New Forest Odonata – 2: Ashley Hole – 1st Aug

The odo Mecca of Ashley Hole is a one-time munitions testing site characterised by flooded bomb craters that play host to some acid habitat specialists, most notably Common Hawker. The 2½ mile walk out to it begins from the B3078 road at Telegraph Hill (SU228167), a Forestry Commission parking area. After about a mile my route continues south-west from a small pond via minor tracks to the head of a boggy valley, and from that point on it is all off-piste. I am always stirred by the wildness of the place and visit every season at around this time.

There are a few pools along the valley floor that today held less water than on previous visits. At the first of these I came across Common Darter and what turned out to be the day’s only Black Darter. The latter fact was surprising since I expect to find good numbers of this heathland species here. I have excellent pictures from  previous seasons taken at this site, so it was good to get something a little different this time. Who’s the dude in the shades then?

Black Darter

Black Darter

At the next pool a few Keeled Skimmer were active, being a common species here. While I was trying to photograph these a large Hawker came in from the surrounding heather and flew fairly slowly around the flooded area, hovering at times. The flight shot (below) revealed that I had indeed captured a male Common Hawker after three seasons of trying at this site. That was a huge result since the males very rarely settle, if at all. This is a familiar dragonfly in the north and west of Britain but occurs only locally on southern and eastern heaths.

Common Hawker (male)

Common Hawker (male)

Elated by this it was time to head for the business end of the valley, Ashley Bottom with those bomb craters (SU203148). This lies amongst some clumps of trees, the ground between which is filled by a bog. Conditions had now become overcast so not as much was seen here as on previous visits, but with searching there was still interest to be found. The most frequent damselfly is Common Emerald and the New Forest speciality Small Red Damselfy is also present. A male Broad-bodied Chaser made a welcome addition to the day list as I had not photographed one previously this season. With a shortage of subjects to capture I spent more time experimenting with camera settings, which was welcome practice.

Broad-bodied Chaser (male)

Broad-bodied Chaser (male)

At one pool I was concentrating on an Emerald (centre above) when a female Common Hawker burst out of the vegetation beneath my feet. That explained why I wasn’t seeing any since in the dull conditions they must all have been tucked away. After flying around the pool a few times this one shot back in from whence she had emerged. When I flushed her again she expressed her disapproval by flying off to nearby tree cover. Serves me right I suppose!

On the walk out to Ashley Hole I always stumble across Grayling butterflies here and there. These either flop up from the track or out of the heather before moving a short distance and blending into their surroundings, as Grayling do. In the boggy valley there were also Silver-studded Blue in small numbers. Two of these obliged with the top wing shots that I had not managed at Yateley Common a week earlier.

Lastly I have been paying a bit of attention to grasshoppers of late. In southern Europe these are mostly big and have the pleasing habit of flying for some distance in front of me as I walk. Here they are much smaller and involve a hands and knees job with the macro lens. In both cases I have difficulty matching pictures I take to the field guides I possess. I believe this one (below) at Ashley Hole is a female Large Marsh Grasshopper – confirmation please anyone?

Large Marsh Grasshopper (fem)

Large Marsh Grasshopper (fem) ?

So this was another superb day in the New Forest at one of my absolute favourite odonata locations. A remarkable thing about Ashley Hole is that in four visits, despite the site’s importance for these insects, I have yet to meet another person there.

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