Local Heroes and Distant Rarities

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.

Clouded Yellow Butterfly-female
Clouded Yellow Butterfly-female

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Migrant Hawker - immature female
Migrant Hawker – immature female

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.

Migrant Hawker - immature male
Migrant Hawker – immature male

This female Golden-ringed had a very noticeable kink in her abdomen.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - female
Golden-ringed Dragonfly – female

On the way out we found a worn and over-mature female Broad-bodied Chaser

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

Across the stream in the hunting area another Golden-ringed to complete our day.

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


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.

Ruddy Darter - male
Ruddy Darter – male

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.

Scarce Emerald Damselfly - female
Scarce Emerald Damselfly – female

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.

White-legged Damselfly - male
White-legged Damselfly – male

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.

Downy Emerald - male
Downy Emerald – male

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.