W/E 14th August

Still having to play catch-up here with another two weeks of sightings to publish. I’ll start with Monday 9th where I visited 3 local sites to see what could be found on a rather overcast and cool day.

I started at Abbotswood, near Romsey, where there appeared to be a lot of construction work going on in the name of nature conservation. The pond here was in a very sorry state with hardly any water and all the rushes flattened down. All I managed to find was a rather lonely Emerald Damselfly who avoided my attempts at getting a photograph.

Just around the corner is Carrisbrook Meadows – an ideal sounding place, but unfortunately the whole site has all but been turned into a local authority tip. Barely a couple of minutes in I was challenged and told to keep to the footpath as the rest of the site – including the ponds – belonged to the waste company and was out of bounds.

I reasoned with the fellow and asked who I should seek permission from to do a dragonfly survey and this approach seemed to work with me being allowed to carry on. This was the site where I managed an excellent photo of a Small Red-eyed Damsel a few weeks back. However none were to be found this day, just a few Blue-tailed and a few Common Darters.

Male Blue-tailed Damselfly
Male Blue-tailed Damselfly
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter

Disappointed with the day so far I travelled on to Testwood Lakes in the hope of seeing a few Small Red-eyed. The centre pond provided a few opportunities, but a conversation with one of the fellows doing a butterfly count informed me populations were well down on previous years.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Small Red-eyed Damselfly

From there I took a look at the Gully Pond where I spotted my first Migrant Hawker of the season

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

There was also a female Southern Hawker doing the rounds and attempting to oviposit on the boardwalk

Female Southern Hawker
Female Southern Hawker
Female Southern Hawker
Female Southern Hawker

The following Wednesday I ventured out early intending a return visit to Ringwood Forest to photograph a selection of Emerald Damselflies, which are very plentiful here. The grass and heather was still wet from the evening rain and I ended up soaking wet, but the results were worth it.

Male Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly
Female Emerald Damselfly
Female Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly

Further exploration into the undergrowth produced a few Black Darters and a Common Darter

Black Darter
Black Darter
Common Darter
Common Darter

From there I took a short drive to Slop Bog on the Ferndown Bypass, a site I’d been meaning to visit. Unfortunately the site only confirmed my suspicions that local authority nature reserves rarely produce anything near what they promise. All I managed to see was a lone Common Darter and a couple of Small Red Damselflies.

Male Small Red Damselfly
Male Small Red Damselfly

On the way back I stopped in at the pond Doug & I had previously visited and was rewarded with a female Brown Hawker ovipositing

Female Brown Hawker
Female Brown Hawker
Female Brown Hawker
Female Brown Hawker

Thursday 12th at first looked promising, but as usual the weather took a turn for the worse with only the briefest of sunny spells to break the gloom. I stopped off at Duck Hole Bog and spent a few moments watching a lone male Emperor patrolling the pond.

Male Emperor
Male Emperor
Male Emperor
Male Emperor

I also stopped off at Burley Gravel Pits but again all to be seen was a lone male Emperor.

The weather continued it’s gloom for the following two days, but Doug, Sue and I ventured out as planned anyway on Saturday. The only sightings were of Common Blue Damsels, everything else hiding away from what was to become a very wet day.

Common Blue Damselfly
Common Blue Damselfly

As mentioned previously we do desperately need some rain, in fact a great deal to replenish the heathland ponds. I would prefer it if we could have a few days of torrential showers followed by some hot, dry and windless days instead of this indecisive gloom with occasional sunny spells. Either rain or don’t!

But then we are in Britain and apathetic gloom should be expected in our summers!

Hawker Frenzy

Conditions are still critically dry in the New Forest and dragon activity is still well down on the same time last year. However a reasonably sunny day last Sunday brought out the Hawkers for an enjoyable afternoons shooting.

Within minutes of parking Doug and I were greeted by two male Brown Hawkers and a Southern Hawkers patrolling the wooded margins of the car park. This boded well for the next few hours with the best activity I’ve witnessed for weeks. There were at least two female Brown Hawkers ovipositing in the pond, a Common Hawker patrolling and lots of damsel activity on the margins including Blue-tails and Emeralds.

Male Blue-tailed Damselfly
Male Blue-tailed Damselfly
Mating Pair of Emerald Damselflies
Mating Pair of Emerald Damselflies

The main objective of the day were to attempt some photographs of the ovipositing female Brown Hawkers, an opportunity not to be missed considering the difficulty normally encountered with this species. Although we had several opportunities it was still a challenge to get perfect results even with their close proximity.

Ovipositing female Brown Hawker
Ovipositing female Brown Hawker
Ovipositing female Brown Hawker
Ovipositing female Brown Hawker

There was also a lone female Southern Hawker ovipositing low down within the reeds which proved a real challenge due to the position and low light levels.

Female Southern Hawker
Female Southern Hawker

On a sadder note there was a rather gruesome sight of a female Small Red Damselfly with the abdomen of a male still attached.

Female Small Red Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly

The surrounding heath provided more sightings of Brown Hawkers, this time males which refused to land for photo opportunities but at leaqst there was an obliging Common Darter.

Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter

Not far from our pond was another located on private land, but a chance meeting with the land owner at least provided us with the opportunity to ask permission to survey any dragonfly activity which we usually wouldn’t have access to.

Due to the pond being surrounded by cultivated farmland and therefore unwelcome changes to the natural acidity levels, there were still some welcome opportunities, including the rare and delightful experience of having a female Brown Hawker fly between my legs and land on my boot.

Fermale Brown Hawker
Fermale Brown Hawker

We also had a lone male Southern Hawker patrolling the pond giving us an opportunity to practice our in-flight photography.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

All in all a successful day and a delight to witness some decent Hawker activity.

Dry Season

The reasonably dry summer has really taken it’s toll on our water bodies and associated odonata. Most of the New Forest heath ponds are critically low and a good number have dried out completely.

I’ve had to look long & hard for dragons & damsels over the past week. At least Higher Hyde Heath produced a few Ruddy Darters of both sexes along with a welcome Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Southern Hawker

On Tuesday I took a trip around a few favourite New Forest haunts including Crockford Stream which disappointingly only produced a few Beautiful Demoiselles, a few Southern Damsels, a few Small Reds and a lone Golden-ringed. Next stop was Hawkhill which only produced a few Keeled Skimmers and no Hawkers whatsoever. Even the stream which runs through the valley is completely dry.

At least Badminston produced a few damsels and plenty of Common Darters, although not near as many as there should be this time of year.

Common Darter
Common Darter
Common Darter
Common Darter

At least Wednesday saw a little rain and even a brief thunderstorm, but nowhere near enough to replenish the water table. I went out early – probably too early – on Thursday for a stroll around upper Ober Water and Duck Hole Bog. Again activity was almost non existent, although there were a few sightings a little later when the sun made a brief appearance.

Still only a couple of White-legged Damsels, a few Beautiful’s and a reasonable number of Keeled Skimmers patrolling the bog to the south of the main river.

Female White-legged Damselfly
Female White-legged Damselfly

Next stop was Holmsley where at least there was more activity with Common and Ruddy Darters, Small Red, Emerald and Azure Damsels and even a brief sighting of a Southern Hawker. A chat with a fellow enthusiast revealed there was more of the same along with a couple of Emperors and several Keeled Skimmers at the old Quarry.

Male Small Red Damselfly
Male Small Red Damselfly
Mating Pair of Small Red Damselflies
Mating Pair of Small Red Damselflies

With time to spare I paid a brief visit to Ramsdown Forest where I saw absolutely nothing! Not even a Golden-ringed or Black Darter was to be found among the heath. So all in all a pretty disappointing week. Let’s hope the weather improves with some heavy rainfall followed by more than just sunny spells.

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.

Round Up

On Sunday 11th July I paid a brief visit to Abottswood Common, near Romsey, in search of a small pond I had been told about. After scouring the common I finally found the pond, secreted behind a barbed wire barrier. The pond is shallow and completely covered in reeds with hardly any open pools of water. Nevertheless a quick scour around the reeds produced some Emerald and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Malformed Emerald Damselfly
Malformed Emerald Damselfly
Mating Pair of Blue-tailed Damselflies
Mating Pair of Blue-tailed Damselflies

On Monday 12th I decided to visit Alder Hills again, but stopped off at Higher Hyde Heath in the hope of capturing some mature male Ruddy Darters

Immature Male Ruddy Darter
Immature Male Ruddy Darter
Mature Male Ruddy Darter
Mature Male Ruddy Darter
Mature Male Ruddy Darter
Mature Male Ruddy Darter

There was also a rather ragged Male Emperor perched among the undergrowth

Male Emperor
Male Emperor

Onwards to Alder Gully hoping for an opportunity to photograph the Brown Hawker. Several more missed chances, but a few opportunities including a mating pair of Blue-tailed Damselflies, a Male Scarce Chaser perched on a water lily and one of several Golden-ringed’s

Mating Blue-tailed Damselflies
Mating Blue-tailed Damselflies
Male Scarce Chaser
Male Scarce Chaser

The remainder of the week proved to be dull and rainy, so I decided to concentrate on visiting a few local sites for butterflies, however the dragonflies were determined to get in on the action too with several Emperors, a couple of Southern Hawkers and even more Golden-ringed made appearances at Whitely Pastures on Saturday.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Female Emperor feeding on Meadow Brown Butterfly
Female Emperor feeding on Meadow Brown Butterfly

The above female provided 15 minutes of entertainment feeding on no less than three butterflies, devouring the haed and body but leaving the wings. To watch her hunting and catching her prey mere metres away from us was a sight worth seeing.

Increasingly I have witnessed Hawkers and Emperors along forest rides well away from water. They appear far more prominent in areas where there is a lot of butterfly and other insect activity and this leads me to believe that they visit these locations for primarily for feeding.

Hunting The Elusive Brown Hawker

On Tuesday and Thursday of last week I visited a reliable site for Brown Hawkers, high on my list and a species I had yet to see let alone photograph. The good news is I finally got to see them in all there majesty. A fabulous beast in flight, but an absolute nightmare to photograph!

On the way there Tuesday I popped in to Ramsdown Forest for a quick visit to see if there were any Scarce Chasers still around. One female was spotted and photographed.

Female Scarce Chaser
Female Scarce Chaser

There were a few Golden-ringed’s about and I was disappointed to disturb a mating pair. However I did manage a shot of a Common Darter and a perched Male Emperor

Immature Common Darter
Immature Common Darter
Male Emperor
Male Emperor

As activity was minimal I continued to Alder Hills where I was greeted by male Emperors patrolling the banks along with male Scarce Chasers and feeding Blue-tails in the bank-side foliage.

Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly

Once I reached the pond I was rewarded with my first sightings of the Brown Hawker, two flying over the water and I did manage a rather poor in-flight shot which would prove to be my only record

Brown Hawker
Brown Hawker

As the day cooled with a little cloud cover their activity on the pond ceased, so I searched the surrounding heath for perched individuals. I found four, but annoyingly didn’t notice them until the last moment when they took flight over the trees – a reaction which would repeat itself on many future occasions. I did console myself with a shot or two of perched Scarce Chasers and a welcome discovery of a young male Southern Hawker which was far more willing to be photographed.

Male Scarce Chaser
Male Scarce Chaser
Young Male Southern Hawker
Young Male Southern Hawker
Young Male Southern Hawker
Young Male Southern Hawker

The return visit on Thursday proved to be even more disappointing and a more than a tad hazardous, the concentration of heather and young gorse among the heath proving dangerous underfoot after a wet night. It wasn’t long before I took the first of two falls into the undergrowth and managed to collect more than my fair share of nasty scratches and bruises.

Those Brown Hawkers weren’t going to give themselves up easily. Another four missed opportunities and on returning home I noticed that I had caused some muscular damage in my left knee which would put me out of action for the next few days. The only consolations being my first shot of a fox (a cub) and a close shot of a Heron, along with a few more Scarce Chasers and a Golden-ringed.

Scarce Chasers
Scarce Chasers
Immature Male Scarce Chaser
Immature Male Scarce Chaser
Golden-ringed
Golden-ringed

So the hunt is still on and as soon as I am fit enough I will be returning to the hazards of Alder Gully where I will eventually bag my prize…

A Good Start To The Week

On Monday I paid a visit to Bentley Wood in the hope of catching a glimpse and maybe photographing the elusive Purple Emperor butterfly, but on the way I stopped off at Carsbrook Common near Romsey to investigate. This site had all but been taken over by a local authority tip, but the ponds are still there for now and relatively early in the day I was greeted with a Small Red-eyed Damselfly perched on the pond-side vegetation

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Small Red-eyed Damselfly

This was one of the species on my list for this year and I had intended to visit Testwood if I had time that day for precisely that reason, so this unexpected sighting and photo opportunity was the first major highlight of the day.

While at Bentley Wood I made my usual pilgrimage to the two ponds where Downy Emeralds, Broad-bodied Chasers and Emperors were flying. However at the top pond there were spent exuviae on the reeds and on further searching, two freshly-emerged Southern Hawkers attached to the pontoon.

Southern Hawker Exuviae
Southern Hawker Exuviae
Freshly-emerged Southern Hawker
Freshly-emerged Southern Hawker
Freshly-emerged Southern Hawker
Freshly-emerged Southern Hawker

These opportunities were another highlight of the day and shortly afterwards I was even more lucky to encounter that elusive Purple Emperor butterfly. Photos of this encounter can be found on my Flickr page (see panel to the right)

Elated at my good fortune I almost forgot to visit Testwood, but remembered just in time and headed to the centre pond where indeed there was a Small Red-eyed on the pond as well as an ovipositing female Emperor

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Ovipositing Female Emperor
Ovipositing Female Emperor

All in all a cracking day!

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Return To Badminston

On Sunday I met Doug at Badminston on a dull and very windy day. Pretty much the same as Thursday but the sheer numbers of fresh teneral Common Darters rising from the reeds was a wonderful sight! Nothing much on the common, but the fishing pond produced an opportunity to at least capture a Scarce Chaser perched on foliage rather than on the ground

Male Black-tailed Skimmer
Male Scarce Chaser

The wind showed no sign of dropping and the day turned somewhat gloomier, but we paid a visit to Rushbush Pond regardless to seek out any activity. Absolutely nothing was flying over the pond but careful searching among the heather revealed some Emerald and Common Blue Damselflies, the latter providing some well-needed amusement.

Male Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly Close Crop
Male Emerald Damselfly Close Crop

While Doug was videoing this male Common Blue, we had plenty of time to observe some defensive behaviour. Every time we faced our quarry head-on, he would twist around putting the branch between us and him. Further experiments using our hands produced further evasive behaviour with the damsel choosing to hide but peering around to see if we were still there.

Male Common Blue Damselfly
Male Common Blue Damselfly

Badminston

I started July with a return trip to Badminston Common. The Gravel Pits threw up the odd immature Common Darter, Common Blue Damselfly, Emperor and Black-tailed Skimmer while the common itself revealed more of the same along with a solitary Golden-ringed.

Immature Common Darter
Immature Common Darter
Immature Common Blue Damselfly
Immature Common Blue Damselfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Immature Common Darter
Immature Common Darter

I walked down to the fishing pond which had a little activity from the odd Downy Emerald and Four-spotted Chaser along with the obligatory Azures and Blue-tails.

Landscapers were in the process of cutting down the back-side reeds and foliage, which is probably a great help to the fishermen but a nuisance as far as dragonflies are concerned. They had also cleared away a lot of the surface vegetation close to the bank where Red-eyed Damselflies used to congregate.

Male Black-tailed Skimmer
Male Black-tailed Skimmer

On the way back I finally called into the pond by the leisure centre to see what was about. Once again Black-tailed Skimmers were out in force along with Broad-bodied Chasers and a pair of Emperors

Ovipositing Female Emperor
Ovipositing Female Emperor

A quick call into Hawkhill on the way back saw Golden-ringed hawking the forest rides and Keeled Skimmers, Beautiful Demoiselles, Large Red and Azure damselflies along the stream