In the Heat of the Moment

Tuesday 23rd August

Another two days of glorious sunshine which certainly produced the goods. With temperatures expecting to reach 30°C+ and reasonably light winds the conditions were perfect for some pond action; at least until mid-afternoon.

Wednesday I had a field trip scheduled so on Tuesday I selfishly indulged while scouting Bramshill for the best action and variety. Arriving shortly after 10.00am it was already sweltering which meant that all warm-ups were completed and the ponds were in full swing.

Each pond in the clearing has its own personality. The middle pond offered the best spectacle with plenty of Common Blue acroos the water and around the margins.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) - male
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) – male

Common Emerald some Azure and a few Blue-tailed shared the space along with several tandem pairs of Common Darter and a few Ruddy adding variety. However this is hawker season and I spent some time just watching the show.

Two or three Migrant Hawkers were weaving in and out the bulrushes, frequently flying through the shaded half which didn’t offer the best in-flight opportunities. A male Brown put on a spectacular show gliding along an almost predictable figure of eight path high above the surface, offering a great chance for some panning practice, but just a pleasure to watch.

Along the gorse hedge a male Southern wove back & forth above the scrub for a while before crossing the causeway to mirror his pattern, avoiding the water and circling yours truly.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male

Here was my subject. Brilliantly dapper in his youthful vibrancy contrasting nicely with the subdued tones of the dry scrub. What more could you possibly want? Well, an opportunity for a face-to-face shot will do nicely.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male

At the far pond another male Brown Hawker was holding court along with a Migrant among the procession of Common Darters and more Ruddy, however the Common Emerald was the dominant damsel here.

The rising heat didn’t warrant walking too far so a brief stroll along hawker alley returning along the shore of Long Lake offered some diversity with both Red-eyed species present but the stiff breeze and humid heat kept the hawker action down. However in the sheltered micro-climate of the bulrushes a male offered a pleasing opportunity.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - male
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) – male

Returning to the ponds the earlier action over the open pools had all but seized so I decided to finish the day back with the Ruddy Darters at the pond offering some shade. The hottest part of the day resulting in the pleasing ‘obelisk’ position as he attempted to cool down.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) - male
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) – male

With most of the dragonflies having gone to cool down I too called it day. Cracking day though, showing Bramshill at it’s best 🙂

Gone Fishing

Monday 15th August

There is no doubt in my mind that the Moorland (Common to you nationalists) Hawker is right at the top of my hawker list. Why? Well, here in Hampshire ,despite we are a tad blessed with the New Forest, it defies it’s British name.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Thankfully there are a few strongholds where it thrives. The hills of Wales and Scotland, the moors of North Lincolnshire and, my personal favourite due to being in reach, Priddy Mineries in Somerset.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Ironically I’d had my first sightings here in the New Forest with three males and two females over the course of two days which would no doubt satisfy most observers, but there was no way I would forego a trip to Priddy – especially with our second summer.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Arriving just after 11.00am the hawkers were already patrolling the northern shore and I stopped a while to get some practice with a couple of Moorland and a Brown patrolling the north-eastern corner.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - male
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – male

The pool at the entrance had just the one over the reeds some distance from shore; it’s a little later in the season when they’re brave enough to parade in front of picnickers and dog walkers.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

A lone Emperor was patrolling half way along the causeway while a very mature Four-spotted Chaser occasionally lifted from his chosen perch. There were more Moorlands and even a Brown at the already occupied fishing stands however my favourite spot is the boggy north-western watershed.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Beyond the shore a Brown Hawker tussled for territory with an Emperor while a couple of Moorland explored the edges for secretive ovipositing females of which I noticed two during my stay. Occasionally a male would shoot out to pick a fight with the Emperor, seemingly just for the fun of it.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Unlike other hawkers the Moorland rarely maintains a constant patrol for long, frequently choosing to fly some distance uphill, a journey you can follow easily as he flies towards the sun.

When they do come in they more or less follow the same path low down and close to shore investigating every nook & cranny. These are the moments I wait for; predicting his path and waiting until he’s close enough to enable  maximum detail, although sometimes he can get a little too close.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

A such a fine day there were more photographers present than I’ve seen before. Across the pond I could see the familiar blue-shirted figure of Mike Dimery mirroring my rooted stance and intense concentration at his favourite corner.

Mike joined me for a chat and Jerry popped in after a day at the levels with an Osprey, wishing he’d brought the ‘other’ lens.

I should also give a shout out to Nigel Kendall who I completely failed to recognise despite having shown him the Scarce Blue-tailed some years back. My apologies Nigel, your quiet demeanor and my selective memory for faces no doubt to blame.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

So a fine day with fabulous weather and more than enough to keep me amused, and some friendly faces for a little sociability.

At least when I took my mind of those hawkers…..



A Welcome Return

Friday 12th August

Friday was one of those days that took a long time to get going in more ways than one. An early commitment delayed my start by an hour, and the subsequent journey was hampered by holiday traffic, so it was 11.00am by the time I arrived at Town Common.

Too late for hawker alley on a day like this. They’d all be off feeding. Not one hawker the whole length of the old railway either; nor the returning back track. Where the hell were they all? Not over water as the only patrollers were an Emperor and a bevy of Black Darters, Common Darters, Common Emeralds and a few Azure.

After a check of the clearing, the hidden pond and Hill Pond at Ramsdown I was starting to feel a little disheartened. Only a Black Darter gave me something to engage with.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - male
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – male

Back at the clearing there were a couple of Brown Hawkers feeding along the tree line and a Migrant holed up in the gorse.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - immature male
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) – immature male

I headed towards the small heath pond and spotted a couple of male Moorland Hawkers hunting the area, occasionally coming to blows and, more importantly, checking out the pond from high.

Finally one came in and proceeded to put on a low-level show around this almost-dry waterhole. Just the ticket for this fellow, and just what I’d been waiting for all day.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

That’ll do 🙂

Sunday 15th August

On Sunday Sue & I took a drive to Cadnam Common to see how things were going and at first glance the pond didn’t look too promising.

Water levels were down and  filthy, with a deep scum of what I can only describe as silage ruining the usually clear surface. Only a few Common Darters were present along with a few Common Emerald and Small Red. Just as I was about to turn heal in came a reason to stay.

Flying high above the pond and occasionally engaging with the resident Emperor was the unmistakeable sight of a Moorland.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

This is usually a rare treat for this pond, and most unusual considering there wasn’t a Southern laying claim. I however did find an immature Southern and Migrant in the gorse during one of the frequent cloudier moments.

When the sun returned so did our Moorland, until he spotted a female we had completely failed to notice. His first two attempts failed but third time lucky and that was my subject gone for half-an-hour.

Thankfully he returned after his conquest and I did my best to grab a sharp shot against the cryptic background of the surface, but it did make for an interesting bokeh.

Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male
Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male

Despite not managing to get the shot I really wanted I was more than happy they were present here again this season. That’s three males and two females seen within as many days in the New Forest.

Now that’s something to celebrate!


Four Weeks On at Bramshill

Tuesday 9th August

Is it really four weeks since I took a trip to Bramshill? Besides the time factor it seemed to be the ideal choice for the best of the sunshine; for the morning at least.

The first hawker I encountered was a Brown; perched among the gorse until I came into view and then he was off across the trees as usual. I saw two more disappear along hawker alley, which was now alive with Common Darters, a role previously held by the Black-tailed Skimmers, rising before you to return to the gravel track or into the treeline.

It had been a cold morning, and the sun took a while to warm things up. Across the water were the usual Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed damselflies; the latter beginning to look a little tired. Nothing larger at this hour.

Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum) - pair in-cop
Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum) – pair in-cop

I decided to burn some calories checking out the rides and other ponds but didn’t raise any more hawkers until I reached the triangle where a male Southern rose and an Emperor was feeding low along the gorse hedge. A couple more rose from the undergrowth as my boots drew near.

Returning to Long Lake I took a paddle along the shore noticing the water levels had receded significantly from the treeline, but the remaining mosses provided the perfect background for a late Four-spotted Chaser.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) - male
Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) – male

Likewise a Keeled Skimmer.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) - male
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) – male

The vibrant green moss was also perfect for showing off a pair of Blue-tailed.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - pair in-cop
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – pair in-cop

The next welcome surprise was a female Southern Hawker, disturbed from her perch and providing a brief overhead display before frustratingly choosing to perch high in the trees. Shortly after I spotted my first male of the day rise from the gorse and tentatively approach before deciding to put some distance between us.

Even the ponds failed to show an Emperor or indeed anything large today,; the largest candidate being a male Broad-bodied Chaser looking a tad lonely.

Plenty of damsel action among the reeds and rushes though, and Common Darters were either holding territory or leading their mates in tandem to oviposit, but my focus here was the Ruddy which I’ve always found rather tricky to show at their best.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) - male
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) – male

On the way out I had another look for that female Southern to no avail, but I did disturb a male who flew down the track and landed perfectly for just a second. Unfortunately I was miles away so here’s a poor, highly-cropped record shot 😉

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male

Near the gate there was another male hunting in among the ferns, deep in shadow and impossible to capture. I watched for twenty minutes and ran out of energy well before he did 🙂

Back In The Saddle

Saturday 6th August

The recent tech experience had killed my motivation to get out and enjoy myself doing exactly what I should be doing. The problem was where to begin? I needed a day to recharge the batteries, with enough interest and opportunity to keep me busy.

After much discussion on Friday evening we decided to take a trip and having failed to find them a couple of weeks ago we decided to have another go at finding some Willow Emeralds.

Willow Emerald (Lestes viridis) - immature male
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – immature male

A chat with Marc Heath decided upon the venue and we surprisingly arrived on schedule at 10.00am under glorious sunshine. The ditch I’d had my eye on while perusing the map turned out to be the very one where fresh individuals were rising from emergence towards the treeline on the other side of the track.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - teneral male
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – teneral male

It was rough going through the dense undergrowth of the steep bank, but if you could stay upright survive the nettles the rewards were plentiful.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - teneral female
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – teneral female

Besides the Willow there were plenty of Common Emerald lining the bank which gave you a speed lesson in the major differences between the two species. On one occasion we observed a male Common Emerald grab a female Willow and attempt a pairing, managing to grab her by the neck and spend a little time in tandem before parting.

The majority of the Willows were found along a pathway perched along the treeline, usually in shadow or against the sun, and despite the obvious challenges made for a pleasing environmental study.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - immature male
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – immature male

Sharing this tree-lined pathway were several immature Migrant Hawkers and a couple of Southern flew through hunting their breakfast. Most of the Willows were perched high and well beyond our reach but occasionally we would find one perched at eye level.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - immature male
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – immature male

Returning to the bank our attention was diverted by a patrolling Brown Hawker, surprisingly predictable on his chosen patrol and ripe for an interlude of in-flight addiction.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - male
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – male

With a pleasing image in the bag we returned to the target species.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - immature female
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – immature female

Marc had to call it a day around lunch time while I continued for another hour seeking out a willing subject.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - immature male
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – immature male

After the reasonable bounty of the morning the sightings became fewer, no doubt all the immature individuals had retreated into the shade and safety of the woods, a theory born out by this female I found along a dark & shady path.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) - immature female
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) – immature female

After four enjoyable hours we called it a day and headed off for some refreshment before taking a leisurely drive back. Thankfully getting back on the horse was much easier, although I became saddle-sore much sooner than I normally do this far into the season.

Thanks to Marc for his help and hospitality for an enjoyable day, and one to be repeated soon when the adults are on the wing.

Wind & Wuthering

Sunday 24th July

Almost up to date! Here’s a round up of our morning in the Kent Marshes.

Sunny spells with light winds, what could be the problem? Well, the problem was those light winds. At around 12-15 mph they were well within the boundaries for dragonflies, but I’d forgotten how the flat, unsheltered Kent marshes amplify the slightest of gusts.

And they were relentless! After a precarious and long journey around the M25 I was eager to get started, but there was still the most uncomfortable part of the journey to complete. That long, rutted track. I’m pretty sure all the aches & pains I’m suffering two days later is a result of being thrown around so violently at 3 miles per hour.

It’s two years since we’ve made the pilgrimage for the rare Emerald species, the Southern and Scarce, which are usually found locally in this environment. Alas despite careful fingertip searching we didn’t locate the Southern today, but were at least rewarded with a few Scarce.

Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) - male
Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) – male

Perhaps our best encounter arrived first thing with a tandem pair who thankfully alighted along the ditch margin and after a few hops decided upon a comfortable perch.

All I needed to do was remain calm and retain stealth while negotiating the steep bank and tricky angle to show them as best I could. Thinking about it, twisting the body in such ways probably contributed to the aches as much as that track did.

Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) - pair in-cop
Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) – pair in-cop

I caught up with Sue at the previously key area, but that little clump of scrub, so productive in 2014, was long gone. Obviously dug up or plowed over and a great loss in my opinion as this is where the Southern Emerald was previously found.. Our only options then were the ditches.

Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) - female
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) – female

Unsurprisingly the most noticeable species here today were Ruddy Darter, several tenerals and a good showing of adults which proved hard to pin down. Maybe if it hadn’t have been for the wind they’d have chosen a few more open areas but on this occasion every time you thought they’d perched delightfully your view was obscured by waving grasses.

However prolific Ruddy are at this location they weren’t the main focus of our visit, so I carried on scouring the ditch desperately trying to stay out of the breeze.

Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) - male
Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) – male

I did another circuit and chanced upon a pleasingly perched female, albeit bouncing around in the breeze. The challenge was finding a gap in the grasses which would continuously blow across my subject.

Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) - female
Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas) – female

That’ll do nicely! Two hours of ditch-digging was enough for this visit. We took a short stroll along the main path enjoying the flight show so generously put on by the Ruddy before heading further east in search of the Willow, but that’s another story.



Sunday 17th July

Still catching up after the downtime.

At last a change for the better weather-wise, although the warm blanket of cloud doesn’t make for decent slumber. By 4.00am I’d probably had all the sleep I was going to get, so getting the morning routine out of the way I was on the road by 6.30am.

I started at Ramsdown, hoping to find an early hawker but the gorse was empty. The Silver-studded Blues were already awake and foraging around the heather. So to were a few Black Darter and Common Emerald.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - male,
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – male

These proved to be the main feature of the morning, so I trundled across to Town Common where I could enjoy them at my leisure in more agreeable surroundings. Here to the gorse along hawker alley (most sites have one) was also lacking any form of hawker decoration. I did wonder whether it was a tad early.

I walked the length of the old railway, turning onto the heath just before the end of the reserve and following the track around checking every gorse stand and clearance.

The paths had receded from the deep puddles of a fortnight ago and some of the shallow ponds were already showing signs of drying out. Still plenty of Black Darters, Emeralds and Small Reds to amuse myself with.

Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) - female
Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) – female

There’s something magical about the heath in mid July. The fresh pink & purple blooms providing nectar for those Silver-studded who flutter fairy-like around your feet while glistening tenerals bounce along the heather tops. I sensibly put my bag down and switched to macro to make the best of this paradise.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - female
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – female

The tenerals had a preference for one heather type, which interestingly meant they all headed towards a certain bush. Thankfully a few of them perched high enough to allow some isolation.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - teneral male
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – teneral male

I spent a good long while here, enjoying the freedom of just taking photos.

Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) - male
Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) – male

The ability to take a lot more time indulging has been a feature of this season. The thrill of the chase is immensely satisfying, but just hanging around and drinking it all in is what summer should be about.

Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) - male
Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) – male

I’ve also deliberately neglected to join the race this season. It’s not about being first. Best wait until the moments arrive. Those Southern, Moorland and Migrant Hawkers can all wait a while longer. Plenty of time yet.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - male, Hurn, Dorset - 17/07/2016
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – male

Speaking of hawkers, I couldn’t resist a look down hawker alley on the way out. You know, just in case. I wasn’t expecting a male Brown Hawker. He wasn’t expecting me either, having most of his beady eye hidden behind a gorse seed casing.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - male
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – male

I grabbed that shot through a small hole in the gorse, and as soon as I moved to obtain a better shot, the game was up, and so was he. A moment to round off a day of splendid moments among the heather.