A well-earned rest on Monday meant Tuesday was the first trip out to the New Forest, tackling two streams – Latchmore Brook and Ober Water.
First off Latchmore. This location has been useless to me for the past two years with the weather either too cool, too windy or just plain dull. At least today the sun was shining!
Just out of the car park I spotted my one and only Golden-ringed of the day hawking the hedges, but not sticking around. Further upstream Beautifuls were dancing, although nowhere near as many as there should be.
Teneral Keeled Skimmers were popping up everywhere on the heath, but my goal were the Scarce Blue-tailed.
I saw my first one here 3 years ago and haven’t found any since! Obviously not looking in the right place, but my previous two visits this season to the right place revealed nothing.
Today however there were 2 males hovering across the small pool when the sun broke through. I stayed for about an hour and didn’t see any more, but at least I now know where to go.
On the way back downstream I stopped at the boggy pond to watch the Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers, joined shortly after by a Downy Emerald.
Other damsels seen at Latchmore were Southern, Azure, Large and Small Red.
Onto Ober Water and again there were a few Beautiful Demoiselles, Large Red and Azure patrolling the stream in small numbers. At the bend there were 2 or 3 male Scarce Blue-tailed and (the normal) Blue-tailed a little further on.
These were joined by a few Southerns and a reasonable selection of White-legged.
Rising from the heath were teneral Large & Small Reds and the inevitable Keeled Skimmers.
The only other large species was a male Broad-bodied Chaser near Rhinefield Bridge.
During my walk down Latchmore and Ober Water I lost my phone, probably during the fall down a boggy hole, so if anyone reading this finds an old samsung slide-action mobile on theie travels, I’d be grateful if you drop me an e-mail!
On Wednesday I headed up the A3 to Bolder Mere – a large pond close to the junction with the M27 – on the advice of Stephen and Linda from the forum. The chance sighting of a Brilliant Emerald securing a visit.
My first impressions was this is precisely the type of pond I find unenjoyable, mainly due to the lack of bank-side access. The other problem with wooded ponds in urban recreational areas is the flotsam polluting the sheltered corners and inlets – a foul-smelling danger for paddling even in wellies.
I did see one Emerald patrolling the entrance to one of these corners, but I’m pretty sure it was a Downy. Other odos of note were a few Four-spotted Chasers, some Black-tailed Skimmers and a wealth of damsels, Red-eyed in particular rather plentiful.
Along the far bank is an open area with better access and lots of foliage where odos hide. A particularly productive spot with more of the same plus a female Emperor which disappeared out of sight. Several more Red-eyed Damsels though and some Blue-tailed.
Anxious to do a full circuit, and eager to get to Thursley, I didn’t give the spot enough time to reveal it’s full benefits, but the disappearance of the sun called time.
At Thursley the Moat pond had a few Downy’s and some damsels, but even in the brief sunny spells activity was muted.
My favourite spot is far too boggy to explore to its full potential, so I did a figure-of-eight circuit of the boardwalks, noticing that even the FSC’s were not going to play in this gloom, despite the temperatures being reasonable.
Frustrated by the lack of odo activity, I decided to just sit and watch the pond from the boardwalk, and remained there for 3 whole hours watching the Hobby’s hunting the odd brave Four-spot.
Captivating and inspirational, and ending up being the highlight of my day. The full series can be viewed here:-
The current depression continues weather-wise, although I won’t let it get me down. The thought of another week of the same fills you with frustration though. But isn’t this just more of the same, and what we’ve come to expect?
We’ve had a superb fortnight of fruitful activity with a decent long spell of good weather, which makes it difficult to contend with the lows.
As superb as a summer of unbroken sunshine can seem, the realities are a climate such as ours cannot sustain long periods of hot, dry weather without consequences for us and more importantly for the insects, which in turn affect the whole eco-system.
This doesn’t of course satisfy the dragonfly enthusiast or photographer, but having witnessed two years of disappointments punctuated with days to remember, you learn to make the best of a situation.
So with this and the forecast in mind I waited until the clouds dispersed enough on Wednesday to allow a late glimmer of sunshine and made my weekly pilgrimage to my favourite pond.
Arriving at 3.30pm there was nothing immediately present across the water, but then the sun had yet to appear. A quick survey of the gorse thicket revealed male & female Broad-bodied Chaser, a fresh Four-spotted Chaser and, surprisingly, a fresh Common Darter. The latter unfortunately wouldn’t allow a photo.
When the sun did appear, so did the chasers across the pond, with Four-spotted battling and Broad-bodied pairing, mating and the female ovipositing shortly after.
The male kept guard, rising occasionally to shoo off curious Four-spotted.
While I was watching this drama, I noticed the first damsels. Further circuits of the pond revealed Large Red, Azure, Common Blue and Blue-tailed damselflies, but only in one’s or two’s when on a good day there would be hundreds.
Activity over the pond continued while the sun shone, and after 5.00pm when the temperature started to drop the Broad-bodied perched up.
The Four-spotted continued to patrol and, realising that was probably it for the day, I decided to retire myself – but not before a lone male Downy Emerald made a late appearanace at 5.30pm.
He only stayed for 10 minutes, possibly warmed enough for a late afternoon hunt & snack, he circled me a few times before disappearing off with his prey.
When I first discovered this pond by accident 4 years ago while trekking through an area of the New Forest I hadn’t previously visited, it was one of those life-time moments. This was the very pond which turned me on to dragonflies.
So to see it provide a glimpse of that first encounter for (probably) the first time this year filled me with renewed hope that this season has yet to really start…
Thursday was a butterfly day. A yearly visit to Collard Hill in Somerset for the Large Blue. In typical fashion the first sighting were damsels sharing the same sheltered spot on the hill, far from water.
After I had my fill with the butterflies, I called in at Westhay Moor for a quick look. No dragons, but quite a few damsels laying up ready for the rain.
I took a rest on Friday to prepare for our weekend trip to Norfolk.
We arrived at Strumpshaw Fen just after noon on Saturday and did a full circuit in the horrendous wind. Very little shelter, but we did see several Four-spotted Chasers – the predominet species of the weekend, and towards the end of the walk our first Norfolk Hawkers!
No-one had told me they fly at the same speed and distance as Brown Hawkers! We had three fly-bys along the back stretch and also several sightings of Black-tailed Skimmers
and Hairy Dragonflies.
We decided to return to the only sheltered spot – a small, bright clearing along the woodland walk not far from the visitor centre.
More FSC’s and our first Broad-bodied Chaser seen that day.
Also in the same glade was a Scarce Chaser.
This glade seemed to be where all the late afternoon action was. A perfect grazing area for hungry dragonflies. Every now & again one would pop up from the perch to grab a passing snack, the greediest being a male Hairy.
Then came the first highlight – possibly the best – of the weekend.
A female Norfolk Hawker appeared, flew straight towards us, hovered inches in front of Sue, then inches in front of me – close enough to look straight into her eyes.
And then she landed on my chin with her head resting on my bottom lip! It only lasted a couple of seconds, but such was the experience it felt like a couple of minutes.
Kissed by a dragonfly. It doesn’t get much better than that!
She continued flying around the clearing before disappearing low down and out of sight in inaccessible reeds. So no photo opportunity, but I ended the day on a real high.
On Sunday we headed over to Hickling Broad. The journey felt like a different country with quite possibly the best road-side verges I’ve seen on our mainland, full of Poppies and other wild flowers.
The traditional cottages, old lanes and peaceful water courses was a step back in time. I had no idea Norfolk could be so beautiful.
Unfortunately my mood was lowered on arrival at Hickling Broad. I can’t help feeling that a charge of £4.50 per adult for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site is daylight robbery! That’s more expensive than the RSPB sites.
But I suppose it keeps the idiots away. However the rudeness and unhelpfulness of the chap at the visitor centre who only cared about taking our money put me in a foul mood.
It had better be worth it!
Luckily it was and my mood was soon lifted by our first ever sighting of a Swallowtail butterfly. This was soon followed by several more as the sun broke through. Truly an excellent sight to see them in flight, and even better to have them land close by to feed on Yellow Flag Iris.
No Norfolk Hawkers to be seen, but a fair number of Four-spotted Chasers, Black-tailed Skimmers and Hairys.
Next stop Upton Fen. Difficult to find and hidden away down a narrow lane, this location proved the best of the weekend. A magical place where you can follow the ditches which offer excellent views of the patrolling dragons and damsels.
Just inside the gate we had our second sighting that day of a Norfolk Hawker, the first being on the journey over hawking above a road-side verge.
This was another female hawking the ride and feeding on the wing before disappearing out of sight deep down in the reeds.
She rose a few times and even flew close to check us out. Again no photo opportunities, but I’m now convinced the (female) Norfolk beats the Southern hands down for curiosity!
By now Sue was getting anxious that I hadn’t managed a shot, so we continued exploring the fen and followed increasingly dodgy paths to gain access to the ditches.
Wellies are a must, but a bad wellie and sock combination the previous day resulted in a painful heat rash which prevented me from wearing anything other than a pair of light walking boots.
At one point Sue disappeared up to her knees in a hole!
It must’ve been a sign, because shortly afterwards I saw a male Norfolk Hawker appear along the ditch and land on the opposite bank. I couldn’t believe my luck!
Perfect. My only photo opportinity the weekend, but one is all I need. Now I could relax.
We didn’t see any more until we returned to the car park where the female was still in attendance, but activity over the water was superb with more Four-spotted Chasers, Black-tailed Skimmers, Hairy Dragonflies and Azure, Large Red, Blue-tailed and Variable damselflies.
The surrounding reeds threw up several more photo opportunities for those plentiful Four-spotted Chasers.
I could have stayed at the Upton Fen for the rest of the day, but time was moving on too quickly and we decided to call in at Strumpshaw once more on the way home. Just more of the same, damsels, FSC’s and Hairy’s, but at close to 6.00pm with the temperature dropping this was all we could expect.
So a fantastic and productive weekend which took a while to get going but produced the goods in the end with two more ‘lifers’ to add to my list.
If you’re thinking of visiting Norfolk in June, stop thinking and go for it. I will definitely be making this a yearly pilgrimage.
I’ve learned not to rely on supposed predictable behaviour, especially when it comes to visiting a reliable site where even in the coolest weather you could at least hope to see something.
One Azure was all I managed at the pond on Monday – a Bank Holiday Monday when the whole nation was gearing up for Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Even at the pond this hadn’t gone un-noticed, with the small promontory rigged with a beacon. Granted, the summit – albeit rather modest – provides a fabulous view of south Wiltshire.
I was beginning to think the dragons had loped off to a party themselves!
Luckily I had a back-up plan and travelled the short(ish) distance to Bentley Wood to hopefully catch some Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies settling down to roost.
As soon as we entered the Eastern clearing we were greeted by a Broad-bodied Chaser taking advantage of this sheltered and humid environment, shortly followed by another.
Typical! You go to a pond and find (almost) nothing, and switch your quarry only to find dragons in the realm of the butterfly! Luckily I love both.
Tuesday was a washout, and Wednesday more of the same, but there was the odd small blue patch breaking through. Unfortunately not enough to raise the temperature sufficiently to tease the insects out of their hiding places.
Regardless I did a little scouting trip just over the county border in Surrey. Last summer I kayaked down a section of the Basingstoke Canal, and paddled through an open, reed-lined sunny stretch populated with damsels and Brown Hawkers.
After doing further research I found out this very stretch is also a prime spot for Brilliant Emeralds earlier in the season, so I had to check it out. The canal is bordered on both sides by small lakes with plenty of lush vegetation and tree cover.
It would be a promising spot for odos on a fine summer’s day, and unfortunately this wasn’t it. However I did manage Common Blue, Large Red, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies.
The close proximity to Thursley means it can easily be included in a day trip, and as it was on the way I had to check out Thundry Meadows Nature Reserve.
Not long into the reserve I spotted a female Broad-bodied Chaser, but this was to be the only larger species spotted in this gloom. At least the Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles were happy to show themselves along the banks of the River Wey.
Once again, given a sunny day, I imagine this reserve to be buzzing with insect life. Certainly no excuse to not pay a visit when at Thursley, unless the latter provides the goods and wears you out!
Unfortunately Thursley was a disappointment. A few damsels seen, but not one Four-spotted Chsser, which didn’t bode well.
After searching high & low, I returned via the far bank of The Moat and as if to mock the weather, or brighten my day, a Downy appeared. He did a couple of fly-bys before disappearing back into that place where all dragons hide.
Still a reasonable count of 8 species on a dull, rainy day and some promising new locations to add to my agenda.
The unsettled weather reached a peak on Thursday with torrential downpours and gale-force winds. Not a day for venturing out!
Friday brought a break in the rain, although there were a few small showers blown in by still very strong winds. I decided to give Latchmore Brook and Ober Water a try
Not having spotted one odo at Latchmore I continued on to Ober Water.
Having planned a walk on Saturday, I did a scout and had to give up my usual route at the first crossing. The deluge yesterday had raised the stream to such an extent that the banks were well & truly breached. I couldn’t follow my usual course, and ended up having to follow the treeline to reach the boggy areas downstream.
Again, not one odo could be found. Nothing hiding in the reeds, sheltering in the ferns or along the wooded edge. Even the forest rides were devoid of insects.
Being the best day of the weekend, Saturday was devoid of rain (except the odd spot or two), overcast and threatening a sunny spell. Unfortunately the latter wasn’t enough to raise the temperature to a comfortable level for good activity.
Good indicators are the amount of Large Red, Azure and Beautiful’s enjoying the stream along the length of Ober Water, and considering the previous days flooding I for one was apprehensive. so we were surprised to find the levels had dropped overnight to allow the usual access.
Surprisingly our first sighting of anything was a male Scarce Blue-tailed, just the one, but convenient as this was a ‘lifer’ for our guest.
Further downstream we did see the odd Beautiful, a few teneral White-legged, a pair of Large Reds in tandem and a few scattered Azures.
Moving on to Silver Stream, it proved rather barren on the walk up with the full force of the wind blowing from the heath. All but given up, Sue, who had waited near the road called out she had found a Small Red damselfly – a first this season.
Unfortunately this poor individual had began its new life by flying straight into a spiders web. Although rescued, it hadn’t had time to mature enough to prevent irreparable damage to its wings.
A first sighting for this season marred by the cruel reality of mother nature. She did provide a few Southerns for us to get our teeth into though.
We finished the day at Crockford. Still providing several male & female Broad-bodied Chasers.
the odd Keeled Skimmer,
a few Southern, Large Red and Beautifuls. The highlight came with a first sighting this season of the Common Darter, but our individual wouldn’t allow a decent opportunity for a photograph, being stuck up in a tree and reluctant to move.
So despite the weather we came up trumps. Sure, a Golden-ringed would’ve rounded the day off nicely, but I’ve learned to become grateful with anything during this typical British summer.
Having spent the winter longing for the spring, the time to review last season’s efforts made me change my MO this year. My main priorities are seeking out those species I’ve yet to get a photo of, improve on those I have and check out new locations.
I’m also resisting shots if the pose is wrong, the background unattractive or the sun (or subject) is in the wrong place. Not wanting to come home empty handed means I’m looking at my options more.
For instance, I spent a great deal of time just waiting on Tuesday. I spent an hour on my belly immersing myself in the acrobats, fighting and courtship of the Beautiful Demoiselles in one sunny, sheltered patch.
The point is I’m spending more time observing than taking photographs – which can only be beneficial for the latter Perhaps more importantly it can result in a perfect moment.
That perfect moment was hearing what I can only describe as a ‘clunk’ in the reeds about a metre from where I was focused.
I switched my gaze to the area of the strange sound and up popped a fresh & recently emerged Golden-ringed Dragonfly, rising almost vertically out of the reeds before finding it’s wings and soaring off into the distance.
I so wished I had been focusing the camera a metre to the right…but that;s life and here’s some Azures instead.
As everything has exploded at once, I’m having to resist the temptation to visit semi-favourite haunts knowing that I’ll probably get more of the same.
Not that it matters, but the chance of a different species can sway your daily decision, especially when it coincides with the weather.
So on Wednesday, because the New Forest looked unpredictable, I took a chance on Thursley.
Starting at the Moat, I did a full circuit observing what was about noticing a great deal of over-water flight with Four-spotted Chasers and Downy Emeralds.
I’d gone there in the hope of spotting a Brilliant Emerald, but I’m thinking Downy’s were all I got by the appearance and flight pattern. But even they were keeping to the sheltered shadows, so here’s some more Azures!
Along the boardwalks FSC’s were literally swarmimg – to the extent that the sight of a female Broad-bodied was a welcome change.Even among the heather on the way back, FSC’s were the dominent species.
Back at the pond things had started to cool. Not as many dragonflies and all of a sudden there was a prolonged gust of cool wind preceding a very dark cloud.
All life had ceased. Even the dogs had returned at their owners request to the safety and dry environs of the four-wheel drive…except for the Large Reds and Azure, who would be quite happy in a t-shirt and shorts on a Xmas Friday night in Newcastle.
Despite Thursday being a day more suited to butterflies, I did see several immature and female BBC’s scattered throughout Bentley Wood. Couldn’t resist a call in at the pond on the way back just in case there was a RVD paying a visit!
There wasn’t, but despite the cloud & cool conditions there were several BBC’s and FSC’s of both sexes battling, breeding and ovipositing. These were joined by male & female Downy Emeralds, the latter ovipositing near the gorse, so that’s another first!
While failing in the light to grab a Downy in-flighter, I concentrated on the ovipositing BBC, only to end up with this
The ‘pond’ has dried out considerably in a week, with an ever-decreasing water level. Looking at weather in the near future though it should be fine!
On Friday I went hunting specifically for Scarce Chacer and White-legged Damselflies. At Ramsdown there were plenty of the former, but due to the recent ‘haircut’ the only perches on offer were low down in what remains of the heather.
Also a bonus to see 4 Golden-ringed and 4 Emperors – all female – take off in front of my stride. All of the latter flew way out of sight, and the GR were nervous, flying several metres before landing low down in the heather.
As I was over that way, I relented and paid a visit to Troublefield. They’ve moved the cows to the other field! Maybe we will have some summer foliage after all.
The south pasture has dried out considerably, but wellies are still a must as there are some deep & dark pockets underfoot. Several Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles on site, along with Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damsels.
Despite a full reciie of the whole site, only larger game was a solitary immature male Scarce Chaser. Yet I did notice among the reeds a newly-emerged (I’m thinking) Beautiful Demoiselle
Next stop Canford Magna, a pictureque and accessable site with excellent populations of White-legged Damsels and Banded Demoiselles, conveniently populating the bank grasses offering decent photo opportunities.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was the sheer joy of being immersed in thousands of Banded Demoiselles along the banks of the River Stour. A few noteworthy patches threw up 100’s at a time. More like the rising of the mayflies….just stop and observe!
We were all wondering how long this gorgeous spell of weather would last, and as May turns to June the near forecast is decidedly cloudier and cooler with rain on its way.
Sunday proved fickle and unfriendly, with the briefest of sunny spells and an irritating & persistant wind.
Sheltered spots were hard to find for humans, but the reeds provided enough cover for swarms of Blue-tailed Damsels to congregate and mate instead of flying.
Other damsels found lurking were Common Blue,Azure, Large Red and Beautful Demoiselles. Out on the water the hardiest were patrolling – the Red-eyed wasn’t going to let a stiff breeze spoil the day.
Larger prey seen that day were a teneral Black-tailed Skimmer holed up in the foliage
A lone male Hairy Dragonfly – the first I’ve seen this year at Pennington – was doing a circuit of the pond, and a playful Downy Emerald – the first I’ve ever seen at this site – providing the best entertainment.
The way home passed Crockford, and it would have been remiss to not take a look. Male & female Broad-bodied Chasers were taking shelter along with a teneral Keeled Skimmer
Among the Bog Myrtle were a few Beautiful’s, some Large Red, Azure and thankfully some Southern Damselflies to round off the day…