Migrant Frenzy

Altogether a much better week than last week, with some reasonably warm, sunny days to bring out the Hawkers. Migrants are our most plentiful at this time of year which begs the question why not rename this species the Common  and reclassify the Common Hawker as the Moorland Hawker – a more fitting name.

Sunday was a pleasant day with several species on the wing including Migrant, Southern and Brown Hawkers, Common and Ruddy Darters, Common Blue, Blue-tailed, Emerald and Small Red-eyed Damsels.

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Tandem Pair of Small Red-eyed Damselflies
Tandem Pair of Small Red-eyed Damselflies
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Male Ruddy Darter
Male Ruddy Darter

On Wednesday I joined Doug at Troublefield for an hour and was greeted by my first male Migrant perched

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

The appearance of some warm, sunny spells brought out more Migrants and a few Southerns providing an excellent aerial display with up to half-a-dozen in flight at a time. Occasionally they would land, in some cases perching reasonably close allowing a shot or two.

Female Migrant Hawker
Female Migrant Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

On Thursday I joined Doug again for an hour at Burley. Nothing much was visible over the ponds except a few Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damsels and several Common Darters. We continued over to Whitten Pond and was greeted by a patrolling male Southern Hawker and an ovipositing female Migrant along the lead-in stream.

Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker

Also present were a few ovipositing pairs of Common Darters, and these provided a real challenge to capture in-flight with their continual bobbing and weaving.

Ovipositing Common Darters
Ovipositing Common Darters

Afterwards I popped over to Pennington and witnessed yet another ovipositing Migrant

Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker

Friday’s weather looked promising so I visited Badminston Common where I knew I’d find some action. Surprisingly there wasn’t much going on at the pools, but searching the reeds revealed my first Migrant of the day.

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

A bleak, dark cloud hovered over the common and took a while to clear, considerably dropping the temperature and putting pay to activity, but there were a few persistent Common Blue Damsels hovering along the margins of the path. I decided to survey the gorse and was rewarded by perched Common Darters and yet more Migrants.

Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

The sun seemed reluctant to reveal itself for much of the time but in those brief sunny intervals I witnessed a further dozen or so Hawkers – both Migrant and Southern – and several more Common Darters.

Better luck was to be found at Pennington where the Migrants seemed to be out in force. Several males were patrolling their territories, occasionally finding a female to mate with. I was determined to get an acceptable in-flight shot so busied myself until I acheived the result I was looking for

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

Satisfied, I continued to explore the the margins, witnessing at least 3 mating pairs flying out of range until I found a pair perched among the reeds.

Migrant Hawker Mating Wheel
Migrant Hawker Mating Wheel

I stayed around the vicinity for the rest of the afternoon honing in on the sound of females ovipositing among the reeds, Occasionally they would hover towards the bank in their quest for suitable laying sites.

Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker
Ovipositing Female Migrant Hawker

Finally a promising Saturday weatherwise proved a tad disappointing, probably due to the low temperatures overnight. I joined Doug at Delph Woods where we were greeted by a Brown Hawker, a lone Emperor, a few Southerns and the odd Migrant patrolling the pond.

This brief moment of activity was shortlived and it was hard work finding much to photograph besides the profusion of Common Darters. Careful searching did produce more species including Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Emerald Damsels along with a few Black Darters and a beautifully perched Southern Hawker.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Feeding Female Emerald Damselfly
Feeding Female Emerald Damselfly

Despite the slow finish to what was a successful week, we should be grateful for any opportunities and sightings with reasonable diversity late in the season. Provided we continue to have reasonable weather without a frost we should continue to observe Migrants, Southerns and of course Common Darters for several more weeks.

Slim Pickings

This week has seen a change in the weather with grey skies, rain and strong winds putting pay to most dragonfly activity. On Sunday I wandered out briefly to a local private pond near the River Hamble and although nothing was flying I did disturb 3 Male Southern Hawkers.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

A walk along the riverbank also produced a female flying low to the ground before disappearing off into the undergrowth.

Monday wasn’t much better. Nothing at all flying at Troublefield, but there was a lone male Beautiful Demoiselle hovering around the margins of nearby woodland.

It was Thursday before the weather held off enough to venture out again. I met Doug at lunch hour at Troublefield and there were a few Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers appearing during the brief sunny spells. A female perched for a short while allowing a photo opportunity.

Female Migrant Hawker
Female Migrant Hawker

We did a quick reccie of the northern fields before Doug had to return to work, but nothing much was stirring except a couple of female Common Darters.

Female Common Darter
Female Common Darter

I stayed for a further hour and a half in the hope of seeing more. There were more Hawker sightings to be had when the sun made those brief appearances with male & female Migrants patrolling the field and even a couple of male Southerns holding their territories further up the leat.

A nice surprise was seeing a male Beautiful Demoiselle among the reeds and a female perched on the bramble.

Female Beautiful Demoiselle
Female Beautiful Demoiselle

That’s it I’m afraid. A disappointing week, but at least there are a couple of good days forecast for next week. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Good Weather Continues

Continuing good weather over the Bank Holiday meant a visit to Crockford was on the cards. Crockford Stream is well known as a mecca for odonata enthusiasts but IMO the best times to visit are in May & June. These are the months that activity is at it’s finest and species counts are at their highest.

However Monday’s visit surprised me with probably the best selection I’ve seen for a while. Beautiful Demoiselles are still on the wing, although numbers are low. Common Darters are plentiful and even the odd Keeled Skimmer put in an appearance.

For me though the highlights were the first Golden-ringed seen for a while, a male & female Southern Hawker and a few Migrants. There was even a few Small Red Damsels to be found including a mating pair.

Mating Pair of Common Darters
Mating Pair of Common Darters
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Mating Pair of Small Red Damselflies
Mating Pair of Small Red Damselflies
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Female Southern Hawker
Female Southern Hawker

Once we’d had our fill we moved on to the pond at East End which only produced a few Common Darters and a few Migrant Hawkers patrolling the treeline. We called in briefly to Holmsley where surprisingly nothing was seen.

We decided to visit Whitten Pond as a last call and were rewarded with a pair of Brown Hawkers patrolling the shore and feeder stream. The female was particularly amenable and gave us a chance to grab an in-flight shot or two. However the best opportunity came when she landed on the gorse.

Female Brown Hawker
Female Brown Hawker

The good weather continued into Tuesday and I returned to Crockford only to be presented with a couple of Golden-ringed’s and a Migrant Hawker among the Common Darters. There were however a couple of Beautiful’s on the wing, a lone Keeled Skimmer at the marshy end and a lone male Emperor paying a brief visit.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

I then decided to visit Tiptoe, a site previously shown to me by Doug Overton. This proved to be more prolific than Crockford with four Migrant Hawkers spotted and four Golden-ringed’s among the inevitable Common Darters.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Two of the Migrant’s were patrolling a small clearing and eventually one landed so close I had to move back in order to get a shot.

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

With the little time I had left I decided to revisit Whitten Pond in the hope of seeing those Brown Hawkers again. A large grey cloud was hovering reluctant to move in the minimal wind, but eventually passed over allowing the sun to appear. Sure enough as soon as the sun appeared the Brown Hawkers came out of hiding. I stayed and attempted to get an in-flight shot, but had to leave before I had a chance to find them perched.

Male Brown Hawker
Male Brown Hawker

Tuesday had the promise of another fine day and I promised myself a return visit to Troublefield. On the way I called into a few New Forest ponds but activity was minimal except for a few early flying Emerald and Blue-tailed  Damsels. My first Hawker sighting was at Linford at around midday, but more were to come on arrival at Troublefield.

I arrived at approximately 1.00pm and did a quick reccie of the northern fields where I spotted the odd Common Darter, Beautiful Demoiselle and Golden-ringed.

Female Common Darter
Female Common Darter

I then concentrated on the main meadows to the south. This was where the majority of the main Hawker activity could be found. I counted over 40 Migrants and Southerns with regular bursts of half a dozen flying overhead.

Along the eastern edge there is a small leat backed by trees with plenty of bank-side vegetation providing ideal perching places, and this was where several opportunities presented themselves. Walking the whole stretch revealed yet more Migrants, Southerns and even some Golden-ringed.

Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker
Male Migrant Hawker

This has to be the best display of Hawkers I’ve seen anywhere.

Thursday I had a plan to visit Badminston in the hope of finding a Red-veined Darter. Alas, none to be found, although there were hundreds of Common Darters and surprisingly a Ruddy, ragged, but a beautiful deep red.

Male Ruddy Darter
Male Ruddy Darter
Female Common Darter
Female Common Darter

I visited Mopley Pond while there, where again Commons were ever present along with the odd Southern & Migrant Hawker. It was the surrounding heath which provided the best results. One little clearing in particular was alive with Hawker activity – almost on a par with the previous day. In that one little clearing I counted around 30  patrolling the margins.

Alas, having spent more time there than I’d planned, I decided now was the time to move on as I had a plan to visit my favourite pond on the way home. There had been a report of Small Red-eyed Damsels there and sure enough several were spotted on arrival, including a couple of mating pairs. The latter were proving difficult to pin down for a photograph, but the single males provided a few opportunities – yet even they were skittish and it took a little patience and observation before a shot or two could be achieved.

Male Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Male Small Red-eyed Damselfly

This is apparently the first year this species has been recorded there and is excellent news, proving once again that this is one of the best ponds in the forest for diversity.

Also doing the rounds were Common Blue, Blue-tailed, Emerald and Red-eyed Damsels, Common Darters and Southern and a Migrant Hawkers.

Female Common Darter
Female Common Darter

The Southern at least provided an ideal opportunity for some in-flight shots.

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

I revisited the pond on Friday and spent a good 4 hours there. As usual the Emerald Damselflies were first on the wing followed closely by Common Darters.

Male Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly

Also seen were Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damsels, Black Darters and the welcome appearance of a male Common Hawker and two sightings of a female Common Hawker ovipositing, although this could have been the same individual paying a couple of visits. Far too fast to obtain a photograph though!

So I amused myself with getting a few more in-flight shots of a patrolling Southern.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

On Saturday Sue & I joined Doug at Longham to be shown around the private riverside and lakes by a guide, Dominic Couzins. There were quite a few Common Darters and Common Blue Damsels including a beautiful purple male.

Male Common Blue Damselfly
Male Common Blue Damselfly

Along the rides there were a few Southern and Hawkers, while the lakes provided yet more Common Darters, Common Blue Damsels and even some Blue-tailed.

Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter

Conditions were hazy and very windy so we decided to move on to Troublefield where the weather prevented a repeat of the previous displays. At least there were a few Migrants on show along with perched and patrolling Southerns and a lone Golden-ringed and Beautiful Demoiselle among the inevitable Common Darters.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Female Migrant Hawker
Female Migrant Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

All in all a very successful week, especially the sighting of those Common Hawkers and Small Red-eyed Damselflies at my favourite little pond, Brown Hawkers at Whitten Pond and those wonderful displays of Hawkers at Troublefield and Badminston.

Things Are Looking Up

We’ve had a good deal of rain which has replenished the water bodies and all ponds and streams in the New Forest are looking much healthier. Good news indeed, but still the hunt for opportunities are proving a challenge.

My first port of call was Troublefield, just over the county border near Hurn. This is a fabulous water meadow on the banks of the Moors River which has showed promise on a previous visit. It needs a hot and sunny day to bring out the best, and I was there rather early. Still there were a couple of Common Darters and a few Southern Hawkers to be found.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

On the way back I called into the pond to be greeted by a lone Common Darter perched and a few more patrolling the water

Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter

A few more days of rain and wind during the week prevented further exploration, but Friday looked more promising. Besides I needed an opportunity to try out a pair of wellies. I cannot believe how I’ve managed up to now without such a vital tool. They were ideal for tramping through the sodden heath but their real became apparent at the now full pond. Several Emerald damsels provided the ideal opportunity to use them as intended.

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

Moving on to Linford I was greeted by a healthy, and in places rather deep, Linford Brook. Again signs of life were acarce, but at least a female Southern Hawker provided a great opportunity to get some close-up shots while she was ovipositing.

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

The weather forecast for the weekend was promising and rather unexpected for a Bank Holiday. Knowing all roads west would be a nightmare of holiday traffic I decided against the New Forest and instead took Sue to Thursley Common. A wise choice. Barely out of the car we were greeted by a couple of Brown Hawkers and a couple of Downy (or mayve  Brilliant Emeralds) patrolling the pond. Further exploration revealed Common Blue, Small Red and Red-eyed Damsels around the margins.

Red-eyed Damselfly
Red-eyed Damselfly

Hawker activity was plentiful so I set up camp on the northern bank and attempted to get a Brown Hawker in flight. These magnificent dragons are a wonder to observe in flight and provide a real challenge with their speed and manouverability. This was the best I could manage.

Male Brown Hawker
Male Brown Hawker

Next was a patrol of the heath where several male & female Black Darters were observed and a couple gave opportunities for a photograph or two.

Female Black Darter
Female Black Darter
Male Black Darter
Male Black Darter
Black Darter Mating Wheel
Black Darter Mating Wheel
Male Black Darter
Male Black Darter

Besides Black Darters there were a few very brightly-coloured Male Keeled Skimmers. The boardwalks themselves were festooned with Common Lizards of all shapes, sizes and colours, which was a delight to see.

Back towards the pond and along a ride there was plenty of activity with the enevitable Common Darters and some of the best Hawker activity we’ve witnessed for a while. Southerns, Migrants and Browns were patrolling the ride along with a lone Downy Emerald – a late showing for this species,.

Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Female Common Darter
Female Common Darter
Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

Time was getting on and activity was slowing down, but we did manage to pop into Shortheath Common, near Oakhanger on the way home. The only sighting was of a lone Blue-tailed Damselfly which provided the last photo opportunity of the day.

Male Blue-tailed Damselfly
Male Blue-tailed Damselfly

All in all a cracking day and a fitting end to a more successful week. Here’s hoping the promised good weather will produce some fine results over the next week or so.

W/E 21st August

I managed to grab a few hours on Sunday 15th, although dragon sightings were thin on the ground. First port of call was Mill Lawn searching the feeder streams for any sign of Scarce Blue-tails. None to be found, although there was some activity from several Common Darters, Keeled Skimmers and a late sighting of a Broad-bodied Chaser, which was a delight to see.

Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter

The main stream wasn’t showing any signs of activity either, so I made my way to Linford where I watched a lone male Southern Hawker holding territory across the pond.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

Rained off on Monday, but Tuesday 16th showed promise with the first good sunny day for over a week. I therefore started out early to cover as much ground as possible starting at Broomy Pond where Emerald Damsels were plentiful among the grass and heather.

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

There was a lone male Emperor patrolling the pond, a few Common Darters among the gorse and further searching produced a few Small Red and Common Blue damsels..

Male Common Blue Damselfly
Male Common Blue Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly

From Broomy I walked across the heath to Milkham Bottom where the pond was showing signs of the recent drought conditions with hardly any water. The surrounding heath only produced a couple of Black Darters.

Black Darter
Black Darter

I’ve been assured by several people the pond at Milkham Bottom is one of the better ponds in the New Forest, but every time I’ve been there I’ve been disappointed.

Off to Blashford Lakes next for my first visit this year. Plenty of damsel activity and barely five minutes in I had my first sighting of a Brown Hawker, a male flying high among the trees along the back path. This was followed shortly after by a female patrolling the stream in the clearing. No photo opportunities though.

I back-tracked my route calling in at Linford to observe yet another patrolling Southern Hawker and several Common Darters enjoying the afternoon sun.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter

My last port of call was a favourite undocumented pond on the edge of the forest where the water level was so low I could almost walk from one side to the other. Despite the continued sunshine all I was were a few Emerald Damsels, a lone Male Emperor and a rather ragged and late-flying Four-spotted Chaser.

Wednesday 18th was the last chance I had to venture out, so I headed out to Pennington via Crockford Stream. At the latter the only sighting were a few Beautiful Demoiselles. On the way to Lymington I stopped off at a private fishing pond where I observed a few Blue-tailed Damsels and a lone female Black-tailed Skimmer.

Blue-tailed Damselflies
Blue-tailed Damselflies
Female Black-tailed Skimmer
Female Black-tailed Skimmer

At Pennington I did a circuit of the sea wall and the old road. Along the margins of Fish-tail Lagoon there were a couple of Migrant Hawkers patrolling and a few Blue-tailed damsels. On the way back I stopped off at the small pond to witness a couple of Southern Hawkers and a few Common Darters, the latter also appearing at intervals along the gravel path.

Male Southern Hawker
Male Southern Hawker

I called into Crockford on the way back hoping to see at least a Hawker or two, but alas the weather had turned overcast and there was nothing to be found except those hardy Beautiful Demoiselles. Similar circumstances at Hatchet small pond where by now the wind had really started to take hold. Even a short visit to Hawkhill where at least it was sheltered produced nothing further for that day.

The next few days brought some well needed rain. Bring it on. Once the ponds and streams are replenished let’s hope for a few days of uninterrupted warm sun with no wind!

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.