevering with a search through the heather produced at least 50, pretty much all of them rising high and drifting far across the moor.

This left few individuals to pin down, and even then they proved difficult hiding deep down in the heather.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – teneral male

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – teneral male

So we’re definitely up and running. All we need know is a little variety :-)

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Season’s Greetings

Welcome on the start of a new season. Kent and Cornwall won the race with the first sightings on the 5th March. Reason enough to start keeping an eye out, and I’ve visited a few favourite haunts over the past week making the most of this glorious weather.

The first thing which became apparent was how dry it was. At this time last season my wellies were essential, but a somewhat dry winter has kept the ground dry without sacrificing the water bodies.

This of course means that the plant life has some catching up to do, and the early crop of butterflies are having to make do with a far smaller choice. What we needed was a few days of warm weather to raise the water temperatures enough to coax the Odo’s out, and this week was ideal to kick-start the emergence.

After coming up short at a few preferred sites this week – including the small pond down the road – we finally found our first Large Red of the season at the local nature reserve.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - teneral male

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – teneral male

So well done Swanwick Nature Reserve! Here’s to a fulfilling season.

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Winding Down (A Time to Share)

The end of September has arrived with colder nights, foggy mornings and some welcome afternoon sunshine, even reaching a dragonfly-friendly 20 degrees.

Besides the usual suspects (Migrant and Southern Hawkers, Common and Black Darters) the hardier damsels like the Emerald and Common Blue have continued to show in reasonable numbers, and I even had a Small Red hanging on during one of the more prolific days.

Cadnam Common
Thursday 18th September

I didn’t expect to find anything but as it happens a few Southern Hawkers were holding territories at opposite ends of the pond, enough to keep me amused for a few hours.

As usual the corner around the solitary gorse bush was the chosen territory of two of my subjects; once again engaging in a time-share arrangement and rarely tussling for more than a few seconds.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

Another of my subjects chose to remain along the northern edge, allowing some rather wonderful and challenging close encounters as he flew along the grassy bank.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

Although not up to its usual standard, the opportunity to spend a few hours was a fine way to end the season at one of my favourite ponds. Let’s hope it’s recovered sufficiently over winter to provide it’s usual Spring bounty.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

If you look again closely, you can tell the these three Southern Hawkers are all different individuals ‘time-sharing’ the same pond over the course of three hours.

Milkham Bottom
Monday 22nd September

A calm and pleasant afternoon was ideal for checking out the pond and boggy pool at Milkham Bottom. Even here the water levels had retreated, enough at least to allow me to paddle across to the island – a guilty pleasure I’ve always wanted to do.

This proved to be ideal for grabbing some Migrant in-flight action as a couple were choosing the small reeded area close the the island shore.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

The ability to choose a low aspect to shoot from allowed a little variation in background, with the far shoreline offering some delightful neutrality.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

Around the margins there was plenty of Common Darter activity but little else, so I chose to spend an hour at the boggy pool where there were more Common Darters, a few Black Darters – including tandem pairs, some Common Blue and Emerald Damselflies and the surprising appearance of a male Small Red.

Small Red Damselfly - male

Small Red Damselfly – male

During the hour a female Moorland Hawker flew in briefly to oviposit at one edge, but was spooked at my presence and disappeared never to be seen again. A female Migrant also paid a visit, and the appearance of a male Emperor brought the species total up to eight.

Not bad for this late in the season, and possibly the best I’ve experienced here.

Christchurch Common, Ramsdown and Milkham Bottom

Thursday 25th September

A circuit around the paths, ponds and old railway of Town Common threw up a few Common Darters, a fair quantity of Black Darters and Emerald Damselflies.

Over at Ramsdown there were more of the same among the heather and at the ponds.

Common Darter - male

Common Darter – male

After an hour of the same I was about to give up when a couple of male Southern Hawkers flew in, violently disputing territory with a couple of duckings before choosing a compromise at either end of the pond.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

On the way home I called in at Milkham Bottom, but by now there was a ribbon of cloud following the south-westerly wind with only the one Migrant and a couple of hardy Common Darters braving the breeze.

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The Law of Diminishing Returns

In many ways I’m grateful for the seasons; knowing I’ll be hungry by the time April comes around rather than getting bored with the same old suspects. That said I still feel it’s a little too early to give up on dragonflies just yet.

September is my preferred time for spending a few hours at a pond, but the lack of rain has rendered most of my favourite watering holes barren. The criminally premature clearing of the meadows at Swanwick has robbed the hawkers of their chosen feeding grounds and they’ve all but disappeared; moved on to more fruitful sites.

Still a few possible locations to scout before hibernation kicks in, because, although I’m fanatical, I don’t see the point in searching relentlessly for the odd late straggler just to satisfy statistics. For me the enjoyment comes from the bounty of swarms on a warm and sunny day providing the option to indulge or sit back and enjoy.

Crockford, Pennington and Whitten Pond
Tuesday 9th September

A brief call in to Crockford on the way to Pennington just in case there were any hawker opportunities. Certainly nothing along the stream except for a late and lonely male Beautiful Demoiselle, still hanging on to his patch in hope. Still, a pleasure to see – and not the last I’d encounter this month.

On the way out I had a female Southern Hawker circle me at calf height, but she wasn’t prepared to settle.

At Pennington the cast was dominated by Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers, but at least there was a male Southern patrolling a small bay.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

As I was approaching the exit I attempted to photograph a male Migrant perched in the bramble, but he rose and landed a short distance away to offer a far more pleasing opportunity.

Migrant Hawkers - male

Migrant Hawkers – male

I don’t know why I chose Whitten Pond as my next port of call. Maybe it was of my first ever Moorland Hawker sighting five years ago along the tree-line, or failing that a good chance to perhaps find a Southern or two perched in one of the many gorse bushes on the path.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

The last time I visited this water body (some years’ back) there were a couple of Brown Hawkers in attendance along the feeder stream, and I was more than a little surprised to find a male here today. I was even more surprised to see him land in the bramble bush opposite.

Brown Hawker - male

Brown Hawker – male

Also patrolling the stream were a male Southern and male Migrant.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

A pleasing end to the day.

Ramsdown and Troublefield

Wednesday 10th September

Wednesday was another day which started slow with Ramsdown only showing a few Common and Black Darters and a few tired Emerald Damselflies brightening up an otherwise empty pond. Even the clearing was quiet with no hawkers feeding and only the one perched in the gorse.

As I was about to check out the smaller ponds I received a call from Doug who asked if I fancied meeting up in his lunch hour. Sounded like a plan, so neglecting the ponds I took the short drive to meet Doug at Troublefield.

Unsurprisingly there were no perched hawkers along the fence, so we made our way to the far corner where there should at least be a few Southern to choose from. There were; four in total. Two choosing to patrol the gloomy channel and one providing some wonderful perched opportunities.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

Cadnam Common, Milkham Bottom, Blashford and Ramsdown

Tuesday 16th September

I had called into Cadnam Common a week earlier to notice the water levels had increased sufficiently to allow at least some activity, but it wasn’t to be. Neither was it today. Not even a Common Darter to be seen.

Maybe I was a little too early, but surely by 11.30am there should have been sonething? No matter, maybe Milkham Bottom would produce some entertainment? It did initially by allowing me the chance to paddle across to the island for a foray.

Around the margins of the main pool were plenty of Common Darters, most in tandem. These were punctuated by the odd tired-looking Emerald Damselfly and a few Common Blues, but nothing larger.

At the boggy pool there were more of the same plus a few Black Darters and, pleasingly, a male Emperor.

Emperor - male

Emperor – male

I stayed here longer than I normally would, hoping for something more, but after the Emperor disappeared under the haze it was only those Common Darters in attendance.

Common Darter - male

Common Darter – male

I did a quick circuit around Blashford Lakes. Nothing flying at Ellingham Pound and only Common Darters and Common Blue damselflies decorating the paths, so I proceeded to Ramsdown where the pond finally produced a Southern Hawker for me to get my teeth into.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

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Common Interests

Priddy Mineries
Sunday 7th September

After our excellent experience at Priddy last month, Doug, Sue and I vowed to return in September for more delightful encounters with the Moorland Hawker. Arriving at noon we were immediately rewarded with both Moorland and Migrant patrolling the margins and reed beds.

Shortly after this encounter Jerry and Mike arrived along with Steve Balcombe and Max Thompson, proving today was going to be a social occasion as well as a photography one. After initial greetings we separated into small groups to cover several prime spots.

Sue, Steve, Max and I concentrating on the boggy western section where there were enough Moorland, Black Darter and Emerald damselfly activity to amuse us, along with a lone Emperor choosing to keep some distance from shore.

Jerry and Mike chose the eastern section while Doug hung around at the bridge waiting for subjects to land along the tree line. It wasn’t long before a shout came from Jerry that a female Brown Hawker was perched in the ferns, which I attempted to get to but decided to hang around for a Moorland Hawker which Doug had witnessed perch.

Moorland (Common) Hawker - male

Moorland (Common) Hawker – male

A little later we were watching a female oviposit into the reeds when a male spotted her and attempted to latch on, taking her over to the grassy bank. What happened next was the female was knocked to the ground, to all appearances looking as if she had been knocked out.

It’s likely she just played dead, as I’ve seen a female do the same when being bothered by a Southern. While she was laid out, the male patrolled the grass looking for her. She ‘played dead’ for about a minute before rising where the male once again attempted to lock on.

This time the female knocked the male to the ground and while he was down she retreated out of sight. Half a minute later he rose and continued searching for her, flying low over the grass and hovering in the area she had been.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this before, and neither had Doug or Jerry. A really superb and educational behaviour moment, and an excellent opportunity for some close in-flights, which we naturally took advantage of.

Moorland (Common) Hawker - male

Moorland (Common) Hawker – male

Our next golden opportunity came when Jerry, Doug and I witnessed a pair of Moorland Hawkers rise and land in high up in a tree close by. Thwarted by their position, we took turns lowering the bough to give the other two a chance.

Despite our best efforts and stirling teamwork they still proved a real challenge due to the angle, shadows and having to steady oneself on a steep slope. This was the best I could manage, and will do until I get another opportunity

Moorland (Common) Hawkers - mating pair

Moorland (Common) Hawkers – mating pair

A combination of good company and what seemed like endless opportunities made the time fly by faster than our chosen subjects and we realised it had gone five, but this didn’t seem to bother the hawkers, with Migrant and Moorland still on the wing.

Moorland (Common) Hawker - male

Moorland (Common) Hawker – male

My goal today were perched male, female and paired Moorland Hawkers, and as the song says, two out of three ain’t bad. Besides, it leaves me hungry for next time!

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Dunyeats Nature Reserve

Surprisingly I find myself in the (unusual for September) position of having to catch up. I’m certainly not complaining and it makes a change from what turned out to be a frustrating late August.

Dunyeats Nature Reserve
Friday 5th September

After the fine sporting Wednesday I had, I spent Friday in the company of Doug, briefly looking into Christchurch Common and Ramsdown before giving Dunyeats Nature Reserve a try. It’s a good two or three years since I last visited; pre-wellies if I remember, and the ability to wade into the pond a little certainly paid dividends.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

We didn’t have the best weather; mostly overcast with the promise of sun, but obviously not warm enough to burn the fog away completely. No matter, once the temperature rose we were treated to a fine display of Migrant Hawkers around the patch of Bull Rushes.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

The day was definitely Migrant heavy, but they certainly provided enough enjoyment.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

We had a few mating pairs to choose from today, but the Migrants didn’t make it too easy, choosing the deepest parts of the pool.

Migrant Hawkers - mating pair

Migrant Hawkers – mating pair

We did have a male Southern visit us a couple of times, but he flew much too close for the lens I had on. No worries, as a female chose to oviposit on one of the many stray logs lying around.

Southern Hawker - female

Southern Hawker – female

We also have a pairing of Emperors at one stage, but they were far too nervous – rising at our every approach until finally bedding deep down in the treacherous gorse.

The best I managed was a record shot, sadly part obscured by a stray piece of grass.

Emperors - mating pair

Emperors – mating pair

All in all a very satisfying day despite the gloom.

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The Sporting Times

Apologies if my last post seemed a little less positive than usual. A combination of negative outside forces and disappointing days can frazzle the mind and kill the mojo temporarily.

Suffice to say I’ve rallied forth refusing to let these irritants affect the last true fruits of the season. The dawning of September is considered to be the true start of Autumn and a time to reflect on the glorious summer, but I refuse to believe that summer is over just yet.

After all, September is prime hawker season.

Avon Valley
Tuesday 2nd September

For a change on Tuesday I decided to have another go at gaining access to a prime fishing area along the Avon. This involved obtaining a permit from a local angling outlet and registering my presence with the fisheries manager, a level of bureaucracy not normally encountered in the search for dragonflies.

Nevertheless I persevered and spent a few hours exploring a small part of the area looking for prime Odo spots. One spot in particular proved to be fruitions when the sun finally appeared, especially for Brown Hawkers.

I spent a good deal of time attempting to grab some in-flighters, which I totally failed at. I did however have three good sightings of the resident Kingfisher and a couple of Migrants to play with.

Migrant Hawker - male

Migrant Hawker – male

After getting frustrated with the lack of sun, I decided to head out and discovered that the Brown Hawkers were concentrated around a small, sheltered clearing metres away from where I’d spent the last four hours! My passing disturbed one resting Brown who rose and caused a chain reaction with at least a dozen circling in alarmed confusion.

I do wonder whether this is a survival technique to minimise the predation. From my point of view it certainly did the trick with me finding it almost impossible to concentrate on one individual. I persevered and attempted to grab some in-flights, but this again proved impossible against the backdrop of trees and bushes, especially as neither showed a flight pattern.

And then they all disappeared. They had to land somewhere, but wherever this was eluded me on this occasion, so I admitted defeat and vowed to return to this spot on a more favourable day.

Wednesday 3rd September

A much better day and instead of returning to the fisheries I decided to spend a day at Ramsdown, especially as a chance meeting with Doug pointed me to a Southern holding territory on a pond the afternoon before on the way back.

I checked the path at Christchurch Common first, hoping for a few roosters, but this favoured spot didn’t produce any this morning. Onwards then to the new favourite pond where I didn’t have to wait long for a Southern to show itself.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

I spent a good three hours here enjoying every moment with the two resident Southern and grabbing some much-needed in-flight sport.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

Their wasn’t a Moorland visit today, but these two certainly made up for it, grabbing my full attention despite a\ good presence of Common and Black Darters, Emerald and Common Blue damsels.

Southern Hawker - male

Southern Hawker – male

After I’d had my fill I checked the clearing for feeding hawkers, noticing mainly Migrant on the wing and reluctant to land anywhere near. Still, there was that other Southern to seek out.

On the way through I stopped at the small heath pond which had recently been replenished to find a resident Emperor. Excellent, as I’d been cheated of the chance for a close encounter at my usual spots this season.

Emperor Dragonfly - male

Emperor Dragonfly – male

I walked to the centre of the pond and allowed my quarry to get accustomed to my presence and it wasn’t long before he provided a fabulous display of his aerial abilities.

Emperor Dragonfly - male

Emperor Dragonfly – male

I spent a good hour with this delightfully agreeable subject and he allowed me some fabulous opportunities as he circled, retreated and flew in much like an aircraft coming into land before taxiing along before me.

Emperor Dragonfly - male

Emperor Dragonfly – male

Satisfied with my results and grateful for another good hour of sport I went in search of the other Southern which Doug had found, but this fellow wasn’t playing ball at all. I’ve rarely found one this unsociable, choosing the furthest reaches and not once coming to investigate.

No matter, I’d had a fantastic day participating in my favourite sport with three most agreeable subjects.

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