Sat at home waiting for that belt high pressure to arrive, I wondered how I was going to make the most of it.
There are still a couple of sites in the New Forest which need a seasonal visit, and when the sun did finally appear on Thursday I was spoilt for choice.
The decision was made when Stephen (red_fan) couldn’t make the planned Friday jaunt at Crockford, but could manage Thursday. As the next sunny spell was all about relaxing and enjoying a few hours at a pleasant location, a day at Crockford proved perfect.
I arrived quite early at 10.00am. Surprisingly still overcast with sea mist, which didn’t clear until around noon. Time for a wander, and potentially the first sighting was a male Golden-ringed on his first morning patrol of his patch.
In the clearing across the stream a few Common Darters awoke at my passing. Through the thicket with the two shallow ponds and up the skope brought my first Hawker – a Migrant unhappy at the disturbance, flying high and far in search of a lie in.
At the stream another two male Golden-ringed appeared and claimed their territories among the few Common Darters, Keeled Skimmers, Beautiful Demoiselles, Southern and Small Red Damselflies.
Walking back through the thicket I bumped into another enthusiast whom I’d met at Blashford last year, swapped notes and scanned my brain looking for his name.
Back across the stream to the small, wooded ponds where a male Southern Hawker was frantically flying back & forth, mostly high and occasionally low but showing no signs of rest.
Back at the stream I had a glimpse of something quite remarkable – a Hawker flying fast & low upstream along a narrow channel, appearing once more heading downstream before taking flight across the moor.
Brown striped abdomen was all I could distinguish, and it wasn’t a Brown Hawker…
The Southerns and Small Reds were still congregating around their chosen Bog Myrtle bushes, and for once this season the few Beautifuls were giving a good display.
Suddenly the relative quiet was disturbed by the unmistakable sound of a female Golden-ringed ovipositing in the shade of a Bog Myrtle bush, while further along the resident male held his territory.
A male Keeled Skimmer appeared within the small pool, disturbing the resident Golden-ringed, and a female Broad-bodied Chaser looked for somewhere safe to hide as I made my way back through the thicket.
Meeting Stephen, we followed another male for a while before returning through the trees to notice a female – possibly the same one – ovipositing in the narrow bank of the shade.
Back at the basin Stephen filled his boots with an obliging subject while I attempted to catch the fellow in-flight.
A most agreeable chap who, despite the odd territorial dispute, allowed us the chance to photograph him on several perches, although his favourite was a young Bog Myrtle.
For me though the golden moment came when he perched on the heather hanging over the stream.
We had some brief visitations from a couple of male Emperors and a male Southern to add variety, and a few more Common Darters before we headed towards Pennington.
Our main goal were Small Red-eyed Damselflies, and these proved plentiful along with their larger cousins, Blue-tailed and a scattering of Azure.
Over on the river were Banded Demoiselles and Common Darters. The latter were also parading around the main pool, along with a few male Emperors holding territory, and one female ovipositing at various points along the full length, occasionally disturbed by one of the males.
On Friday I returned to Crockford and did a quick scout of the area before the arrival of my guests. Golden-ringed were already in attendance, yesterday’s preferred model still holding court over his territory., and the resident Keeled Skimmer was perched in his bush.
Chris & Mike arrived around 11.30 and immediately got to work grabbing their shots. At one point our male tried desperately to get a grip in the leg of Chris’s tripod, and watching this Mike had the idea to present the leg clamp as a possible perch, and our quarry obliged.
Another very pleasant afternoon with a total of nine species, short a Broad-bodied Chaser from the previous day.
Thanks to Dave’s (NewEra51) recent post and photos, South Wales looked to be the ideal location for finding and photographing the Common Hawker; a quarry I’d longed for. My only previous encounter with this elusive beast was a few years ago at Whitten Pond.
A dragonfly trip had been originally planned for Sunday, but was rescheduled to Saturday due to the weather. In our eagerness we had already booked a room to give us a full day refreshed instead of stressed by a 200 mile journey.
Swansea is the last major conurbation for miles. Head west and you’ll be in Ireland before you encounter anywhere as big. Head north and Bangor is probably the closest culturally. East brings you further upstream, as it were, where everything has gone before.
Yet south is a small pocket of heaven, where roads wind narrowly down to the sea or lead you onto a rich Montaigne plateau with foreboding bogs and tranquil ponds. The big daddy of these ponds is Broad Pool, and geographically was our destination for this weekend in search of the elusive, In my and several others opinion, Common Hawker.
However arriving early on Saturday afternoon gave us a chance to scout the area prior to Sunday. Heading almost exactly west from Swansea the urban sprawl gave way to open moorland of Cefn Bryn, known as the backbone of the Gower. The summit provides a panoramic view belying it’s modest 600ft summit.
About a mile south-west of Cillibion in a small hollow lies Broad Pool – a reasonably large acidic pond surrounded by heath, bog and a scattering of smaller pools each offering a fine selection of dragonflies.
We parked roadside among the scattering of cars and immediately headed for the far bank of Broad Pool, stopping on the way to practice with a patrolling Emperor.
Damselflies were reasonably well presented with Common Blue, Blue-tailed, Emerald and even a Large Red or two. Among the grasses and heather were Black and Common Darters, and around by the trees we disturbed a couple of Common Hawkers who flew off at speed across the moor.
The old Brown Hawker trick!
Heading north into the dip we encountered the party and introduced ourselves, pick brains and swapped notes before heading back to Broad Pool and returning to the road along the other shore.
A few Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers patrolled the margins along with more Emperors, but I was after larger prey.
A quick break at the cars before walking the short distance to the 5 small pools where Common Hawkers had been spotted earlier. These each contained more of the same species, and at the second largest pool we spotted our prize.
Time stood still as we frantically followed his flight path, reeling off shot after shot afraid of missing a golden opportunity. Now & again a male Emperor would fly in and cause trouble, appearing to chase off our prize, but it wasn’t long before he returned to his patch.
Now this encounter had thrown all my previous expectations into doubt. I expected to have to deal with a hawker with similar behaviour as the Brown – a fast flyer prone to disappearing into the distance an any moment.
This certainly wasn’t the case. Our subject was happy to stay around, flying a low and predictable pattern around the pond margins in much the same way as a Downy Emerald, and even more surprisingly being as inquisitive as his cousin, the Southern.
After another battle with the Emperor where the latter was coming off worse, our subject hopped the short distance to one of the smaller ponds – a perfectly round boggy hollow barely 10 feet in circumference with little distracting background and access from all points.
At first the small size gave the impression that there wouldn’t be much activity, especially for the larger species, but proved perfectly adequate to accommodate one.
This was the pond I’ve been looking for for years, and couldn’t get more perfect from a photographers point of view. Absolutely the best pond I’ve yet encountered for in-flight photography.
Once again we filled our boots, and when our subject flew off without returning, we went back to the cars to say our goodbyes until tomorrow. A cry from the ponds lead me back for a few more opportunities before wrapping up the day.
You couldn’t wish for a more agreeable subject, and I was elated to grab this chance on what was basically a late afternoon scout! Having bagged some more than acceptable shots, I could relax for the rest of the weekend.
The following day we met up with John and Tony just after 11.00am under cloudy skies and busied ourselves with searching the undergrowth along the treeline.
The previous day I’d commented that this treeline would be an ideal roosting spot for the Common Hawker, and sure enough in a small thicket of gorse further along I disturbed 3 males, all flying off over the trees.
We made our way around Broad Pool – with a quick detour to the ‘kidney pond’ and returned to the south bank just as the sun decided to break through. Five minutes of unbroken sunshine had the desired effect and out of nowhere 3 Emperors appeared, clashed almost immediately in a 3-way dogfight, then dispersed to their own territories.
Over on the small pools another Common Hawker was patrolling, and, in much the same as yesterday, would frequently battle with the Emperor, driving the latter back to the other end.
Once again when he flew to the small pool the best photo opportunities presented themselves, especially when he hovered so close it was difficult to get a lock on.
It did result in my favourite shot of the weekend though!
When he left I wandered over to the kidney pond and found an obliging Emperor
There were also a Four-spotted Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer adding interest. Walking back around Broad Pool I disturbed a female Common Hawker who had perched low down in the grasses of the boggy area. Nice that it would’ve been to get a photo, the opportunity didn’t present itself. I didn’t mind though.
Besides finding my prize this weekend gave me that chance to spend a few hours practicing my in-flight shots, for me the most fun you can spend in the company of dragonflies.