Taking A Back Seat

A lot of my enjoyment in the field is solitary, a pioneering foray through the foliage or a gentle stroll down a stream, occasionally staying put to watch the air show or play with a willing Emperor or Hawker. Sometimes it involves a tenacious search for a certain species.

When all familiar places have been explored and things are starting to look very similar on a day to day basis, my enjoyment comes from sharing an outing with a companion or two. Fresh eyes to point out the stuff you’ve missed, or perhaps were to complacent too notice, but more importantly the ability to share the high points with a fellow enthusiast.

Saturday was one of those days, and a very enjoyable and productive day.

Jerry and Mike from UK Dragonflies decided it was about time they came down for some Golden-ringed and other key New Forest species. The initial plan was Crockford, which was changed at the last minute by a start at Ober Water – evidentially based on my earlier report regarding the sheer numbers and activity along this glorious stretch of quiet New Forest stream.

Arriving just after 10.00am we made our way down to the dog-leg where Paul Winters was waiting, deeply searching for Scarce Blue-tailed. We didn’t see any today.

A little trepidation with a five degree drop in temperature, a scattering of white cloud and strong breezes to lower the temperature meant things were going to take a little longer to warm up, but warm up they did with excellent showings of most of the key species and the welcome addition of a Scarce Chaser – a species witnessed here two years ago but not last season.

The key stretch for the Southern Damselfly didn’t disappoint, but the darkening sky and cooler temperatures confined most of the damsels to the margins until the sun broke through again. Then all hell broke loose as the stream exploded with dragons and damsels all vying for space. This was what we were here to see.

Ironically, having only witnessed my first copped pair of White-legged earlier in the week, we saw three pairs today. Plenty of copped Keeled too, but on this occasion no copped Beautiful Demoiselles which I was aware of.

After a quickly passing three hours we decided to move on to Crockford. There were a few cars in the car park, but at the stream we didn’t find anyone until we crossed through the thicket into the prime area. Four gentlemen, of who only one offered conversation, but not a name. A young enthusiastic fellow, Gary, arrived later, and at least seemed interested to join in our delights and be polite.

It’s always nice for introductions in such a relatively niche area, so if you visit, have a conversation. We’re all nice guys! Although after spending a few hours in stinking bog we’re probably not your mother’s choice!

Up until our arrival and for the first part I hadn’t used the camera much, and was satisfied enough to sit back and find subjects for our guests. My only reasonable catch of the day so far was a Keeled, while Jerry and Mike were filling up on Golden-ringed, Southern, Small Red and some remaining Silver-studded Blue butterflies which were looking decidedly worn after two weeks of prime sunshine.

Keeled Skimmer - immature female
Keeled Skimmer – immature female

And then I called for everyone to be still and silent as a pair of Golden-ringed spent a few moments in tandem flying around the gorse thicket looking for a safe place to complete the wheel. Luckily for us they landed low down at waist height enabling all of us to get our fill before rising up to the tree line to complete their union.

Golden-ringed Dragonflies - pair in cop
Golden-ringed Dragonflies – pair in cop

A real highlight of the day, but the day was not over yet!

Jerry had returned to the car to grab his macro lens to capture some damsels and while I was searching out a few Southern and Small Red I watched as a young male Emperor dropped within the heather, presumably in need of a rest after being taken out by one of our resident male Golden-ringed.

So they can bring out the aggression when needed, which makes it more surprising that they get so bothered by the bullying Keeled. Every attempt to perch was prevented by the bullying action of a dragonfly half its size.

Back across the water Mike had found a female Keeled feeding on an unfortunate Small Red. Now I know where all the Small Reds have gone.Luckily there were still enough around to provide some photo opportunities.

Small Red Damselflies - pair in cop
Small Red Damselflies – pair in cop
Small Red Damselfly - male
Small Red Damselfly – male

Mike spotted a Golden-ringed feeding on a Bee.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - male eating Bee
Golden-ringed Dragonfly – male eating Bee

Back in the thicket my conversation was cut short by another tandem pairing, and this pair chose a much better perch.

Golden-ringed Dragonflies - pair in cop
Golden-ringed Dragonflies – pair in cop

By checking the camera info we estimated that the full union took 25 to 30 minutes. After a pointer from Jerry I decided to attempt some video with the D90, borrowing Sue’s cheap tripod to counteract my old-age built-in camera shake.

Here is some footage of the last minutes before they part, clearly showing the moment when the female detaches herself before the male shakes her off.

The Final Moments a video by Paul:Ritchie on Flickr.

This sealed the day for us. Not one, but two pairings witnessed and both allowing photographs and even a spot of video.

We really couldn’t top that and called it a day afterwards, although we had spent 4 splendid hours which passed all too quickly. We wrapped up at 5.00pm due to commitments and the days cast was still enjoying the sunshine, which by now had warmed up considerably.

Still plenty of action to be had, but for someone else to enjoy.