New Horizons and Old Favourites

Last month passed with reports that it had been the worst June for a hundred years, but we knew that,didn’t we? Even last year’s disappointing summer was better than this…

July arrived with the hope that only a new month can bring. Except it was more of the same. A constant low determined by our friend & enemy, the good old Jet Stream.

At least that was the weatherman’s excuse…

Prayers were sort-of answered on Thursday when I decided to check out yet another new location, the River Wey navigation at Papercourt Lock.

Despite a wary forecast, the sun did indeed appear for more than a few minutes and the results were wonderful. Blue-tailed, Azure, Red-eyed, White-legged and thousands of Banded Demoiselles..

Banded Demoiselle -female
Banded Demoiselle -female
Banded Demoiselle -Male
Banded Demoiselle -Male

The perfect moment arrived at about 1.00pm on the return leg. I decided to stop at a spot I would spend my time if I were a dragonfly, an open stretch of the navigation with trees lining the opposite bank and ‘perches’ surrounding me on my side.

I didn’t have to wait long before I was was rewarded with a Brilliant Emerald fly-by on my side of the river, almost ghost-like as it a few metres past me, crossed the water and disappeared along the tree line.

I forgot about the camera!.

Cursing a golden opportunity, my disappointment disappeared with my first Brown Hawker sighting of the year. A male flying high and circling me before shooting out across the water to meet the returning Brilliant Emerald for a (non-violent & inquisitive) territorial clash.

These are the moments I live for. Although I didn’t get a photo, the moment was enough to make my day – indeed month so far.

I stayed around for an hour hoping to get another glimpse, and although no more Brilliants were seen, the sighting of another Brown Hawker further downstream kept my spirits up!

By the time I returned to the meadows  a few Black-tailed Skimmers had joined the Banded’s who by now were positively swarming.

Banded Demoiselles
Banded Demoiselles

The close proximity of Bolder Mere decided my next stop. I made my way to the far side of the pond. In the sunlight this delightful, damp open area was alive with damsels. A few Demoiselles. Azures, Red-eyed, Blue-tailed, Large Red and Common Blue feeding in the grasses.

Common Blue Damselfly - male
Common Blue Damselfly – male

Black-tailed Skimmers far outnumbered the few Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers, the former flying back & forth from the waters edge to a convenient tree-stump or clashing along the pond edge.

And then I disturbed a Brown Hawker. Another male which did the classic fly-off and circle a few times at a distance before disappearing never to be seen again.

It’s early yet!

I searched for something a little more exotic, but only a single immature Common Darter completed the days total of 13 species – a good count considering the summer we’re having.

A break in the deluge on Sunday gave me an opportunity to visit the New Forest for the first time in…well…too long!

The afternoon proved changeable, but with reasonable amounts of sun to raise the temperature enough for a little dragonfly activity.

Unfortunately this wasn’t enough for Pennington. The river had (unsurprisingly) burst its banks again- this time to a far greater extent than a couple of months ago.

Both paths are now tributaries, and saturation is at a level where even the dragonflies found it too wet. Even the recently added pontoons were a foot below the water level!

Among the few brave Blue-tailed and Azure Damsels was a solitary female Black-tailed Skimmer ovipositing.

Much better at the two smaller ponds. More Black-tailed Skimmers, several males patrolling the margins along with a couple of male Emperors.

Such were the water levels that even I opted out of joining them in the pond.

Keeping to the margins, hundreds of immature Common Darters appeared from the reeds & rushes, dispersing at every one of my footfalls.

The guilty feeling of disturbing nature soon disappeared as the joy of seeing so many dragons appear in front of me reminded me why I love this hobby.

Common Darter - immature
Common Darter – immature

Blue-tailed were in abundance and the surrounding field was filled with Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Marbled White butterflies.

It’s ironic and a little scary that these very ponds were what completed the season for me last year, knowing that I’d probably reached a peak.

By now becoming increasingly overcast and breezier, the insects were reluctant to create a spectacle, but we popped in  to Crockford Stream on the way home just in case.

Navigation was difficult and the amount of watershed from the heath meant that even with wellies, all crossing points were precarious.

Only a few Common Darters and a single Emperor hiding in the heather among the few Silver-studded Blue butterflies I again accidentally disturbed.

The Bog Asphodel have done well though!

We haven’t had it as bad as other Counties, or indeed Countries, and the pursuit of dragonflies is way down on the list when you think that some people have been driven out of their homes by the current weather.

So some empathy is required on a humane level.

That said, if you are planning a trip to the New Forest for dragonflies or anything else except water-sports, I’d leave it a-while. We need a break in the rain to allow the forest to dry out. And we need a few sunny days.

All of us.

Personally, I’m almost spent with the constant disappointment, but have high hopes we will get a late (Indian) summer to lift our spirits and bring out the insects.