Where The Cold Wind Blows

Saturday 22nd April

I spent all Friday afternoon cursing the cloud cover, and, despite checking four locations, only managed to see two Large Red – a female at Troublefield and a fresh riser on Town Common.

Today I cursed the weather forecast seeing the teasing sunshine through the window, so decided to take the short drive to Durley in the hope the Beautiful Demoiselles had emerged along the upper Hamble.

After half an hour of searching the river bank I noticed a fresh male rise to my left, leading me a merry, but stealthy, dance up the bank where he refused to land in sight before rising even further where I finally managed a distant shot.

 Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - immature male

The disappointment of not being able to get any closer dissipated as I continued the search with a new sense of hope. Crossing over the river I spotted my second – a female – rise from the grass into the nettles before escaping to the trees.

 Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) - immature female

Only two, and both refusing to allow me to get any closer, but at least they’re here.

Sunday 23rd April

I had an itch to scratch, and that itch was Bentley Wood. Looking back on last season I noticed Bentley took its time catching up, but it was worth a look regardless.  I’d have settled for an Azure, and after half an hour of fruitless searching I found one.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) - immature male

Just the one, and a real needle-in-a-haystack discovery who impolitely sodded off after my one & only shot while I attempted to change lens. I did look for him, but had to settle for this brief encounter. A little later I spotted a Large Red. Again, just the one.

I decided to take the long walk to the central ponds where I found a party of people searching the undergrowth, some with cameras. I asked if any damsels had been seen and they said ‘not one…it’s too early’. A minute later I spotted a teneral Large Red rise from the pond and pointed it out, but was met with complete disinterest.

Shortly afterwards another rose to land close by.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - immature male

I hadn’t visited these ponds for a couple of years, and last time was pleased with some cutting back they’d done. During the course of winter another pond has been dug between the two, already showing tadpoles but at least a couple of years away from establishment. I shall look forward to that.

Completing the five mile walk without another sighting I decided to head over to Broomy just in case, but increasing cloud cover meant only a couple of Large Red were seen. A distinct chill was in the air, preceding a return to winter temperatures, frosty mornings and even snow in places.

This isn’t unusual for April; in fact it’s pretty predictable. Another good reason never to jump the gun. Thankfully we’ll be returning to more productive temperatures at the end of the month.

Just in time for May when the real business kicks in.


Tuesday 18th April

The over-seers of Bramshill usually do a fantastic job with sympathetic management for wildlife – especially dragonflies. The setting up of small, shallow ponds throughout the reserve and there is evidence of shallow scrapes to attract specialist such as Black Darter and Small Red, however I’ve yet to find these species here.

A possibility is loss of these scrapes through scrub encroachment; an inevitability if paths aren’t used and utilised. One example of this is the large ‘clearing’ to the left of the main track from the lay-by. When I first visited I was able to navigate with relative ease to access the shores of the first lake parallel to Wellhouse Lane, eventually adopting a passable circuit taking in the reed beds and surrounding gorse bushes.

In my first year I witnessed countless Emperor, Chasers and all many of other species taking time out resting and feeding in the many sunny pockets along with Grizzled Skippers, Green Hairstreak and other welcome members of the butterfly fraternity. Since then this clearing has become virtually impassible with those micro-climates disappearing under the weight of extensive sapling and gorse growth.

On a mid-April day when it’s still a little too cool to see action around the shoreline I took a wander and attempted to recreate my first circuit following the line of the original path. A machete would have come in handy for tackling this virtual jungle, with maybe a bulldozer for backup.

It was hard work finding an opening through the sapling growth, let alone perforating all of my lower body navigating the gorse, yet eventually I managed to locate these little shorelines where a good number of Large Red were holding court along with a teneral Common Blue; my first of the season instantly doubling my yearly count.

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

This little wonder set me up for the rest of the day and I looked for a few more on my way back to Long Lake. The irony is had I waited a short while I would’ve spotted them rising along these shores. Seeing the rising of the tenerals one of the welcome pleasures at the start of the season giving you a chance to get your eye in again.

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

Besides a scattering of Large Red the great awakening had yet to reach its zenith, so I took a walk to the ponds. Finding just Large Red here to, but it was enough to warrant the walk; especially at lunchtime.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - immature male feeding
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) – immature male feeding

A stroll up to the stream before returning by a different route taking in the shores of the lake along Wellhouse Lane, the one which looks like face on google earth. Along this route I noticed several other paths which probably led somewhere once and would be ideal candidates for further exploration on another cloudy or changeable day.

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

Back at Long Lake I scoured the shoreline and watched every teneral in case a Red-eye or Blue-tailed decided to enter the fray, but not today. No worries, the now-present Common Blue were enough for now.

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

I finished at the ponds, having called in first thing, and there was still no sign of activity here just yet, but it won’t be long. Temperatures having been relatively constant throughout this week mean we should see further variety on the next sunny day.

A Guide to Bramshill Plantation

One of the more popular sections of the website is the ‘Where To See’ section which hasn’t been added to for a while – until now! Although on some levels I’d rather keep it to myself after three years of exploring its nooks & crannies the time is right to be kind and share.

So without further procrastination here it is:-

Adobe Spark Page

A Perfect Sunday

Sunday April 9th

The unexpected and thoroughly-appreciated week of high pressure ended with the perfect weekend, and I hope you all took advantage. We certainly did, although we waited until Sunday – partly because I struck lucky on Friday but mostly because we had a bit of a party Friday night.

Sunday was the perfect opportunity to pay our first visit to Bramshill. The possibility of coming back empty-handed was precisely the correct mindset. Better to be surprised than disappointed. Besides I was still buzzing from Friday and a perfect, cloudless sky couldn’t dampen my spirits.

We checked the ponds where the first Large Reds showed themselves last season but if there were any here they were probably carried by the steady breeze into the canopy. Ignoring an unnecessary niggle of disappointment we left the ponds and bumped into Mike looking for his first of the season. It wasn’t long before his keener eyes spotted a couple of tenerals rising from the shore of Long Lake.

Given the wind direction it made sense to concentrate along the NE shore and it wasn’t long before they started appearing in satisfying numbers, the majority catching the breeze to land out of reach. The small clearings halfway up the path were suffering extensive growth of scrub yet still offered the best chances with candidates choosing lower and (slightly) more accessible.

I needed just one subject to stay still long enough for me to learn how to properly use the camera again. Thankfully an obliging young male did just that, very low down yet perfectly perched on a gorse flower.

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

Earlier on this year I promised myself I’d use the macro more, and after half-a-dozen initial attempts without my subject getting jittery I swapped lenses; a fraught task being out of practice, but I finally managed it without incident or disturbing my quarry.

After a brief moment of indecision I decided to keep the macro on for the rest of our visit, hoping we wouldn’t encounter a brief, distant & worthy moment. We carried on searching out a few favoured pockets and, while Mike went back to the clearing, Sue & I took a walk to the central pond.

After encountering a couple of families sunbathing & letting their dogs swim we carried on to the grassy section where a good number of Large Reds rose with our passing. An obliging young female offered another worthy moment.

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

Two life-affirming days in the sunshine surrounded by new life, new growth and a soundtrack of birdsong. All we need now are some technically-savvy engineers to invent a device which can filter out the sound of dogs and their owners barking.

Here’s to a perfect summer.

Now We’re Off…

It can sometimes be an unpleasant feeling at the start of the season when the mind & body wants to get stuck in looking for the season’s first emergers. Social Media is partly to blame for jumping the gun, and the weather forecast at the beginning of the week promised a rest until the weekend.

What a lie that turned out to be! Wall-to-wall sunshine with temperatures to match, light winds and therefore perfect conditions. By Friday I couldn’t wait any longer and had to venture forth and put some colour into my pale cheeks.

I did have a half-hearted excursion to Swanwick last Sunday afternoon, and finding out one had been spotted at Town Common forced me into having a look myself  on Monday,  feeling disheartened and frankly cheated to come home empty-handed.

Well, not entirely. A Smooth Snake encounter took the edge off things.

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) - male
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) – male

I had a gander (and a Gander) at Broomy Pond on the way back knowing it can be good for first sightings, but only Bee-flies, Crane-flies & midges. At least the larder was full.

A few days of constant conditions will kick it off and Friday had to produce the goods. I started at Broomy this time, and was rewarded with my first teneral rising above the heather some distance from the water. That feeling you get when you spot your first has an effect on the rest of the day and finding a few more settled me further.

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

There were barely a dozen male & female present but they had to be searched for, except for those that rose from the bank. A lower count than previous years and the lack of any mature adults among the clearing meant that today was the first emergence.

Not many photo opportunities either, except the above and a perfectly-focused female on some heather which would have made for a nice shot had she not hidden her head behind a sprig!

Onto Troublefield just in case any Demoiselles were early, but the Banded found in London on Thursday had the advantage of an urban micro-climate. Plenty of Spring Butterflies though.

Surely Town Common would produce the goods today? Nope! Not one.

I even took a stroll around Blashford Lakes just in case any Common Blue were around, although secretly I was hoping for a Vagrant. Back to Broomy then to see if any more had arisen, but just the one seen – all the others flown off or hidden away. Thankfully this one was on heather.

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

So there we have it. I’m finally up & running. Hopefully it won’t be too long before there’s some variety.

Gently Does It…

Firstly a big hello to everyone and good luck for the new season. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Now you might be thinking by writing a blog post I’ve just bagged my first Large Red, but you’d be wrong. Other than saying hello the purpose of this entry is to gently ease myself back into the coming season and clear out the many cobwebs from a long hibernation.

The important thing is to take it slowly. Don’t jump the gun and resist temptation just because the first Large Reds have been spotted. In case you haven’t heard there were seven observed with photographic evidence from a FB buddy of mine in Cornwall on the 25th March.

Cornwall are usually first due to their climate being at least a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the us – even the south. Excepting garden pond emergences, which are usually premature due to their man-made micro-climate, these have been the only sightings as I write.

Yet in true premature fashion the headlines have read ‘We’re Off!’, driving us all outside only to be disappointed by the lack of sightings and lousy weather. Yes, we’ve had some crackingly mild days which under normal circumstances would yield results but it’s important to observe the bigger picture and look at the weather either side of the ‘hottest day of the year so far!’ sensationalism.

I know from past experience that to jump the gun  would result in disappointment and dampness. We need a prolonged period of high pressure and stable temperatures to kick-start the emergence properly.

That being said I’ve already made up my mind to have a few tentative forays soon to acclimatise, reacquaint with the environment, getting some exercise and teaching myself how to use the damn camera again!

Having found your first freshly-emerged Large Reds don’t forget they’ll be maturing away from water so your just as likely to find them holed up in meadows,woodland or even decorating the bushes halfway up a hill somewhere seemingly miles away from the nearest pond or stream.

I’m looking forward to seeing my first Large Red, but I’m looking more forward to the diversity provided by the Azure, the Blue-tailed, Red-eyed, Demoiselles and all the other Spring species.

Happy hunting everyone 🙂