Scorched Earth and Serendipity

Wednesday 22nd April

The culmination of frugal days consisting of long walks and endless searches has subconsciously altered my modus operandi this season; and the delightful swarms seen at Hatchet earlier brought home to me that it’s the days of plenty which I enjoy most.

Those days when the walk takes a back seat and allows you time to stop and take it all in, filling your boots (metaphorical and otherwise) and enjoying the spectacle instead of relentlessly digging through the undergrowth seeking out tenerals.

However at this time of year it helps to just enjoy the walk!

With this in mind I chose a ramble through Town Common on Wednesday – much earlier than I’d usually visit this location – to get a feel for what was about, how the ponds were etc – just a relaxing stroll through a favourite (admittedly extensively managed) pocket wilderness.

Any Odo’s would be a bonus.

There were a few teneral Large Red rising from the heather as I passed and having been satiated I didn’t hunt them down. The only thing which could have disturbed my preamble was a variation in species, but not this day.

No matter – I’m enjoying the walk, remember?

I had a plan to wander a little further south along the old railway track in search of more water bodies, but as I came to the end of the back path I noticed the scorched thicket of gorse to my right.

When I turned the corner and broke out of the shadows I was confronted by a scene of utter devastation. It appears it wasn’t just St. Catherine’s Hill which bore the brunt of the recent arson; a third of Town Common had been laid bare too.

Scorched Earth on Town Common
Scorched Earth on Town Common

Three little words struggled past my lips as my eyes took in the horror. The gorse thicket where the Dartford Warblers frolicked…the deep heather where the Sand Lizards and Smooth Snakes basked and hunted, and feeding Odo’s took time out from the water. Now a bronzed landscape peppered with bronze trees and skeletal stumps.

The experience was shocking and unexpected, delivered in a sudden punch to bring me out of my reverie and cut short my peaceful stroll.

Still reeling from the blow I changed course and headed back across the line to more familiar territory and didn’t look back. Instead I decided to continue my ramble by crossing the road and retreating to Ramsdown, doing the full tour before heading back to the car and moving on to Troublefield where I took time out to just sit by the river and watch the butterflies…and take it all in.

Thursday 23rd April

I needed a change of scenery and subject, so began with a walk around Magdalen Hill before moving on to the tranquility of Noar Hill for some butterfly therapy.

Plenty of opportunity to just sit and drink it all in.

While I was amusing myself with a trio of Dukes and a couple of Dingy Skippers I bumped into another couple of BF nuts, followed by a couple more and accepted this wasn’t going to be a solo venture.

I struck up a conversation with one of the gentlemen regarding butterflies before turning to (my preferred) passion for dragonflies when in a moment of serendipity a Large Red flew in from nowhere and placed itself directly at my feet.

Large Red Damselfly - male
Large Red Damselfly – male

Don’t you just love it when that happens?

A New Tail

Tuesday 21st April

Another beautiful day and a trepidacious visit to Titchfield Haven. A few things have changed since last season; a small increase in price (25p? Think I can manage that!), longer opening hours and doing away with that one-day-of-the-week closure.

On arriving at Darter’s Pond the first shock was the removal of the strand of trees (and associated foliage) to the south of the pond. This is a mistake (in my opinion) as it provided vital shelter from those stiff sea breezes which can ruin a visit.

The site is far too open now, which means that any risers from the pond end up drifting for miles towards shore instead of conveniently finding a perch close by and accessible.

This happened a lot today. Not least with a couple of fresh Hairy Dragonflies which disappeared way beyond reach to even think of a record shot.

No matter. A consolation prize were a few fresh Blue-tailed.

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

Besides these new finds (for the season) there were plenty of Large Red; mostly drifting the way of the hairy, but a couple at least placed themselves in what little foliage there was.

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

Give it another week and there should be more value for money 😉

Third Time Lucky

Monday 20th April 2015

It’s over a week since I looked at the southern half of the New Forest; with the usual triumvirate of Pennington, Crockford and Hatchet with Ipley Cross tagged on the end.

I was expecting more from Pennington, but perhaps being coastal it’s lagging behind a little. Not one seen except a teneral rising just as I was on my way out. I’m assuming Large Red, but I certainly couldn’t get close enough for a positive ID.

Maybe there are a few more kicking around in the treetops or adjacent land, as the foliage is in stark contrast to last year – virtually non-existent. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve done a superb job of clearing the excess, opening up a larger section of the bank. The problem lies with the lack of growth; as everywhere taking a little time to get going.

At Crockford things were pretty much the same, but at least there was heather and plenty of gorse offering low-level shelter, but again only a teneral spotted rising high from the shallow pond.

However things started to heat up nicely at Hatchet (Small) Pond. The gorse was alive with Large Reds. I stopped counting at 100, so you get the idea. Plenty of choice, but I wanted a shot against the yellow of the gorse flowers; a delightful contrast with the bold hues of the subject.

Large Red Damselfly - immature male
Large Red Damselfly – immature male

So if you’re pining for a Large Red Hatchet Small Pond will currently offer you more than you could possibly want without straying too far from the car…

Early Risers

This pleasant burst of prolonged sunshine is just what we need to get things started, and after the lone individual spotted at Swanwick last Friday I’m pleased to report the New Forest has climbed aboard with the usually-reliable Broomy Pond producing a few emergers on Tuesday, followed by another half dozen at Ramsdown.

A quick call in at Swanwick on Wednesday produced another half dozen spent exuvia and a fresh teneral rising into the trees at the dog pond, but no signs yet at any of the larger lakes.

This of course makes perfect sense; the smaller, shallower water bodies heat up faster than their larger and deeper cousins. This is also why you may encounter premature emergings in a captive situation; including garden ponds.

In the wild things may take a little longer, especially at higher altitudes and exposed moors. Broomy is usually the first of the New Forest ponds to produce the first Large Reds, but a truer picture can be gained when adjacent ponds also show a good emergence.

Thursday was one of those days, where I observed my first 8 tenerals rising from the pond at Cadnam Common during a brief circuit.

Numbers were doubled at Milkham Bottom, with the tenerals lifting from one side of the boggy pond to follow the breeze uphill.

Broomy was even busier. Not quite as many as expected, but persevering with a search through the heather produced at least 50, pretty much all of them rising high and drifting far across the moor.

This left few individuals to pin down, and even then they proved difficult hiding deep down in the heather.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – teneral male
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – teneral male

So we’re definitely up and running. All we need know is a little variety 🙂

Season’s Greetings

Welcome on the start of a new season. Kent and Cornwall won the race with the first sightings on the 5th March. Reason enough to start keeping an eye out, and I’ve visited a few favourite haunts over the past week making the most of this glorious weather.

The first thing which became apparent was how dry it was. At this time last season my wellies were essential, but a somewhat dry winter has kept the ground dry without sacrificing the water bodies.

This of course means that the plant life has some catching up to do, and the early crop of butterflies are having to make do with a far smaller choice. What we needed was a few days of warm weather to raise the water temperatures enough to coax the Odo’s out, and this week was ideal to kick-start the emergence.

After coming up short at a few preferred sites this week – including the small pond down the road – we finally found our first Large Red of the season at the local nature reserve.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - teneral male
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – teneral male

So well done Swanwick Nature Reserve! Here’s to a fulfilling season.