New Forest Odonata – 1: Latchmore Brook – 18th July

High summer is also a time for enjoyable day trips to the Hampshire playground of the New Forest.  The valley mires and streams of this huge tract of lowland heath support around 28 different dragonfly and damselfly species, 70 per cent of the resident British population. The distance is a convenient 85 miles and a visit here has yet to disappoint.

For my first excursion of 2015 I chose a new site, Latchmore Brook because one of only two regular English damselflies that I had yet to see is found here. Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfy occurs only at scattered sites across southern England because it has very specific habitat requirements that are met by certain valley mires. A parking area at Ogdens (SU182124) lies conveniently next to the brook that can be explored upstream from this point. My research had indicated that Golden-ringed Dragonfly are found along the stream itself, while Keeled Skimmer and SBTD should be looked for in peat bogs on rising ground just to the north.

Latchmore Brook

Latchmore Brook

Arriving here at 10:30 am I first checked out an adjacent boggy area but found no odonata at all. Then I walked upstream for about a mile until the bed began to run dry. A few Keeled Skimmer were around and not having seen males either at Cothill Fen or Decoy Heath this year I was pleased to photograph one here. These bog dwellers are smaller and slimmer looking than the other British skimmer, Black-tailed with a tendency to up-curve their hind end when perched. Another New Forest regular, Small Red Damselfly showed itself here and there, while Beautiful Demoiselle were present in numbers everywhere.

About two-thirds of the way along this watercourse I began to notice large dragonflies patrolling low over its surface, first one way then back the other over and again. These were the magnificent Golden-ringed Dragonfly, banded yellow and black with green eyes that meet in a point on top of the head. This species is common and widely distributed in heath and moorland areas. All the insects I observed today were males that didn’t settle much. But there were spots here with dead wood perches that I thought could yield interesting photographs if staked out on a future visit.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

A short distance back from my turning point I reconnoitred a more promising looking bog on the stream’s northern side. Here there were better numbers of Keeled Skimmer suggesting this might also be a location for the lifer, SBTD. I returned to the same spot after a lunch break and this (below) is a Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfy, one of two found. The diagnostic is that the blue tail band covers part of segment 8 and all of 9, and has a convex upper edge. In males of the larger Blue-tailed Damselfy segment 8 is all blue and 9 black. The insects I recorded today had a noticeably more delicate appearance than the much commoner latter species.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly

I had to get muddy to capture this poor quality image. Adjusting position and camera settings to secure a better one could have involved sinking in to who knows what depth. Wellies would be a definite advantage for any repeat attempt. This was still a very pleasing result, meaning the last regular English damselfly I need to record is Scarce Emerald.

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