Our delightful climate has delayed this year’s season,; a couple of pond emergence’s and the first wild sightings (as usual) down in Cornwall. I had to wait until my third foray before I struck lucky at Town Common today, with a mass emergence of at least fifty to keep me busy.
My previous two outings have concentrated on Town Common and Broomy Pond – usually good contenders and the first to yield results. Surprisingly the pond which usually shows first at Town Common took a back seat this time in favour of a more sheltered pond.
It’s always a pleasure to witness these first flutters, and the chance to reacquaint myself with the camera and my (lack of) stealth, clumsy to the point of embarrassment first thing in the season. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to readjust and I spent a good couple of hours within this small glade enjoying the (long overdue) sunshine.
With a good spell of prolonged warmth and calmer winds I should imagine we’ll see a few other species join them before the month is out.
Remember that early Spring bounty when most species of dragonfly (and butterfly) emerged two to three weeks ahead of schedule? I remember cynically thinking at the time they’ve emerged early because they know it’s going to be a lousy summer. I wish I had been wrong.
The weather changed from glorious sunshine to unpredictable and mostly miserable conditions. When the sun did appear it didn’t stay around long enough to maintain a decent temperature to provide those fabulous displays over water.
I hadn’t been out on my own on my patch for a month partly due to a Scottish break and a bout of illness, but mostly because conditions weren’t favourable enough. I couldn’t just let the season fizzle out so decided to spend a few hours at Bramshill.
I didn’t expect much but in choosing Bramshill with its mix of habitats I did expect to at least have some willing subjects to engage with.
An initial scout around the ponds only produced a female Common Emerald and the odd Common or Ruddy Darter rising from the over-growth; conditions here have deteriorated enough to render the clearing almost impassable in dry conditions, let alone sodden.
Hawker Alley didn’t show any hawkers or darters, just an occasional Common Blue damselfly; those once bountiful little pockets reclaimed by scrub. At the shoreline a couple of Migrant Hawkers brightened the outlook and I spent a quarter of an hour attempting to pin down one of the males.
Passable, but I needed better. Unfortunately everything fell silent as the last light of the sun became obscured by a belt of sombre cloud, stealing all of the warmth from the air.
For 90 minutes I patiently waited for it’s return, the boredom occasionally relieved by a couple of tired Brown Hawkers, an ovipositing pair of Common Darters, a Ruddy choosing yours truly as a perch.
One delightful moment when a Kingfisher came in, seemingly undisturbed by my presence as he grabbed something from the center of Long Lake before flitting back & forth along the far shore.
At 2.00pm I took a walk back to the ponds to be greeted by less than earlier, walked around to the far back of Long Lake and returned to my favoured spot to find a pair of Migrants perched.
Another hour of waiting ankle-deep for a subject to engage with before I’d had enough. I decided to call in at the ponds one last time, relieved to find a Southern Hawker holed up in a gorse bush.
The lack of any other Southern sightings, the paucity of Common Darters and other expected species felt like mid-October rather than mid-September. Everywhere was overgrown and wet from a summer of seemingly endless showers.
In answer to my cynical thoughts early season I optimistically hoped for a late heatwave and burst of delayed activity. I’m still waiting…
A day of pick ups with Aaron provided an excellent moment with a real favourite of mine; the Moorland Hawker. As if on cue my subject appeared from nowhere to do a few circuits of a small pond and as I waited for the right moment he found a female within the rush and, after a brief tussle, she flew off with him in pursuit.
Shortly afterwards he returned to inspect the other end of the pond, guided by scent to another female perfectly hidden underneath the bank, which he grabbed and dunked before successfully latching on and flying off to the trees in the mating wheel.
Saturday 26th August
Having fallen in love with the Highlands in June we decided to grab a few days over the Bank Holiday weekend. Although this wasn’t a dragonfly trip we couldn’t resist revisiting Laide Wood, and what a delight to experience this fabulous site without the driving wind encountered back in June.
The path down was peppered with Highland and Black Darters while near the burn I had my first Moorland Hawker – a female – rise from the heather to pursue a Mountain Ringlet. Shortly afterwards a male landed path side on the heather allowing my first opportunity.
The lochan on the edge of the woods with the hide needed a look, and both Darters were present around the shore, but we continued to Loch na Cathrach Duibhe where the open aspect and access is far superior. The sunny clearing was perfect for Moorland Hawkers coming in to feed either among the heather or around the trees.
The shores produced several more Darters but we kept our eyes on the clearing, because you never knew what might fly in next.
We took an alternative path back to reach another sunny clearing where we watched at least a dozen Moorland Hawkers feeding along the treeline and coming in to perch.
On our last visit we only saw female Highland Darters so were pleased to encounter several males, including an immature male taking the warmth from a convenient log.
Up until now my go-to place for Moorlands had been Priddy Mineries in Somerset. After our visit today I feel I have a new favourite. Just a shame it’s more than a couple of hours away!
Towards the tail end of our long drive to the Highlands I was determined to experience the famous Bealach na ba pass on the Applecross peninsula. After scaring Sue to death (she suffers from vertigo) we stopped so she could recover while I took in the view. To ease the drive down I pulled in to a parking spot halfway down.
A short distance from the car park was a boggy pool. Flying low across the water was a large dragonfly which on closer inspection turned out to be an Emerald. Before I could grab the camera with the right lens attached he rose and flew across the mountain.
Now being skeptical and no photo to scrutinise I passed it off as just a welcome encounter while we continued our journey.
Two days later we took a walk up Flowerdale. On our way back down we had an Emerald flying along the trees feeding. Having done a little more research I can only assume these were indeed Northern Emerald (Somatochlora arctica) as it’s far too late for Downy and the Brilliant isn’t found this far north.
Once again a combination of unforeseen inconveniences and unsuitable weather has prevented me taking advantage of a few seasonal trips this year. I had planned sessions with the Common Club-tail, Green-eyed (Norfolk) Hawker, Brilliant Emerald at a favourite watering hole and maybe even a trip to Essex for the Southern Migrant.
With the last of our resident species now on the wing I was determined to connect with the Willow Emerald. They are spreading westward year on year, but as yet haven’t reached Hampshire. We therefore decided to pay a return visit to East Kent where friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Marc Heath is lucky enough to live close to a strong population of this stunning damselfly.
We had a three hour window of sunny intervals before the rain came, however the wind put pay to any over-water activity. Thankfully a few sunny, sheltered pockets at the edge of the woods offered just enough opportunities this visit.
As we walked back and forth along the path I wondered just how many there were basking out of sight in the canopy, as their default direction of flight from disturbance was upwards.
The dappled light of those sunny clearings and their tendency to perch just a tad too high made for some interesting opportunities and I found myself having to work a little harder than usual to find the shot I wanted.
A few individuals were perching along the bank of the ditch, perhaps in anticipation of a prolonged sunny spell which didn’t materialise, and a glance north-east revealed a belt of gloom heading our way.
The only other notable residents here today were a male Southern, a couple of Brown and a fair showing of Migrant; the latter bouncing along the treeline feeding before resting up in anticipation of the impending rain shower.
There is no better barometer than insect behaviour. Being warned of an incoming shower by their disappearance is certainly more reliable than the weather apps which seemed to be disagreeing with each other.
The rain shower and sudden drop in temperature meant we were probably done for today so we decided to visit a local hostelry for a drink and a chat before taking the long drive home.
Yes, a mating or tandem pair would have been nice but I’ve learned to become patient and have something to look forward to next time rather than having it all at once; a discipline which keeps the fire burning and desires keen.
Hopefully we can make a return journey before the main season winds down, although our early Spring risers and disappointingly wet Summer might mean we’re in for a treat come September.
I had a couple over from Kent for a field trip in the New Forest who wished to see the Golden-ringed. When leading I usually take a back seat , going in for a shot once my charges have had their fill. An obliging male Golden-ringed allowed me to experiment with using a wide angle lens; something I’ve always wanted to try.
The only wide angle lens I have is the kit lens bundled with my D60 purchase back in 2008. I wanted to capture more of the surroundings, however it’s quite obvious I need to rethink my settings as I ended up with a more or less isolated shot.
Tuesday 15th August
Tuesday offered the right conditions for a session with filmmaker Aaron Cook, featuring the lowland heath at the western fringes of the New Forest. Deciding the open heath was the best place to start, Aaron was immediately impressed by the dynamic colours provided by the heather & ling surrounding shallow peaty ponds.
A willing male Black Darter was the ideal first subject to start with.
As usual the first day after a period of rain activity around the ponds is muted, and I can’t help worrying the inclement weather has played it’s part diminishing the populations. If they can’t eat, they can’t survive.
Those that do see it through spend the first sunny day wisely building up their energy reserves, and across the road in a sunny clearing the hawkers were having a feeding frenzy. A couple of Brown, a male Southern and countless Migrants were scouring the treeline or bouncing along the heather and gorse.
Most of the Migrant are immature males and females and are a little nervous to approach, however there are a few who appear to switch off, allowing a close approach with the macro.
Wednesday 16th August
On my first free day for a long while I headed over to Bentley Wood and was immediately aware of the lack of damsels, just a lone Common Blue resting up on the bank. The Ruddy Darters however were in impressive numbers; possibly the best I’ve seen here, all playfully elusive or frustratingly choosing to perch against aesthetics.
Another fabulous sight were the 50+ Brimstone, both male and female, and a few Large White feeding on the Fleabane and Thistle.
Over water activity was very disappointing, with just a male Emperor patrolling the far shore. I must have waited two hours before I had a Southern Hawker pop in briefly for 30 seconds.
A male Southern being perfectly cryptic against the carpet of Water Lily makes for a challenging subject, and I was grateful for the opportunity, albeit very brief.
Not a lot else dragonfly-wise going on except for half-a-dozen Migrant feeding along the edge of the wood. A shot or two to come home with though.
Damian Pinguay found a Southern Migrant Hawker female at one of his local reserves and we arranged to meet Steve Covey there in the hope of a sighting. Always a risky venture, but we fancied a drive and a day spent in unfamiliar surroundings with pleasant company was a welcome change.
We arrived before Steve and met another Steve (Birt) on site, a Flickr buddy and Facebook contact. Always a pleasure and the more eyes the better. After our introductions we proceeded to survey the site in the hope of striking lucky.
During a rare sunny moment we noticed a brown female ‘hawker’ prospectively searching for suitable ovipositing sites. Not A. mixta but what? Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to ID for sure as her visit was brief and elusive.
Steve Covey arrived shortly after and we all kept our eyes peeled until boredom set in and we chose to make the most of any sunny spell by attempting to find a willing subject. If our prize was here, she’ll show herself.
Ruddy Darters always frustrate and amuse me with their teasing chase. When you think you have the blighter pinned down he invariably twitches his head or abdomen just slightly off linear to keep you busy.
There was a male Emperor present on both pools, visits by a female, a few Black-tailed Skimmers with frequent pairings and a late, but undamaged Four-spotted Chaser. It was the sighting of a Small Red-eyed which made the day for Steve C though; a first for this site.
My resident Emperor grabbed a passing Meadow Brown and settled perfectly on a bank-side sapling for my best opportunity of the day.
Thursday 10th August
Always a gamble going out on the first sunny day after a period of inclement weather. Still they had to eat, right? So over to Hawker Alley at Ramsdown where a male Southern, a couple of male Brown and countless immature Migrants of both sexes were having a feeding frenzy.
My next sighting was Doug Overton, the first time we’d seen each other since early season. We took a stroll around the ponds before returning and while Doug decided to go over to Blashford Lakes I persevered and attempted to refocus my rusty stealth.
For the most part they preferred to perch within the shadows and shade of gorse ruining any chance of isolation and patience was the order of the day, waiting for them to perch more pleasingly and, most importantly, not immediately fly away.
Not many Black but quite a few Common Darters, this immature female proving hard to resist.
Again not a lot to engage with, but it was a chance to get out, appreciate some sunshine and get back to basics. Summer’s not over yet.
I would like to express my apologies for the website being down since Sunday. Thankfully it now appears to be intermittently online but two days outage due to ‘a server problem’ by my hosting company is frankly unacceptable in this day and age.
Here’s their response:-
‘We are currently experiencing problems with UKC04 regarding all services. We have stopped all services and are currently running a full restore of this server to the original hardware. We will then upgrade the Hardware, Software (to Plesk Onyx) and Operating System to the very latest revision.
We are working with our upstream partners eUKHOST and can assure you that we have our best engineers dedicated to the task of returning full service as soon as possible.
In the meantime, please be patient while the restore process completes. We have a full and complete backup of all data which is verified to be intact from the evening of August 5th.
The hardware provision and setup can take up to 48 hours. However, if upon completion of the restore (24 hours) the server operates satisfactorily then we will re-schedule the hardware upgrade to take place weekend 13th August and bring the server back online.
We will update this page once the restore completes. Please do not trouble the help desk staff for updates, they can only direct you to this page. The server team will update this page directly at each point.’
That cop-out outlined in blue and this being the second occurrence is why I’m considering a change of host. If anyone can suggest a reliable, sensibly priced alternative – preferably by annual contract – I’d be most grateful if you can let me know via Twitter of Facebook message.
Now that most, if not all, set-backs are remedied I did hope to catch up with a few favourite places. Unfortunately, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the weather had other ideas! Two favourable days a couple of weeks ago and very little since.
At least the sun was shining on Monday, and I’m thinking windy or not those dragonflies would relish a day in the open. First call was Town Common to have my session with the Black Darters and hopefully some Small Red and Common Emerald, however the latter were not prepared to brave the breeze in significant numbers.
Black Darters are hardy and are the dragonfly equivalent of the tough northerner going out on a freezing mid-winter night in just a t-shirt and this southern breeze wasn’t keeping them from enjoying themselves.
After a quick look up the path for any roosting hawkers I returned to the ponds to grab (the few) opportunities present and decided to call in at Ramsdown for a gander. Sure enough I was barely through the gate before the hawkers showed themselves; a male Brown naturally showing umbrage at my passing and a female Migrant who couldn’t decide whether she wanted to land again.
At the clearing I found a bevy of Migrant all vying for attention with a couple more Brown and a male Southern, although the latter wasn’t yet as accommodating enough to wait for a lens change.
The true hawkers were joined by a male and female Emperor and this rather splendid Golden-ringed.
This marvelous little micro climate suffered an infestation of Heather Beetle two years ago which killed off all the heather along with the populations of feeder insects. Thankfully after two years it’s now starting to recover and with plentiful food and shelter it’s a magnet for the hawkers.
A pleasant day to indulge then, and worth staying out a little later.
Experience has taught me to forget those days which, although sunny, can be too cool or too windy to achieve satisfactory results. Tuesday was neither too cool or too windy but still disappointed. A lesson learned a few years back was to allow at least a day of sunshine before venturing out.
Of course cabin fever drives ambition and after several disappointing days of inclement weather the sun broke through, and I decided to take a trip to Priddy Mineries to connect with a favourite, the Moorland (Common) Hawker (Aeshna juncea to sticklers).
The journey, naturally delayed before I even left Southampton, was predictably slow due to the granny chariots choosing to leave at the same time as yours truly to do whatever they choose to do. Hold up traffic on the A36 perhaps?
Thankfully the journey is part of the experience, and the chance to drive through delightful countryside whilst stepping back in time to a slower pace of life should at least be rewarded with a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?
Unfortunately not today. The weather was perfect; just the occasional light, white whispers of cloud adjusting the temperature comfortably and allowing the Emperors to cease their endless patrols and perch up for a short while.
They certainly needed it! Every single male I saw were battle-scared and tired after a long session of territorial disputes with their own and others. Likewise the Chaser and Skimmers. Only the Darters looked pristine; Ruddy, Black and Common at the start of their dominance.
Talking of Skimmers I found a male Keeled at the boggy corner, the first time I have seen this species at this site and good news for Somerset to potentially have a new colony.
I chose today because a few years back we had the most spectacular display of Moorland Hawkers around the boggy corner. As it was there was only a brief showing of a male here, another at the entrance, a couple way too far over water for engagement and a female tentatively ovipositing around the margins.
I must have surrounded the pond half-a-dozen times looking for agreeable subjects and I even popped across the road into the woods in case they were hiding out. Two Migrant Hawkers were; a male and female hunting along the treeline, both immature and not ready for the pond just yet.
It was gone lunchtime before I found a Moorland I could engage with. His territory patrol consisted of flying out in a descending arc towards the center of the pond from the margins, rinse, repeat and occasionally come into shore to start his descent from the treeline.
Difficult to pick out against the foliage, the contrast played havoc with the light meter – remember you don’t have time to adjust when tracking – resulted in a rather pleasing image.
It wasn’t long before he too flew out of reach and opportunity so I took another stroll around the pond, stopping a while to observe e female Brown Hawker ovipositing into the perfect log.
That’s a long trip for little reward, but I’ve had worse. I shall return!
Given some unusual good weather I met up with Richard Peglar to the New Forest delights and to locate a few of his most wanted species. The Keeled were the first to show just in from the road with a couple of males present, closely followed by Beautiful Demoiselles, Southern Damselflies and our first of several Golden-ringed.
Such was the amount of activity that it took a while for us to reach the key area where an Emperor was holding court over the pool – a different individual from two weeks prior as this one didn’t have a leg dangling down!
The Keeled, although plentiful, weren’t as dominating as a fortnight ago but they were still in good numbers; even a few tenerals still rising from the heather and the occasional female.
However it was the Golden-ringed who really impressed with about a dozen separate individuals present between the bridge and the mire.
Southern Damselflies were in good numbers and there were reasonable numbers of Small Red – quite a few paired up 50+ metres uphill from the stream canoodling in the heather.
Needless to say Richard was more than satisfied on the species on offer, and a quick look in at Ipley Cross provided some Black Darters for us both to add to our yearly – or indeed – life list.
Tuesday 18th July
Today it was a guided tour around Bramshill. I had received an email from Terry Walker who despite having spent several days at the site he’d barely encountered a thing and decided a few pointers were needed in field craft.
Barely down the track we encountered Beautiful Demoiselles in their usual sunny corner, along with the usual supporting cast of Common Blue and Blue-tailed.
The grassy track provided perfectly today with male and female Emperor and immature Southern and Migrant Hawkers feeding along the treeline; the latter two stopping to perch, and a pleasing bonus for yours truly as these were my first sightings this season.
Of course the problem with gorse is it rarely provides a golden photo opportunity but I was happy enough to grab a couple of record shots until later when both will be more agreeable.
Next a tour of the pond clearing, which is desperately overgrown and in need of a shave, or failing that some more foot traffic to keep the vague path clear. A couple of Brown Hawkers and Emperor were present along with Azure, Common Blue, Emerald and Blue-tailed and at the green pool they were joined by Black-tailed and Keeled Skimmers, Common and Ruddy Darters and a male Broad-bodied Chaser.
At Long Lake the Black-tailed Skimmers were way down on numbers but still enough to keep the interest up while more Common Darters and the odd Migrant Hawker paraded down hawker alley.
At the shore we made our way along to the rushes admiring the over-water activity where a couple of hardy Four-spotted Chasers were hanging on in there with a tired Emperor and equally subdued Brown Hawker.
Across the lake more Chaser, Skimmer and even Darter action sharing space with a male and Emperor and a female Brown Hawker ovipositing into the shady shallows. Besides the swarms of Common Blue and plentiful Emeralds were both large and Small Red-eyed damselflies, perfect for showing the difference.
Needless to say Terry got to appreciate the wonders of Bramshill by taking a little more time to explore and the Southern and Migrant were a nice bonus for yours truly. Now all we need is a little more sunshine so I can get out and indulge myself.