A Day of Contrasts

There’s no denying it’s been a slow month; from the first garden pond emergence at the start of the month to sprinklings of Large Red around the middle when we experienced two or three days of relatively warm and calm conditions. Since then we’ve experienced a return to morning frosts, northerly winds and bone-chilling temperatures.

This is by no means unusual and if anything marks a change to normality. For the past few years we’ve experienced early springs leading us into a false sense of entitlement. A walk through your favourite reserves can give you a better feel for progress with spring vegetation barely taking hold.

During the week I returned to the site of my previous findings to be disappointed by the lack of progress with pickings still very meager. With the onset of more cold weather I took advantage of some sunny spells on Saturday to check out Bramshill Common.

I wish I’d brought a jacket! The appearance of a few dark clouds dropped the temperature significantly, and typically my first Large Red sighting coincided with this downturn, making it a challenge to grab a pleasing shot.

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

I saw just one more teneral in this clearing before moving on to a few other likely spots, noting how sodden everywhere still was. The shorelines were breached with few areas, except the trees, to accommodate the recently-emerged.

I had hoped there might be some variation with perhaps a Blue-tailed or Red eyed making an appearance, but it was a good hour or more before I could even find any more Large Reds; suitably sequestered in a small, sheltered micro-climate and rising immediately at my passing to take refuge in the deepest stands of gorse as more clouds appeared.

After my tour was complete I stood and waited at the best spot, watching the display of a Heron and two Red Kites decorate the skies as I waited for the sun to appear once more. It did, all too briefly, but at least allowed just one more subject before I called it a day.

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

The sun is shining through my window as I write and I’m trying hard to ignore it, knowing I’ll probably be disappointed if I venture out. Despite this afternoon’s surprise revelation that a Broad-bodied Chaser has been spotted (indeed photographed) I prefer to wait until the season begins in earnest.

And Now My Watch Begins

Spring is such a wonderful time. The warming days, increased birdsong, new blooms. The anticipation can lead to false starts and impatience, and the subsequent years have taught me to be patient.

My good friend Marc kicked off the season with a garden pond emergence in Kent and the first wild sightings were some days later in Cornwall, which is totally unsurprising. A wave usually heads eastwards with Devon, Dorset and Hampshire following on.

Naturally I’ve been keeping an eye out for sightings and taking a few trepidacious walks to a couple of previously successful spots, but the deciding factor is an unbroken period of warmth and calm.

With the promise of a pleasant couple of days I took my first trip westward into the New Forest on Tuesday (10th). An average wind speed of 5mph meant a look in at Milkham Bottom might be worth it followed by a look in at Broomy Pond, usually the first New Forest pond to produce results. Despite a search of the banks and surrounding heath neither would claim the prize this year, so I continued on to Hurn.

Town Common bristled with reptile action and I encountered more Peacocks (the butterfly) than in previous days.

It was while I was watching one of the latter that I noticed the familiar and welcome sight of a teneral Large Red rise from the heather. That surreal feeling when time appears to stop as tunnel vision takes over is the type of memory that remains forever.

Then panic set in as I tried to remember my stealth skills, which, after a winter of sloth, are a tad rusty. I needed to get in position, but in came the Peacock again to disturb my quarry before a clumsy step by yours truly cast a shadow which sent my prize into the safety of the tree canopy.

I spent the next hour in hunt mode desperately searching for more until I admitted defeat, but the day wasn’t over yet. There was still Ramsdown. I remembered the top pond was usually reliable for early sightings and sure enough it wasn’t long before I found a teneral male in the reeds.

At least this one had the good grace to allow me some photos.

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

Satisfied with my find I took a short walk around the pond margins flushing three more before calling it a day.

Upper Pond at Ramsdown
Upper Pond at Ramsdown

At this point I must praise Chris Dresh and his team of volunteers for their sterling work opening up the ponds on Town Common and clearing the restrictive row of trees on the above pond at Ramsdown. The two Pines are all that remains over a barrier which prevented exploration along the north-east shore.

A few more weeks and we will begin to see some diversity, but for now let us celebrate the start of a new season!