Hunting Hawkers at Ramsdown

On Thursday I returned to Ramsdown full of hope. The first pond had a few more puddles after the recent rain yet the pond at the base of the hillock was bone dry!

The clearing showed a couple of twitchy Southern, the inevitable Brown Hawker rising in panic at my passing and the expected Migrant Hawkers.

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

At my favourite pond a Moorland Hawker gave me the most frustrating challenge by refusing to keep to a regular patrol. |This wasn’t helped by the presence of a particularly aggressive Emperor who drove him off at every opportunity.

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

Azure and Emerald Damselflies and a single Black Darter kept the interest and a female Emperor flew in to try to oviposit under the harassment of the patrolling male.

A Broad-bodied Chaser still held court at his favourite perch, occasionally flying out to do battle with one of the many Common Darters.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – male

The sound of fluttering wings alerted me to the presence of a female Southern Hawker ovipositing deep down under cover into the muddy bank before rising up, circling me and settling down on a patch of heather.

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

After a brief rest she continued laying her eggs in hard to reach places until she decided upon a log, which offered a better opportunity.

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

As there was no sign of the Moorland returning I decided to camp out for an hour at the other pond just in case a male, or indeed female flew in, but it was not to be. However it was pleasant to observe the many Migrant Hawkers feeding along the treeline.

I had hoped for a male Southern to come in for a patrol, but I’ll have to wait until next time. Best not become too entitled, eh?

Meanwhile in Bramshill

With the miserable weather we’ve experienced recently it’s already feeling like autumn. You could be forgiven for mistaking this month for September.

Having to choose my destinations carefully to benefit from the most sun I chose Bramshill on Tuesday. As I haven’t been for a while I decided to take the long walk around the reserve, checking out the rides for roosting hawkers.

I didn’t have to wait too long for a sighting; the first being a male Southern Hawker which disappeared off at my approach, followed by a more agreeable female.

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

It as a delight to see the rides festooned with a large presence of Painted Lady butterflies. I counted at least 50 throughout the day, mainly feeding of Fleabane.

Painted Lady ( Vanessa cardui)
Painted Lady ( Vanessa cardui)

With a stiff breeze and too much cloud cover activity over the water was subdued, with only the hardier damselflies and Common Darters braving the conditions at the North-east pond.

Things were much better at Long Pond with a Migrant Hawker showing briefly, just enough time to grab and in-flighter.

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

Ruddy Darters were plentiful with many pairings and plenty of ovipositing – possibly the most I’ve seen in this section. Also patrolling was a Brown Hawker which, much to my surprise, landed on a Bulrush to finish his meal.

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

A female could be heard ovipositing in the depths and she took a little time out to perch.

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

During an extended spell of cloud I took a walk towards the small ponds, meeting a female Emperor perched in the gorse along the way.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - female
Emperor (Anax imperator) – female

The clearing containing the small ponds has really deteriorated now; impossible to fight a way through to even the nearest pond. I really hope they clear this soon. I had to be content with a visit to the Green Pond where only a few Ruddy, Common Blue and Common Emerald were present.

Despite my initial trepidation it turned out to be quite a rewarding visit.

Making The Best Of It

I was looking forward to an August sitting by a pond, engaging with a hawker or two and generally watching the world go by – which I have done on a couple of occasions when the sun decided to shine.

However the past week of inclement weather has put pay to my plans for the moment. No point staring at a pond under cloudy skies; better to take a stroll and find some action elsewhere.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - immature male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – immature male

A walk around Town Common usually produces a hawker or two along the paths, and sure enough there were a few Brown Hawkers rising ahead of me.

Down in the shelter of the scrub were the expected Emerald and Small Red Damselflies and among the heather a Black Darter or two.

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

Across the road at Ramsdown I hoped for a female Moorland taking advantage of the gloom to oviposit, avoiding the attentions of patrolling males, but in this weather even the Common Darters were noticeably absent.

In the clearing at least there was an immature female Southern Hawker resting up in the gorse.

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

The Hill Pond was unsurprisingly quiet, a startling contrast to a week previously, however around the margins you could find a willing subject or two if you were prepared to hunt.

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

At my favourite pond the sun shone all to briefly to kick-start a little activity from the Common Darters – irresistible only in the absence of others.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – male

Back at the clearing these all too brief but welcome late afternoon sunny spells produced a frenzy of feeding activity from the Brown Hawkers, teasingly gliding a meter or so from yours truly and never once landing in sight.

Low down in the heather a Golden-ringed provided the last opportunity of the day.

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

The Joys of Hawker Season

The tail-end of summer is the time of the Hawker. This season has been especially good for the Brown Hawker, with swarms seen around Bramshill, Ramsdown and Town Common; neither offering a chance of a photo!

I’m a little more philosophical these days, preferring to trust to luck rather than judgement. If an opportunity presents itself, all well & good. If it doesn’t, no matter; it’s just as enjoyable watching them glide effortlessly while feeding.

On a particularly hot day in Bramshill we had our first Migrant Hawker of the season, sensibly holed up under the shade of a tree.

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

One of the better sites to encounter hawkers is Bentley Wood; just across the border in deepest Wiltshire. A walk through the forest rides usually produces sightings; often more so than ponds while they’re still maturing.

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

I went out to Ramsdown a couple of times in the hope of bagging a Moorland Hawker. The first visit I had to make do with Emperor; in fact at one pond there were no less than 12 male and 6 female enjoying the sunshine! Certainly the most I’ve ever seen at one pond.

I returned a couple of days later and my first encounter was this freshly-emerged male Moorland; a first for me, and a delight to confirm this pond has them breeding.

Common (Moorland) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - freshly-emerged male
Common (Moorland) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – freshly-emerged male

Shortly afterwards a male came in to patrol for a few moments, just before I was bombarded by a short shower! In fact the skies were under cloud for most of the day – not what we’d been forecast on what was to be a record-breaking sunny day!

I had to wait three hours for the next appearance. A male returned and stayed for an hour, the first few minutes being the best for in-flighters.

Common (Moorland) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male on patrol
Common (Moorland) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male on patrol

Although they have been out since June I’ve yet to encounter a Southern Hawker patrolling a water body, although others have already seen females ovipositing! Until I get the chance to engage with one of my favourite in-flight species I’ll have to be content to encounter them at rest.

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

Now I’ve completed my Hampshire species count I can relax a little, take a stroll through the forest rides or, better still, camp out for a few hours at a pond and see who comes to visit!