Tales From The Riverbank

June & July are peak times for the streams of the New Forest. Whether you choose Latchmore, Ober Water, Silver Stream or Crockford you are always guaranteed a feast of favourites.

Keeled Skimmer, Golden-ringed, Beautiful Demoiselle, Southern and Small Red Damselfly all flourish, and depending on your choice you can add Scarce Blue-tailed and White-legged to the list.

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

When I’m not gallivanting off chasing rarities or running field trips I like to indulge myself in the peace & tranquility of a babbling brook, refreshing in even the humid heat of a glorious summer day.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male

Time spent strolling the water course, wading through fords or simply staying put to see who may visit, rarely are two days the same.

Within the eddies and flows are frequent, open pools created by livestock who come down from off the heath to bathe and drink. Here you can find Broad-bodied Chasers and Emperor holding territories.

Emperor {Anax imperator) - male on patrol
Emperor {Anax imperator) – male on patrol

Move on too quickly and you may miss the arrival of a female Emperor flying in to oviposit in the emergent vegetation.

Emperor {Anax imperator) - female ovipositing
Emperor {Anax imperator) – female ovipositing

In the faster flowing sections male Golden-ringed hold territories, chosen carefully to entice the females. If they have chosen a suitable place their seed is the one she’ll choose for the next generation.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male on patrol

If a coupling is successful they rise up in search of some peace and quiet for half an hour, usually a meter or two above ground, secluded in the shade of a gorse stand.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - pair in-cop
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – pair in-cop

When this union is complete the male returns to his territory while the female deposits her eggs with frequent, violent thrusts into the gravel substrate of the stream.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - female ovipositing
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – female ovipositing

Spend a few hours at one of the New Forest’s many streams on a warm, sunny day in the height of summer and you will not be disappointed.

Pennington & Crockford

Tuesday 9th July

After the screaming hordes of Thursley I needed a little peace & quiet, so decided to add the Small Red-eyed damselfly to my count.

I took a walk around the meadow searching for roosters and mainly encountered butterflies. There was however a male Emperor flying low and feeding along the treeline.

The pond has become choked with bulrush – normally a blessing for dragonfly habitat but when it splits the pond into it leaves little room for activity.

At the pontoons I saw my first SRE; just the one for now, too far out to grab a decent shot. Besides I was still trying to get to grips with the TC, yet to grasp the full benefits.

Small Red-eyed (Erythromma viridulum) - male
Small Red-eyed (Erythromma viridulum) – male

The invasive weed was ideal for this species, but I could’ve done with a better background. After I’d had my fill with what were now just three males and a brief visit from a female I took another walk around the reserve.

In what was previously a nice little opening to the sure a teneral rose to land briefly. Fabulous colours, and one I hadn’t encountered before

Small Red-eyed (Erythromma viridulum) - teneral female
Small Red-eyed (Erythromma viridulum) – teneral female

At the far end of the pond a male Emperor – possibly the one I saw earlier – was holding territory and tried to engage with the female which flew in, but she was only there to oviposit.

Another quick look from the pontoon to see if numbers of SRE had increased (they hadn’t) before I moved on to Crockford.

A brief visit found the expected residents, including several Southern Damselflies.

Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) - male
Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) – male

At the basin a Golden-ringed was holding territory, peacefully returning to his chosen perch without being harassed by Keeled Skimmers for a change.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male

A quick summation of one day then, mainly to engage with the Small Red-eyed and notable for the discovery of a teneral for the first time. These are the moments which keep me interested.

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.