We have been blessed with exceptionally good weather this April, which in turn had resulted in earlier than usual emergence of many dragonfly species.
I’m pleased to say the New Forest is catching up with Dorset with Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Beautiful and Banded Demoiselle and Red-eyed damselflies joining the Large Reds.Dragons on the wing include Broad-bodied Chasers, Four-spotted Chasers, Hairy’s, Downy’s and Emperors.
After a well-deserved rest on Tuesday I ventured out for an early morning butterfly hunt at Hod Hill in Dorset before meeting Doug Overton at Dunyeats Pond. Cloudy & cool weather meant activity was muted with a few damsels and a Four-spotted Chaser patrolling.
At the end of our short lunchtime visit Doug spied a freshly-emerged Hairy dragonfly in a bad way resting on a small log on the pond. Unfortunately this poor individual had not emerged properly and it’s wings were undeveloped. We relocated him to some sheltered undergrowth where no doubt he would end up in the food chain.
After this sad encounter I left Doug and decided to visit my favourite pond where things were really kicking off. I only had time for a short stay, but returned an hour later with my partner Sue for some serious dragonfly watching.
Among the large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed damsels were several male Broad-bodied Chasers engaging in battle around the pond. These were joined later by a few females enabling brief coupling before the females oviposited immediately afterwards.
Thursday early morning, perhaps a little too early and cool for any real activity, I briefly visited Hatchet Pond and Crockford Stream, but it was only when I reached Keyhaven that any signs of life were seen, with Blue-tailed, Azure, Large Red and a single Red-eyed damselfly. The only dragonfly on the wing was a sole male Hairy.
By the time I reached Ramsdown Forest the temperature had increased enough to enable a spectacular display of Four-spotted Chasers vying for territory on the small pond, later joined by a male Broad-bodied Chaser.
Time ran out all too soon and I had to cut my visit short, but Sue and I decided to visit Durley Mill later that afternoon in the hope that the Beautiful Demoiselles were on the wing. Sure enough there were several males and a few females along the banks of the infant Hamble River, mostly flying high above the tree line but there were a few males willing to perch long enough for a photo or two
The upper Hamble has to be one of the best places to observe the Beautifuls – even better than Crockford Stream in my opinion – with 100’s on the wing in peak season. From a photographers point of view the variety of bank-side foliage allows you a wide choice of compositional opportunities.
While most of the country were celebrating the royal wedding Doug, Sue & I took advantage of the quiet roads to visit Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor on the Somerset Levels.
The weather was a little threatening but brief sunny intervals at Shapwick saw Hairy’s patrolling the reeds. However the advantage of cloud cover means damsels are less flighty and these provided our main photographic subjects to begin with.
Common Blues, Azures, Blue-tails were interspersed with Variables – a species we’re not lucky to have access to in the New Forest.
However the most impressive display of all were the Red-eyed Damsels. As soon as the sun broke through they would take off as one from the bank-side foliage and fly in formation to their chosen lily pads.
So far the only opportunities for photographing a Hairy or two had been the possibility of an in-flight male or ovipositing female but I eventually persuaded Doug to move on to Westhay where Jerry had kindly given me a tip that opportunities were plentiful.
However before we could leave we spotted a male and female Broad-bodied along with our first Scarce Chaser of the year.
When we finally dragged ourselves away from Shapwick we took the short ride to Westhay and had a spot of lunch before delving in.
Opposite the disabled Car Park near the hide was undoubtedly the best display of damsel activity we had ever witnessed. Hundreds taking to the air in response to our movement. Plants and reeds festooned with several individuals giving endless possibilities to choose your composition.
But it was the Hairy’s we were really their to see and sure enough barely 100 yards down the path we spotted our first perched female, albeit hidden by the vegetation. We needn’t had worried as she was soon followed by several males and a selection of breeding pairs perched in more suitable locations.
We were like kids in a sweet shop!
The next hour was spent capturing more shots than we needed and all too soon it was time to hit the road. We never did venture any further down that path, but you can guarantee we’ll be back to complete the transect and take in Ham Wall next time.
For two enthusiasts so blessed with variety that can be found in the New Forest, the Somerset Levels are a real eye-opener and a must visit for any dragonfly fan.
Once again thanks to Jerry for the locations and also Mike for the inspiration to visit such a wonderful place.