Return To Avalon

Saturday 16th May

One word…Fabulous!

Certainly the best dragonfly day this season and the best ever encounters with Hairy Dragonfly and Scarce Chaser; not to mention the Four-spotted and Broad-bodied. A truly wonderful day and quite frankly I could leave it here and tease (or annoy) the hell out of you.

Let’s try a few comparisons. Kent last season at Westbere and Cliffe, (my previous nemesis) the Brilliant Emeralds at Ashdown Forest.; a good day at Crockford, Latchmore or Ober Water. Days to remember.

Where were we? The Somerset Levels on a very windy day; but at least the sun was shining. The strong breeze  would normally deter a dragonfly jaunt, but if the sun’s out and the temperature is high enough, they’ll be out.

A  few shockingly bad navigation errors on route meant we completely missed the A303 and witnessed some new scenic delights; which is all well and good if you’re on a road trip, but we had a mission and we couldn’t wait to get to our destination.

As it turned out, we arrived more or less on schedule. Them old Somerset ‘A’ roads can be quite friendly out of peak holiday season.

Wellies on and cameras primed, we went through the gate and busied ourselves with the damsels sheltering out of the wind in a bramble bush, trying to pick out the (New Forest unfamiliar) Variable from the swarms of Azures.

While we filtered through the damsels a male Hairy conveniently decided to perch right in front of me. First one of the day, closely followed by a female.

Hairy Dragonfly - female

Hairy Dragonfly – female

A better start you couldn’t have wished for.

As we travelled further down the track searching the grass for more damsels I flushed a Scarce Chaser, followed it for a while before we noticed more than a few more decorating the undergrowth.

Shortly after a few Four-spotted Chasers rose to join them, but the best was yet to come. The next location turned out to be the spot of the day; a cracking meadow which had all the signs of a perfect dragonfly feeding area.

Broad-bodied Chaser - immature male

Broad-bodied Chaser – immature male

Hairy’s, Scarce, Four-spotted and Broad-bodied stalking, feeding, sheltering; almost every footfall flushing out a new prize.

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) - immature male

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) – immature male

It certainly put Troublefield in it’s place.

Four-spotted Chaser - male

Four-spotted Chaser – male

We spent a couple of hours here before taking a stroll up the recently-extended Sweet Track; recently restored would be a better description, this being an old Neolithic route.

I must give proper praise to this superb sheltered path, bordered by a stream and peppered with bountiful clearings. Any dragonfly nut would feel they’d entered nirvana. Such a perfect setting which doesn’t disappoint.

Hairy Dragonfly - male

Hairy Dragonfly – male

After a spot of lunch we returned to the meadow and were joined by Jerry and Steve, who had spent the afternoon at Westhay. We had planned to move on to Westhay after Shapwick, but why bother? We had all we needed right here.

A very worthwhile day in the land of plenty.

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The Arrival of Spring

Wednesday 13th May

Now wasn’t Wednesday pleasant? My plan was to spend a few hours just chilling out at Troublefield; basking in the sunshine while Demoiselles and Butterflies decorating the skies.

But first I fancied scouting out a new area near Christchurch and having a quick jaunt around Ramsdown. Nothing doing, so back to my plan…which had already taken a diversion with a call from Doug asking if I was about. I was, so we arranged to meet at the meadow.

Not nearly as prolific as Monday, so I busied myself with a Beautiful Demoiselle while I waited.

Beautiful Demoiselle - immature male

Beautiful Demoiselle – immature male

A mating pair of Brown Argus provided the next challenge.

Brown Argus - mating pair

Brown Argus – mating pair

Pinning down Demoiselles while they’re fresh can be an enjoyable challenge, and getting them to remain still should they choose a perfect perch can be as frustrating. This male Banded chose to remain long enough to provide one of the better opportunities of the day.

Banded Demoiselle - immature male

Banded Demoiselle – immature male

Doug arrived shortly afterwards and we flushed through the undergrowth looking for something different. Thankfully we were rewarded with a female Broad-bodied Chaser.

Broad-bodied Chaser - immature female

Broad-bodied Chaser – immature female

















That proved to be it for larger species, so we moved on to Dunyeats Nature Reserve. Barely through the gate we had a female Hairy ovipositing among the reeds, while a Downy Emerald disappeared across the heath.

By far the most prolific were the Chasers, with at least half-a-dozen ‘blue’ males battling across the water and several fresh Four-spotted decorating the heath.

Four-spotted Chaser - immature female

Four-spotted Chaser – immature female

Damsels were represented by Large Red, Azure and a few Common Blue, which provided another new species for the season, while back in the reeds Doug noticed an emerging Four-spotted Chaser.

Four-spotted Chaser - emergent female

Four-spotted Chaser – emergent female

















A pleasant two hours sadly curtailed by the increasing cloud cover, but our first activity over water meant that Spring had finally arrived. Just in time for the following day’s washout!

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Come In No. 10

Sunday 10th May

On Sunday afternoon Sue & I nipped into Swanwick NR to check on progress. At the dipping pond was a solitary Large Red while in the grass surrounding were a couple of immature Azure.

One of the positive improvements has been the opening up of the stream, providing a perfect little sunny spot next to the footbridge. Although not in large numbers, the scrub threw up some more Large Red, more Azure and a few Blue-tailed. This proved to be the key spot here today.

More Azures and an immature Red-eyed populated the scrub inside the gate, and at the entrance to the fishing lake we saw our first Downy Emerald of the season. Unfortunately too high up in a tree to obtain anything but a lousy record shot, but at least we had a decent view as (she) flew off west over the treeline.

So species number ten this season; for those who are counting :-)

Monday 12th May
An incredibly frustrating day due to the weather. The forecast promised some sunny spells, so it should have been worth it? Alas an infinite gloom surrounded the south side of the forest, but I decided to carry on with my whistle-stop tour.

I was eager to check on progress at Badminston; the last news being the creation of a nature reserve from the old clay workings. The main lake is now under the ownership of Cadland Fisheries along with the attendant ‘keep out’ signs, but at least for now the plateau remains more or less intact bar the odd landscaping and increasing, in places, prohibitive growth.

A circular tour should have at least thrown up a Common Blue, but not in this gloom.

I don’t know why I chose to call in on Hawkhill. Well, to keep things up to date I suppose. It was just as I imagined. Fruitless. Mind you, so was the eastern corner of Hatchet Pond (the big ‘tourist’ one). The smaller ponds weren’t any better, with not so much as a Large Red showing themselves.

Ditto Crockford.

It wasn’t until Pennington that I finally saw signs of life. The fast-growing undergrowth providing a strong cast of immature Azures.

Azure Damselfly - immature male

Azure Damselfly – immature male

Alarmingly I didn’t see one Blue-tailed., just a few Large Red, a few each of Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles and a couple of Red-eyed.

Red-eyed Damselfly - immature female

Red-eyed Damselfly – immature female

Fed up with this claustrophobic gloom, I decided to head north to Troublefield. At least here I should find some treasure. I did. Pure gold, as the sun finally made an appearance. Barely over the gate I was greeted by my first Small Copper of the season. A good attendance from Small and Green-veined White, Orange-tip, Peacock, Comma and my first Brown Argus of the season.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus

Dragonflies were represented by more Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles – still low numbers, but most welcome, and almost an opportunity to get close enough to a Broad-bodied Chaser.

Broad-bodied Chaser - immature male

Broad-bodied Chaser – immature male

Another week and this micro-climate should really come alive, providing of course they keep the cattle at bay.

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The ‘Beautiful’ Valley

Saturday 9th May

One purpose on this changeable day…to find some Beautiful Demoiselles at Durley Mill.

I’d been checking every other day from the middle of last month, but it’s over a fortnight since I last visited due mainly to the weather. We needed a couple of days of uninterrupted sunshine to warm the valley.

Glad to say we were lucky today, although I knew they’d be around after recent sightings in Cornwall and Wales. The first immature male was found near the path, but I had to delve deeper into the valley to flush out a few more.

Beautiful Demoiselle - Immature male

Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature male

In all I’d say I found around eight males and four females, and I’m sure if I’d stayed longer I could’ve flushed out a few more; but I had what I came for.

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The Tortoise and The Hare

Monday 4th May
A Bank Holiday trip to Bentley Wood for the Pearl’s brought a welcome feeling of relief at the improved condition of the ponds! If I’m perfectly honest, I had no desire to take the walk; deeming it unnecessary and a probable disappointment after recent years.

Imagine my surprise to find the main pond has undergone a massive clean-up with the several trees – including the one on the island – and all the choking reeds removed. The surrounding area has been levelled to the extent you can actually see the pond from the path!

Although the only odo’s we found during our visit were Large Red, they were up considerably on previous seasons numbers. Give it a few weeks and this now very pleasant and picturesque pond should play host to a fabulous airshow of Chasers. Who knows, maybe even a Downy or two.

Our main reason for a visit were the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, for which they’ve done a fabulous job of creating suitable clearings, so well done to those responsible for woodland management at Bentley to include this long neglected pond in their improvement plan.

Pearl-bordered Fritallary

Pearl-bordered Fritallary

I very much look forward to including it once again in my seasonal rounds.

Thursday 7th
It’s been a few years since I’ve ventured to the Oxon/Berks border in search of the Club-tailed, but as there’s been a recent upsurge in interest I decided to do a scout; figuring if they’ve been seen as early as the 1st May on previous years, there may be a chance.

I arrived in Goring under heavy skies and a rather long shower; so long I decided to move on after waiting for it to clear. Thankfully as I approached Lower Basildon the rain stopped, so I decided to continue with a search along the south bank.

Those sunny spells were reluctant, but at least it was dry. Deciding to head upstream for a change, I checked every available patch of growth and all shoreline reeds I could get to, striking lucky at one particular small bay which had been used as a drinking spot by the present cattle.

The reeds had been half eaten, but on the remaining stems I discovered two spent (Common Club-tailed) exuvia. This filled me with renewed energy and faith and, after I removed one of the exuvia to take home, I retraced my steps and continued downstream to it’s furthest extent. I didn’t find any more exuvia, but I did at least encounter my first Banded Demoiselles of the season.

Bandede Demoiselle - immature male

Banded Demoiselle – immature male

Still driven on by faith, I returned to Goring and did a circuit, searching the bridge parapet and surrounding undergrowth to no avail, but at least there were a few more Banded.

Satisfied with my discovery I decided to call in at Bramshill Common on the way home in the hope of finding something else. It wasn’t long before I found my first Four-spotted Chaser rising from the reeds and giving me a welcome chase.

Four-spotted Chaser  - immature female

Four-spotted Chaser – immature female

A search of the clearing revealed a number of Large Red and a few Blue-tailed, as well as good numbers of Grizzled Skippers, ut by now the skies had darkened somewhat and it was noticeably cooler, so I didn’t expect much else.

Thankfully a favourite little hollow contained an array of sheltering damsels – more Large Red, a few more Blue-tailed and my first Azure and Red-eyed of the season.

I’m glad I called in!

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Jumping The Gun

Once again we’ve been spoiled by a fortnight of glorious temperatures which kick-started the emergence of many species across the south and elsewhere, but things appear to have come to a juddering halt around here for now.

I thought a shower might raise the Demoiselles, but already we’re a fortnight behind last year’s emergence; which is probably normal. The foliage is growing nicely, offering much needed shelter, but where management has been, shall we say, a tad severe, the situation is a tad bleak.

A return visit to Titchfield on Monday should have produced an improvement on the previous week, but all I could muster this time around were a couple each of Large Red and Blue-tailed.

Blue=tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - female rufescens

Blue=tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – female rufescens

My second visit this season to Cadnam Common at least provided me with a couple of flighty Broad-bodied Chasers. Flighty enough to elude me, and eager as I was to chase them across bog and moor, they’ll be plenty more to choose from soon.

A welcome splash of rain is giving me chance to step back a little;  a little over-eager as usual so soon in the season. The frost yesterday morning should have warned me to stay indoors, but I couldn’t refuse the sunshine regardless of the temperature.

As it was I found nothing at Swanwick Nature Reserve and little else (except Large Red and Blue-tailed) at Pennington, Crockford (Large Red) or Hatchet Moor (Large Red again).

I could dig deeper and spend hours looking for hidden treasures, but is it worth it? Best wait another week at least, or certainly until the mercury rises above 15C, the wind drops and there is plenty to get my teeth into :-)

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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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