Paying Dues

Friday 21st August

Having mentioned the pond responsible for my obsession in the recent video I felt I had to pay another visit to Cadnam Common in the hope I’d find a Southern or two, and I wasn’t disappointed. As soon as I arrived a male was patrolling (their favourite) section by the gorse bush.

Southern Hawker - male in-flight
Southern Hawker – male in-flight

A little further along was another, surprisingly sharing a section with a withered-looking Emperor. There was even a tatty Four-spotted Chaser; well beyond his sell-by date, but fair play to him.

A female Emperor paid a few visits to drop her eggs, frequently having to battle and see off the attentions of the males.

Emperor - female ovipositing
Emperor – female ovipositing

While I was photographing the female, I noticed the healthy growth of Water St. John’s Wort, reassuring to surmise this pond hasn’t suffered as much as I originally thought. Hopefully then some better showings of Scarce Blue-tailed, although I didn’t spot any today.

There were three male Emperors holding territories, and they mostly kept out of each others way. Straying too far after the female caused the occasional battle.

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

Certainly the best showing of Common Darters I’ve witnessed so far this season with at least half-a-dozen tandem pairs ovipositing into the shallows. Common Emerald were also showing nicely in good numbers, one of this season’s success stories, and a nice surprise was a fly-through from a male Beautiful Demoiselle.

Further variety was offered by a couple of Black Darters hiding out among the reeds and rushes of the island, with one male braving the near shore among the Common Darters.

One brief Moorland Hawker visit today; a female unfortunately driven off by the resident & spiteful Emperor. Not so spiteful, and exceedingly agreeable from my point of view was this male who paraded in front of me for a short while before perching.

Emperor - male
Emperor – male

Broken cloud, not huge dull blankets, and some warm spells of delightful sunshine awoke the pond to it’s original splendour. Even in the quietest moments there was something to observe.

Southern Hawker - male in-flight
Southern Hawker – male in-flight

A grand day at the pond that started it all.

A Welcome Old Friend

Sunday 16th August

Where are all the hawkers? I’m already getting the feeling that the season is running headlong towards the finish line, and it’s only August! I should expect to see several Southern and even more Migrant on a visit to the Hurn heaths, but this past week has been sorely lacking.

Of course the jet stream is to blame; hanging miserably across Spain, giving France a hard time too. Endless cloudy days with the sun barely poking through, often hazy and never enough to raise the temperature sufficiently. I hate to say it, but I’d rather it rained!

Well, rain it did for once over the course of a couple of days at the end of last week. Not the torrential deluge promised by our ridiculous weather-warnings, but enough at least to raise the levels at Cadnam Common, where for once this year it at last resembles the pond I fell in love with.

A pleasing sight for sure, and enough at least to give a reasonable level of activity during those infrequent sunny spells, with three male and a female Emperor jostling for position, a tentative scout by a couple of Southern Hawkers and some Common Darters joining the quite prolific Common Emeralds over water.

A very poor week, but at least a worthwhile ending on Sunday at Ramsdown with a moment I’ve been waiting for. The low, purposeful flight and somewhat dark appearance was unmistakable. Here at last was a Moorland Hawker I could get acquainted with.

Moorland Hawker - male in-flight
Moorland Hawker – male in-flight

At this time of year you expect a Southern to appear during those brighter moments, but if I’m totally honest this was better. Our rarest local Hawker is always a delight to see anywhere in and around the New Forest. Having one resident on a pond is the icing on the cake.

Moorland Hawker - male in-flight
Moorland Hawker – male in-flight

I half expected to see the Emperor appear to spoil things, but since my last visit he’s had to back off, and this was shown to great effect when he tried to muscle in and grab the limelight. Not today mister. Move over – there’s a new kid on the block.

Moorland Hawker - male in-flight
Moorland Hawker – male in-flight

Naturally we both had to suffer those cloudier moments, but as soon as the sun reappeared, so did he.

Moorland Hawker - male in-flight
Moorland Hawker – male in-flight

Each Hawker has it’s own distinct peculiar attributes in-flight. The Emperor is decisive and predictable, the Southern gregarious and inquisitive, the Migrant sociable and a frequent hover-er, and then there’s the Moorland.

Moorland Hawker - male in-flight
Moorland Hawker – male in-flight

Surprisingly tolerant of others where populations are high, yet highly territorial with other species, with aggression to match. One individual left alone surveys his territory with all-seeing eyes, weaving in & out of reeds at a low level much like the Hairy, imitates the Emperor with a zig-zag pattern over open water, occasionally chooses a higher level like the Migrant.

Best of all is when he approaches you slowly from across the other side of the pond, comes in very close before drifting off, turning and repeating the exercise two or three times before he changes course.

A quite fabulous dragonfly.

Rabbit In The Headlights

As a follow on from my visit to Bramshill a couple of weeks back, here are the results of the day’s filming with Aaron Cook. Special thanks to Aaron for putting me at ease (in what was a slightly scary experience) and giving a perfect insight into how I spend my summer days.

Pond Life

Saturday 8th August

A change in the weather forced a change of day for an outing with Doug. Our Priddy trip postponed, we stayed local and visited a new favourite pond of mine which I reserve the right to remain silent about to respect those who wish to keep it quiet.

There’s nothing to beat spending a whole afternoon at one pond, providing of course there is enough action to keep you busy. Although a little quieter than last time, there were still a fair few male Emperor to give some fabulous aeronautics.

Naturally there was a female or two present to keep the males competing. Unfortunately for them (and us) she was unreceptive to any advance, and showed it fiercely. Deadlier than the male indeed.

Around the margins there were a good population of Ruddy and Common Darters to keep us amused, and a high concentration of Common Emeralds representing the damselflies.

Common Emerald - male
Common Emerald – male

It wasn’t long before they were joined by a male Southern. He chose his small territory close to shore and was happy to show the Emperor there was a new kid on the block, and he wasn’t backing down.

Southern Hawker - male in-flight
Southern Hawker – male in-flight

This was primarily what we were here for. The Southern Hawker has long been a favourite for in-flighters, and they make a pleasant change from the Emperor.

Southern Hawker - male in-flight
Southern Hawker – male in-flight

A most surprising and welcome visit was from a female Brown Hawker. Two visits by I’m assuming the same individual, but she needed somewhere a little quieter.

The Emperors were content themselves, and during one violent encounter a male was thrown to the water. Dunked. There can be varying results from a defeat like this; sometimes they are too weak to break themselves free from the surface tension, and other times they recover enough to nurse their wounds on a nearby perch.

Emperor - male
Emperor – male

Thankfully they are a little easier to approach after a defeat, and you can see from this and other encounters he’s received substantial damage to his abdomen, wings and, if you look closely, has lost one of his anal appendages.

No more coupling for this poor chap.

The Southern disappeared for a while, allowing some time to pursue those beautiful little Ruddy Darters, which are so infrequent in the New Forest.

Ruddy Darter - male
Ruddy Darter – male

Another grand afternoon at the pond.

Kicking Back in Hawker Country

Tuesday 4th and Friday 7th August

Yes…it’s reached that stage in the season. That time when I can relax and waste several hours at one pond. It’s a privileged position to be in; and only arrives when I’ve seen all Hampshire species.

I had two to get; the Migrant and Moorland Hawker. Somewhat late, I bagged my first Migrant in Essex last weekend, and on Tuesday I had the most fantastic display of a female Common Hawker circling the pond at Ramsdown.

She was constantly thwarted by the resident male Emperor; a vision alone as he flew at 45 degrees to engage with her 20 feet above. The battle continued, and occasionally a male Brown Hawker got caught in the affray.

After a couple of reappearances she gave in to the bully. I hung on for as long as possible, hoping she would reappear, but on this day the pond shut early. Calling  into Troublefield I at least bagged a Golden-ringed to finish off the day.

Golden-ringed - male
Golden-ringed – male

On Friday I started with the path at Town Common. As soon as I turned the corner a Brown Hawker rose to parry along the path, giving false hope that he’d rest close by. No such luck.

On my return I swore the same Brown Hawker reappeared to mock me. It was while I was searching high and low for him I found an immature female Moorland Hawker perched high in the gorse. Fair enough – might as well do the circuit.

Surprisingly there were still a few tattered Silver-spotted Blues within the heath, and the cloud cover meant the Emerald and Small Red were sheltering around the pond margins. So too were the Black Darters.

Black Darter - imm male
Black Darter – imm male

Regrettably I only saw one more Hawker, and that was a Brown who appeared from nowhere as I was attempting to grab a shot of a mating pair.

Black Darters - pair in cop
Black Darters – pair in cop

Over at Ramsdown I disturbed a Migrant in the clearing, and at the pond I was greeted by the sight of a male Moorland cruising low around the margins. I had the briefest time with him before the resident Emperor saw him and a Brown Hawker off. He was an antagonistic git, this one!

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

Robbed of my prize, I half-heartedly shot a few in-flighters just to keep busy. The Moorland returned and flew high for a short while before the Emperor repeated his dominance, and that was the last I saw of him.

Still nothing flying at the clearing, so I checked the heath pond where a solitary Keeled Skimmer joined the Black Darters and countless Common Emeralds. They at least are thriving here.

I hadn’t checked the hill pond for a month or so, and wondered if it was worth it. It was barely more than a muddy puddle but enough to grab the attention of a female Moorland Hawker.

Once again I was treated to the enthralling flight display as she followed a wide and high triangular path above the pond. After realising I wasn’t going anywhere she flew down, nervously scouting the puddle for the right place to lay her eggs.

Moorland Hawker - female
Moorland Hawker – female

I kept as still as I could, having witnessed the shyness of the females on many occasions. The wrong move would have called an end to her labours and my enjoyment.

Moorland Hawker - female
Moorland Hawker – female

She certainly made up for missing the male earlier, and rounded the day off nicely.

On Cue

Sunday 2nd August

A few weeks ago while at Bramshill I bumped into a fellow who was intrigued at what I was up to. By no means the first time, as often when out in the field I get accosted by strangers asking what I could possibly be photographing.

I like to remain polite, but there are occasions when Mr. Hyde takes over and they are presented with sarcasm or pedantry; a favourite response being Pterodactyls, just to gauge their sense of humour. Thankfully the majority are fascinated and pleased to be introduced to a whole new world right in front of their eyes.

Shortly after my Bramshill encounter I received an e-mail from Aaron Cook asking if I’d be interested in participating in a short video about dragonflies. Knowing full well I have a face for radio and a voice best experienced when silent, I tentatively answered yes to the idea.

After a few weather-induced postponements we agreed to meet and give it a shot. Aaron was already set up on site as I arrived and proceeded to fit me with a microphone and direct a little dialogue, something which I was totally nervous about. Maybe I should have brought the other flask.

While I was wallowing in my wellies, pointing the lens at some Red-eyed hovering around the Lilies, I noticed a Small Red-eyed, the first I had personally seen here, but that’s probably due to me not being here last year at this time.

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

Our best opportunity came with a friendly and reliable Emperor. After checking us both out individually, he proceeded to put on a show for both our benefits, even hovering long enough for Aaron to capture him on screen.

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

I was busy panning and predicting, shooting off a few but waiting for that ‘moment’. In the meantime nosy Common Darter provided a diversion

Common Darter - male in-flight
Common Darter – male in-flight

That ‘moment’ arrived when the Emperor approached close enough to capture the detail., providing me with one of my best in-flighters.

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

Aaron was a little surprised at how mobile you have to be to get the full benefits, yet I left out many of the pockets I normally include. Thankfully the shoreline had enough interest and opportunities to give him the footage he needed.

Common Darter - male
Common Darter – male

An interesting day for sure, and another where I took the back seat and learned many things about a different medium, but more about myself.


Behind Blue Eyes

Saturday 1st August

A  discussion on Friday night decided a road-trip was on the cards. An ideal opportunity for a ‘twitch’. Neil Phillips had announced the return of the Southern Migrant Hawker at Wat Tyler Park, a place I had avoided previously because I dislike ‘country parks’ and dislike twitching even more 😉

The difference here is, as with the Green-eyed Hawker, the continued residency of a species at a given site over the course of many seasons means it’s not exactly a twitch in the true sense of the word.

If you’re after further controversy, I prefer to call this beast by the standard European name Blue-eyed Hawker, not least because it’s given English moniker is confusing and non-descriptive. Besides, it winds up the status quo!

Wat Tyler was extremely easy to find and not as bad as I’d imagined. Sure, it was full of local families out for a day in the park with the expected inconveniences and high noise levels of happy (or indeed unhappy) children, but you could say the same about twitchers!

The key area was centered around the boardwalks and the ponds. Indeed, it was at the first boardwalk that we encountered our first by the crowd of observers aiming binoculars into the lower reaches of the reeds.

Anxious to explore a little, I followed a friendly regular who led me to the pool with the ramp where one was posed quite conveniently surrounded my several photographers. Naturally I joined in, finding a niche out of the way of others lenses, crouching down to get the best angle I could.

Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male

In the bag then! A beautiful species for sure. Surprisingly tolerant of nosy humans, as most rarities seem to be, he simply got on with his business until he felt it was time to explore himself. Now I could relax, and continued around the site, stopping frequently to observe the fabulous overhead display of sometimes up to three individuals at once.

The first one along the boardwalk had now risen and was giving a fine showing circling the boardwalk, sometimes flying along the path in similar curiosity shown by Southern Hawkers.

Over on the other side of the road is another short boardwalk lined with emergent plants populated with a range of butterflies. It was here we had our own fine display by a male basically showing off.

There was news of a few males on the small pond next to the car park, so I found a vantage point, at first already occupied but graciously passed on allowing me to attempt some in-flighters.

Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male

This pond I presume is the one which has initiated the stern warning regarding the surrounding reeds, asking people to keep to the paths and avoid destroying the habitat to get a better view.

Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis) - male
Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis) – male

According to the book these almost dry ponds heavily choked with bull-rushes and the like are exactly the environment preferred by the Blue-eyed Hawker. However a choked pond is counter-productive to diversity, as was evident by the very poor populations of other odonata.

Besides the occasional showing of a Southern Hawker, a Migrant, an Emperor, a couple of Common and Ruddy Darters and very few Blue-tailed, the cupboard was bare. Some discrete management of these ponds will go a long way to increasing the diversity without driving off the Blue-eyed Hawker.

It will also allow observers to get a better view without resulting to environmental vandalism. Everyone’s happy, especially the dragonflies. There are several examples where this balance works.

Anyway, back to those Hawkers. After the first late morning flux of activity, further outbreaks became more sporadic. There were a few more overhead showings in the afternoon, with the boardwalk opposite offering the quietest experience and the best displays.

I even had a pristine Clouded Yellow fly through, and a patient Ruddy offered myself and Jeff, a fellow I’ve previously met at Latchmore,  a welcome opportunity to round off the day.

Ruddy Darter - male
Ruddy Darter – male

A new month and a new species. Here’s to August!

Old Friends

Friday 31st July

Jerry came down to bag a Golden-ringed or two, so we met at Crockford just before 10.00am. The car park was open a day before scheduled, but this was probably to accommodate the twitchers who had been there all week after a sighting of a Red-backed Shrike.

We didn’t stir much up on the walk in, but there was a male Golden-ringed at the basin which graciously posed for a shot or two.

Golden-ringed - male
Golden-ringed – male

Annoyingly a large, black ribbon of cloud killed all activity on our walk upstream, but when the sun did eventually reappear things were still rather subdued. Numbers have been down all across the forest; not just in comparison to last year’s excellent season, but generally.

There were only a few Southern Damselflies, even fewer Small Red and most surprisingly only a few Keeled Skimmers. At this time of year you should expect to see hundreds of the latter, with at least half-a-dozen bullying any passing Golden-ringed.

As we were about to move on I realised I’d left my flask upstream, so I returned to retrieve it. By now the sun had broken through and there was a Golden-ringed holding territory on the channel while an Emperor paraded around the ford.

We decided to move on to Ober Water, a great favourite of mine and a place which Jerry was anxious to visit again. By now the cloud had dispersed and for the most part our walk was bathed in sunlight. A family of Buzzards calling in the trees and occasionally lifting on the thermals gave promise to some dragonfly activity.

Entering from Puttles for a change, we crossed the heath before finding the gap through the trees to cross the stream. What is usually a rather busy area was somewhat disappointing, and the small pool a little further failed to provide a Golden-ringed.

Even the usually busy section close to the bog outflow was very subdued, but at least we found some opportunities among the grasses and Bog Myrtle.

Small Red - pair in cop
Small Red – pair in cop

Turning inland at Rhinefield we found an obliging male Keeled Skimmer who kept us amused, and invited a little friendly competition to see who could get the cleanest green background.

Keeled Skimmer - male
Keeled Skimmer – male

A convenient buttercup provided a little spotlight.

Keeled Skimmer - male
Keeled Skimmer – male

Other than these we had a couple of passing Golden-ringed, a few Beautiful Demoiselles and very few Southern Damselflies. In fact the only species in good numbers today were the White-legged, which this year appear to be thriving here.

Not a great selection then, but that only made each encounter more valuable. Good sites, good company, good day.

The pint afterwards was merely a bonus 🙂