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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Plenty of opportunities to allow a little pond-side sport, the problem was finding one positioned to reflect the sunlight.
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.
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.
Steve & Debbie were visiting so we agreed to meet at Crockford where the target for the day was the fabulous Golden-ringed dragonfly. A few Keeled Skimmers, Southern and Small Red Damselflies along with a scattering of Beautiful Demoiselles populated the brighter sections of the stream.
At the clearing we caught our first sight of our quarry. A male was holding territory and returned often to his favourite perch, a Bog Myrtle sapling rising from the stream.
Tenerals still rising from the stream confirmed this was still early in the season here. Besides we’ve only had a break in the weather for a couple of days, and experience had taught me we need a few more days to tempt them out of their slumber.
Across on the shallow pond an Emperor was holding court while upstream revealed a few more and some Broad-bodied Chasers. I was somewhat alarmed to notice the feeder stream was exceptionally dry. Even in the height of last season’s heatwave the flow was more substantial than this, and we’ve had a lot of rain recently.
At my favourite spot we found another couple of Golden-ringed. An Emperor flew in and in the ensuing battle the Emperor retreated after getting a good ducking. Never underestimate the Golden-ringed!
After his victory he was rewarded by the presence of a female which he grabbed and took off across the heath with. Despite extensive searching of the place we thought they dropped we failed to locate them.
Now the problem with pairings is you lose one of your subjects. This wouldn’t have been a problem if we had found the pair but thankfully we managed to locate another a further upstream who was rather accommodating,
When disturbed by our clumsiness, or a bothersome Keeled Skimmer, he flew back & forth along a short section of his territory which allowed a little more skill testing.
The view in the viewfinder was promising for the next shot, but in my haste I’d failed to notice he’d passed behind some bog myrtle!
Just after this fail was captured we had a visit from the local cattle herd, who managed to tear up the stream bed and turn the crystal clear waters into a channel of sludge which no self-respecting dragon or damsel would call home. A temporary, but necessary disturbance, without which we wouldn’t have the Southern Damselfly.
We moved back downstream and had a few more fleeting glimpses before things quietened down. As always an enjoyable day in pleasant company, not least those fabulous Golden-ringed.
Couple of the cows were rather confrontational though…
Finally a turn-around in the weather! On the first sunny day for a while I headed over to Town Common in the hope of finding a few heath specialists.
Taking the back path for a change my first welcome sighting of the day was the stunning Silver-studded Blue butterfly. There were a few chasing around the path margins in the cool morning sun.
My next sighting was as glorious as it was unexpected – a male Brown Hawker ‘hawking’ the corner thicket. No chance of a photo with this fellow, but a delight to watch as he took his morning feed.
Next was another unexpected individual – an immature female White-legged damselfly, the first I had seen here. They’re present on the Stour, Moors and Avon rivers which are close, so not entirely a rare sighting.
Despite the rains the ponds were very shallow; down to the bed in
places. A little too cool and early for over-water action so I searched
the heath for my next quarry, the always welcome Common Emerald.
I took a walk around the back paths to a favourite little pond which usually provides, and sure enough there was the unmistakable flutter of a teneral Black Darter.
At the next pond a teneral Common Darter rose and flew out of reach before I could ready the camera – the fourth new species this season. At another favourite spot I found another Black Darter, a male this time.
After a walk around the lower reaches of the site I stopped a while to watch the play of Silver-studded Blues and a lone female Scarce Chaser at a particularly fabulous bank of heather.
After this moment of mindfulness I decided to have one more look around the first pond, capturing a few more of those Common Emeralds before calling it a day.
Did you really expect a repeat of last season’s perfect weather? Me neither. This is Britain, so prepare to get wet.
A miserable June for sure. Since Latchmore I’ve only managed to get out a few times; a couple of disappointing days at Bramshill and a trip further afield, of which more later.
Now the problem with Bramshill can be attributed to the weather, but that’s not the whole story. The combination of unsatisfactory meteorological conditions and, frankly, a lack of management have both contributed to low levels of key species.
A perfect species to highlight the downfall is the Black-tailed Skimmer. I’m used to seeing hundreds lining the paths and shores. Tenerals rising across your path and adults skipping ahead of your footfall.
The problem with Bramshill is the encroachment of scrub. Gorse, Willow, Bramble and ‘introduced’ skin-tearing spiky saplings forbidding access to the shores. The north-western ponds are now totally inaccessible.
A few years ago they bulldozed the clearing, flattening it completely, which had it’s own effect. Hammer & tongs is never a good solution. Since then it has been allowed to grow unheeded.
Now they have managed other large sections of the reserve by once again flattening the over-encroaching gorse and stripping away the shoreline of bordering trees. With the latter they’ve used the branches to create hedge-type fences totally restricting previous access points to the shore.
Recent signs warning of ground-nesting birds give an idea of their priorities, a single genre practice which I’ve always rallied against. We need diversity to benefit all species. Dragonflies are unfortunately low on the totem pole of importance.
The fencing off of shorelines is no doubt due to the problem they have with bathing dogs. Fair enough, although designated areas like the bench at Long Pond where dogs can swim free hasn’t had a detrimental effect to the overall health of the pond; it still remains the most prolific of ponds on the reserve.
It’s a shame as Bramshill has up until now been a fabulous site for dragonflies. To be fair it still is, but as the years go by the disappointments outweigh the satisfactions.
Bramshill isn’t the only site suffering lack of , or misguided management. After nearly a fortnight of low pressure bringing winds and rain we decided enough was enough and we took a trip to East Kent in search of some sunshine and their local population of Green-eyed (Norfolk) Hawker.
Now it’s been four years since we’ve made this trip and were looking forward to seeing these magnificent beasts again.
On arrival our first observation was the neglect of the path beside the railway leading to the the lakes. The walk in is long enough without having to battle through bramble & nettle.
Once through this jungle we were greeted by yet more habitat vandalism. The ditch where you were guaranteed patrolling GEH was barren of emerging reeds, and the shore opposite had been stripped of bank-side vegetation.
Needless to say we didn’t see much. Just the one patrolling male and one to the overgrown ditch to the right.
We decided to head towards the Stour and make our way to the clearing where we hoped we’d find the same activity as before. Thankfully we did so. There were at least a dozen males patrolling out on the water, frequently dropping low to perch of the reeds.
This was more like it. Green-eyed, Scarce and even Hairy making the most of this wonderful warm bay. Although in-flights were out of the question due to distance it wasn’t long before we had our first male fly in to the bank and perch perfectly.
This fellow stayed around long enough to grab a macro shot
We stayed put and watched the show over water, wishing we or our
subjects could approach a little nearer. We had one more male fly in and
Several Kingfishers flew frantically by while day trippers and locals passed by in kayaks or small rowing boats. Now there’s a plan for next year!
It is with great sadness to learn of the passing of one of dragonflies and nature’s true heroes, Steve Covey.
CDR for Wiltshire for 20 years, I first met Steve at Bentley Wood while we were both searching for Purple Emperors. Since then we’ve enjoyed many days out in the field indulging in our passion for dragonflies.
It pains me to think we’ll never share another day in the sunshine taking photos, sharing jokes and making memories which will stay with me forever.
Here’s to a fabulous, funny and knowledgeable much-loved gentleman who taught me and countless others so much over the years.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends who’s love were shared in his final days.
May you rest in peace buddy.You will be sorely missed.
Staying on home turf I revisited Troublefield hoping for a better showing a week on from my last visit. I wasn’t disappointed. Both Demoiselles were present in satisfactory numbers.
Despite a thorough search of the upper meadows I didn’t see any sign of Broad-bodied Chaser or White-legged Damselfly. There were however plenty of Scarce Chaser to occupy my time.
While walking alongside the nettles I disturbed a fresh female Emperor from her resting place and watched as she flew towards the tree canopy.
The lower meadows had a DWT work party busy with strimmers and chainsaws, so I decided to pop over to Crockford where I at least had my first Southern Damselflies of the season despite the increasingly overcast conditions.
Saturday 1st June
A new month and some excellent conditions meant a revisit to Latchmore, this time in the company of Sue and our good friends Steve & Debbie Birt.
Arriving just before 10.00am we didn’t have to wait too long before we had our first Keeled Skimmer of the season; one of many tenerals to be seen today.
A search through the heather didn’t produce the usual numbers however we did find a few Small Red damselflies – another first for the season.
The heather here had yet to bloom so feeder insects were scarce. Also the stiff breeze at this elevation meant they were probably hiding out elsewhere today.
At the flushes we spotted our first Scarce Blue-tailed of the day, which completed Steve’s hoped-for list, but neither provided a photo opportunity.
Along the stream I did spot a very fresh ‘pre-aurantiaca’ teneral in the sedge but a clumsily misplaced step sent her across the stream and out of sight!
The stream had a decent showing of Southern Damselflies with several pairs either in tandem or in-cop, the latter producing some of the most challenging opportunities with being hidden among scrub or, as these two, swaying in the breeze.
After a disappointing search uphill we returned to the flushes where we saw our first Scarce Blue-tailed earlier. No more sightings over water but in the scrub Steve spotted a beautiful aurantiaca phase female.
Even after all these years I still get excited by these, and Steve & I agreed this rounded the day off nicely.
Quite why I should feel any semblance of guilt by forsaking my own doorstep in favour of greater enjoyment is beyond me. Nevertheless a favourable forecast decided a visit to Troublefield was overdue.
I didn’t have to walk too far beyond the gate before the first flutters of Demoiselles graced the meadow. Both Banded and Beautiful were in attendance in small numbers, providing an early chase and opportunity of concentration.
There were a scattering of Large Red and a few Azure joining the butterflies in this humid warmth, and a few of the latter provided enjoyment. However it was the Demoiselles that drew my attention.
I had expected my first Broad-bodied Chaser to lift my spirits. Maybe a Hairy? A Golden-ringed? Not unheard of here so early in the season, but a Scarce Chaser was ample consolation.
After a good trawl through the meadows I headed over to Ramsdown. Brickfield Pond gave me my first over-water activity and Hill Pond gave my first Broad-bodied Chaser of the season. A newly-emerged specimen rising up the hill to perch briefly for a record shot before being carried by the breeze further uphill.
Plenty more over-water activity with Large Red, Four-spotted Chaser, Common Blue and Azure. Walking around the pond disturbed another new arrival, a fresh Four-spotted taking its first flight to a convenient tree.
Further along the shore I caught sight of a shimmer as in the reed another had just emerged, this time remaining within the sedge while pumping up and drying out.
Today’s highlight for sure, and I stayed around observing and grabbing shots while waiting for the opening of wings and that glorious first flight.
Another promise of fine weather on Wednesday saw me fulfill my plan for Latchmore, except it wasn’t quite as warm or sunny as expected.
A good finger-tip search through by favourite scrub produced nothing and further uphill where I expected a couple of Southern Damselflies only brought more Large Red.
I admit to be sorely disappointed with my choice for day and destination and just as I was about to call it quits I decided on taking an alternative path back to the stream.
I don’t know why I decided on that path. Call it serendipity, fate or just happy coincidence for here in a small patch of low scrub a couple of meters away from water was a newly-emerged Broad-bodied Chaser!
Once she had spent a while changing position and drying out her wings I removed her away from what could have been an early demise as a rather large spider came into view.
Seeing her take her first flight was reason enough to deprive this predator of a meal. Such beauty deserves a life extension after all the energy spent.
Another highlight then, and something to lift my spirits for the walk back downstream.
I remember commenting a while back how our season can be restricted to six months; I’ve never personally felt the need to search for stragglers in November. I’ll leave that to others.
While it’s always a pleasure to seek out those first Large Red of the season, the rest of April is invariably a disappointment, wasted days waiting for a little diversity to ramp up the pace.
May is when the season really starts, when that diversity reaches double-figures and you can almost be forgiven to be guaranteed a good day. Except even when you restrict the days you can still have disappointments.
I was hoping a return trip to Bramshill would offer up more numbers and a little more diversity. There were more of the same, but not in the numbers I expected, and a couple of expected newcomers.
My first grateful sighting was a Grizzled Skipper clinging to the sparse vegetation fringing the main track; a resident of this site, their previous two hot-spots now unsuitable due to too much scrub growth.
Shortly afterwards I had my first Beautiful Demoiselles right where I expected them to be, and again scattered throughout the site in small pockets of warm micro-climate.
The path down to the ponds usually provides one or two encounters and today there was an immature male Red-eyed and a female Downy Emerald flitting from perch to perch, neither of which improved on the previous visits shot.
Another couple of females graced my walk to the center ponds, however it was an immature male which gave me a better opportunity.
The pond-side vegetation was devoid of the expected damsel swarms so I continued on through miles of forest pathways until I spotted a male Hairy fly off into the distance and a few Banded Demoiselles parked up sun-bathing, including this accommodating male.
So a couple of opportunities and a few more species encountered but I have to say I was disappointed to not see more, especially a Four-spotted Chaser or two which should be all over the site by now.