We decided to pay another visit to Swanwick Nature Reserve on Wednesday afternoon, hoping perhaps for a repeat of the the recent butterfly bonanza – although my real sense of purpose was to find some Common Darters to practice on.
The ‘Dipping Pond’ is still choked with vegetation, which really need to be cut back to allow some room for Odo activity. There were still a couple of Blue-tailed visible, and a Migrant Hawker navigated the reeds briefly before returning to the main pond. Common Darters, more Blue-tailed and a few Common Blue were patrolling the sunny spots, while a Southern Hawker chose the corner with a mix of sun and shade, which somewhat hampered any decent in-flight opportunities.
I can only assume that’s a cobweb he’s attempting to free from his abdomen.
Common Darters were visible along the main path, and more so on the small hillock which has recently been rerouted with some quite wonderful foliage borders hosting a wealth of insects, not least the Clouded Yellow butterflies.
The ‘new’ meadow wasn’t anywhere near as lively as last time, with mostly Large and Small Whites and the odd Small Tortoiseshell boosting the remaining and slightly tatty Common Blue. We opted for a circuit of the fishing lake where a male Common Darter finally posed in an agreeable manner.
There were also a couple of Migrant Hawkers patrolling small sections of the fishing lakes, but neither offered an opportunity. Still, plenty of time for those.
The walk to the far clearing threw up several more Common Darters and the ‘dog bath’ pond at the far corner had two male Southern Hawkers vying for territory. The horrific brown murky water didn’t appeal as a background and as neither attempted to perch we returned once again to the hillock where we made the most of the activity, grabbing the odd Common Darter on the way through.
The ‘pink’ background of this shot is a result of choosing to shoot against Sue’s sun-kissed shoulder.
Following on from my Cadnam Common post, the lakes at Swanwick are also experiencing very low water levels, and I presume it’s the same all over. I hate to say it, but we could really do with some rain…
It’s been the best part of two months since I last visited my favourite little pond, and with good reason. The long, hot dry spell we had in July was obviously going to reduce water levels substantially, and seeing similar ponds recently the odd rain showers have done nothing to bring the levels back up.
What is usually a reeded island surrounded by water is now no more than a couple of muddy pools along the Northern edge; the deepest section of the pond. It’s now entirely possible to enter the island without the use of wellies and a sense of adventure.
Nevertheless there is water still underneath and the island is refuge to the colony of Black Darters and the majority of the Common Emerald Damselflies.
Another downside to the lack of water is the stench of accumalted excrement from cattle who , along with the resident ponies, use this as a watering hole. Patrolling the muddy pools were a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers, a few Common Blue, single and tandem pairs of Emerald and a male Southern Hawker which at least provided some sport.
Even the gorse thicket was found wanting. I had at least expected to find a profusion of Common Darters, but even these were in short supply with most being along the Northern fern bank.
A lack of subjects completely in line with the lack of water. I’ve never seen it this low, but the deepest sections should maintain a refuge for underwater life. Another circuit through the thicket, down to the bridge and around the pond provided only this Black-tailed Skimmer perched, typically, at ground level.
Bank Holiday Monday at least provided better weather conditions, although prolonged sunny spells still proved a little elusive. We returned to Ramsdown in an effort to make up for Sunday’s disappointment. The clearing took a while to get going, but did at least have a few Black Darters holed up in the heather.
When Doug arrived we took a stroll up to the upper pond where the ever-present Common Emeralds were joined by Small Red, Common and Black Darters and Keeled Skimmers.
Of more interest was a male Common Hawker weaving in and out of the banks small creeks and hollows in search of females. He wasn’t exactly ever-present, and his chosen patrol was at odds with the sun’s position, but at least I managed a record shot.
This would’ve been an ideal spot to bed in, but with Sue back in the clearing we decided to return, hearing the news that we had missed a couple of Brown Hawker fly-ins. While we waited for a decent sunny spell I had another go at those female Black Darters.
This turned out to be my best shot of the day, and possibly the best shot of a female Black Darter I’ve yet achieved. If only all subjects could offer such golden opportunities.
When at last the sun did stay around for more than a few minutes we had a Common Hawker fly in and land in a sapling obscured by twigs, but he took off and landed in a Fir Tree at a vertigo-inducing angle.
Another record shot then, and further fly-ins proved that Ramsdown and the associated Christchurch Common are indeed a hot spot for this locally rare species. An interesting observation is the sheer speed this species fly at when feeding or wandering, at complete odds with the sedate pace he uses to patrol a water body.
By 5.00pm we’d concluded that was probably it for the day, as the sun was soon to be obscured by the treeline rather than clouds. Nevertheless it remains a challenge to find the chosen feeding areas these late flyers use during the early evening.
The obvious problem with planning dragonfly field trips is the unpredictability of the British weather. Nevertheless the ‘Dragonfly Photo Day’ organised by Dorset Wildlife Trust has long been planned for August Bank Holiday Weekend and unless it poured with rain was going to go ahead.
We met at Ramsdown Forest car park and cursed as the rain started to fall as we made our way around the hill. The ponds at the base have long been dry and unsurprisingly the surrounding heath didn’t show a single species.
Having to dial down the ISO to 800 in the open is never a good sign.
We continued along the path towards the clearing with not a sign of any hawker; not even a Common Darter. It wasn’t until we reached the top pond before we had our first sightings. Emerald Damselflies, both sexes, in very good numbers which allowed our group to fill their boots with the very subjects they were here for.
The constant gloom didn’t help, although the rain had at last stopped. After the Emeralds, the only other subject which gained a following was a surprisingly tame Green Tiger Beetle. We decided to call time and head back for some tea and cake before the hardiest of us continued on to Troublefield. Surely here we would find some dragons holed up?
There were, but we had to persevere before we caught sight of a few tired-looking female Beautiful Demoiselles. Doug spotted a Golden-ringed which didn’t stay around, and Sue spied a female Southern Hawker which also moved on to higher pastures.
A tour of the northern pasture at least threw up a worn Keeled Skimmer – the first time we had seen this species here.
A few more Beautiful Demoiselles were spotted among the plentiful Small White butterflies, and then finally I disturb a female Southern Hawker which I managed to follow in flight, watching carefully as she landed not too far away across the meadow.
Up in the top of the field one of our guests spotted what turned out to be a male Southern Hawker which provided another welcome opportunity.
Back for refreshment at the car we considered our options and after a walk around the fringes decided to go back into the southern pasture to make the most of the sun which had finally decided to break through. At last we saw a couple of hawkers flying, albeit briefly. A female Migrant flew from one section of the oak to the other at a great height, and a male Southern flew back & forth briefly before settling up in the oak as well.
The key corner of this reserve has been compromised by the appearance of a Sallow which seemed to have shot up over the course of a year to obscure the usual perching stems behind. It’s not unusual to see three or four hawkers sharing the same plant stem behind the electric fence, but no such luck today.
Sat in the grass desperately waiting for a feeding frenzy in the now glorious sunshine, a shout came in from Tim that the Golden-ringed he had frantically chased around the stream was flying towards us, and luckily landed a few meters low down in the grass.
A welcome end to a difficult day where most of the group had long given up, but it just goes to show that it is still possible to find dragonflies if you look hard enough.
I’m usually reluctant to revisit sites of summer splendour which have already supplied a peak, and Crockford has produced some stunning peaks this season. Still, looking back I did visit this late in August last season and had a terrific day.
There was always the possibility of some late season hawkers to make another visit worthwhile, and should we find little else we should at least be blessed with the reliable Common Darter. As it was the latter were surprisingly few, at least matched in number by some late Keeled Skimmers.
A few male Beautiful Demoiselles were holding territories, with the occasional worn female flying through.No Chasers today, and no Emperors, which doesn’t mean to say they could be present upstream. On a positive note Golden-ringed were in good attendance.
A walk upstream produced a reasonable amount of Small Red damsels but I worried about the lack of Southern, with only three males spotted during our three hour stay.
Among the heather were a few Common Darters, and occasionally one or two would fly down to take up territories along the stream.
Every so often a male Southern Hawker would fly through and patrol the tree tops for a short while before disappearing uphill. A couple more were seen during a walk around the perimeters, along with a couple of Migrants. Neither came down to the water, so it was left to the ever-present Golden-ringed for photo opportunities.
After we had our fill we called in briefly to Hawkhill. The ‘garden’ area is now so overgrown as to become a deterrent rather than an attractive feeding area for insects. A few butterflies were flying, but nowhere near the levels which were found here a few years ago.
All the seed heads which provided such perfect perching opportunities for feeding dragonflies are now hidden by growing trees. There are still a few non-native plants holding their own, with one bright orange bloom providing an artistic background for a female Common Darter.
We did see a Southern Hawker patrolling the gate area on the way in, probably the same individual who decided to circle the car while we were having a cuppa; at one point perching on the pack of biscuits placed on the roof! Unfortunately my hands were wrapped around a cup and biscuit of my own. There’s still plenty of time for you beauties yet…
I must resist the temptation to visit sites of previous delights when conditions are far from optimum. A Tuesday (13th) jaunt to Ramsdown in the hope of repeating the previous week’s success proved disappointing. A couple of Brown Hawkers were spotted rimming the north of the small hill but no other hawkers were seen lining the paths until we reached our favourite spot.
The rare and infrequent sunny spells curtailed most insect activity, but we did have a couple of Brown Hawkers fly in briefly, preferring to choose the tops of the trees as a hunting ground. One of the females did land briefly to provide an opportunity.
Bored with no action, we continued along the heath to visit the pond beyond the cottage. This pond is mostly inaccessible and involves some fighting through the heather to reach the shoreline. Usually a prime spot for Black Darters, Emerald and Small-Red Damselflies, only the latter showed reasonable numbers. On the water itself was a Keeled Skimmer and a male Emperor.
Another hour at the clearing provided only a couple of glimpses, so we took the wooded trackback to the car where we did at least have a brief glimpse of a Southern Hawker.
A late afternoon blast of sunshine on Thursday was perfect for the short trip to Swanwick Nature Reserve. I wasn’t expecting too much; perhaps the odd damsel and, if we were lucky, the odd hawker or two. As it was the dragonflies were far outnumbered by butterflies, with a fine meadow playing host to scores of Common Blue, Large and Small White, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma.
Also noticeable were the half-a-dozen Clouded Yellow – a fine year for them.
Hawking the margins were four Emperors and a couple of Migrant Hawkers, while in the meadow itself were a couple of Common Darters and female Common Blue Damselflies.
My favourite opportunities came towards the end of our stay when the majority were bedding down to roost for the evening.
We didn’t venture out again until Monday, and in a fit of enthusiasm gave myself a choice, but I might’ve chosen wrong. The winner was Ashley Hole…mainly because I wanted to find a few more pools and possibly connect with another Common Hawker.
Our first mistake was parking at the Ashley Walk car park. The walk in involve some steeper ascents. My second mistake was finding that elusive pond which shows so clearly on Google Earth. What a disappointment – a ‘dead’ pool, used mainly as a cattle watering hole. Our disappointment was increased by how far we’d had to walk in.
At least that walk provided a glimpse of Common Darter, Migrant and Southern Hawker. Only glimpses mind, and we had a tough stroll in the heat back to Ashley hole. By now Sue wanted to return to the car for a cuppa, but I had to at least give it a whirl. The pond where I saw the female Common Hawker on my previous visit was merely a puddle with barely a sign of life.
The one saving grace were a higher concentration of Common Emeralds than last time, in fact the dominant species today.
Other species seen were Common and Black Darter, Keeled Skimmer, female Southern Hawker and…yes…a male Common Hawker. At least I had a glimpse as he surveyed one of the craters for all of 15 seconds before disappearing off to find something more suitable.
I wish I had wings…
After searching and surveying a few more craters I returned to where Sue had set up camp. She had been busy filming a pair of Grayling in cop. As usual I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least I had a chance to finally capture a male perched in a better position than usual.
So regretfully rather slim on dragonflies for this report.
One of the major advantages with keeping a blog is the ability to look back on previous seasons for timely clues on where to visit when days aren’t providing the optimum conditions. A stiff north-easterly with only occasional sunny spells meant somewhere offering shelter and feeding areas was on the cards.
After a few days stuck inside waiting for better weather, we decided to risk it and take a wander around Blashford Lakes, one of the few reliable places within the New Forest boundary where Brown Hawkers are usually guaranteed.
On arrival we were immediately impressed with the fine array of late summer butterflies feeding on the Buddleia at the Centre pond. Large, Small and Green-veined White, Peacock, Comma, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Gatekeeper, Small Heath, Speckled Wood and our first Painted Lady of the season.
A male Emperor flew through but the only other odonata so far were Common Blue damsels lining the pond and the paths past the bird hides. Once we reached ‘hawker alley’ we had our first sightings of Brown Hawker; at least three disturbed from their perches. A circuit around Ellingham Pound didn’t produce much over the water except yet more Common Blue, a few Blue-tailed and a couple of Red-eyed.
Along the back track we had another couple of Brown Hawker sightings and another couple of missed perched opportunities. Even the Emperor at the far end did a disappearing act, but we did see another Clouded Yellow.
I was initially chuffed with my sighting and capture ten days ago, but have since heard (and noticed) they’re everywhere. Always a delight to see and usually a challenge to photograph, especially when feeding as they rarely stay for more than a second or two at one plant.
Back down hawker alley we watched as a male Brown Hawker flew up, circled and landed deep in the bramble. I had to make the best of this opportunity and proceeded to get ripped and stung attempting to approach closer.
By now the cloud was increasing so we briefly connected with the butterflies again before crossing the road for a stroll around the northern rides, usually a reliable area for feeding hawkers. Initially all signs were blank until we reached the far end where a Brown Hawker rose and almost at once perched again, just long enough to grab a record shot.
We did see a Southern and a couple of Migrants during our visit, but too far or inaccessible for any photo attempts. Still, any chance to engage with Brown Hawkers is always welcome, and it dragged me away from the PC for an afternoon!
I often get disappointed at Thursley. This prime dragonfly site can offer some spectacular days with more than enough to keep you occupied, but can also make you wonder why you even bothered making the journey. Thursday was one of those days and partly the reason why I’ve delayed this report until now.
We arrived fairly early to check out a section near the village where Brilliant Emeralds have previously been seen and photographed roosting along a tree-lined path. Of course the ephemeral nature of dragonflies can mean no two days are ever the same. All we saw were a few Common Darters, Keeled Skimmers and not much else. Of course ‘twitching’ is rarely productive and is a practice I tend to avoid, but sometimes you have to scout an area yourself.
From what I could gather from maps this are of the heath isn’t close to any significant water bodies and any findings are commensurate with any open heath area., which means that luck plays a bigger part in success over judgement.
So on to the Moat Pond where at least there were a few Brown Hawkers offering a challenge.
A circuit of the pond revealed a few more Brown and a male Southern occupying the section usually favoured by the Downy, although the latter were noticeably absent on today’s visit. Even the marshy area failed to produce the numbers of damsels usually present, with only a few Common Blue, Emerald and Small Red present.
A walk towards the stream provided several Brown Hawker sightings and a few glimpses of Black Darter and Emerald Damselfly, but not as many as usual – the majority of the former preferring to perch along the boardwalks while the latter sighting were mainly female.
There were at least a few males and even some tandem pairs sharing one of the smaller ponds with an old but stalwart Four-spotted Chaser. The only other significant sightings were Keeled Skimmers. Of more interest was a Puss Moth Caterpillar close to pupation.
These impressive and alien-looking caterpillars have long been a popular subject for nature photographers and since first becoming aware of them a few years back I’ve kept my eyes open, although their impressive size and appearance means they usually find you!
Back at the moat the Brown Hawkers were still in attendance and a Four-spotted Chaser was clashing with an Emerald at the far end of the marshy section. Intrigued I ambled over only to find the subject of his dispute was a male Brilliant Emerald! Excellent, as this is the first I’ve seen here on the moat for three years. Unfortunately his visit was all too brief.
Another circuit failed to show any other hawkers other than Brown along ‘hawkers alley, and even the boardwalks were slowing down. At least there was a male Emperor holding court at one of the small pools.
From a dragonfly point of view a rather disappointing day, especially the lack of any Common Hawker sightings, but maybe still a little too early for here? I should at least be grateful for a Brilliant Emerald sighting, and the encounter with that quite wonderful Puss Moth only goes to show that sometimes it’s better to wait for that golden opportunity.
A promising day with little wind was ideal to pay my first visit to Christchurch Common this season. Being mostly flat with little shelter it’s best avoided in strong breezes, but still remains a top site for Black Darter, Common Emerald and Small Red, although I saw none of the latter today. The other two mainstays were well down number-wise too; I can only assume they’ve burned themselves out after our glorious July.
My main reason for visiting, besides being long overdue, was for the possibility of connecting with some Hawkers, and we weren’t disappointed! No less than 12 Brown, 2 Common, 6 Southern and surprisingly only 1 Migrant. The Brown were their usual selves, rising up from their perches before you had a chance to notice them and flying beyond the tree line.
The Southern were typically more accommodating, with the majority seen along the old railway track or the back ride.
After a two hour ramble we crossed the bypass and walked the track at Ramsdown until we found the larder. I’ve learned the trick with Brown Hawkers is to find their feeding areas, then watch as they circle looking for a spot to devour their prey. That’s the easy part! The fun arrives when you have to crawl stealthily and approach them from below, and scream in frustration when they spot you and disappear.
We watched three males for at least an hour, and even managed to pinpoint their position when they’d drop down low in the heather. Several attempts were made to approach them, and several times I was spotted. While I staked out a section hoping would land close by, one did – just to the right of where I was looking. Of course as soon as I turned my head, it was off!
It helps to have an extra pair of eyes when stalking the most skittish of hawkers, and between Sue directing me of their position overhead she practiced her new found skills with the video camera. It was only when we came home we noticed she had inadvertently shot a Common Hawker – our third of the day.
While I was laid down staking out a small clearing in the heather in case one of my subjects decided to choose it again, Sue called me over to a section of the path where she had one perched a few meters ahead of her. She even had time to shoot some video. Of course when I arrived he shot up and away, but not before I managed a shot of my own.
Back at my thicket we watched as another dropped down and I crawled towards the position, only to lose it again, and while Sue watched in case he landed again another of my quarry dropped a few meters to my left. I drew upon every ounce of stealth and ignored the wet knees and brushed off falling down one of the many holes until I spotted him through the heather perched behind a stem.
This wouldn’t do, so again I dropped down and gently shuffled myself to the right until I could see him in profile without an annoying grass stem crossing his abdomen.
Sometimes you get lucky, but in order to exploit that luck you need a little hard work to make the most of it. By now I felt like I’d done a day’s shift as a stevedore!
Having got my shot we moved on to Troublefield in the hope of grabbing a few Migrants to finish the day, but they were conspicuous by their absence. Usually you can hope to see a few perched up across the leat, but perhaps it was still a little too early for mature roosters.
While I disturbed another three perched Brown Hawkers we bumped into Gary from the DWT who was here to attend the cattle. I forgot my task to engage in a passionate plea to desist from introducing the cattle to the northern meadow until the spring wild flowers have had a chance to thrive, bringing with it countless butterflies and feeding dragonflies, a fantastic sight sorely lacking in the previous years when the cattle had destroyed the splendor.
Let’s hope next year we can enjoy that splendor once again.
At least the late summer butterflies were enjoying themselves, with countless Peacock, Comma, Large and Small White decorating the southern meadows. Besides the eight Brown Hawkers (both sexes) we saw the only other large quarry were a couple of Golden-ringed.
We finally caught up with a couple of immature Migrant Hawkers feeding along the connecting path, in a surprisingly small area – but then I guess when immature they choose the safe option. Neither would pause for an opportunity and to be honest the conditions were too dark to give them justice, so we called it a day.
A fantastic day all told, with a grand total of 23 Brown, 6 Southern, 5 Migrant and 3 Common Hawkers and a supporting cast of Black and Common Darters, Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chaser, Emerald. Common Blue. Large Red and Azure Damselflies and Beautiful Demoiselles.
A weekend of contrasts with some welcome surprise at a familiar location and a new species from the east.
On Saturday Sue & I visited Pennington, primarily to photograph some Small Red-eyed but hopeful for a Hawker or two. We had barely stepped out of the car when we were greeted with the rare sighting of a Clouded Yellow butterfly flying low among the ragwort-strewn grassy verge. This is the first time in four years we had seen this magnificent butterfly and still remembering how challenging they can be I prayed for a moments perching to grab a decent shot.
This proved portentous as Pennington turned out to be more of a butterfly day with dragons few & far between. At least there were a reasonable number of damsels around, but mostly down low in the overgrown foliage.
Near the pontoons there were a few male Small Red-eyed holding territories in the breeze with the higher population choosing the shelter of the far end, including a few pairs.
Still no ponies to keep the growth back this season and some sections of the path are verging on the impassable. Regardless I searched through the towering flora and disturbed a couple of Golden-ringed.
The only other large species seen at the pond was a briefly patrolling male Emperor. Pitiful really, so I decided to explore the rides where I saw another two Golden-ringed. This is the first time that I remember the GR outnumbering other large species at this location.
On my way back I couldn’t help noticing the delightful butterfly activity surrounding a stand of ragwort; certainly the best activity I’d seen all day. And then finally a young Migrant Hawker rose to survey me from a height for a while before graciously settling long enough for a shot.
Mindful that was probably going to be it for the visit, we returned via Crockford, which was alarmingly disappointing compared to a couple of weeks ago. A few Golden-ringed and Beautiful Demoiselles were in attendance, and if you looked hard you could find a few Southern and Small Red hunkered down. Keeled Skimmers were surprisingly noticeable by their absence, with only a few spotted.
We did have a few more Migrant Hawkers though.
This female Golden-ringed had a very noticeable kink in her abdomen.
On the way out we found a worn and over-mature female Broad-bodied Chaser
Across the stream in the hunting area another Golden-ringed to complete our day.
During an evening of reflection Sue decided an act of spontaneity would spice up Sunday, and we decided to brave the perils of the M25 to head east and give Kent a try. Our first location was Cliffe Marshes along the Thames Estuary where there were reports of Scarce and Southern Emerald and a Southern Migrant Hawker. Mindful of ‘twitching’ needles in a haystack I didn’t hold out much hope for the latter two, but did hope at least to come away with a photo of two of the former.
Despite a warning to avoid the site in heavy winds we braved the constant stiff breeze. Note to self:- If the weather forecast suggest an average wind speed with no gusts, assume it’s a constant barrage of odonata-unfriendly conditions!
Our slow and careful journey down the dodgy track threw up hundreds of Ruddy Darters from the bramble verges – a spectacular sight to see them parade in front of our windscreen.
The experience completed my ‘local’ species count for the year and we continued on to the key area. Luckily there were a few seasoned visitors around to show us the key area of the field, and it wasn’t long until we found our first Scarce Emerald.
At least I was going home with something to justify the fuel costs. We managed two hours before the wind became so unbearable I suggested we move south and pay a visit to Bedgebury after a recent report (including some fantastic photos) of Brilliant Emerald on one of the lakes.
Having parked away from the outlandishly-priced main car park, we made our way down the track to the lake, immediately bothered by the human population and accompanying peace-shattering noise. We spotted our first Emeralds patrolling the eastern shore and crossed the bridge to do a quick reccie where we found an abundance of White-legged Damselflies perched among the well-kept flora.
As reported, the best vantage point for patrolling Emeralds was from the bridge where we proceeded to camp for the remainder of our short visit. The constant passing of human traffic and decibels of associated ‘ambience’ kept me on edge for a good hour – our fault no doubt for choosing a weekend!
We had several viewings of Brilliant and Downy Emerald but only the Downy gave a decent opportunity on this occasion.
As things were winding down and aware we’d peaked for the day we took a long, sedate drive back directly west ignoring the motorways until we reached Portsmouth. A long day then, and more of a scouting trip than an odo-fest, but fully justified for the addition of a new species to add to our sightings.