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.

Chasing Scarce Chasers

A fulfilling week with better success locating Scarce Chasers at Testwood Lakes and Ramsdown Forest just over the county border. The females in particular are magnificent in their fresh vibrant colours.

Female Scarce Chaser
Female Scarce Chaser
Female Scarce Chaser
Female Scarce Chaser

Young males start out similar, if nowhere near as vibrant, before obtaining their predominantly blue colouring

Young male Scarce Chaser
Young male Scarce Chaser
Mature male Scarce Chaser
Mature male Scarce Chaser

On Wednesday I visited a few favourite locations in the forest and as well as hundreds of Keeled Skimmers was rewarded with my first sightings of the Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Mature Male Keeled Skimmer
Mature Male Keeled Skimmer
Immature Male Keeled Skimmer
Immature Male Keeled Skimmer
Female Keeled Skimmer
Female Keeled Skimmer
Golden-ringed Dragonfly Feeding
Golden-ringed Dragonfly Feeding

On Thursday I spent an afternoon at Crockford Stream, always a reliable site for diverse species activity. Southern Damsels were in abundance along with Beautiful Demoiselles, Large Reds, Azures, Keeled Skimmers, Broad-bodied Chasers, Emperors and Golden-ringed.

Southern Damselflies
Southern Damselflies
Southern Damselflies
Southern Damselflies
Male Emperor
Male Emperor
Male Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Male Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Keeled Skimmers in Mating Wheel
Keeled Skimmers in Mating Wheel

There was also a single male Hairy Dragonfly patrolling the stream, an unusual sighting at this location and far from it’s usual haunts. Unfortunately the sighting was all too brief and no photo opportunity presented itself, however the same individual was spotted the previous day by my friend Doug Overton, who did at least manage a photograph or two whcih can be seen here:-

http://www.newforestdragonflies.com/NFDForum.html

On Friday I walked from Mill Lawn following Ober Water up as far as Markway Bridge and besides the usual Beautiful Demoiselles, Large Reds, Azures, Southerns, Keeled Skimmers and Broad-bodied Chasers there were also Golden-ringed and probably most surprising a colony of White-legged Damselflies at the far end among the heather

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

There were also teneral Small Reds around, but no mature specimens. A week or two should see them in reasonable numbers as this site has proved reliable in the past. I did also look for Scarce Blue-tails among the feed-in channels, but only normal Blue-tails were present.

I strongly believe that the Ober Water has as much diversity as Crockford although spread out a lot more and is well worth a visit.

White-legged and Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies

On Sunday afternoon I promised myself a return trip to upper Ober Water in search of more White-legged and those pesky Scarce Blue-tails. Fabulously quiet and tourist free, the peace only slightly shattered by traffic along the A35 and a stallion fight which I unwillingly became involved in!

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

Titchfield Haven and Testwood Lakes

On Saturday we had arranged to meet Doug Overton for a visit to Titchfield in the hope of spotting and photographing a Hairy Dragonfly or two before their season’s end. We arrived just after 9.30am and spent a couple of hours observing our quarry hawking the pond and the side channels, but had to be content with photographing other species – including yet another early Common Darter, a striking Four-spotted Chaser, male and female Emperors, a female Black-tailed Skimmer and the usual Azures and Blue-tails.

Mating Azure Damselflies
Mating Azure Damselflies
Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser
Mating Blue-tailed Damselflies
Mating Blue-tailed Damselflies
Male Emperor
Male Emperor
Female Black-tailed Skimmer
Female Black-tailed Skimmer

After nearly 3 hours we finally got our main prize as a male Hairy took off from the pond and landed high in the trees to feed on a Large Red Damselfly

Male Hairy Dragonfly feeding on Large Red Damselfly
Male Hairy Dragonfly feeding on Large Red Damselfly

After a celebratory cuppa, we parted company with an elated Doug and headed over to Testwood Lakes in search of more Scarce Chasers. This time we were lucky with spotting both sexes along with some male Black-tailed Skimmers.

Male Black-tailed Skimmer
Male Black-tailed Skimmer

Return To Testwood

Following on from Wednesday’s visit, I returned to Testwood on Friday afternoon in search of those elusive Scarce Chasers – which were still living up to their name! I did a full circuit of the lakes and as well as Azures, Common Blues and Blue-tails there were hundreds of Banded Demoiselles alongside the River Blackwater.

On returning to Alder Gully Pond I finally saw some dragon activity – a single female Emperor ovipositing.

Female Emperor Ovipositing
Female Emperor Ovipositing

Elated at actually witnessing a dragonfly on the pond, I vowed to return later on that evening, and was finally blessed with my first Scarce Chaser

Male Scarce Chaser
Male Scarce Chaser

Testwood Lakes and Badminston Common

Last Wednesday I spent some time at Testwood Lakes in search of Scarce Chasers which had been sighted and reported on the BDS site. No luck and no sightings of any dragons. Plenty of Damselfly activity, even though the foliage was wet from a night’s rain.

Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Azure Damselfly Feeding
Azure Damselfly Feeding

From there I paid a visit to Badminston, site of some wonderful damsel and dragon activity last year. The main footpath through the gravel workings is still closed even though it was only meant to be temporary. Further investigation revealed that they have completely dug over the path, as well as excavating areas of the old gravel workings, including destroying the corner section of reeds – so vital for breeding activity last season.

Common Blue Damselfly
Common Blue Damselfly

Somewhat disappointed and angry at the commercial desecration of such a valuable site, I continued across the common where Common Blues were plentiful, and finally found the fishing pond which had eluded me last year. Azures and Blue-tails were in abundance along with Red-eyeds and a single male Emperor and a couple of Downy Emeralds hawking the pond edge.

Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Mating Azure Damselflies
Mating Azure Damselflies
Red-eyed Damselflies
Red-eyed Damselflies

After witnessing a few Keeled Skimmers along the walk back, I returned to Testwood and finally found a dragonfly – an early Common Darter

Common Darter
Common Darter