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

Guided Safari

So many updates to complete here, but with the weather continuing to be glorious it would be a sin to stay attached to a PC instead of being in the field.

On the second day of Doug’s holiday we were joined by a couple of enthusiasts from Manchester who we gladly guided through some of the New Forest hot-spots. First call was Ober Water for White-legged and Scarce Blue-tails. Due to a gloomy start we didn’t encounter any of the latter, but did find the former perched among the heather.

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

From there we visited Burley Gravel Pits, a site which was new to me and a welcome destination with plenty of activity increasing as the sun finally broke through. Emerald and Small Red Damsels were found among the heather and on a sad note we found a female Emperor who had emerged in a precarious location preventing her wings from forming.

Freshly-emerged Female Emperor
Freshly-emerged Female Emperor

We removed her to a better position and she still had plenty of fight for survival despite her predicament. We knew that the lack of wings would prevent her from surviving long.

Female Emerald Damselfly
Female Emerald Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly
Female Small Red Damselfly

Another delight at the site was a rather vibrant and fresh female Black-tailed Skimmer

Female Black-tailed Skimmer
Female Black-tailed Skimmer

At that point we parted company and agreed to meet up at Hatchet small pond a little later, taking the time to explore the feed-in streams to the large pond where we had heard Scarce Blue-tails had been seen. No sightings and the unforgiving terrain only helped to exhaust our resources, so we moved on to Hawkhill where I knew we would encounter some Golden-ringed.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

I maintain that you will encounter more Golden-ringed Dragonflies at this site than even Crockford Stream and a walk through the rides and clearings should be on the list of any dragonfly enthusiast. It is also a good site for the larger fritillary butterflies, Common Lizards and if you’re quiet and lucky – which we were that day – a sighting of a Red Deer or two.

All in all a good day with good company.

Dorset Delights

Monday was the start of Doug Overton’s holiday and I joined him for an exhausting day discovering some of Dorset’s delight. First port of call was Delph Woods on the Wimborne to Poole Road. I had visited once before and didn’t see what all the fuss was about, but with Doug as a guide I found the proper spot where activity was plentiful.

Freshly-emerged Ruddy Darter
Freshly-emerged Common Darter

While Doug donned the waders to get close to the Red-eyed’s, I busied myself around the edge and among the heather stopping to help a freshly-emerged Common Darter find a less precarious place to finish drying out.

Next port of call where two Dorset Heaths where I had been introduced to the week previous, Kilwood Copse being first where we were rewarded by our first Southern Hawker of the season.

Immature Male Southern Hawker
Immature Male Southern Hawker

The ‘hidden’ pond provided several photo opportunities and plenty to keep Doug busy. Such is the diversity of flora and fauna in this little oasis that we were both bitten by horseflies while attempting to photograph a nicely camouflaged female Emperor.

Female Emperor
Female Emperor

From there we travelled the short distance to Higher Hyde Heath, a small and very diverse Dorset Wildlife Trust site north-west of Wareham. We were hoping to photograph a Downy Emerald or two at rest, but no such luck! However there were plenty of other opportunities including Emerald Damselflies and Ruddy Darters.

Male Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly
Immature Ruddy Darter
Immature Ruddy Darter

Next port of call was another county hot-spot, Morden Bog – part of Wareham Forest and the presence of Hobby’s hint at the dragonfly populations. Our main objective was the Small Red Damselfly.

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

Close to 5.00pm we were well and truly knackered, so called it a day!

Thursley Common

Last Sunday I finally paid a visit to Thursley Common, noted nationally for it’s wide selection of Odonata. The Moat Pond by the car park entrance provided the first signs of activity with Downy Emeralds patrolling the shoreline along with Four-spotted, Emperors, Broad-bodied’s and various other usual suspects.

Azure Damselflies
Azure Damselflies

This pond is certainly worthy of further exploration and deserves a good amount of time following the shore and delving among the reeds, however I had a full afternoon planned so continued along the heath to the boardwalks where there was enough activity to satisfy the enthusiast.

Male Black-tailed Skimmer
Male Black-tailed Skimmer

The provision of boardwalks is a great feature and allows you access to the flooded bogs & mires which would normally be inaccessible. Numerous side channels and pools were heaving with a good selection of species, but nothing which I hadn’t photographed many times before. Looking longingly at the large body of water towards the end of the boardwalk, I returned to the heath and walked south-east across the heath where I found the odd Black Darter and continued towards the woodland where I encountered some White-legged Damsels.

Immature Ruddy Darter
Immature Black Darter
Male White-legged Damselfly
Male White-legged Damselfly

I then turned west along the common where Silver-studded Blue butterflies where dancing among the heather and returned to the path leading back to the entrance where every step provided damsels and dragons aplenty, including more Black Darters and Emerald Damselflies.

Immature Ruddy Darter
Immature Black Darter
Female Emerald Damselfly
Female Emerald Damselfly

Unfortunately I had to cut short my visit as I had another destination to visit in North Hampshire, but the sheer diversity and activity encountered at Thursley deserves a repeat visit or two with time to fully appreciate it’s wonders.

Within And Beyond

Hampshire and the New Forest is blessed with a great diversity of species and habitats and the summer months can be filled visiting those favourite locations where you are always guaranteed plenty of activity and photo opportunities.

On Sunday I decided to pay a visit to Burley Heaths which contain small acidic ponds, a reasonably large body of water in the form of Whitten Pond and the old Brockenhurst to Ringwood railway line. The smaller ponds are home to the usual suspects along with the beautiful and delicate Emerald Damselflies and Small Reds while Whitten Pond and the lead-in stream is an excellent site for Hawker activity later in the season.

Teneral Four-spotted Chaser
Teneral Four-spotted Chaser

Although there were sightings of teneral Emeralds and Small Reds, Sunday wasn’t as prolific as I expected it to be. However populations of Common Blues, Blue-tails, Emperors, Four-spotted, Broad-bodied’s and Keeled Skimmers provided plenty of interest.

Teneral Four-spotted Chaser
Teneral Four-spotted Chaser

It is always important to never restrict your search to bodies of water alone. The surrounding heaths and forest rides will always provide sightings of tenerals and females along with adult males searching for new territories.

Unidentified - possibly Black-tailed Skimmer?
Unidentified - possibly Black-tailed Skimmer?

During this season I’ve decided to extend my search to include some new sites both within the New Forest and Hampshire and across the county border in Dorset – a county which contains some magnificent lowland heaths so essential for diversity.

Male Black-tailed Skimmer
Male Black-tailed Skimmer

On Monday I visited Hatchet small pond where Downy Emeralds and Black-tailed Skimmers provided the entertainment followed by a visit to every one’s favourite New Forest location, the nationally famous Crockford Stream, where Southern Damselflies are in abundance and Golden-ringed’s (see previous post) patrol the stream vying for territory with dozens of those Keeled Skimmers.

Female Keeled Skimmer
Female Keeled Skimmer

Next up was a revisit to Roydon Woods – a nature reserve just outside the national park boundary. I was hoping for my first glimpse of Ruddy Darters, but as the weather had clouded over I had to be content with Beautiful Demoiselles parading around the Lymington River and throughout the forest rides, yet more Keeled Skimmers, Broad-bodied Chasers, a few Emperors and some rather accommodating Golden-ringed.

On Tuesday I ventured out to another Ruddy Darter stronghold, Emer Bog near Romsey. Having only been there twice before the site was still ripe for further exploration and can be hard to navigate with bog, heavy vegetation and annoying fences barring your progress. Again no Ruddy’s but at least this time I found the pond – hidden away behind one of those fences and surrounded by woodland. Emperors were patrolling and a female was ovipositing and Hundreds of Azure Damselflies were patrolling the edges.

From there I went to Bentley Woods for some butterfly diversion and a good hour watching the activity of the two fabulous ponds. At least now I know where the Downy Emerald’s land – right up in the trees and far out of reach of a camera.

On Wednesday I fulfilled an obligation to meet a fellow wildlife enthusiast and one of my Flickr contacts Dave Longshaw on his home patch in Dorset. We were joined by another enthusiast and Flickr contributor for a walk around Higher Hyde Heath, a small nature reserve on the site of an old quarry with plenty to satisfy the dragonfly freak along with some of the country’s reptile species including Grass Snakes and Sand Lizards.

Immature Male Ruddy Darter
Immature Male Ruddy Darter

At last I had my first glimpse of Ruddy Darters along with Emerald Damselflies, Azures, Large Reds and Downy Emeralds patrolling the clearings. Another wonderful surprise was a lone male Hairy patrolling the lower pond.

Female Emerald Damselfly
Female Emerald Damselfly
Male Hairy Dragonfly
Male Hairy Dragonfly

The heath didn’t disappoint either, with another Golden-ringed happy to pose for a few shots.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Next up was Kilwood Heath which also contained a fantastic pond with plenty of activity including a female Emperor ovipositing

Ovipositing Female Emperor Dragonfly
Ovipositing Female Emperor Dragonfly

And finally we paid a relatively short visit to Morden Bog – famous for it’s dragonflies and one of their major predators – the Hobby. The visit was far too short and deserves a good few hours of exploration, but at least I finally located some mature Small Red Damselflies

Small Red Damselfly
Small Red Damselfly
Small Red Damselfly
Small Red Damselfly

All in all a fantastic day and some welcome new sites for fyrther exploration. Although Dorset isn’t technically in the New Forest it’s terrain is very similar and is essential visiting for dragonfly enthusiasts.

The Avon Valley between the counties is also a hot spot. Just because this site is called Hampshire Dragonflies it doesn’t mean I should restrict my search to Hampshire alone. That would be unforgiveable and deny me a great many missed opportunities.

Today was a day of rest ready for a marathon session next week when I will be joined by fellow enthusiast Doug Overton for most of the week along with a few other visitors to the New Forest. Here’s to the weather staying agreeable and plenty of photo opportunities.

Everyone’s Favourite

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

The Golden-ringed Dragonflies are gaining good populations in the New Forest right now – along fast-flowing gravel-based streams, on heath’s and along forest rides.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

They can be hard to follow in-flight, disappearing out of vision when the background doesn’t supply a good contrast.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

However they do land reasonably frequently and can perch very close if you remain still and don’t make any sudden movements.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

On the heath and along forest rides they can be very well camouflaged when perched on heather, bracken and other foliage and only make their presence known when they fly up ahead of you.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonfly

They usually land again after a short while and stealth is needed to approach them for a good photo opportunity.