Familiar Cast

I hadn’t planned to venture too far on Thursday, if at all considering the forecast. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the met office admitted it just didn’t know? As it was the dear old sun made more of an appearance at the pond than it did at Mill Lawn yesterday.

Plenty of activity over the water with the usual Broad-bodied and Four-spotted – the latter being the most numerous. There were several pairings with the FSC’s completing their union in about 5 seconds. The BBC’s last around 15 seconds, just enough time to track and pan if you’re ready for them, but you can never predict their erratic course.

Broad-bodied Chasers - Mating pair
Broad-bodied Chasers – Mating pair

Joining the chasers were Keeled Skimmers, a Downy Emerald and a couple of male Emperors.

Emperor - male in-flight
Emperor – male in-flight

Both individuals time-shared the same patch with a quick battle on changeover. On one occasion the pair fell to to margin of the pond below my feet; unfortunately too close to get a shot regardless of my reaction. Luckily one of the patrollers took a quick break at the edge of the reeded island.

Emperor - male
Emperor – male

The gorse thicket threw up a nice selection of roosting chasers, some Keeled and a Downy while the surrounding ferns produced Large and Small Red, Azure and some nice, fresh Emeralds.

Emerald Damselfly - Teneral male
Emerald Damselfly – Teneral male
Emerald Damselfly - Teneral male
Emerald Damselfly – Teneral male

Returning to the pond itself, I contented myself getting used to manual focus on the Sigma 70-300mm. Not as intuitive as the macro prime, but a compromise to get me closer to the action.

Emperor - male in-flight
Emperor – male in-flight

Mill Lawn

I completely neglected Mill Lawn last season; being too busy exploring locations away from the New Forest. Being one of the forest ‘lawns’ it has always attracted the crowds, be they dog walkers, picnickers or the day tripper who wants to enjoy the forest without straying too far or onto uneven ground.

Thankfully for the Odo enthusiast the key sections are south of the stream, the side with that ‘uneven ground’. I recommend following the stream itself for Beautiful Demoiselles, Golden-ringed and other passing traffic and fully exploring the flushes which lead into the main flow from the boggy areas to the south.

There are several sections where you are forced upstream to cross these flushes and each one usually has something to offer, whether it be Southern and Small Red Damselflies or parading Keeled Skimmers, Broad-bodied or and Four-spotted Chasers. There is also a well-vegetated channel parallel to the stream which is ideal habitat for Scarce Blue.

With signs of a better Wednesday morning I took advantage of an early start, arriving just 9.00am at the main car park. As you walk towards the stream, there is a small bridge crossing the first flush. This is well worth exploring as in the first few minutes I had Southern, Large and Small Red, Beautiful Demoiselle, Keeled Skimmer and Broad-bodied Chaser.

Southern Damselfly - male
Southern Damselfly – male
Beautiful Demoiselle - female
Beautiful Demoiselle – female

The main stream and flushes produced more of the same with the majority of the action centred on the furthest. Certainly the Southern population was remarkably rich. A little further along, just before Rooks Bridge, is a stand of gorse where I disturbed a roosting Golden-ringed, which unfortunately flew off uphill with a graceful glide.

And then the sun disappeared…and didn’t appear for the rest of my stay.

I amused myself by wandering a little further through the woods and to search another area before returning and taking a slow, searching walk up & down each flush. The populations of damsels had certainly reduced, although there were several Southern scattered throughout the heather. A pair of Large Red chose a bramble bush to complete their union.

Large Red Damselflies - Tandem pair
Large Red Damselflies – Tandem pair

The lack of sun meant any Scarce were going to be almost impossible to locate, so I concentrating on the one nearest the car park for the last half hour and practised picking out Southern and Small Red among the lush vegetation.

Southern Damselfly - male
Southern Damselfly – male
Small Red Damselfly - female
Small Red Damselfly – female

Like Ober Water and Latchmore Brook, Mill Lawn is at its best on a calm, warm and most of all sunny day. Wednesday started out well but soon returned to default, but a fruitful walk non-the-less in a pleasant environment which deserves a rain check.

Latchmore Brook

A break in the wind and the promise of some decent temperatures and maybe some sunshine was a good enough reason to take a walk along Latchmore Brook on Tuesday morning. The walk up to Latchmore Shade only produced a Large Red; not even a sign of Beautiful Demoiselles!

Across the stream to follow the opposite bank, a few teneral Keeled Skimmers rose from the heather but the main boggy pool was devoid of any action. Not quite warn enough. Certainly not warn enough for any Scarce Blue-tailed just yet, so I followed the flush as far as I could up the hill encountering more Large Red and some diversity in the form of Southern and Small Red.

Small Red Damselfly - Teneral male
Small Red Damselfly – Teneral male
Small Red Damselfly - Teneral male
Small Red Damselfly – Teneral male
Small Red Damselfly - Teneral male
Small Red Damselfly – Teneral male

There was an ugly black ribbon of cloud obscuring the sun for most of my visit and I found myself frustratingly waiting for a glimmer of sunlight to bring out the Scarce Blue-tailed. I did have a couple of Broad-bodied and Four-spotted Chasers pay a brief visit, and a tandem pair of Large Red were seeking out the best spots to deposit their fertilised.eggs.

After an age of staring at the pool I began to get a insight into what it must be like to watch paint dry…

Finally, a break in the gloom, and the welcome sight of a few males appearing as if from nowhere to satisfy my tenacity.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – male

As yet I haven’t been fortunate to find a Scarce elsewhere other than hovering over their chosen pool, and it’s always a challenge to grab a shot from a distance – especially with so much emerging vegetation.

Typical Scarce Blue-tailed Habitat
Typical Scarce Blue-tailed Habitat

I mentally crossed my fingers hoping one might perch on a blue or yellow bloom, but had to be content with the usual low down stems.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – male

I was quite prepared to stay put and wait for some more sunshine, but I had again run out of time. I returned via the stream, passing the boggy pool where still nothing was to be seen. At least the stream provided a few Beautiful Demoiselles and a couple of Broad-bodied chasers to round the visit off.

On the way back I bumped into a couple of dragonfly enthusiasts who asked me if I’d seen any other species than the latter. Under different circumstances I would’ve been prepared to show them the best areas for their quarry, but all I could offer was a general clue. If you were the couple I hope you found what you were looking for and I can only apologise for not having time to be of any further help.

Strange Paths

A pleasant Wednesday morning. Hot, humid, calm – pretty much the same as yesterday although with periods of hazy sunshine. The increase in temperature certainly benefited the damsels with Azure, Common Blue and Large Red already making use of Rushbush Pond. On the way in I did my usual flush through the gorse and heather and stirred up a couple of Broad-bodied and several Four-spotted Chasers; the latter preferring to perch low down.

A quick skirt around Furzey Pond, which was rife with Azure, and across the road to Dibden Bottom. I peeled off the road a little earlier and realised I was following a different path to usual. Little errors and getting lost often reveal hidden treasures and I came across another pond which I’ve totally failed to notice before!

In the half-hour since Rushnush, things had woken up considerably with the usual damsel cast , several FSC’s and a couple of male Emperors holding their territories until they’d meet, battle and resume. I spent a good half-hour just watching.

They were too far away to attempt a decent in-flighter.

Back around to the usual shallow ponds where things were repeated in smaller doses, almost subdued compared to the excitement around the corner. And then I spotted the Emerald. At least I’m positive my eyes weren’t deceiving me, but getting close and confirming for sure wasn’t going to happen. I spent another half-hour doing a fingertip search of the area knowing where’s there’s one, there are usually more. Not this time though. Perhaps it was a mirage?

I decided to approach my new found pond from the opposite direction, avoiding the worst of the boggy areas and even finding a faint path. Back at the pond a few Keeled Skimmers decided to join the cast.

Keeled Skimmer - male
Keeled Skimmer – male

Finally my curiosity was rewarded with the unmistakeable sight of a teneral Emerald rising from the margins to be carried out across the heather.

Emerald Damselfly - Teneral female
Emerald Damselfly – Teneral female

And then a few more.

Emerald Damselfly - Teneral Female
Emerald Damselfly – Teneral Female

I knew I hadn’t been hallucinating. Mission accomplished, I returned via Rushbush and decided to take a walk alongside Matley Bog to the young Beaulieu River below. Incredibly disappointing after a productive morning. Just a few Azures and FSC’s using the shallow cattle pond near the railway.

With a few moments to spare before I had to meet Sue, I called in briefly to the gully pond at Testwood Lakes Reserve just in time to find a female Emperor ovipositing.

Emperor - Female
Emperor – Female

Ober Water

Such is the lateness of the season that I’ve left it until now to take my first full traverse of Ober Water. A warm, humid yet overcast day with very little or no wind to speak of. Makes a change, but some sunshine would have kicked things along a bit. As it was my 9.00am start revealed absolutely nothing along Silver Stream – not even the expected teneral Keeled Skimmers rising from the heather.

I had to wait until I reached the bogs on the other side of the hill before I found any.

Keeled Skimmer - Immature male
Keeled Skimmer – Immature male

After negotiating some precarious sections of Crab Tree Bog I reached the main stream where a few Beautiful Demoiselles fluttered through the bog myrtle on the opposite bank, and a few further upstream. Disappointingly there weren’t any Small Reds occupying the bog myrtle around the boggy margins, and there were no damsels at all flying over the water for the whole stretch down the Markway.

I crossed the A31 to explore the heather to the south in the hope that I may flush out a few sheltering White-legged Damsels, a reliable spot in previous years proving disappointing this time around.

For the return leg I took the upper path back to Puttles Bridge in the hope that I’d find some roosters. About halfway along my first White-legged showed itself, along with half-a-dozen others all taking shelter and feeding a good 200-300 metres from the stream.

White-legged Damselfly - Immature female
White-legged Damselfly – Immature female

A few Large Red and Keeled Skimmers were also joining them for lunch.So four species so far; a paltry count for mid June. Luckily on reaching the boggy pool on the way over the heath the numbers increased a little with the appearance of some Four-spotted Chaser and several Azure joining yet more Large Reds over the water.

Approaching the end of my walk I attempted to pin down a blue male Keeled, but they weren’t having any of it. Reluctant to return to the car just yet, I searched the heather and bog myrtle just the other side of the Rhinefield Road and was delightedd to find a Small Red, my first this year and th eother species I had hoped to find today.

Small Red Damselfly - male
Small Red Damselfly – male

As if to rub it in there were several amongst the ferns in the car park itself, but I had run out of time. So there you go…if a family a day out in the New Forest is best taken within a few metres of the car park, I recommend Puttles Bridge. The wife & kids can stay on the picnic blanket while you delve in amongst the foliage.

I wish I knew sooner. I could’ve had time to take more photos and saved myself a long walk…

Level Pegging

This weekend we had hoped to to our annual trip to the Somerset Levels, but the weather put pay to that. If we were going to get buffered around and possibly soaked, best to stay local until conditions improve. Instead Doug & I went in search of a little piece of the levels at Pennington; the situation of the pond in a hollow hopefully prevented the worst of the gusts.

We didn’t expect to see anything over water, and this proved the case except for a few hardy damsels braving the inlets and – surprisingly – a couple of Hairys. In fact the first sighting of a Hairy I had was a mating pair who I caught out of the corner of my eye just before they took off over the stream.

Besides being in a hollow, there are plenty of places providing some shelter, and the rich, lush vegetation which has appeared over the past few weeks was ideal for seeking out feeding and resting damsels. Plenty of Azures and Blue-tailed.

Azure Damselfly - female
Azure Damselfly – female
Azure Damselfly - male
Azure Damselfly – male
Blue-tailed Damselflies - mating pair
Blue-tailed Damselflies – mating pair

Joining them were a few Large Red, including a superb melanotum female

Large Red Damselfly - female  melanotum
Large Red Damselfly – female melanotum

A most welcome sight were the brief glimpses of Red-eyed, for once away from the water, but still proving extremely difficult to pin down

One section of long grass just inside the reserve was home to the majority, and this was the first time in years we’ve been blessed with similar spectacles to Westhay Moor, glittering prizes rising up before you in luminous shades of red and blue.

This was more than enough to keep me occupied, and finding more terrestrial Red-eyed gave me a mission, if not fully realised.

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

After skirting the reserve a couple of times, we returned to the sheltered, lively spots and as I was seeking out more damsels, a male Hairy rose from just in front of me to land awkwardly in the bramble across the path. We attempted a shot, but his position was frankly awful, which I think he realised as he rose and returned to his previous bush.

Hairy Dragonfly - male
Hairy Dragonfly – male

Yes, a few annoying fronds and a busy background, but believe me to capture a perched Hairy in Hampshire is something of an achievement. Doug was especially pleased as this species is one of his needed video opportunities and thankfully our subject stayed around long enough to complete his mission.

We took a walk along the river to the rides, and were soon rewarded with a female Emperor patrolling and feeding on the few available butterflies. We stood still and watched as she circled us, frequently approaching within half a meter of our heads as she checked us over.

We waited patiently for her to perch, but when she did it was several metres away and out of sight, so as we drew near she was up and off again. This happened a couple of times before we lost her completely. A shame, but a real delight to just watch. In that little ride she appeared much larger than usual.

We caught sight of another male Hairy on the way back, but we didn’t encounter anything else large, and by now most of the damsels were hunkering down in anticipation of the grey cloud bearing down upon us. I made do with a male Beautiful Demoiselle to round the visit off.

Beautiful Demoiselle - male
Beautiful Demoiselle – male

Such was the turn in the weather I almost completely failed to call in at Crockford on the way back. I did park, and got out of the car before briskly crawling back in again. Crockford will still be there when the sun shines.

Still, a little bit of that Somerset feeling on a windy day here in Hampshire.

The Little Things In Life

Getting worryingly frustrated with the lack of greater diversity, I decided to hone in on what was available without repeating myself unnecessarily. A combination of not encountering a new challenge on the larger front, realising the Downy I was chasing wasn’t going to play ball and the realisation after two hours spent pond-side all I really had to show was a Large Red.

Large Red Damselfly - male
Large Red Damselfly – male

With a relatively dull Monday forecast – commitments and weather-wise – Sue & I took a couple of hours to brush away the stench of city life with a visit to Swanwick Nature Reserve. We didn’t expect much, but we did want to check on the populations of Blue-tailed – sadly lacking on my recent visit.

There were a few around the main lake, but thankfully the higher population were scattered throughout the small open meadow bordering the fishing lake. Not the usual swarms – just a scattering of males and variant females.

Blue-tailed Damselfly – male
Blue-tailed Damselfly – male
Blue-tailed Damselfly – female violacea form
Blue-tailed Damselfly – female violacea form
Blue-tailed Damselfly - female rufescens form
Blue-tailed Damselfly – female rufescens form
Blue-tailed Damselfly -  infuscans form
Blue-tailed Damselfly – infuscans form

This little meadow area proved to be the highlight of our walk around the reserve, with only a few scattered damsels found elsewhere, mainly Common Blue and Azure.

Common Blue Damselfly - male
Common Blue Damselfly – male
Azure Damselfly - male
Azure Damselfly – male

Worth a couple of hours on a dull day for the Blue-tailed, a damsel that can all too often be ignored with increasing familiarity. The same can also be said for Azure, Common Blue and Large Red. We should always appreciate these little jewelled wonders. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Southern Accents

On Saturday I decided to visit a few sites in the South of the New Forest, hoping at least to find some shelter from a very stiff breeze. First call was Rushbush Pond. A reccie of the extensive gorse thicket close to the road failed to reveal anything of interest, and I had to wait until I approached the pond itself before I saw anything other than moths.

A few Common Blue and Large Red Damsels were huddled in the young heather and a few Four-spotted Chasers were seen lifting only to be carried away on the breeze. A favourite corner at least produced a vibrant female Broad-bodied Chaser.

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

In truth 9.30am was a little too early, but after a couple of days rest I was eager to get out.
Next stop Badminston Common, which revealed the usual Large Red and Common Blue.

Common Blue Damselfly - male
Common Blue Damselfly – male

I had hoped to see a Hairy, or maybe an Emperor, but the the only larger game braving the breeze over water was a Four-spotted Chaser.

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

It was along the path that I found something different. Hopping from one terrestrial perch to another was the welcome sight of a male Black-tailed Skimmer.

Black-tailed Skimmer - male
Black-tailed Skimmer – male

I’d forgotten how infuriating they can be with their habit of landing on the ground. I had considered lying down to get some depth, but as I couldn’t complete the manoeuvre in the two seconds he perched, I chose to kneel.

Next stop Pennington and I’m pleased to report it’s woken up considerably since my last visit. Along with the usual suspects there were a good number of Red-eyed in tandem over the water. Blue-tailed were disappointedly low in number, but several Beautiful and a couple of Banded Demoiselles brightened up the foliage.

At the far end a couple of male Black-tailed Skimmers were holding court, and patrolling the middle and other end were a couple of Downy Emeralds and, most welcome, a couple of male Hairy Dragonflies – the first I’ve managed to see this season. I tried, and failed, to grab a shot as they sporadically appeared to weave in & out of the reeds at a frantic pace.

On the way back I called into Crockford, because driving past would be unforgivable. Still wet & muddy from the Spring and the topping up from Friday’s thundery showers. A few Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers were patrolling the pools and occasionally a teneral Keeled Skimmer rose from the heather. Along the stream itself were a very few Beautiful Demoiselles and the inevitable Large Red.

Large Red Damseflies - male & female in tandem
Large Red Damseflies – male & female in tandem

Showing well in the shelter of the bank were several Southern Damselflies.

Southern Damselfly - male
Southern Damselfly – male

So three new species added this season, the elusive Hairy being the highlight.

Golden Wonders

Anxious to make the most of this mini heatwave (sic) I headed further afield Tuesday, calling in first to Blashford Lakes just in case there were a few stragglers from the recent Emperor emergence. I took the short walk along the usual path and filled my boots with a few Common Blues.

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

The minimal reeds around Ellingham Pound showed signs of recent damsel emergence, but nothing else – not even the usual cast of Blue-tailed or Red-eyed. I returned to the centre pond and for once took the bins out of the bag to scour the reeds on the opposite bank. Sure enough there were several empty exuvia and hidden deep within was an emerging Emperor.

Emperor Dragonfly - Emerging
Emperor Dragonfly – Emerging

I continued to Troublefield and was sorely disappointed. I hoped I wouldn’t be, but all I saw after searching both fields were a few Azure, Large Red and Beautiful Demoiselles – not nearly enough and far less than just over a week ago. The uneven ground and watery holes were beginning to grate, so I hopped over to Ramsdown in the hope I may find a few more Scarce Chasers, or maybe something else.

The only large dragons flying over the pond were Four-spotted Chasers and very few damsels. A fresh FSC flew up from the heather and landed nearby.

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

So far no Scarce, and feeling a little dispondent and more than a little tired I brushed through the hill in the hope I might flush something out. I did, but not what I was expecting.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - Immature male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly – Immature male

I shouldn’t have been too surprised as I’ve found Golden-ringed in May in previous seasons, but I wasn’t really expecting a GR so soon considering everything else is late. Despite being in a tricky position, it did raise my spirits enough to continue on.

After doing a full circuit, I was about to return to the car when I spotted a Scarce Chaser rise up out of the scrub.

Scarce Chaser - Immature male
Scarce Chaser – Immature male

I went around again and spotted a male Broad-bodied Chaser chilling out along the path.

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

Again this was a little surprising considering I hadn’t seen any sign of them over the ponds.

Back over the hill a few more Scarce Chasers showed themselves. In all about half-a-dozen, so perhaps still a little early for the majority.

Sunny Delights

Incredible that it may seem we finally have a belt of prolonged sunshine! This has given nature a perfect opportunity to catch up and has kick-started the emergence of many species with the forums alive with sightings. Emperors have synchronised their emergence across many counties, with Wales and Dorset leading the charge closely followed by a mass emergence at Blashford Lakes yesterday.

After a tip-off I called into Testwood Lakes Nature Reserve for the first time in two years hoping to at least see a wealth of Blue-tailed in all their colour forms, but numbers were surprisingly low. Same with the Banded Demoiselles. Very few indeed considering the numbers witnessed at Itchen Valley a few days ago.

I was here for Scarce Chasers though, and this involved an uncomfortable search through waist-high nettles bordering the banks of the Blackwater River. After being stung through my trousers I reached the far end and found two immature males, who proceeded to lead me a merry chase. I didn’t see any females but then I know that they tend to scatter a reasonable distance from their birth river.

Scarce Chaser - Immature male
Scarce Chaser – Immature male

Mission accomplished, I continued on to the pond intent on improving my in-flight technique with those pesky Downys, although there was only the one male today. His visits were sporadic, as was most activity due to large amounts of annoying cloud.

When the sun did break through I was rewarded once again with a fantastic air show with at least half-a-dozen dragons vying for space within a few square metres around the Lilies. The cast of Chasers, Emeralds and a selection of Damselflies appearing to revel in a chance to use their wings joyfully in the pursuit of mates with surprisingly very little aggression.

A welcome addition to the cast were a pair of Red-eyed Damselflies, the first I had seen at the pond this season and the first since the male teneral at Swanwick a week ago.

Large Red-eyed Damselflies - Pair in tandem
Large Red-eyed Damselflies – Pair in tandem

Also making use of the Lily Pads were several Azures and Large Reds

Large Red Damselflies - Pair in tandem
Large Red Damselflies – Pair in tandem

Content to sit and watch as the afternoon went on, I couldn’t resist having another go at the Downy

Downy Emerald - male
Downy Emerald – male