Theme Park

Thursday 27th June

It’s been five years since I last visited Thursley, so I was well overdue for another visit.

On the first decent day for a while I left early hoping to grab a place in the car park. I needn’t have worried; the morning shift of dog walkers had done their rounds and the only others present were a Natural England work party.

Typical, however they do a fantastic job keeping Thursley enjoyable for all. Today they were replacing a section of boardwalk, meaning the first section was closed for the morning.

Not a problem. First I circled The Moat which was alive with morning feeders.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - male
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – male

Beyond The Moat were Keeled Skimmer, Azure, Common Darter and a male Brilliant Emerald hunting low over the heath. Unfortunately the latter (my target for the day) disappeared around a gorse stand never to be seen again.

I took a walk up my favourite path and disturbed a few roosting Brown Hawkers. On the return trip an elderly lady was walking towards me, disturbing a roosting female Southern Hawker. Thankfully the latter circled briefly before returning to the same bush.

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

After allowing me to get in with the macro I searched the remaining bushes and found the glistening amber of Brown Hawker wings.

Perfectly camouflaged against the dead gorse I fully expected this immature male to fly off and out of reach, as is their instinct, but no – either he was asleep or my stealth was getting better.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) - immature male
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) – immature male

Not the prettiest of backgrounds, but come on, any chance of a perched Brown Hawker is a golden opportunity. After this encounter I took a walk along the open section of boardwalk, spent a while observing a resident Emperor enjoying the sunshine and marveled at the wonderful dragonfly sculpture at the junction.

Further along were more surprises; a new boardwalk stretching out into the bog, new information boards, benches and resting areas and a new observation platform – all this in celebration of the dragonfly.

There were a few Hobby feeding on the few Four-spotted Chasers who braved the stiff breeze and I stopped several time to engage in conversation with other toggers (of which there were many) and helping other visitors inquiring about what they’ve seen.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) - female
Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) – female

Returning to the shade of The Moat I became acutely aware of how popular this place had become. The weather had certainly dragged out the paparazzi! I’ve never seen so many photographers in one place at the same time.

Along the shore the Downy were plentiful, frequently engaged in territorial battles.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - male on patrol
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – male on patrol

Plenty of opportunities to allow a little pond-side sport, the problem was finding one positioned to reflect the sunlight.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - male on patrol
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – male on patrol

It wasn’t until 3.30pm that I finally had another sighting of the Brilliant Emerald; this time patrolling a small shaded area, which was all but impossible for photography, and frequently driven off by the resident Downy – always a problem at this point in the season.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - female pre-rufescens
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – female pre-rufescens

I stayed another hour in the hope this male would return and reluctantly made my way to the car after an enjoyable and productive day.

A Little Diversity

Since the first Large Red appeared I’ve been waiting for a little diversity. A week after my first visit I returned to Bramshill and its plentiful environs for the best chance to find a few other species.

Around the country there have been plenty of newly-emerged species to fire the enthusiasm; from the expected Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed to Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers and even Hairy Dragonfly. A Common Blue seemed the perfect second species on my season list.

 Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) - immature female
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) – immature female

Naturally the most plentiful were the Large Red, however none provided me with a satisfying opportunity so I continued on checking a few favourite little hidden corners, finding more Common Blue and, thankfully an obliging Blue-tailed,

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - immature female violacea form
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) – immature female violacea form

My initial walk along hawker alley produced a few more Large Red while at the far shore I found an Azure to add to my count.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) - immature female
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) – immature female

Number four then, and I was happy. I continued on to another pond, carefully searching every stand of reed & rush hoping for an fresh emerger. Wishful thinking I know, but you never know.

I searched the shore margins and disturbed species number four – a Downy Emerald! I didn’t expect that to be the first of the larger species encountered and, despite it flying out of reach towards the canopy, I was elated.

This spurred me on with new enthusiasm having circled the pond twice more I continued on, intending to check out the center ponds.

My route took me back along hawker alley and it was here I had my moment. I stopped in my tracks as my second Downy of the day slowly flew around me looking for a place to rest.

Up and down the path she flew as I prayed she wouldn’t fly out of reach. She landed low and before I could react she rose again and flew along the track, almost going beyond sight. Thankfully she returned and took refuge on a stand of dry gorse.

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) - immature female
Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) – immature female

Suitably fulfilled I couldn’t care less if I saw anything else today, but I took my intended walk anyway. Only a few Large Red and Common Blue tenerals were encountered along the route, those narrow paths yet to host the hoards of feeders and roosters.

I’ll have to wait at least a week before I can have another look as our typical Spring weather has taken a turn, but there’s no hurry. Even more than last season my intention is to choose the days and locations wisely. I already have a plan for the next trip, depending of course upon the weather.