Apologies again for the lack of a new post in a fortnight, but with this current spell of fantastic weather I simply hadn’t the time!
Such is the explosion of new life with all ponds and rivers in the New Forest now producing a wealth of species in good numbers, and if you were planning a visit now or anytime within the next few weeks should produce the goods.
As well as the forest there have been some planned journeys further afield, so in a change from the usual I will just add a few highlights from what has been a time of plenty.
Last Wednesday I joined the UKD crew at Goring for a Clubtail session, even though I had booked the following day. A fine time was had by all and it was a pleasure to meet some new faces.
I had promised to guide a fellow photographer around Goring the following day and my fears of a no-show soon disappeared as this one perched overhanging the water on a conveinient rape plant.
But the real highlight of the day was witnessing a full emergence, a process which took 45 minutes from split to fully pumped with a further 15 mintues before its virgin flight.
The full emergence sequence can be seen on my Flickr pages (link to the right)
For the weekend we had planned a trip to see the White-faced Darters at Chartley Moss in Staffordshire and were greeted with far better weather than last year.
Despite a stiff breeze we managed to see a fair number of males, females, tenerals and even one just emerged.
While yesterday it was back to home turf for my first in-flighter of the year
and a rare chance to tick a box with my first proper encounter with the beautiful Red-veined Darter
After the long wait can we finally get the summer we all deserve…
Familiarity can breed contempt and having done my weekly rounds in the New Forest I fancied a change. Working on a tip from Steve Covey, I decided a visit to Cotswold Water Park was well overdue.
I’d been there many times in the 80’s for little sailing expeditions with friends of mine but never knew that the site would gain extra significance later on in life.
Lower Moor Farm is a small Wiltshire Wildlife Trust site within the condos and water-sports complex with some very favourable sheltered rides alongside the lakes. However today a strong wind was spoiling any chances for opportunities.
Having walked around the reserve to ‘get a feel’ for it, I started again only to notice a freshly-emerged Downy Emerald climbing up the boardwalk.
Having achieved as good a shot as the position would manage, I continued into the first ride and found a better situated subject perching on the brambles.
My only other gripe, besides the wind, was the light.Awful for photography…and my subject wasn’t the the best of situations. But it was a Downy!
As she was such a willing subject I experimented with all manner of settings, using both cameras and both lenses. I even returned to the car to get the tripod…
I needed both the tripod and some fill flash, but can’t help feeling the latter interfered with the white balance to the extent that I’m still not happy with the results after several hours of ‘tweaking’ Need more practice, obviously!
I was also interested in trying a method Jerry introduced me to last season – using the camera’s screen to focus and compose the shot.
One advantage with this method is the ability to zoom in on your subject, offering a better view for fine focusing. Naturally you need a tripod, remote release and, in my opinion, manual focus to get the best results.
Grateful for finding my first Downy’s this season I decided to take a short detour on my way home to chance my luck with Club-tails on the Thames.
Arriving at Pangbourne I noticed with dismay that the lay-by had been closed. Luckily I found I could park at Beale Park further upstream and walk back down the path in the opposite direction.
Conditions were still gusty and to top it off a large black cloud drew in to cover the spot in darkness and throw down some rain. I sheltered under a willow and waited for it to pass.
With the reappearance of the sun, I spotted a few Banded Demoiselles along the path but alas no Club-tails among the foliage.
Reaching the lay-by I noticed two large trees had fallen across the path; maybe the reason for the lay-by closure?
A little disappointed I retraced my steps slowly looking for the tell-tale yellow among the bankside vegetation. Barely 100 metres and bingo!
Let’s not be greedy – to see any at all on such a day was a blessing.
I went out on Tuesday with the single-minded focus on two species and had came out trumps. Makes up for the wasted days I don’t report on, and there are quite a few this spring.
After such a fine weekend last week it’s a bit of a come down returning to find the New Forest is still way behind. During a brief lull in the rain, I did a quick round of Cadnam Common (nothing) and Broomy Pond, where I found only two Large Reds several hundred metres away from water nestled in the heather.
A promising weekend with good temperatures and, more importantly, sunshine meant that we should begin to finally wake up.
On Saturday however I concentrated on butterflies. Ironically the first photographs taken that morning were Large Reds perching in the bramble 140 meters above sea level!
After our butterfly flurry we called in at Canford Magna to witness the superb display of Mayflies dancing above the water. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first female Banded Demoiselles
followed shortly after by a beautifully fresh male
A quick call in at Troublefield revealed the cows have returned to the wrong field! That’s the meadow ruined for another year. Only compensation was a female Beautiful Demoiselle passing over the gate. No chance of a photo without a boat…
Sunday was better for sightings, although it took a while. First up a fresh Broad-bodied Chaser at Hatchet Small Pond, but alas no photo as it flew beyond the trees.
A walk around the sea wall at Keyhaven was extremely windy – unpleasant even – in what were clear skies. The only spot which provided any shelter was near the pond where we had a few Large Red and Blue-tailed Damsels.
Pennington proved better with Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed, Red-eyed and Beautiful Demoiselles – neither in large numbers – and no sign of any Hairy’s.
On a hunch we called into Crockford on the way home and were rewarded with another 6 Broad-bodied Chasers.
No real change in the terrible weather locally, but at least I managed to spot a Large Red at Pennington for the first time this season during a (very) brief spell of calm on Thursday.
The Bank Holiday weekend looked typically dire down here, but we had made plans to visit the Somerset Levels over two days. Saturday was cool & dull but productive with 4 species added to my list this season.
Doug, Sue & I started at Shapwick Heath where we managed our first Variables, some Azure and a few Large Reds. The banks, usually so productive, were hampered by a cold wind blowing across the river.
However we did find a perched female Red-eyed Damselfly
On to Westhay to meet up with Jerry & Mike where things looked more promising, with good numbers of Variable, Azure and Large Red. While Doug was busy shooting video, the rest of us took a walk to the far gate in hope of seeing some more Red-eyed and maybe some Blue-tailed.
Shortly after this find came a call from Doug, who had found a female Hairy – right at the other end! Walking as fast as possible without running, I arrived to find she was still in place, reluctant to fly in these cool conditions.
We had our fill as Doug spotted another a few metres away – this one with her wings still closed.
After photographing here from every angle we marvelled as she snapped her wings open, warmed herself up and took her first tentative flight, hovering briefly before settling back down again in the grass. An absolute joy to behold and for me the highlight of the weekend.
A better of perch provided the best shot of the day
Sunday’s weather looked more promising, with blue skies and even sunshine brightening our spirits as we reached the A303. Everything south of this line was under cloud. We arrived at midday and were barely out of the car when we spotted two Hairys flying overhead.
Shortly after I spotted our first chance as I followed a female to her perch.
A male flew by and landed just a few metres away.
We took a walk to the small clearing near the bird hide, spotting one Hairy and encountering a female Red-eyed who seemed to delight in making things as difficult as possible for us.
Back at the river bank we scoured either side of the path, but found the most action just inside the gate around the brambles. Having missed two opportunites with lively female Blue-tailed, Doug decided to get some video of a female Large Red.
I don’t know why I decided to delve further into the brambles, but I was glad I did so – as perched there on a leaf was our second male Hairy of the weekend.
Being possibly his only chance to get some Hairy footage this season, Doug was delighted. Anything else would be a bonus. We made our way to Westhay and busied ourselves with damsels either side of the path and around the bird hide.
I trundled off in search of Jerry & Mike and just as I caught sight of them a text came in saying they’d spotted a Four-spotted Chaser, but it had flew off before we reached them. While pausing to see where Doug was, a male Hairy landed right in front of me. Just enough time to grab a couple of shots before he flew off as I was phoning Doug.
Catching up with the boys we barely had time to greet each other before Jerry spotted yet another fresh female still with wings closed. Anxious and spurred on by the FSC sighting, I wandered off down the path in search of more, but decided to return to find she’d snapped her wings open and was warming up.
For the second time this weekend Jerry & I witnessed another virgin flight. Could it get any better? The answer came as we reached the far gate. Down in the grass was a nice,fresh Four-spotted Chaser.
We called Doug & Mike who sprinted down as fast as they could to get their fill. Species number 5 this weekend, and our 7th overall this season.
After pottering around among the grass near the gate, we returned to the halfway point to find Doug some more male Hairys. This time it was his turn to find the prize, and such was the perch that in order to get a decent angle for a shot without scaring him off we both resulted to crawling.
Last spot of the day was Jerry’s (he was on a roll), who saw a female land low down in what can only be described as difficult. She was also extremely well camouflaged and every time we took our eyes off, we had to search again even though she hadn’t moved!
Realising the time, the Bristol boys called it a day while us Southerners had one last go around. But by now the sun was hidden and the temperature had dropped so we counted our many blessings and we too reluctantly left this fabulous place.
There is no better place for sheer numbers IMO. Nowhere in the New Forest do we encounter such a fine display of damsels, where on a good day a walk past a hedge or through the grass can fill the sky with blue.
There is no better place that we know of where you can choose your subject based on composition. The abundance of reeds, sedges and grasses offer endless clutter-free perches with good isolation.
And for the magnificent Hairy Dragonfly, nowhere down here provides such numbers and therefore good chances for finding a perched individual without having to walk far or circle a body of water.
A fantastic weekend providing our two best dragonfly days so far this season.