Change in the Weather

Ten years chasing dragonflies and I’m still in love with them. Being a seasonal treat helps to forward the interest; every April I can’t wait to spot that first Large Red.

Then a wait for the other Spring species to emerge, then, all of a sudden, there’s a bounty to sink your teeth into. The spectacle of mass emergence where every step reveals the glitter of tenerals.

Species counts rising rapidly; the first sojourn to the Somerset Levels and local favourites providing endless opportunities. If the weather stays sweet it’s a non-stop feast throughout May, June and July while August allows some time to kick back, relax and enjoy the spectacle of a pond or stream.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - pair in tandem
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – pair in tandem

August can be a fantastic month if the water levels are high enough and the temperatures remain above 20 degrees. This year however most of the ponds were dry, regardless of the rains we’ve had.

Emperor (Anax imperator) - male on patrol
Emperor (Anax imperator) – male on patrol

August is the month for Hawkers and there’s few things I enjoy more than spending a few hours at a pond engaging with a resident Southern, Moorland, Migrant or a Brown.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - male on patrol
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – male on patrol

When all you’re left with is puddles the only dragonflies you’re likely to encounter are the hardier, less fussy species, and there comes a time when you have to prioritise.

Now I can happily wait at a pond for something interesting to fly in, and with the Moorland here in the New Forest you normally have to wait for one to appear.

Moorland (Common) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - male on patrol
Moorland (Common) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – male on patrol

On the other hand you normally wouldn’t have to wait for a Southern; there’s usually one already on patrol when you arrive. None were waiting for me this year at Ramsdown, and I had to search hard to find one at Bramshill.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male on patrol
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male on patrol

Surprisingly I’ve had females show first at both locations, and with just the one male (so far) at Bramshill found myself running out of options

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) - male
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) – male

Cadnam Common usually comes up trumps, but alas resembles a silage pit right now and all we saw was a lone Migrant patrolling the reeds of the island, so we made the short drive to Bentley Wood.

Always a gamble and after a fair walk in you keep your fingers crossed there will be something over the water. Thankfully on our visit on 1st September not only was there a male present but a friendly, gregarious individual who it was a delight to engage with.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male on patrol
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male on patrol

At last! I had to wait until September for for the opportunity, but looking back I normally have my best moments with Southern in September.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - male on patrol
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – male on patrol

Since then it’s taken a downward turn. A couple of friends were down this week for a little late Odo action and were disappointed; as was I when I ventured out on Thursday.

Too cool, too windy and mostly too dull, and I wasn’t prepared to root around for roosters as my stealth has taken a beating since an ankle injury a fortnight ago.

I had planned to venture forth today, but with only a possible 17 degrees I couldn’t bear the disappointment of another fruitless search.

If the temperature improves and we get a late blast of warm sunshine I’ll see things through until the end of the month. A late blast of enjoyment before Autumn takes hold and I can look forward to next season.

Making The Best Of It

I was looking forward to an August sitting by a pond, engaging with a hawker or two and generally watching the world go by – which I have done on a couple of occasions when the sun decided to shine.

However the past week of inclement weather has put pay to my plans for the moment. No point staring at a pond under cloudy skies; better to take a stroll and find some action elsewhere.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - immature male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – immature male

A walk around Town Common usually produces a hawker or two along the paths, and sure enough there were a few Brown Hawkers rising ahead of me.

Down in the shelter of the scrub were the expected Emerald and Small Red Damselflies and among the heather a Black Darter or two.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - female on heather
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – female on heather

Across the road at Ramsdown I hoped for a female Moorland taking advantage of the gloom to oviposit, avoiding the attentions of patrolling males, but in this weather even the Common Darters were noticeably absent.

In the clearing at least there was an immature female Southern Hawker resting up in the gorse.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) - immature female
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – immature female

The Hill Pond was unsurprisingly quiet, a startling contrast to a week previously, however around the margins you could find a willing subject or two if you were prepared to hunt.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - immature male
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – immature male

At my favourite pond the sun shone all to briefly to kick-start a little activity from the Common Darters – irresistible only in the absence of others.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) - male
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) – male

Back at the clearing these all too brief but welcome late afternoon sunny spells produced a frenzy of feeding activity from the Brown Hawkers, teasingly gliding a meter or so from yours truly and never once landing in sight.

Low down in the heather a Golden-ringed provided the last opportunity of the day.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) - male
Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – male

Two Days at Thursley

Friday 28th June

Knowing that Longham Lakes would attract the twitchers and paparazzi we introduced Steve & Debbie Birt to Thursley on a relatively quiet Saturday.

We decided to do the tour first thing as the heat & humidity became a little uncomfortable for walking. Steve’s targets for the day were Brown Hawker – which we found almost immediately with several males hunting across the heath.

Next on the list was Black Darter, and halfway through the boardwalk route we discovered a fresh female low down in the scrub.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - immature female
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – immature female

Continuing along the boardwalk we sat a while and watched the profusion of Four-spotted Chasers, Keeled and Black-tailed Skimmers and a wealth of damsel activity including the Common Emerald – another target for Steve today.

Taking a right turn we reached the end of the boardwalk and I was overjoyed to see they had created a series of shallow ponds. Small, open and fully accessible, these ponds were a delight, with plenty of action in this now blistering heat.

Indeed, on one of them we had a brief sighting of a Red-veined Darter. After spending a few moments trying to relocate this visitor we decided to head back to the shade of The Moat.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - male on patrol
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – male on patrol

It was here Steve bagged his fourth hope-for species. Sure enough, in it’s usual place, was a male Brilliant Emerald patrolling the dark shadows of an inlet, merely centimeters from the surface. Impossible to photograph, but always a joy to see.

I returned to Thursley one last time the following Friday in the hope of having another go at the Brilliant Emerald.

I spent a good four hours rooted to the spot waiting for a glimpse, constantly being interrupted by dog walkers and far too many photographers, and realised exactly why I stopped going in the first place.

Sometimes I require peace, quiet and concentration, immersing myself in the joys of nature. Unfortunately today it resembled Waterloo Station.

This was the best I could manage in darkness, and gives some idea of his chosen patrol.

Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) - male on patrol
Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) – male on patrol

There’s Something About Heather

Friday 21st June

Finally a turn-around in the weather! On the first sunny day for a while I headed over to Town Common in the hope of finding a few heath specialists.

Taking the back path for a change my first welcome sighting of the day was the stunning Silver-studded Blue butterfly. There were a few chasing around the path margins in the cool morning sun.

My next sighting was as glorious as it was unexpected – a male Brown Hawker ‘hawking’ the corner thicket. No chance of a photo with this fellow, but a delight to watch as he took his morning feed.

Next was another unexpected individual – an immature female White-legged damselfly, the first I had seen here. They’re present on the Stour, Moors and Avon rivers which are close, so not entirely a rare sighting.

White-legged Damselfly ( Platycnemis pennipes) - immature female
White-legged Damselfly ( Platycnemis pennipes) – immature female

Despite the rains the ponds were very shallow; down to the bed in places. A little too cool and early for over-water action so I searched the heath for my next quarry, the always welcome Common Emerald.

Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) - female
Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) – female

I took a walk around the back paths to a favourite little pond which usually provides, and sure enough there was the unmistakable flutter of a teneral Black Darter.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - teneral female
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – teneral female

At the next pond a teneral Common Darter rose and flew out of reach before I could ready the camera – the fourth new species this season. At another favourite spot I found another Black Darter, a male this time.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) - teneral male
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) – teneral male

After a walk around the lower reaches of the site I stopped a while to watch the play of Silver-studded Blues and a lone female Scarce Chaser at a particularly fabulous bank of heather.

After this moment of mindfulness I decided to have one more look around the first pond, capturing a few more of those Common Emeralds before calling it a day.

Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) - male
Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) – male