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.

Hunting Hawkers at Ramsdown

On Thursday I returned to Ramsdown full of hope. The first pond had a few more puddles after the recent rain yet the pond at the base of the hillock was bone dry!

The clearing showed a couple of twitchy Southern, the inevitable Brown Hawker rising in panic at my passing and the expected Migrant Hawkers.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - immature female
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) – immature female

At my favourite pond a Moorland Hawker gave me the most frustrating challenge by refusing to keep to a regular patrol. |This wasn’t helped by the presence of a particularly aggressive Emperor who drove him off at every opportunity.

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

Azure and Emerald Damselflies and a single Black Darter kept the interest and a female Emperor flew in to try to oviposit under the harassment of the patrolling male.

A Broad-bodied Chaser still held court at his favourite perch, occasionally flying out to do battle with one of the many Common Darters.

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

The sound of fluttering wings alerted me to the presence of a female Southern Hawker ovipositing deep down under cover into the muddy bank before rising up, circling me and settling down on a patch of heather.

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

After a brief rest she continued laying her eggs in hard to reach places until she decided upon a log, which offered a better opportunity.

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

As there was no sign of the Moorland returning I decided to camp out for an hour at the other pond just in case a male, or indeed female flew in, but it was not to be. However it was pleasant to observe the many Migrant Hawkers feeding along the treeline.

I had hoped for a male Southern to come in for a patrol, but I’ll have to wait until next time. Best not become too entitled, eh?

The Joys of Hawker Season

The tail-end of summer is the time of the Hawker. This season has been especially good for the Brown Hawker, with swarms seen around Bramshill, Ramsdown and Town Common; neither offering a chance of a photo!

I’m a little more philosophical these days, preferring to trust to luck rather than judgement. If an opportunity presents itself, all well & good. If it doesn’t, no matter; it’s just as enjoyable watching them glide effortlessly while feeding.

On a particularly hot day in Bramshill we had our first Migrant Hawker of the season, sensibly holed up under the shade of a tree.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) - immature male
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) – immature male

One of the better sites to encounter hawkers is Bentley Wood; just across the border in deepest Wiltshire. A walk through the forest rides usually produces sightings; often more so than ponds while they’re still maturing.

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

I went out to Ramsdown a couple of times in the hope of bagging a Moorland Hawker. The first visit I had to make do with Emperor; in fact at one pond there were no less than 12 male and 6 female enjoying the sunshine! Certainly the most I’ve ever seen at one pond.

I returned a couple of days later and my first encounter was this freshly-emerged male Moorland; a first for me, and a delight to confirm this pond has them breeding.

Common (Moorland) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) - freshly-emerged male
Common (Moorland) Hawker (Aeshna juncea) – freshly-emerged male

Shortly afterwards a male came in to patrol for a few moments, just before I was bombarded by a short shower! In fact the skies were under cloud for most of the day – not what we’d been forecast on what was to be a record-breaking sunny day!

I had to wait three hours for the next appearance. A male returned and stayed for an hour, the first few minutes being the best for in-flighters.

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

Although they have been out since June I’ve yet to encounter a Southern Hawker patrolling a water body, although others have already seen females ovipositing! Until I get the chance to engage with one of my favourite in-flight species I’ll have to be content to encounter them at rest.

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

Now I’ve completed my Hampshire species count I can relax a little, take a stroll through the forest rides or, better still, camp out for a few hours at a pond and see who comes to visit!