Dorset Disappointment forgotten by Darter Delights

Arne RSPB Reserve

I had always fancied visiting Arne. Several people have told me I should as it’s excellent for dragonflies. It’s also part of the superb area of lowland heath surrounding Poole Harbour, Studland Heath being a personal favourite of mine for as long as I’ve lived down South.

I should imagine a lot of you already know this, and know that Arne should always be included to any visit to the area. I guess we just chose the wrong day. A Saturday as it happens, that one which fell on the last day of May. The one where we were promised sunshine all day until Friday’s forecast when things started to deteriorate.

Always up for a new area to explore, I decided to stick to our plan and we arrived shortly after 12.00 noon, parked and made our way to the ‘dragonfly path’ which I’d spotted on Google Earth as a likely spot. All the clues were there, staring you right in the face.

All we needed was some sunshine.

Except we didn’t get any for a long while, and a long walk later we returned to the spot just in time for things to kick off. All at once the boggy ponds straddling the track were alive with battling Four-spotted Chasers and courting Azures. Large Red and Red-eyed joined the fun and from the depths came forth a male Hairy to pester the patrolling male Emperor.

A perfect moment which lasted all of half an hour, and then nothing. Zilch. Not even a decent photo to go home with.

From the nearby rise we looked for signs of blue sky, but there wasn’t any heading our way; just a depressing blanket of two-tone grey.

We half-heartedly attempted the other heath, but after discovering sod all at the first pond we came to we called it a day. Too tired and too disappointed to walk any further on a fool’s hope.

It’s a shame that my first visit had to be this way, but while in my funk I wondered if there really was any more to offer than the usual heathland ponds I’m so familiar with in the New Forest?

We stopped in at Kilwood Copse on the way back, hoping to at least get something to save the day, but even here the dragonflies were noticeably absent, except some Azure – one of which saved the day.

Azure Damselfly - male
Azure Damselfly – male

And I had to use flash for that!
Badminston Common

Typically Sunday looked a little better, certainly good enough to pop out early for a needed visit to Badminston Heath. Arriving around 9.30 am I buckled down and persevered, looking for a route through this ever-changing landscape.

Due to continued gravel workings several of the previous years ponds were gone and new channels pumped from the other side of the path created new ones, ultimately raising the level of the far lake.

Things took a little while to get going and it was near the back path that I disturbed Common Blue, Azure, Large Red, Black-tailed Skimmers and a male Hairy.

About an hour later the increasing sun brought out a Downy, joining the Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed patrolling the western shore.

Back on the plain I caught sight of a bright red Darter on a small pool, only to retreat at my approach, landing some way off on the gravel. I managed to grab a shot before he disappeared out of sight.

Red-veined Darter - male
Red-veined Darter – male

I was more or less convinced, but did find it hard to be sure as the harsh light of the terrain made it difficult to see the rear screen clearly.

Spurred on by this stroke of fortune I did another circuit, stopping at the northern end of the lake to try for a patrolling Emperor.

Emperor Dragonfly - male
Emperor Dragonfly – male

He even offered me a perched shot, something I didn’t get yesterday.

Emperor Dragonfly - male
Emperor Dragonfly – male

After doing another full circuit, I ended up back at the area of my previous sighting and spotted two patrolling on the slightly larger shallow pool, choosing the gravel margin to perch.

Red-veined Darter - male
Red-veined Darter – male
Red-veined Darter - male
Red-veined Darter – male

I managed both the above shots at 12.30 pm and proceed to set up camp and play the waiting game as once again a long, dark cloud ceased all but the Common Blue activity for an hour.

After a patience-testing hour there was lots of clear blue sky on the horizon, but no sign of either male in the half hour further I waited; just a briefly-passing dark brown ‘Darter’ dipping twice into the pool before heading off across the plain.

Important Note:-

Although Badminston Common is open access, the gravel pits are private with constant working activity on weekdays. There is a public path through the middle of the pits with ample vegetation containing most of the host species, as does the back path separating the gravel pits from the Common.

During my visit there were several dog walkers using the eastern shore of the lake and in previous years some pools have been used by the local youth for swimming. I can assume weekend access to the un-worked part of the site is ‘tolerated’ – or maybe what they don’t see doesn’t bother them.

Also please be aware of ground-nesting birds. On Sunday there were Ringed Plovers nesting…

If you attempt a weekday visit you run the risk of being chased off or even charged with trespass, the consequences of which may render any further access totally prohibited. I therefore ask if you really must visit, do so on a weekend and be aware that you do so at your own risk as parts of this site are potentially dangerous.