Two Days at Thursley

Friday 28th June

Knowing that Longham Lakes would attract the twitchers and paparazzi we introduced Steve & Debbie Birt to Thursley on a relatively quiet Saturday.

We decided to do the tour first thing as the heat & humidity became a little uncomfortable for walking. Steve’s targets for the day were Brown Hawker – which we found almost immediately with several males hunting across the heath.

Next on the list was Black Darter, and halfway through the boardwalk route we discovered a fresh female low down in the scrub.

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

Continuing along the boardwalk we sat a while and watched the profusion of Four-spotted Chasers, Keeled and Black-tailed Skimmers and a wealth of damsel activity including the Common Emerald – another target for Steve today.

Taking a right turn we reached the end of the boardwalk and I was overjoyed to see they had created a series of shallow ponds. Small, open and fully accessible, these ponds were a delight, with plenty of action in this now blistering heat.

Indeed, on one of them we had a brief sighting of a Red-veined Darter. After spending a few moments trying to relocate this visitor we decided to head back to the shade of The Moat.

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

It was here Steve bagged his fourth hope-for species. Sure enough, in it’s usual place, was a male Brilliant Emerald patrolling the dark shadows of an inlet, merely centimeters from the surface. Impossible to photograph, but always a joy to see.


I returned to Thursley one last time the following Friday in the hope of having another go at the Brilliant Emerald.

I spent a good four hours rooted to the spot waiting for a glimpse, constantly being interrupted by dog walkers and far too many photographers, and realised exactly why I stopped going in the first place.

Sometimes I require peace, quiet and concentration, immersing myself in the joys of nature. Unfortunately today it resembled Waterloo Station.

This was the best I could manage in darkness, and gives some idea of his chosen patrol.

Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) - male on patrol
Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) – male on patrol

A Rare Treat

Friday 28th June

We had one of those serendipitous moments when you should be careful what you wish for. We almost changed our minds due to the wind, but stuck to our guns and went in search of Red-veined Darters and Lesser Emperor.


When we arrived at a favourite spot we bumped into another togger ( Stephen Guys ) who had seen a couple and mentioned there was something far more desirable around, two years since the last one was spotted here.

A Broad Scarlet ( (Crocothemis erythraea) was frequently flying in from the pond to perch on the gravel of the path. Now this was a moment of serendipity which at once was exciting and unexpected.

Stephen’s friend, Andrew, had first spotted this rarity, visiting, like us, on a hunch, recalling the sighting a couple of years back.

All I needed now was a sighting and, if lucky, a photograph or two. Sure enough in flew a dazzling scarlet dragonfly, landing a few metres away on the path. A few quick and excited snaps to get in the bag before he was off again towards the pond.

Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) - male
Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) – male

He flew to the path another couple of times before choosing a different perch on the fourth visit; this time low down in the grassy bank.

Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) - male
Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) – male

The best moment came when he flew in to land just a couple of metres away in the grass, staying slightly longer and appearing to be tolerant of our presence and interest.

Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) - male
Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) – male

After this delightful opportunity he flew in once more to the path, across to a bare section of shoreline close to the lake before flying off never to be seen again.

What a fabulous dragonfly, and what a prize!

We watched the pond hoping for more glimpses, content to observe the Black-tailed Skimmers, Emperor and a tandem pair of Red-veined Darters. A male took time out to perch on a reed far from shore.

A walk through the grassy path disturbed another male. Returning to the pond we thanked the finders and walked back along the lakes hoping to catch a glimpse of a Lesser Emperor.

The strong wind kept most things low down and sheltered and it wasn’t until we reached the top end that we had another encounter with another male Red-veined Darter, and another perched on a fishing stand, circling briefly before disappearing over the reeds.

At a sheltered bay we noticed a scuffle and stopped to watch. A resident Emperor was defending his territory against two Lesser Emperor.

Too far out to attempt a photograph, only a confirmation record, so we watched as both flew along the shore, frequently returning to do battle with the native.

Two targets achieved and a very special visitor.
Three migrants in a day.
I’d call that a result!

A great many thanks to Stephen and Andrew who could’ve kept it their little secret and we may have been none the wiser.

Theme Park

Thursday 27th June

It’s been five years since I last visited Thursley, so I was well overdue for another visit.

On the first decent day for a while I left early hoping to grab a place in the car park. I needn’t have worried; the morning shift of dog walkers had done their rounds and the only others present were a Natural England work party.

Typical, however they do a fantastic job keeping Thursley enjoyable for all. Today they were replacing a section of boardwalk, meaning the first section was closed for the morning.

Not a problem. First I circled The Moat which was alive with morning feeders.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - male
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – male

Beyond The Moat were Keeled Skimmer, Azure, Common Darter and a male Brilliant Emerald hunting low over the heath. Unfortunately the latter (my target for the day) disappeared around a gorse stand never to be seen again.

I took a walk up my favourite path and disturbed a few roosting Brown Hawkers. On the return trip an elderly lady was walking towards me, disturbing a roosting female Southern Hawker. Thankfully the latter circled briefly before returning to the same bush.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - immature female
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – immature female

After allowing me to get in with the macro I searched the remaining bushes and found the glistening amber of Brown Hawker wings.

Perfectly camouflaged against the dead gorse I fully expected this immature male to fly off and out of reach, as is their instinct, but no – either he was asleep or my stealth was getting better.

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

Not the prettiest of backgrounds, but come on, any chance of a perched Brown Hawker is a golden opportunity. After this encounter I took a walk along the open section of boardwalk, spent a while observing a resident Emperor enjoying the sunshine and marveled at the wonderful dragonfly sculpture at the junction.

Further along were more surprises; a new boardwalk stretching out into the bog, new information boards, benches and resting areas and a new observation platform – all this in celebration of the dragonfly.

There were a few Hobby feeding on the few Four-spotted Chasers who braved the stiff breeze and I stopped several time to engage in conversation with other toggers (of which there were many) and helping other visitors inquiring about what they’ve seen.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) - female
Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) – female

Returning to the shade of The Moat I became acutely aware of how popular this place had become. The weather had certainly dragged out the paparazzi! I’ve never seen so many photographers in one place at the same time.

Along the shore the Downy were plentiful, frequently engaged in territorial battles.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - male on patrol
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – male on patrol

Plenty of opportunities to allow a little pond-side sport, the problem was finding one positioned to reflect the sunlight.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - male on patrol
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – male on patrol

It wasn’t until 3.30pm that I finally had another sighting of the Brilliant Emerald; this time patrolling a small shaded area, which was all but impossible for photography, and frequently driven off by the resident Downy – always a problem at this point in the season.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - female pre-rufescens
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – female pre-rufescens

I stayed another hour in the hope this male would return and reluctantly made my way to the car after an enjoyable and productive day.