Must Be June!

Well the weather couldn’t last and this past week has been a bit of a wash out to say the least. Now I don’t mind the rain – and we definitely need it with so many water bodies in the New Forest looking dry in much the same as last year.

The problem is all we have been getting are showers. Not enough to replenish our water supplies, and coupled with strong winds and dull skies, not good enough for dragonfly activity.

Such was the circumstances that I didn’t venture out again until Tuesday 7th. I went to Bentley Wood where I must admit my first priority was a hopeful spotting of the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly, but a good short and reasonably heavy shower put paid to that!

Nevertheless I continued on to the ponds knowing full well that I wouldn’t see anything, but was surprisingly rewarded with a freshly-emerged Southern Hawker.

Southern Hawker - Freshly Emerged
Southern Hawker – Freshly Emerged

Not quite believing my luck I stayed around long enough to watch him open his wings and crawl to the top of the yellow flag iris

Southern Hawker - Freshly Emerged
Southern Hawker – Freshly Emerged

Such were the dull conditions that a fill-in flash seemed the order of the day

Southern Hawker - Freshly Emerged
Southern Hawker – Freshly Emerged

Although there has been the odd sighting of Southern Hawkers around, I felt rightly privileged to witness this superb spectacle. Due recompense for getting a soaking earlier!

On Wednesday 8th I visited Blashley Lakes where I knew there would at least be some shelter from the rain which had been forecast. Not a dragon to be seen, but the foliage was full of Blue-tailed, Large Red and Common Blue Damselflies

Common Blue Damselfy - Teneral
Common Blue Damselfy – Teneral
Common Blue Damselfy - Male
Common Blue Damselfy – Male
Common Blue Damselfy - Teneral
Common Blue Damselfy – Teneral
Common Blue Damselfy - Teneral
Common Blue Damselfy – Teneral

On Friday 10th Sue & I had planned a day in Somerset to witness the Large Blue Butterflies at Collard Hill and a visit to Westhay Moor afterwards for dragonflies.

We were blessed with decent weather for the morning on the hill, but by lunchtime the clouds had rolled in with some threatening skies. Unfortunately this meant that Westhay was scarce on dragon activity although we did spot the odd Four-spotted Chaser and a few Black-tailed Skimmers

Black-tailed Skimmer - Female
Black-tailed Skimmer – Female

Despite the lack of dragons, damsels were in good numbers and nearing the pond we found a rather distressed Male Red-eyed trapped in a spiders web. Rescued with precision nails by my partner Sue, we hoped that at least he could enjoy a longer life

Red-eyed Damselfy - Male
Red-eyed Damselfy – Male

Towards the end of the track we encountered several Blue-tailed’s of various phases, including this rather beautiful rufescens with that wonderful blue tinge in the eyes

Blue-tailed Damselfly - Female - Rufescens Phase
Blue-tailed Damselfly – Female – Rufescens Phase
Blue-tailed Damselfly - Female - Rufescens Phase
Blue-tailed Damselfly – Female – Rufescens Phase

Continuing on towards the furthest hide alongside the fishing lake we had a chance to photograph a mating pair

Blue-tailed Damselflies - Mating Pair
Blue-tailed Damselflies – Mating Pair

By now the clouds were more than threatening and the temperature had dropped significantly. Reluctantly we decided to call it a day, but the day had been a major success despite the weather.

More Delightful Days At Ober Water

After those delightful days at Ober Water, I decided to scout the area around Burley Heath on Thursday 2nd June. I returned to the recently discovered boggy pond on the far side of the heath which this time showed the the expected inhabitants – Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser, Broad-bodied Chaser, Keeled Skimmer, Large Red and Common Blue Damselflies.

Unfortunately the pond is not very photographer friendly – being wide and unforgiving along the shore.

During the walk back I checked for signs of Small Red Damsels but none were to be found. Burbush pond at least provided some activity with yet more Broad-bodied and Four-spotted Chasers and a patrolling Emperor

Emperor Dragonfly - Male
Emperor Dragonfly – Male

Long Pond was looking particularly sad with hardly any action. Not even a Red-eyed Damsel to be found on the minimal lily pads. In two years this pond has suffered much and is well beyond its former glory

On Friday 3rd I met Stephen from UK Dragonflies forum for a tour of Silver Stream and Ober Water. Silver Stream was buzzing with Southern and Large Red Damselflies, Beautiful Demoiselles, Keeled Skimmers, Broad-bodied Chasers and an Emperor

Emperor Dragonfly - Male
Emperor Dragonfly – Male

Our tour of Ober Water produced the widest variety of the day with a good 14 species spotted – including Black-tailed Skimmers and Scarce Chasers – two species not previously spotted at this location. However we were there for the White-legged and Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies

White-legged Damselfly - Male
White-legged Damselfly – Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – Male

On Saturday 4th Sue & I had arranged to give a tour of Ober Water to Jerry & Mike from UK Dragonflies forum. We were joined by Phil Lord, an expert with over 20 years experience observing the dragonflies of the New Forest.

Despite a threatening forecast, the promised rain stayed away and we were greeted with decent sunny spells and reasonable temperatures and were rewarded with our first Scarce Blue-tailed as soon as we arrived at the spot – including this fantastic female in transition form the immature to mature phase

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - Female
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – Female

Further along the stream we had our first sightings of White-legged Damselflies, including quite a few tenerals

White-legged Damselfly - Teneral
White-legged Damselfly – Teneral
White-legged Damselflies - Pair in Tandem
White-legged Damselflies – Pair in Tandem

and even a teneral Small Red

Small Red Damselfly - Teneral
Small Red Damselfly – Teneral

There were a few dragons flying along the stream, including Black-tailed Skimmers, Broad-Bodied Chasers, Scarce Chasers, a Downy Emerald, an Emperor and several Keeled Skimmers

Black-tailed Skimmer - Male
Black-tailed Skimmer – Male

Unfortunately the Golden-ringed didn’t show itself on this occasion, but a Banded Demoiselle was spotted among the numerous Beautiful – again an unusual sighting for this location

Beautiful Demoiselles - Mating Pair
Beautiful Demoiselles – Mating Pair
Beautiful Demoiselle - Female ovipositing
Beautiful Demoiselle – Female ovipositing

Large Red Damsels were plentiful

Large Red Damselfly - Female
Large Red Damselfly – Female
Large Red Damselfly - Teneral Male
Large Red Damselfly – Teneral Male

and a good population of Azures and Southern

Southern Damselfly - Male
Southern Damselfly – Male

Afterwards we paid a short visit to Crockford Stream, which quite frankly was a huge disappointment after Ober Water, but then I have said on several occasions that Ober Water beats Crockford Stream hands down!

So a fabulous day and our guests returned home with 4 new species ticks – not bad for their first visit to the New Forest!

Delightful Days At Ober Water

Continuing on home turf I revisited one of my favourite spots in the New Forest on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I still maintain that Ober Water will provide all species found at Crockford Stream, albeit over a larger area.

A walk from Puttles Bridge to Markway Bridge – or indeed vice-versa – will take you through a myriad of environments in relative peace away from the main tourists traps.

After parking up on Tuesday at Puttles Bridge, I crossed the bridge and headed across the road to follow Silver Stream. Nothing was flying here at this hour and the cool, windy conditions didn’t help.

I therefore decided to recross Ober Water and make my way across the heath until I reached the bridge below Rhinefield House. I searched the north bank downstream for a short distance in the hope of finding a few White-legged Damsels among the grassy area, but none were to be found. There were however some Beautiful Demoiselles waking up along the stream.

I continued upstream following the banks until I came across my first White-legged tenerals and Southern Damselflies among the Large Reds and Azures.

Southern Damselfly
Southern Damselfly

Continuing upstream until I reached the area where the Scarce Blue-tailed can be found, I crossed the stream and waited for the sun to appear. Patrolling the junction were a male Downy Emerald and a male and female Broad-bodied Chaser.

At just after 11.00am I spotted my first Scarce Blue-tailed among the few normal Blue-tails and Azures. All males, they were patrolling the banks of the main stream, stopping briefly to perch on the emerging vegetation.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – Male

I spent a couple of hours at this spot, following the SBT’s and waiting for some photo opportunities.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly

Also patrolling the banks of the main stream were a few ‘normal’ Blue-tailed

Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly

Returning downstream the banks had woken up considerably with Large Red, Azure and Southern Damsels – some in cop – among the increasing numbers of Beautiful Demoiselles.

Large Red Damselflies - Pair in Tandem
Large Red Damselflies – Pair in Tandem

Back at the bridge the wide pool had patrolling Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers and a single Golden-ringed. Further on still there were several teneral Keeled Skimmers and even a few mature males patrolling the boggy seepage’s.

On Wednesday morning I returned to Ober Water, but this time started at Markway Bridge. I walked downstream until I reached the area where I knew would provide some early activity. I was rewarded with my first photo opportunity – a recently-emerged Large Red still attached to the exuvia.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

Unfortunately the exuvia had detached from the grass stem and the teneral was well coloured up before the wings had a chance to detach. However she was actively walking up & down the stem and even onto surrounding foliage. I did return to note any progress on my way back and found the discarded exuvia at the base of the stem with no sign of the teneral.

Further downstream I rescued an unfortunate teneral Keeled Skimmer from the stream. I placed him on some heather to dry out.

At the bridge pool once again there was a Golden-ringed holding territory with the Chasers. Returning back upstream I noticed that the Keeled I rescued earlier had moved on, and there were several more tenerals dispersing in the breeze.

Keeled Skimmer - teneral
Keeled Skimmer – teneral

Returning upstream revealed increasing activity along the banks with Large Red,Southern, White-legged and Azure Damselflies and Beautiful Demoiselles.

Southern Damselfly
Southern Damselfly

Returning to the junction the Scarce Blue-tailed were now on the wing and I grabbed a couple of opportunities

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – Male

Catching my eye was what I’d assumed to be a Large Red teneral carried by the breeze. Further inspection revealed it to be a teneral Small Red.

Small Red Damselfly - Teneral
Small Red Damselfly – Teneral

The promise of reasonable weather meant a return in the afternoon with my partner Sue. As usual on arrival the sun had disappeared behind a blanket of cloud. Along the banks was a single female Red Deer, not normally found this far upstream.

Despite the cloud cover it was still warm enough for damsel activity and the first opportunity that presented itself with a Blue-tailed feeding

Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly

Shortly after we caught a glimpse of our first male Scarce

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - Male
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly – Male

Careful inspection of the stream revealed what e thought were our first females, difficult to follow and almost impossible to see among some vegetation. However these turned out to be female Blue-tailed. Still I wasn’t prepared to leave until I had at least one photo in the bag

Blue-tailed Damselfly - Female
Blue-tailed Damselfly – Female

Returning to the car we spotted a large herd of Fallow Deer ahead of us and watched as a young bullock chased them off, bellowing in triumph.

Bold from his bullying success he attempted to do the same with the ponies, who ignored him totally, so he turned his attention towards us! Bellowing loudly and cantering at a good pace he came to an abrupt halt before sauntering off in a sulk, deflated after his earlier triumph.

Shortly afterwards a group of 4 colts came charging through at a gallop, circling the fillies and crossing the river at great speed in a display of testosterone. This truly is a magical place….

Dull Days & Damsels

Cooler conditions, cloud cover and even rain has curtailed most dragon activity in the past few days. The rain is desperately needed though, with many New Forest ponds already drying out. Just a few days ago we were watching several female Broad-bodied Chasers ovipositing in one spot which is now no more than mud.

Regardless of the weather I did a little scouting on Friday around Burley. Nothing at all to be seen, but worthwhile for finding a new pond to explore during sunny weather. The pond is surrounded by boggy marsh which is a challenge to navigate, but eventually I found a way through. Good emergent vegetation with nearby heather should produce some worthwhile results.

Afterwards I visited Troublefield to be greeted by a depressing sight. The resident cattle had been moved to the north meadow and had proceeded to devour and flatten the glorious vegetation. All that was left were a few pockets of cow parsley, nettles and a few isolated wild flowers.

Two days was all it took to devastate the strong population of butterflies, Beautiful Demoiselles and Scarce Chasers. There were a few Common Blue butterflies, a couple of Beautiful Demoiselles hiding very deep in what was left and frankly not much else!

At least the path between the fields still contained a few Azures

Azure Damselfly - Male
Azure Damselfly – Male

On Sunday 30th Doug and I were asked to lead a field trip for the photographic members of Dorset Wildlife Trust. Conditions were far from perfect but at least we did find four species of damsel at Delph Woods. First to be spotted were Common Blue’s among the heather, followed by Azure’s, Large Reds and Blue-tailed along the back path.

Luckily we had a back up site close by along the River Stour at Canford Magna, which offered a different environment and a chance to observe and photograph river species. Shelter from the wind and even the odd glimpse of sunshine provided excellent opportunities for Banded Demoiselles and White-legged Damsels.

White-legged Damselfly - Male
White-legged Damselfly – Male
White-legged Damselfly - Female
White-legged Damselfly – Female

A week on from my previous visit had meant that there were now both male & female White-legged with mature colouration.

White-legged Damselfly - Male
White-legged Damselfly – Male
White-legged Damselfly - Male
White-legged Damselfly – Male

The Banded were a little more shy, but at least when they did appear the cool conditions meant they for once stayed around for a photo opportunity.

Banded Demoiselle - Male
Banded Demoiselle – Male

Apart from those Doug did spot a female Scarce Chaser and we both spotted what possibly could have been a Downy Emerald along the banks, but given that it was only a glimpse we decided the official count for the day was 7 species. Not bad at all considering the conditions.

We decided to call it a day, but not before Doug & I decided to pop in to Troublefield on the way home to observe the damage and a few more Azure and an obliging teneral male Scarce Chaser.

Following the Scarce Chaser revealed some strange behaviour we hadn’t witnessed before. He was flying low, in & out of the vegetation very much like a wasp, carefully choosing a roosting spot. After pausing several times low down among the grassy tussocks, we coaxed him out onto some Cow Parsley to provide a better photo opportunity.

Scarce Chaser - Immature Male
Scarce Chaser – Immature Male

While he was perched, he ‘vibrated’ his wings several times, I’m presuming in an attempt to warm up for further flight, although I’d be grateful for any insights into this behaviour.

All in all and despite the weather a very enjoyable day spent in the company of genuine enthusiasts who were willing to learn the secrets of photographing dragonflies, and in turn taught usĀ  thing or two about photography.

Thanks to everyone who braved the weather and thanks especially to Stewart for organising the day and giving us the opportunity to give a little back.

New Discoveries

On Monday 26th I was delighted to join Paul Brock – an authority on insects of Hampshire and the New Forest – and another dragonfly enthusiast Graham Hoggard at Burley. Although our main objective was dragonflies. it was interesting to observe and learn about all the other six-legged creatures beneath our feet.

Our first objective was Whitten Pond in search of Hawkers, but on arrival we had noticed the pond itself had receded at least three metres from the bank. Worse still was the total absence of water in the lead-in stream, sight of most activity during the season. The dry conditions have certainly had a bad effect on most of the ponds in the New Forest and this in turn has affected the dragonfly populations.

Disappointed with Whitten, we crossed the road to inspect the ponds on Burley Heath. Conditions were a little bleak, if warm & humid, and we had to search hard for odonata. Careful inspection of the heath produced a few Small Red and Emerald Damsels and we disturbed several Keeled Skimmers among the heather.

All was not lost as we did discover what I consider to be the largest single Small Red population in the whole of the forest. A glorious sight to see. There must have been over a hundred individuals of both sexes along the banks of the old railway.

Male Small Red Damselfly
Male Small Red Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly

We then visited Holmsley to inspect a private meadow with several small ponds which provided plenty of Azures, Large Reds, Common Darters and a surprising sighting of a mature Male Ruddy Darter

Male Ruddy Darter
Male Ruddy Darter

Our next destination was Duckhole Bog on Wilverley Plain, a site which I had stumbled across before but according to Paul a prime site for Common Hawkers, which are usually scarce in the forest. On reaching the bridge there were several Keeled Skimmers including pairs in cop and females ovipositing, along with our first and only Golden-ringed sighting of the day.

The small pool further along the bog provided what was to be our best opportunity with several Keeled’s, a circling male Emperor, an ovipositing female Emperor and a welcome sight of a female Southern Hawker which was laying her eggs in the bank-side.

Ovipositing Female Emperor
Ovipositing Female Emperor
Ovipositing Female Southern Hawker
Ovipositing Female Southern Hawker

There was also a lone immature Common Darter which I rescued from the pond after being taken out by a hungry Keeled Skimmer. Damaged but intact and obviously grateful for the rescue, it remained perched on my finger reluctant to move away from the welcome heat.

Immature Common Darter
Immature Common Darter

All in all a very interesting day despite the lack of Hawkers. I have to say a good soaking is needed to return the forest to a more sustaining environment if we are to witness the activity experienced at the same time last year.

Deliverence

You will be aware of my recent endeavors pinning down this elusive and Brown Hawker – mostly involving missed opportunities and injury. They are renown for being nervous and fly up over the trees as soon as you encounter them. They are also adept at perfectly blending in with the foliage which makes them difficult to spot even when they’re only a couple of feet in front of you. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen one magically appear before my eyes only to rapidly disappear into the distance!

However after postponing my search for the best part of a week to concentrate on butterflies, I ventured out again yesterday in the company of friend and fellow enthusiast Doug Overton with the intention of tracking down and hopefully photographing this wonderful beast.

Working as a team certainly had it’s advantages. Barely half an hour in we came across our first one at Ramsdown Forest which, true to form, shot up in front of our eyes. Except this one landed in deep heather only a few metres away. We had a good idea of where it roughly landed, and we both crawled through the heather commando-style hunting for our quarry.

Bingo! There he was – perched in the most difficult of places low down and out of suitable light which made manually focusing difficult. But at least I managed a few shots with the long lens before he became aware of our presence and flew off.

Male Brown Hawker
Male Brown Hawker

Elated as we both were, I stated that now we’ve had our first opportunity hopefully – like bus’s – a few more would arrive later.

While Ramsdown we also observed several Golden-ringed’s, Emperors, Black Darters and even a few Common Darters

Immature Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Immature Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Immature Common Darter
Immature Common Darter

On the way to Alder Gully, we stopped off at the River Stour where we observed another three Brown Hawkers and surprisingly a good population of White-legged Damselflies along the water’s edge. This site deserves further exploration – preferably on a weekday when the local dog walkers and cyclists should be minimal.

Onwards to Alder Gully – site of all previous sightings, frustrations and injuries. Barely 20 metres down the track we spotted four, the latter of which perched not too far away, again low down in deep undergrowth

More commando tactics but this time hampered by Dorset’s notorious gorse we managed to position ourselves perfectly to allow 15 minutes of continous shooting which provided the above opportunity. This time a female. Perfect.

Female Brown Hawker
Female Brown Hawker

After a full reccie of the site, we returned towards the entrance and had one fly up and land so close it would have provided the best opportunity of all, but the lack of foliage between us and her meant she didn’t stay around for long. So I finished the day with yet another Golden-ringed.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

We saw a total of 10 Brown Hawkers that day which left us both extremely satisfied having both had our first chance of capturing one on camera – well, two actually – and a male and female to boot!

Like buses indeed! At least now I can relax and wait for the opportunities to arrive instead of cursing every time one flies out of range.