Bank Holiday Bonus

This season I’ve made an effort to update the blog frequently in bite-size chunks rather than doing a weekly round-up. I’m taking a similar approach in the field; trying not to cram too much into a day and being economical with travel.

I’d already had a plan to visit a couple of local sites on Sunday until Doug’s invitation suggested an alternative, so with the promise of sunshine, at least until late afternoon, I headed over to Swanwick Nature Reserve – only three miles from me and a site I failed to visit at all last season.

My main reason for a visit was to re-familiar myself with the location, using the knowledge I’ve gained since my last visit to re-appraise its lakes and meadows and the resident dragonfly fauna. Remembering this was a prime spot for Blue-tailed Damselflies I had hoped to engage myself photographing a selection of the various female colour forms, and knowing the Downy Emerald was resident sealed the deal – although finding the latter in the confusion of woodland paths would rely more on luck than judgement.

I quick glance at the centre lake confirmed there was nothing large flying, so I inspected the small reeded dipping pond for signs of emergence. Several spent Large Red and Azure exuvia adorned the reeds and a few tenerals were sheltering from the breeze.

Back to the main pond, I noticed they have built viewing platform along the western shore. This is incredibly helpful as access to the shore is mostly difficult. I checked all edges for signs of emergence knowing that the Downy isn’t fussy about using man-made structures as a means to emerge. Not to be, although the pontoon made it much easier to observe the damsels congregating along the shore.

Large Red Damselfly - male
Large Red Damselfly – male

Onto the fishing lake where nearly every shoreline access point was occupied by anglers eager to end their weekend in their solitary pursuit. The usual spot for damsels was the small, open area of meadow along the southern shore. Not today though, just a few found along the edges of creeks. Even the reed-filled pontoon was devoid of Odo activity.

The adventurous (and familiar) visitor can take the narrow, muddy paths along the shores of connecting lakes to the northern meadows; usually alive with invertebrates, although pickings were slim until I reached a small area of shelter close to the meadow pond (more of a puddle) where there were very few Blue-tailed but reasonable numbers of Large Red and Azures.

Azure Damselfly - female
Azure Damselfly – female
Azure Damselfly - male
Azure Damselfly – male

The path along eastern shore of the farthest lake was closed off; probably due to subsidence – it does suffer somewhat after heavy rain, and the precipitation we’ve had in the past few months has probably taken its toll. Back then through the meadows along the main path with more isolated patches of damsel activity.

Leaving the woodland path by the gate I was greeted by a Downy Emerald patrolling a small section of scrub bordering the path. I froze and watched as he flew back & forth, fully expecting him to fly off over the trees (they usually do) before perching in amongst the bramble.

My left hand signalled an oncoming dog walker to ‘stay’ while my right slowly raised the camera to fire a couple off before he rose and disappeared out of sight. Unexpected and gratefully appreciated.

Downy Emerald - immature male
Downy Emerald – immature male

I’d have been quite prepared to go home satisfied after this encounter, but the day was still young, so after rechecking the centre lake and pond where more damsels were awakening to activity. Walking along the southern shore I noticed a fresh, teneral damsel flutter across my path to land in the grass briefly before letting the wind take him over the trees.

Red-eyed Damselfly - teneral male
Red-eyed Damselfly – teneral male

Another highlight then, being my first encounter with a Red-eyed this season.

Onto Durley Mill where I intended to visit a small, hidden pond situated in the woods on private land. Access to this pond was always fraught with a little adventure by navigation alone, let alone the chance of bumping into the land owner! Last year any hope of exploration was blocked by extensive tree-felling and coppicing, and last time I looked they’d blocked off the only access point with an impromptu fence. This time I found a way through and forced myself through challenging bramble growth before navigating a couple of barbed wire fences and more woodland. My reward was a few more damsels..

Azure Damselfly - female
Azure Damselfly – female
Large Red Damselfly - male
Large Red Damselfly – male

Back to the path for some more Beautifuls – dozens rising from the nettle and wild garlic adorning this wonderful steep valley; the majority flying out of reach.

Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature female
Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature female

My next scheduled stop was ‘the pond’ and on arrival I’d almost regretted my decision as a strong south-westerly blew away the foliage about my person I’d collected earlier. But I was here now, and a little wind wasn’t going to stop the Chasers enjoying themselves. Several Broad-bodied and Four-spotted were patrolling, occasionally meeting in friendly tussles until a female BBC arrived and all hell broke loose! The victor carried her off across the bushes and I knew it would’ve been futile to give chase knowing that their coupling would be brief.

I did a round of the pond and noticed the wing reflection of a recently-emerged Broad-bodied Chaser deep down in the gorse close to shore.

Broad-bodied Chaser - Teneral male
Broad-bodied Chaser – Teneral male

I made a mental note to search this bush thoroughly in the future as its close proximity to shore may reveal more emerging wonders.

After this discovery I did the obligatory search of the gorse thicket before sitting on the south bank content to just sit and watch the aerial acrobatics of the Chasers.

A fine end to a productive weekend.

The Coming Of Spring

We’d all like to think that Spring arrives with a clock change, and in recent years a blast of fine weather in March can kick-start the season providing welcome relief from long winters. But at what cost?

Certainly the past two years have given us an early bounty; a sneak-preview with early sightings of key Spring species. These false starts can prove to be detrimental for many insects, not least the butterflies who have a very short flight period. A return to morning frost can kill most, if not all early emergences.

This Spring we have been rudely brought back to earth with many seasonal species running two or three weeks late – longer in some instances. Pearl-bordered Fritillaries have by now usually given way to the Small Pearl-bordered, but the former have yet to reach their prime. A wander around their habitat will give you a clue. The lack of feeder plants, and indeed the lack of most seasonal flora confirms that Spring has yet to fully arrive.

It’s over a month since I found my first Large Reds, and it seemed like an age before I found a little diversity.

First call on Saturday was Badminston, where despite the cooling clouds and stiff breeze, I managed to find good populations of Azure and Common Blue Damselflies sharing shelter among the gorse with the inevitable Large Reds.

Azure Damselfly - Male
Azure Damselfly – Male
Common Blue Damselfly – Immature male
Common Blue Damselfly – Immature male

Occasionally these flighty little damsels would offer a decent opportunity.

Common Blue Damselfly – Immature female
Common Blue Damselfly – Immature female

I had hoped for a Hairy, having found one here last year,but it wasn’t to be today. I did however find a fresh Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser - Immature female
Four-spotted Chaser – Immature female

Back in May 2009 my favourite pond was alive with swarms of Chasers and Damsels, providing the very spectacle which turned me on to dragonflies in the first place. Yesterday was the first time this season I’ve witnessed any action over water, with a few male Broad-bodied and Four-spotted first in the queue for any passing females.

It was a welcome sight to see. Even the satellite pond close to the road had a couple of male BBC’s battling it out. As I arrived at the main pond a Four-spotted patrolled the eastern shore pausing frequently to perch in the gorse bush.

Four-spotted Chaser - male
Four-spotted Chaser – male

While I was busy grabbing this shot, Paul W arrived and we searched the gorse for more willing subjects. A few paces a male BBC was resting.

Broad-bodied Chaser - male
Broad-bodied Chaser – male

A fresh female Broad-bodied Chaser offered my favourite opportunity of the day, perched as she was on a gorse flower.

Broad-bodied Chaser - female
Broad-bodied Chaser – female

The gorse thicket threw up several more, including this stunning young male.

Broad-bodied Chaser – Immature male
Broad-bodied Chaser – Immature male

A pleasing day then, and a promise of more to come.

On Sunday I met my good friend Doug for our first outing of the season. We spent most of the afternoon investigating some new ponds, the majority located on private land. The first was behind a fruit farm and was a typical fishing pond – a good indication that dragonflies would be scarce! A few Large Red, Common Blue and Azure were our reward.

More of the same at a nearby small, wooded pond which quite frankly could do with some sympathetic management. A little work and it could reap benefits.

Next on the schedule was another ‘hidden’ woodland pond used for duck shoots! If we hadn’t had access to a location app we probably wouldn’t have found it. This one showed promise; certainly ideal Downy territory. More of the same damselflies decorated the grass along one bank and then Doug spotted a teneral Downy rise and disappear over the trees. Further along this steep bank I saw another – this one more mature. Neither gave us a photo opportunity, although we are talking Downys!

A result then, as far as sightings go, but I was getting restless for some action. Back over the Avon to Ramsdown, where at least the small pond produced some parading Four-spotted Chasers.

Four-spotted Chaser - Male
Four-spotted Chaser – Male

A trip to Ramsdown should always include a visit to Troublefield, and I’m pleased to say it has dried out considerably – although wellies are still essential. The southern meadow was alive with butterflies and reasonable numbers of Beautiful Demoiselles, although the latter proved very flighty.

So far, so good – just as a wet meadow should be. Eager to check out the northern meadow, our hopes were soon shattered by the sight of those dreaded cattle! Once again they’ve introduced them into the meadow too early, which means the death knell for the wild flowers and the invertebrates who thrive in these environments.

That’s three years in a row now. Are you listening Dorset Wildlife Trust? It is one of your reserves which you are so proud to advertise. E-mails have been sent, complaints have been made and non-committal replies have been received. Do you really care about the ‘nature’ in your reserves, or are you more interested in the funds provided by renting out prime water meadow as cattle feed? I already know the real answer. It’s up to you DWT to convince me (and your members) otherwise…

On a more positive note, I managed to add two new species to my count this season.


After studying the forecast every closely for 24 hours, we were still hopeful there would be a reasonable amount of sun to entice the insects out. The drive across the forest looked promising, but when we arrived at Pennington a dull blanket of cloud put everything in shadow. A gusty wind cooled temperatures further and my mood began to reflect the climate.

We did a full round of the first pond and at least found a few Large Red, one Blue-tailed and a couple of Azures.

Azure Damselfly - Immature male
Azure Damselfly – Immature male
Azure Damselfly – Immature male
Azure Damselfly – Immature male

The other ponds produced nothing, but I should imagine there were some Blue-tailed buried down to escape the wind. We did have a fine display of Sand Martins carpet-bombing the surface of the water.

Crockford was another disappointment, although we did see the sun briefly and an immature female Beautiful Demoiselle. Oh, and about 20 Large Red sheltering in a gorse bush.

More Large Red at Hatchet Pond, but absolutely nothing else. Choices? Where next? I had meant to visit Badminston if the weather was good enough, but decided to leave it until some decent weather arrives.

Instead we decided to end the day with a visit to one of the few places in the New Forest where Pearl-bordered Fritillary are still found. We hadn’t been there for 4 years!

At least we were greeted by a sunny spell. Brief, but enough to show a couple. Sue saw the first, but lost sight of it before I got there. And then suddenly I saw the unmistakeable orange vibrancy of a fresh male perched on an old tree stump.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Male
Pearl-bordered Fritillary – Male

He wouldn’t allow me to get too close, and led me a merry dance across the clearing before settling low down and presumably out of view from my prying eyes. I persevered as this was the only opportunity I have this afternoon.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary
Pearl-bordered Fritillary

So, despite the disappointing weather, a few shots to come home with.

Welcome New Additions

A reasonably good forecast for Thursday meant a trip to the pond followed by a visit to Bentley Wood, firstly in case the Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies were out, but also to check the progress on the ponds. But more of that later.

At the pond the promised sunny intervals were mostly absent; although our cloud appeared to be surrounded by blue sky. Isn’t that just the way sometimes?

No matter. Despite being too cool (and probably too early) for activity over the water (it was a cold night), we did manage to find a few Large Red, including one which chose the wooden bridge to emerge.

It wasn’t long before our passage through the gorse thicket disturbed a few (immature) Broad-bodied Chasers, the majority flying out of reach. Luckily I managed to stealthily pursue an immature male who was reluctant to travel too far.

Broad-bodied Chaser - Immature male
Broad-bodied Chaser – Immature male
Four-spotted Chaser - Immature female
Four-spotted Chaser – Immature female

That’ll do for me!

Next stop Bentley Wood…and that turned out to be a real disappointment. We failed to find any Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, and failed to find any other butterflies except a couple of passing Brimstones and a solitary Small White. The Eastern Clearing – and much of the wood – has suffered though with the recent downpours, and has reverted to a sticky quagmire with little appeal for butterflies. Birdsong was entertaining though!

The ponds were just as disappointing, with just a few inconspicuous Large Red and no sign of any exuvia.

Feeling that we may have peaked too soon, or simply chosen the right location on the wrong day, we reminded ourselves that we at least had something to go home with.

Except the day wasn’t over yet.

Curiosity convinced me to call in at a pond recommended by Paul Winters on the way home. This pond isn’t the type of pond I would normally consider, being (I’m presuming) man-made on the site of a (relatively new) business estate right next door to the M271.

But it was worth it for the addition of two new species for this season;-

Azure Damselfly – Immature male
Azure Damselfly – Immature male

There weren’t many. A quick foray produced around half-a-dozen Azures and a solitary Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Blue-tailed Damselfly - Immature female (rufenscens)
Blue-tailed Damselfly – Immature female (rufenscens)

It would’ve been nice to get a better shot, but there’s plenty of time for that! This short visit to an unfamiliar location more than made up for the three hours since I last had chance to use the camera.

Woodland Wonders

Scattered showers with occasional sunny spells should not prevent dragonfly enthusiasts from exploring sheltered roosting areas, provided you know where to look. After the delight of finding the Beautiful Demoiselles on Monday, we returned to the spot on Wednesday and, after tenacious searching, we managed to almost double the numbers.

Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature male
Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature male

The probability is there were figures well in excess of this, with the majority observed preferring to shelter high up in the trees. This isn’t the first time we’ve observed the Beautiful acting in this way – especially at this location – but we are more used to them perching at less than human head height. At the end of the day we’ve usually witnessed them burying themselves deep within the foliage; as close to ground level as possible.

Some of the larger species do the same. The Hairy and Brown Hawker for instance.

Besides offering a safe refuge for newly-emerged tenerals, the trees also provide the majority of insect prey, will offer better shelter from the rain and maximum exposure to sporadic sun. I’m also guessing the temperature is higher than the ground level of sheltered woodland with warm, moist air rising from the banks of the shaded stream below.

Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature male
Beautiful Demoiselle – Immature male

We are used to seeing Demoiselles frolicking in open areas on warmer days, and this is also the case here. When temperatures are too high in the canopy they descend to the few open sunny areas along the path to roost and feed. At these times the sight is a wonder to behold, as dozens cascade around you giving credence to the ‘fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden’ myth.

This young section of river is one of the few places you can observe Beautiful Demoiselles outside of the New Forest, and it’s certainly one of the earliest – no doubt testament to temperatures being a few degrees higher inland from the coastal climate. The deep, sheltered valley also retains heat and humidity better than open heathland.

The wet meadow is popular all insects, including butterflies.

Green-veined White
Green-veined White

Although relatively small, this location provides the perfect mix of traditional wooded river valley, water meadow and farmland. A peaceful, compact area ideal for spending a couple of hours.

Dukes and Demoiselles

After a decent period of warm & sunny weather our climate reverted to default; a continuing band of low pressure bringing grey skies, rain and strong winds. Not ideal weather for pursuing dragonflies, but can be beneficial for photographing butterflies provided the sun peeks through sporadically.

Monday looked to be a promising choice for taking a third trip in the hope of finding some Duke of Burgundy at a North Hampshire location, and this time we were lucky.

Duke of Burgundy
Duke of Burgundy

On the way home I followed a hunch and stopped in at a favourite upstream section of the River Hamble. Just before the deluge we were greeted with the unmistakeable vision of cascading Demoiselles. Just a few, but enough to round off the day nicely.

(Beautiful)  Demoiselle - female
(Beautiful) Demoiselle – female

We counted 14 in total during our brief stay, but acquiring photographs proved to be a challenge as most rose up into the trees beyond reach. I did have one perch beautifully, until a passing Speckled Wood butterfly took exception and chases off my subject. Twice! I don’t recall ever being so furious with a butterfly.

The impending gloom put a stop to all insect life, and I just managed another snapshot before wrapping up for the day…

Beautiful Demoiselle - male
Beautiful Demoiselle – male

Bigger Game

A brief 45 minute jaunt to the pond on a fine Tuesday lunchtime produced several Large Red damselflies, including 3 pairs in tandem across the water.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

Better still was the all-too-fleeting glimpses of nervous teneral Four-spotted Chasers – a total of eight sightings, although there may have been duplicates. A couple of immature Broad-bodied Chasers were more obliging.

Broad-bodied Chaser
Broad-bodied Chaser

Afterwards Sue & I headed over to Bentley Wood where a reasonable amount of Large Reds have emerged. There were a few adorning the foliage, and a great deal of spent exuvia among the reeds.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

Elsewhere in the New Forest and Dorset, Downy Emeralds have been observed and photographed, bringing the current total to eight species seen on the wing so far this Spring.

Any Colour You Like…

…as long as it’s red!

At least that’s all I’ve managed myself over this pleasant Bank Holiday. Thankfully others have had better luck with Hairy, Broad-bodies and Four-spotted Chasers, Azure, Blue-tailed and Variable Damselflies adding to this season’s count.

I did manage a morning reccie around a few sites on Sunday morning in the hope that I might find something larger; maybe even emerging…but it wasn’t to be. During a whistle-stop tour of Cadnam, Broomy and Slufters on a fine morning I realised I’d jumped the gun again, and resolved to reign in a little. Give it another week and we can see some action on the ponds; which for me is the best part of observing dragonflies.

I did however see my first Dartford Warbler, which made the trip worthwhile.

Monday’s weather was superb; warm enough to colour the skin and with a cooling breeze which meant the New Forest was going to play host to a large influx of tourists. Desperate to make the most of the fine weather, Sue and I repeated the circular tour we took a week ago; taking in Pennington, Crockford and Hatchet Pond.

Pennington is one of the few places within the New Forest where the Hairy can be found; the emergent vegetation ideal for their zig-zag patrols of the shore. It’s also a prime spot for Blue-tailed, Azure and Red-eyed, but Large Red were all we got today. A result though. Only a few, but the first we’ve seen there this season.

Large Red Damselfly – Immature Male
Large Red Damselfly – Immature Male

Crockford produced a few more Large Reds and we were hoping it might throw up a Chaser or two. But it was Hatchet which took the prize today.

It’s a funny old place…normally left off the map for discerning dragonfly observers. However it can provide some real surprises; being a prime spot for early Downy Emeralds, decent and accessible populations of Red-eyed and good numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers in season.

Large Red Damselfly – Immature female
Large Red Damselfly – Immature female

It certainly threw up the largest population of Large Red I’ve seen so far this season; despite the intrusion of day-trippers of every nationality. Definitely one for the quieter weekday…

Doubling Up

On Wednesday 1st May Sue & I returned to the pond on another glorious day to find a couple of dozen Large Reds scattered throughout the gorse thicket, emerging from close to shore and rising from the island.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

Despite a three hour stay we didn’t observe any signs of larger prey, but if the weather stays this good it won’t be long before we get a little variety.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

A Walk In The Park

Often an expression used for a simple task or an easy time, based upon how relaxing and refreshing ambling around your local green space can – or used to – be. Nowadays – like any other urban environment – you’re more than likely to encounter anti-social behaviour.

Barely 50 metres through the gate of Itchen Valley Nature Reserve I encountered an obnoxious drunk led in the grass, stinking and drinking Tennants Super, who took exception that I didn’t have the time to stop & ‘chat’! This is the very reason why I have no general interest in our urban parks. I’d rather be deep in rural splendour as far as possible from urban alcoholics.

Besides a few early Large Reds, it took a while searching the meadows before I saw any other signs. The nearer I got to the main reserve the more I found. Several Banded Demoiselles – male and female – were seeking shelter from the wind in the long, lush grasses. More were found perched in the reeds lining the channels. I remember these meadows being a hot-spot from my last visit 4 years ago.

The wind was a problem though; not only for the photographer, but also for the weakly-flying tenerals who held on to grassy stems for dear life. Unsurprisingly the highest number were found in the lee of the breeze in the first meadow behind a bank of trees. I wish I knew this sooner – I’d have saved myself a walk.

Banded Demoiselle - male
Banded Demoiselle – male

The numbers may have been reasonable, but this didn’t make it any easier to pin down an individual willing to stay put for more than a few seconds. Progress was further hampered by deep, muddy hollows close to shore threatening to knock me off balance into the deep.

Banded Demoiselle - female
Banded Demoiselle – female

A welcome surprise came in the form of a couple of female Southern Damselflies, the Itchen and Test water meadows holding a few isolated colonies outside of their normal New Forest habitat.

Southern Damselfly - teneral female
Southern Damselfly – teneral female

All this uneven ground meant by the time I reached the main bridge over the river I was just about done for; which was a shame because I had intended to take a different path back to check out some more likely channels, but there’s always another day.

I’ll choose a morning next time…while the drunks are nursing their well-deserved hangovers.

Still – two more species added to my season count, so I mustn’t grumble.